Choosing Bearded Dragon Substrate
Bearded dragon substrate choices are easy when logic is applied. When choosing a substrate consider the well being and environmental stimulation it will provide to the cage occupant. The environment should replicate the natural environment as much as possible however, what is natural depends on the species and its range.
It is a widespread belief that the Bearded Dragon is a desert creature. Not only does that exclude the individual requirements of each species within the genus Pogona but is also leads to misunderstanding of its environment since ‘desert’ often conjures images of land covered in sand dunes and stripped of all vegetation. In fact bearded dragons are spread across many different terrains from loose sand covered with leaf littler and fallen branches to harder clay soils.
One of the greatest points missing from the ever heated and poorly informed debates on substrates is that bearded dragons are semi-arboreal. They do not spend all their time on the ground surface. They spend a lot of time up trees and bushes, basking, sleeping or hiding from danger. Place as much focus on providing for semi arboreal behaviour as is put on what substrate is on the floor surface.
The choice of bearded dragon substrate starts with loose or solid. This presents the first set of assessments with the major difference between loose and solid is that loose substrates will never be cleaned where as solid substrate is extremely easy to clean.
If the bearded dragon will be fed in the enclosure, then a solid surface such as tiles or lino would be best put in place. If it will never be fed in the enclosure then sand has potential, however this cannot be cleaned of parasites or pathogens and exposes the bearded dragon to other risks.
The easiest bearded dragon substrate for ease of care is tiles. Tiles can be cleaned thoroughly removing pathogens and parasites easily. Loose substrates such as sand are best provided in dig boxes.
Loose substrates present hazards in feeding. The substrate will inevitably end up in the dish or live food will move out of the dish they are presented in. If a loose substrate is to be used then a second feeding enclosure that has a solid substrate will ease the risk of consuming substrates. This is also handy to prevent leaving any live insects hiding in with your bearded dragon which can cause harm including crickets and mealworms which can nibble away at your pet or go for the eyes where they can obtain some moisture.
|Substrate||Easy to Disinfect||Replacement During Life||Can be Ingested||Can be Fed on||Potential for other Harm|
|Seeds (i.e. Millet or rolled oats)||No||Frequently||Yes||No||1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 11|
|Sand – Vita or Calci||No||Frequently||Yes||No||1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 13|
|Sand – Children s Play Sand||No||Frequently||Yes||No||1, 2, 4, 5, 7|
|Sand – Clay or molding sand||No||Frequently||Yes||No||1, 2, 3, 4, 7|
|Paper Products||No||Frequently||Yes but little risk if not torn||Yes||8, 12|
|Walnut||No||Frequently||Yes||No||1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 11|
|Bark||No||Frequently||Yes||No||1, 2, 11|
|Reptile Carpet||If removed||Yes||No||Yes||8, 9, 10|
|Lino||Yes||Potential but long term substrate||No||Yes||8|
- Potential to stick to soft tissue such as exerted hemiphenes and be retracted into the body.
- Adheres to wounds, likely to increase animal discomfort and difficulty in cleaning wounds.
- Potential to become stuck in burrows that have dried out and become solid.
- Dust may be inhaled and cause irritation.
- Cause irritation to eyes.
- Danger of consuming high levels of phytic acids.
- Danger of consuming substrate resulting in impaction.
- Potential for injury if falling onto surface (i.e. surface is hard or does not provide sufficient padding from a hard surface below the substrate).
- Danger of claws being caught and ripped off.
- Odors collect, difficult to eradicate.
- Grow excessive levels of bacteria.
- Poor environmental stimulation.
- Dries skin, excessive & uncontrolled quantities of minerals if ingested.
Loose substrates have several issues. The primary one that simply cannot be disputed is that they are not going to be cleaned. Solid waste (i.e. stools or food) can be removed however the pathogens that thrive on such waste are not limited to the immediately soiled area. Humans learnt to remain distance themselves from their waste and the area they leave it a long time ago, yet this is far too commonly acceptable for animals.
The less an enclosure is cleaned and the smaller it is, the greater the number of pathogens. Despite manufacturers incredible ability to influence the market with ridiculously small enclosures, four foot enclosures are not large enough for a 2 foot animal.
(1) Atlas of Living Australia