Welcome to Part 5 of the Bearded Dragon Care Sheet: Bearded Dragon Substrate and Terrarium Decor!
A quality substrate is very important for the well-being and comfort of your bearded dragon. Substrate is the term for the media which makes up the flooring in an enclosure. Use a substrate media to create a more comfortable and natural environment for the bearded dragon.
- Learn about different substrates that can be used for bearded dragon terrariums
- Discover ways to decorate the terrarium to make your bearded dragon feel at home
- Learn the best ways to use food and water bowls
- Learn why it is important to offer a hiding hut
- Discover how using a background can make your bearded dragon feel safer
- Find out what live plants you can use in a bearded dragon terrarium
There are many different types of substrate options available, and some are a better choice than others. Let’s go over a few types of substrate to help you decide which one best fits your needs.
Calcium Sands and Playground Sands
One of the most popular substrates for bearded dragons is calcium sand and playground sand. Pool sand is a good option as it tends to be much cleaner than playground sand. Using these sands gives the terrarium a real desert look, and is typically easy to maintain.
Many big name reptile supply manufacturers produce calcium sand, and can come in many different colors. They are made from a calcium substance and is very similar to the look and feel of real sand. This substrate helps to promote the natural digging instincts of bearded dragons and helps to retain some heat within the enclosure.
Playground sand is also another option as it is fairly inexpensive and easy to acquire. Most home improvement stores, pet stores, or Walmart carry pool sand or playground sand. Bake playground sand in the oven at 350°F for about 15 minutes to kill off any potential bad germs or bacteria – just to be on the safe side.
Replace sand-based substrates once a month while spot cleaning as any messes arise.
Common Problems With Sand Substrates
There is a huge drawback to using these substrates – they can lead to impaction issues, especially in baby and juvenile bearded dragons. The bearded dragon can easily swallow small substrate particle when lunging for food. Over time the substrate particles build up in the digestive system causing a blockage, or an impaction. Impaction will most certainly lead to death if left untreated. The bad thing is you don’t usually know your bearded dragon is suffering from impaction until it’s too late.
Use a separate empty enclosure just for feeding, and to temporarily house your bearded dragon while cleaning the permanent home. At feeding time, take the bearded dragon out of the terrarium and place it in the empty terrarium. Have food items ready to offer and feed it away from the loose substrate. Once feeding is complete, place it back in the permanent terrarium.
This can drastically cut down on the dangers of impaction, but any time the bearded dragon is in contact with loose particle substrates the impaction chances are present.
Reptile Cage Carpet
Reptile Sand Mat is a plastic carpet specifically designed for use in reptile terrariums. It resembles the green or brown indoor/outdoor carpet used to resemble grass.
This is a low-cost/ low-maintenance option that works really well. It is very easy to clean, easy to replace, and fairly inexpensive. It may not be the most attractive substrate option, but it is one of the safest. There is very little risk of impaction by using this substrate as there are no small loose particles the bearded dragon could swallow.
Reptile cage carpet is easy to remove and clean. Remove and clean the reptile carpet with warm water and a very mild soap at least once a week. Make sure to rinse the carpet thoroughly and allowed to dry completely before adding back to the terrarium. Spot clean any leftover food or feces immediately or as soon as possible. You should replace the carpet at least once every 3 months or as needed.
Do NOT use indoor/outdoor carpet! Instead opt for the cage carpet/ terrarium liner made specifically for reptiles. The toes can snag in the loops of the carpet material resulting in painful injuries to the feet and toes.
Another viable option for substrate is newspaper. Newspaper is often readily available in the home, and makes for a simple solution. Just place three or four layers of newspaper, covering the entire floor area.
Replace newspaper substrates daily. Spot clean any messes immediately or as soon as possible.
While certainly not attractive, newspaper is a very economical choice.
Keys To Success
- Use a good substrate to make your bearded dragon feel more at home
- Reptile carpet, newspaper, or porcelain/ceramic tiles are the best options for substrate for baby and juvenile bearded dragons
- Avoid using small loose particle substrates, such as calcium-based sand, ground walnut shells, or playground sand, with baby and juvenile bearded dragons. These substrates can lead to impaction
Terrarium decor is an essential element of a bearded dragon’s home. You can create a naturalistic and comfortable living space for your bearded dragon by adding a few key terrarium decor pieces.
Next, we will cover these essential terrarium decor pieces to really liven up your bearded dragon’s pad.
Your bearded dragon will definitely need a sturdy basking perch. They love to have something to climb up on while basking.
One of the most common basking perches used is simply a piece of driftwood, or branch of some kind. Driftwood pieces can be easily found at most pet stores and is fairly inexpensive.
Large rocks and stones are another great looking and functional basking perch. Many pet stores and garden centers carry excellent materials for creating basking perches.
What ever you decide to use make sure you sterilize it before adding to the terrarium. Boil wood items in a large pot of water to remove potentially harmful bacteria.
Also, make sure the basking perch is large enough for your bearded dragon to lay on comfortably. Place the basking perch in a way to prevent it from accidentally falling over. You don’t want it to topple over causing a possible injury to your bearded dragon.
In order for your bearded dragon to feel safe and secure you should supply a place for him to hide. There are many different styles available at pet stores which will provide a great spot to hide.
There are rock caves, half-round tree bark pieces, or you can get creative and make a hide out yourself. Just make sure it is large enough for your bearded dragon to fit into, and the entrance is easy to access.
Food & Water Bowls
It goes without saying that feeding your bearded dragon will be difficult without a food bowl. There are many different food bowl options to choose from in the market today. Most pet stores will offer a good selection of attractive food bowls.
Make sure to locate food bowls in an area that’s easy for the bearded dragon to find, and away from any heat sources. Plant-based foods near the basking area can quickly spoil due to the hot basking lamps.
If you have a very small baby bearded dragon, use a shallow bowl that makes it easy for him to see and reach.
Bearded dragons have difficulty seeing standing water and do not typically drink from water bowls. However, it is wise to supply a water bowl with fresh, dechlorinated water. Make sure the depth of the water bowl is not so deep that your bearded dragon could drown. A shallow bowl, less than an inch in depth, should work perfectly.
Empty and clean food and water bowls daily. You don’t want to leave spoiling food in the enclosure overnight. Replace water with fresh, dechlorinated water each day.
Offering a home to your bearded dragon that makes him feel safe and secure is very important for their mental health. We mentioned one way of doing that – providing a suitable hiding location. You should also provide a background to the back of the enclosure to add security.
There are many options of backgrounds available. Some new editions are backgrounds made from molded styrofoam and plastic formed to resemble rock walls and other scenery. These are inexpensive, lightweight, and most important, very attractive.
Even simple aquarium backgrounds work well to provide security.
You can let your creative juices flow and even create your own great looking background. Just make sure the materials you use are non-toxic and safe for use. Therefore, avoid anything the bearded dragon could possibly eat or swallow.
If there is a lot of foot traffic around your bearded dragon’s enclosure, you may need to also cover the sides so only the front is viewable.
Providing a background gives the bearded dragon a sense of security while also creating a more ascetically-pleasing terrarium.
The possibilities of decorating a bearded dragon terrarium are virtually endless. You can go as far as your imagination can take you.
Rocks and pieces of driftwood are very common decorations. There are many fake plants you can add, like cactus, desert brush, and others.
It is best to use fake plants over adding live plants. Bearded dragons are omnivorous, so they enjoy vegetation such as live plants. Therefore the bearded dragon may devour any safe live plant within a few weeks.
This is the short list of live plants which are safe for bearded dragons:
- Elephant Bush (succulent)
- Aloe Vera (succulent)
- Opuntia Cactus (Prickly Pear)
Designing the bearded dragon habitat can be a lot of fun. Perform a search on Google to find some very interesting terrarium designs to find inspiration!