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Substrate for Bearded Dragons
Substrate is the name for what we use to cover the floor of the vivarium.
What is Substrate?
Now I don't want to tar all pet shops with the same brush, but please be very aware. Pet shops may well in experts in some types of reptiles, but you must never assume they know what they are talking about, and must be prepared to do your own research.
What is the best substrate for a Bearded Dragon?
The best substrate for a bearded dragon is one that cannot be swallowed! This is very important for baby bearded dragons as they are inaccurate feeders and are likely to swallow substrate as they take a mouthful of food.
Until a bearded dragon is six months of age the best substrate to use is kitchen towel. Not only can this not be swallowed, but it is also easy to keep clean, as any soiled pieces can be removed and replaced.
Never use any loose substrate for a baby or juvenile beardie.
The main reason we use it is that it makes a good surface for the beardie to move around on, and also makes it easier to keep the vivarium clean.
Some people like to decorate their vivarium so that it looks nice for humans but this should be the last thing you take into account.
For many who buy from pet shops they are often advised to buy a certain substrate, or if they are buying a 'Complete Bearded Dragon' set up it will come with what the pet shop feels is right.
Once a bearded dragon is over six months old the recommended substrate is sand, or preferably a mixture of broken sandstone slabs with cracks in between. In their natural habitat beardies roam around on impacted sand, so sandstone is a very good subsitute, as well as helping to keep their nails trim. Loose sand is not a natural flooring for them.
On the question of sand, children's play sand is best. It is cheap, clean and fine. The small particles can be passed out through an adult bearded dragon's gut if they are swallowed.
Recommended substrate of sandstone slabs and playsand
Why do pet shops recommend other substrates?
Some pet shops know what they are talking about - unfortunately a great many others do not. It is difficult to know all the requirements of all the different reptiles and animals that they sell, so please do be aware that the advice you are being given may be very poor. Sadly pet shops do not make sales from recommending kitchen roll and play sand which they don't stock!
Calci sand is something that is often recommended as being better than play sand. Unfortunately this is not the case at all. Although it's is often stated as beneficial for bearded dragons - and may even have a picture of a beardie on the packet - if it is swallowed it clumps when wet, and can cause a serious impaction in the stomach.
Wood or bark chippings can also be recommended, along with crushed walnut or coconut shells. Bearded dragon 'Complete Set Ups' often come with these. Just one chip swallowed can be death for your bearded dragon.
You may think it looks nice - but is it worth the risk?
The pictures below show what can happen to your bearded dragon if it swallows calci sand or a wood chip - please do not scroll down if you have a sensitive stomach!
You'll hear lots of people say they use wood chip or similar loose substrates, mainly because they like the look of it!
But looking at these pictures - is it worth the risk?