Choosing the best substrate or bedding for our bearded dragon habitat isn’t just about decorating the tank. Substrate needs to be changed whenever your beardie poops so that it doesn’t sit over time and harbor bacteria. Also of concern is the possibility that a bearded dragon may ingest some of the substrate, which can lead to impaction. Impaction can be a potentially life-threatening event for any reptile and is best avoided. With those thoughts in mind, I’ve listed multiple substrates below with their pros and cons.
Good And Bad Substrates
Here is a summary of what you can consider and what you should avoid.
|Suitable Substrates||Unsuitable Substrates|
Safe Substrates For Bearded Dragons
- Paper Towels – Pros: Cheap, easily changed. Cons: Not the most natural looking substrate, and you may have to change them often.
- Newspapers – Pros: They’re free, easily changed, and more absorbent. Cons: Less natural looking, may cause ink staining on the bottoms of your beardie’s feet. Though, this has never happened with mine.
- Reptile Carpet – Pros: Looks nicer. Cons: Can harbor bacteria if not removed and washed weekly. Pieces of the material can come loose and get reptiles’ nails or toes caught in it.
- Tiles – Cons: Very easy to clean. Adds a nice look to the enclosure. Cons: Can be heavy, and difficult to move within the tank. Could cause an injury if dropped on a bearded dragon.
Bedding To Consider
- Vinyl Flooring – Pros: Not super pricey, and easy to find at your local hardware store. You can get a piece cut to fit your tank. Many nice designs are available. Cons: Will need to be removed completely to clean. It may also need to be replaced over time depending on how it weathers being in a reptile tank.
- Zoo Med’s Excavator Clay – Pros: Looks incredibly natural and you can make caves and other formations for your beardies. It also hardens once it sets, so there is much less chance of ingestion. Cons: Could potentially harbor bacteria and is likely harder to clean without removing and reconstructing the setup.
Bearded Dragon Beddings To Avoid
- Eco Earth – While this is a great substrate for humidity-loving reptiles, but it is the opposite for desert dwelling lizards like beardies. It soaks up moisture when wet with warm water, and it becomes very dusty and loose when completely dry. Neither are good for a bearded dragon’s tank. A moist environment can cause respiratory illness, and a dusty substrate could be accidentally ingested.
- Potting Soil – Potting soil could have fertilizers, fungi, and other contaminants that could adversely affect your bearded dragon. Bugs such as mites or other parasites could reside in a bag of soil from a garden center, even if the soil is organic. Potting soil may also hold moisture and raise humidity, which isn’t healthy for bearded dragons. Not to mention potential ingestion.
- Sand – Sand under any brand name is a bad idea. There are too many cases of bearded dragons getting impacted while being housed on this substrate for it to be even a little bit safe. Any loose substrate is a potential danger for impaction. Bearded dragons tongue flick often wherever they go, and over time that loose material sticks to their tongue and goes into the GI tract. Not all of it will pass through safely. It isn’t worth the risk no matter how nice it looks.
Paper Towels and Newspapers – Paper bedding is easily changed and thrown out. Be sure to clean the surface underneath with a reptile-safe cleaner, and replace with fresh newspaper or paper towels.
Reptile Carpet – Depending on the mess your bearded dragon produces in a week, it’s a good idea to give it a wash once a week. Have two pieces for your tank, so while you wash one you can replace it with the extra clean one. Over time, reptile carpet might start fraying and have more loose pieces coming off. At that point it’s a good idea to just throw it out.
Tiles And Vinyl Flooring – First, take your bearded dragon out of the tank. I have a container I put my lizards in while I clean so they can’t get themselves into trouble out of sight, and I recommend it for peace of mind. Remove the tiles or vinyl to clean in a separate area. In a sink or bathtub, wash and scrub the items off with warm soap and water. Rinse well and allow to dry for a few minutes before replacing in the tank.
It’s your turn!
Keeping bearded dragons on substrates of any kind can be a controversial subject depending on who you talk to. However, I tend to favor safety instead of aesthetics when housing both my bearded dragon and leopard gecko. They aren’t any less happy for it, and more importantly, they remain healthy. The biggest thing to consider with lizards is that they are constant tongue flickers. Whatever they tongue flick sticks to that tongue and goes in their mouths. As a keeper, you have to be aware where and what these animals get into, whether in their own enclosure, or out of it.
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Impaction is a major health risk for many reptiles, and one that’s easily prevented. It’s incredibly frustrating to see bearded dragons or any reptile suffer for such a mistake. Don’t let this happen.