Can I use wood from outdoors for my bearded dragon? Using branches and wood from outside in your bearded dragons environment will provide natural enrichment and something to:
- Scratch on especially when shedding,
- Climb on to hide up high or choose a great spot to bask,
- Rub femoral pores on to keep cleaner, and
- Help keep claws a little more trim.
Before you add the wood to your bearded dragons housing, it needs to be treated. Here is how to treat the wood.
If you have some rocks from outdoors for your bearded dragons housing then the treatments here will also apply.
Treatments and Preparation
Treatments for wood, branches and rocks covers:
- Treating for parasites;
- Potentially treating for some pathogens; and
- Removing any sharp edges and splinters.
Knowing why you want to treat the wood will help you identify the best way to treat it.
Parasites, such as mites, are a top concern for anything taken from the environment. Another consideration is to ensure any chemicals the objects may already have been subjected to are removed.
How to Treat Wood and Rocks from Outdoors
There are a number of ways to treat wood and rocks from outdoors for your bearded dragons in the home environment, including:
- Submerging in water
- Submerging in chemical/water mix
Parasites can generally be treated by heating, submerging in water, freezing or using chemicals.
Pathogens will generally be treated by heat, chemicals and for some, freezing may be suitable. Note that sterilising is not required. Too see the difference on the levels of cleaning and why sterilising might be overdoing it, see the article How to clean your bearded dragons House and Furnishings.
Step 1 How to Prepare Wood, branches and Rocks
Prepare wood and branches for treatment by starting with a check for hazards, sharp edges and splinters.
Woods leaking sap are not suitable to use. Leave them until the sap has dried out. That may take months.
You want to retain the roughness as that is one of its benefits for your bearded dragon, just tone down anything that has the potential to cause cuts if rubbed on or puncture injury if fallen on. If such hazards exist, then use a saw, sandpaper or a file to whittle it down. If you are preparing rocks then a grinder or a file will work well.
Step 2 Rinse of Dust and Debri
Rinse the accessories with water from the hose or wherever is convenient.
Note that if you suspect that there are chemicals on the objects that cannot be removed by light rinsing, then it is best to discard and find a piece that isn’t contaminated.
Step 3 Methods to Treat
There are a few options for treatment.
Submerging in Water
Submerging in water is really useful for large pieces of wood and rocks and, given a long enough soaking period, should deal with parasites.
A bath tub works well and using hot water will help eradicate some of the easier to kill parasites. Immerse the items in hot water for at least 15 minutes. Use a poker or other object to submerge and rotate or move rocks in the water ensuring that there are no pockets for air which some parasites can survive in.
Mites can be killed at 55ºC (131°F)3. Chances are that your water from the tap is slightly hotter than this, however you will need to check. The boiling point of water is 100ºC (212°f). This is not hot enough to kill Salmonella spp which requires a moist heat of 121ºC for at least 15 minutes 4. Salmonella spp will be treated more in the sections below.
Mites are true survivalists. If there are any air bubbles or pockets they can hide in until the soaking is over, they will find it. Make sure the branches and rocks are submerged, turning at times to ensure any air pockets have been eliminated. This could potentially take days depending on how porous the wood is.
When I am only treating for parasites, I have kept many large pieces soaking in a pond for weeks before taking out ready to use. Note that if Salmonella spp is a concern, soaking in water is not a suitable treatment. Salmonella can survive many days of soaking. When trapped with reptile feces it has been found to survive at least 115 days in pond water and 89 days in tap water half a year after removing from the reptile 4.
Treating with Disinfectant
For large wood and rocks, if pathogens are a concern then treating with a disinfectant soak is a good option.
A veterinary grade disinfectant such as F10. Leave F10 in contact with the surface for at least 15 minutes and thoroughly rinsed off afterwards. It works anywhere between 30 seconds and 15 minutes depending on what it is eradicating so it is best to go the maximum for a broad coverage.
Alternatively bleach is another disinfectant, useful on a range of viruses and bacteria. However, bleach takes far more work to deactivate and remove residue. To deactivate see the article on How to clean your bearded dragons House and Furnishings. Be aware, bleach is quite toxic and it must be thoroughly removed.
Set up the bath or other suitable equipment with the disinfectant and water mix. Submerge the wood or rocks ensuring no pockets of air are left for parasites to survive the treatment.
Treatment by Freezing
A less popular method of treating wood and rocks is freezing them. If your freezer is large enough then placing the accessories in there for a few days will allow the coolness to penetrate the entire object.
Note that some pathogens have been known to survive freezing temperatures so this is not necessarily sufficient to treat a particular pathogen that you may have concerns over.
Treating rocks and Wood in the Oven
Putting rocks and wood in the oven is a fast and effective method of treating parasites and pathogens.
The AVMA recommends heating branches between 200-250ºC (392-482°F) for at least half an hour.2 As a guide to what that will kill, the temperature to kill mites is 55ºC (131°F)3 and Salmonella spp dies in a dry heat at 160-170°C (320-338°F) for at least 1 hour.4 Keep in mind that decayed wood ignites at 150ºC and various woods ignite between 190º-260ºC (374-500°F)1.
Monitor the objects in the oven and if they are to be removed prior to cooling down then clearly they need to be out of range of children, pets and anything else that could be injured or catch fire.
The thickness of the branches will determine how long they should be heated for. Wood is a great insulator so thick wood may require 3 or 4 hours of heating to get past any protective insulating layers that parasites may be hiding in.
For large branches, wrap them in black plastic and leave it out in a hot summer sun for a month.
References and further reading
- Physical Constants for Investigators. T.C. Forensic Pty Ltd Forensic and Scientific Services. Data reproduced from “Firepoint” magazine – Journal of Australian Fire Investigators.
- Salmonella: Amphibians and Reptiles American Veterinary Medical Association (Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians)
- Understanding Reptile Parasites. Roger J Klingenberg, DVM, The Herpetocultural Library. California. 2007
- Reptile Associated Salmonellosis. The Center for Food Security and Public Health. Institute for International Cooperation in Animal Biologics. Iowa State University. College of Veterinary Medicine. 2013