Is it okay to use sand for my bearded dragon? What if it’s calcium sand? How about bark or wood chips? These are some of the questions that have sparked fierce controversy in the reptile world, for good reason.
Substrate is what lines the bottom of enclosures; essentially, it’s bedding. This is an important element of a proper bearded dragon setup, as it provides a walking surface for your dragon, can help trap heat, file down their nails, and make an enclosure look phenomenal. So, the controversy over substrate is the great loose substrate debate! For years, sand has been a popular substrate choice for herpers. However, due to research, vastly negative real life scenarios, and study of Pogona vitticep’s natural environment, people have started realized that sand is an awful choice at best. Read on to learn why…
Bearded dragons are almost always voracious eaters, diving after insects and swiftly devouring them. Most people feed their dragons within the enclosures and, if the dragon is on a substrate like sand, they tend to accidentally eat it along with the insect. Over time, the sand builds up in their system, leading to a blockage (impaction) and disabling their organs from operating properly. It’s a major risk in baby-juvenile dragons and significantly shortens the life span of adults!
The impaction risk in and of itself is enough reason to keep dragons off of sand (and other loose substrates) but an oft used argument is that “sand is their natural habitat.”
Sand is their natural habitat? Central Australia is a desert, but it’s defined that way because of the level of rainfall it receives. Not because it’s filled with sand!
One of the most worrisome concerns that play sand, calcium sand, walnut shells, and other forms of loose substrate poses is that it’s a breeding ground for bad bacteria. When a dragon is housed on sand, you’re subjecting them to living in a litter box, which is definitely not a healthy environment. At Raising Bearded Dragons, we love aesthetics, but when dealing with reptiles, HEALTH is our primary concern!
Out of these four, tile is our favorite choice. It’s very inexpensive, easy to clean, will help file dragon’s nails, and it looks great! Exo Terra’s Sand Mat is another excellent alternative, so you can enjoy the “sand desert” look without the health risks! The only downside is that it can be a bit tricky to clean.
In the beginning of this article, I said that there was good reason for the controversy surrounding bearded dragon substrate. The reason that there is so much controversy is because people are now combating the rampant spread of misinformation throughout pet stores, forums, social media, etc. As experts and the reptile hobby as a whole continue to research how to best care for these amazing creatures, we will always make changes and adjustments to husbandry practices. It’s crucially important that we ALWAYS keep the bearded dragon’s health and best interests at heart!