Choosing the best substrate for a bearded dragon can be tricky. In this guide, we go over how to select a good substrate material, and what not to use as a substrate for a bearded dragon.
In simplest terms, the substrate is the covering of the floor in the 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 controversial subject within the bearded dragon community. Many people are vehemently against using certain substrates, while others claim it’s the only one to use. The age of the bearded dragon, how much time you have for maintenance, and personal preference can determine which substrate you use.
With the right substrate and appealing plants and decor, you can create a very appealing and natural-looking terrarium. Below are several different substrates you can use in your bearded dragon habitat.
Sand and Similar Materials
In the wild, bearded dragons live on many different types of substrates. You may find bearded dragons in areas with sand, pebbles, or loamy soil.
Many bearded dragon owners feel that using sand as a substrate can increase the chances of gut impaction.
Gut impaction is when the bearded dragon ingests small foreign objects which leads to a blockage of the intestinal tract. These blockages can most likely lead to death if not treated immediately.
Many pet stores may offer pebbles or gravel as a bearded dragon substrate. Pebbles and gravel may lead to impaction if the bearded dragon swallows them over time. Peebles can also damage teeth and the jaw when accidentally grabbed when eating. We never recommend the use of pebbles or gravel as a suitable substrate.
Use non-silica sands with adult bearded dragons without worry of the chance of impaction. Make sure the sand is clean and free of foreign debris. We do not recommend sands for baby and juvenile bearded dragons.
There are reptile sands on the market which are made from calcium, such as 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 calcium sands exclusively, while others say it can still cause impaction. We recommend to avoid using calcium sands for baby and juvenile bearded dragons.
Lay cage liners 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 nails resulting in painful snags. The bearded dragon may react by pulling against the snag causing the nail to rip off.
Try to use a cage liner that has a tight weave to avoid this. Never use indoor/outdoor carpet.
Old newspapers make a suitable substrate for bearded dragon terrarium set-ups. Newspaper is easy to maintain, but it does not look as pleasing as other substrates. The use of newspaper is a sure-fire way to avoid impaction concerns.
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
We do not recommend bark or mulch for bearded dragons. Bark and mulch can retain humidity, causing undesirable humidity levels.
One of the latest trends in bearded dragon husbandry is to use ceramic tiles for a substrate in the terrarium. You can easily find tiles at Lowe’s, Home Depot, or other home improvement stores.
Tiles are easy to clean while giving the terrarium an appealing setting. Use tiles to create a functional hide box. Using tiles as a floor covering eliminates small particles that lead to impaction issues.