Choosing The Best Substrate for a Bearded Dragon


The substrate is the covering of the floor in your bearded dragon’s enclosure. There are many different types of substrates you can use for your bearded dragon.

The best substrate for a bearded dragon is a highly debated subject within the bearded dragon community. Many people are vehemently against using certain substrates, while others claim it’s the only one to use. Which substrate you use can be determined by the age of the bearded dragon, how much time you have to keep it properly cleaned, and just personal preference.

Here are several different substrates you can use in your bearded dragon terrarium.

Sand and Similar Materials

Bearded Dragon SubstrateIn the wild, bearded dragons spend their entire life running across sands and pebbles. Many bearded dragon owners feel that using sand as a substrate can increase the chances of gut impaction.

Gut impaction is when an object (or objects) are ingested by the bearded dragon and leads to a blockage of the intestinal tract. These blockages can most likely lead to death if not treated immediately.

Pebbles and gravel are often times offered as a substrate in many pet stores. These pebbles and gravel can also cause impaction if the bearded dragon swallows a small one. Peebles can also damage teeth and jaws if one is accidentally grabbed while going after an insect.

Non-silica sands can be used with adult bearded dragons with a limited worry of the chance of impaction. Sands are not recommended for baby bearded dragons.

There are some sands on the market that are made of calcium, called Vita-Sand. The idea is that the calcium based sand will become metabolized when swallowed allowing the bearded dragon to easily pass it.

Some bearded dragon owners use Vita-Sand exclusively, while others say it can still cause impaction.

Reptile Carpets

Another substrate that you can use for your bearded dragon terrarium is reptile carpets, or cage liners. These are generally a synthetic carpet made to simulate grass or deserts.

Cage liners are simply laid across the floor of the enclosure to cover the bottom glass.

One worry of using cage liners is that the loops of the liner may get caught in the bearded dragon’s claw causing it to get snagged. The bearded dragon may react by pulling against the snag causing the claw to be ripped off.

Try to use a cage liner that has a tight weave to avoid this.


Old newspapers make a suitable substrate for bearded dragons. They are easy to maintain, although they do not look as pleasing as sand. If you are worried about impaction problems then newspaper is a sure-fire way to avoid it.

Some pet stores sell a newspaper substrate that consists of washed and shredded recycled newspaper. This make a great substrate for bearded dragons that love to dig without the possibilities of impaction. The downside to this substrate is that it can retain humidity.

Bark and Mulch

Bark and mulch can also be used as a substrate but not highly recommended for bearded dragons. Bark and mulch can retain humidity, causing the humidity levels in the enclosure to be higher than desired.

Ceramic Tiles

One of the latest trends in bearded dragon husbandry is to use ceramic tiles for a substrate in the terrarium. You can use tiles from Lowe’s or Home Depot that are usually used in bathrooms or kitchens.

The tiles are easy to clean and gives the terrarium a nice look while practically eliminating the chances of impaction issues.

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  1. Chris Swisher says

    I have had a baby bearded dragon for about six months. This morning i found him dead in his cage. He hasn’t seemed to grow much at all. The only thing different was I purchased another baby dragon, and it was a bigger one, and put him in the tank with my other dragon 15 days ago. They seemed to get along fine. The one that died had a little bit of more watery stools the last few weeks. Was it ok to put them together? I feel terrible about this! What could have happened?

    • Allyson says

      I have done the same thing, put two lizards in the same tank together. Bad bad idea :0 Some people think that only Males are Territorial, but Females are just as territorial as the males. Both of mine are females, and i purchased them from a friend of mine. When they came to my house in two separate tanks. I asked why this was so and he said that when he got them, they were in the same tank, and the bit bigger Female over domatanted the smaller one, but luckily i gave my lil’ sis the smaller dragon. And sweetie PLEASE don’t feel terrible about it. You did not know, it is okay!! If you ever decide to purchase another dragon, just keep that in mind. Good luck with your next Beardie :3

  2. nancy says

    We just got a Bearded dragon, Its 1 month old. This morning she looks as though she shedding her skin. Do they do that?

    • says

      Hi Nancy! Thank you for visiting our site and adding your question.

      Shedding is absolutely normal! Bearded dragons shed their skin as they grow. It is quite common for a baby bearded dragon to shed as much as 6 – 10 times a year. Mist your beardie frequently while they are shedding to help loosen the skin. A bath in lukewarm water will help as well. Hope this helps!

  3. Justin says

    I have a 3 and a half year old bearded dragon I out pellets in the cage reptile pellets and bedding is that fine? Bc crickets kept comeing under the news paper

    • says

      Hi Justin, what kind of pellets are you asking about? At 3 and a half years old, pellets should be alright to use as long as they are either digestible or large enough that the beardie can’t swallow them. If the pellets are not digestible but small enough to swallow then they could (and most likely would) cause impaction issues. Make sure the pellets are not made of materials that could be toxic to reptiles or develop any harmful fumes. If it is made specifically for reptile then it may be okay to use.

      As far as bedding, I wouldn’t recommend using the wood shavings-type of bedding. That’s mainly used for snakes and not good for bearded dragons.

  4. says

    Hi Liz
    Newspaper is your best bet for a baby bearded dragon. Mine are about 8 months old now bit I still keep them on newspaper and they are very jappy and healthy babies. DO NOT use sand whatever you do when they are babies as it could impaction which you definitely dont want to happen.
    Good luck with your new baby! ^_^ xxxxx

  5. says

    I am going on different websites and there telling me to not us walnut sand for bearded dragons but that is what i have been using for about 3-4 years so should I stop using it and get something else and what is the BEST for bearded dragons

    • says

      Hi Brandon,

      I highly recommend NOT using ground walnut shells. There is a very high risk of impaction with this substrate. The ground walnut shells clump together very easily when wet increasing the chances of an digestive tract blockage. I once found this out the hard way when I first started caring for bearded dragons. The best substrate I recommend is either newspaper, terrarium carpet, or ceramic/stone tiles.

      I hope this helps and good luck!

  6. Leeann says

    Yesterday I gave her chopped up small pieces of Apple , I hope that didn’t cause any kind of blockage we are all so upset . She was the most placid beardie ever !

  7. Megan Voyer says

    I have recently gotten my long term Bf a baby beardie who is doing very well :) We have done a TON of research and I myself have cared for a king snake and 2 leapord geckos. As it is a baby we have it on reptile carpet to keep impaction from being an issue. We will be putting her/him on some kind of sand substrate when it is large enough. I appreciate that it is a bit controversial but i have used it before with no issue and intend on doing so again. Now my question is, what is the best sand/faux sand to use? I have heard regular sand box sand is the best but am looking for a bit more direction.

    • says

      Hi Megan,

      That’s a very good question, and one that is open to much debate. Everyone has their own preferences and opinions on substrate. In most cases once a bearded dragon is a full adult you can use a sand-type substrate, but there is still always a chance of impaction. Anything they can potentially swallow can cause a blockage. Even if the bearded dragon just swallows a tiny bit it can build up over time leading to impaction. Impaction doesn’t occur all at once in most cases, but builds up over time leading to a partial, or full-on, blockage.

      I recommend waiting until your bearded dragon is at least a year and a half old until introducing a loose particle substrate, and even then I also recommend feeding in a different terrarium that has a reptile carpet, newspaper, or bare bottom to reduce the chances of impaction.

      If you are set on using a sand style substrate I would go with a non-silica playground/sand box sand over using the calcium-based “reptile” sands.

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