There are many choices for substrates to line the bottom of your beardie enclosure. There are several types of loose substrates, such as sand, pellets and chips, some of which have created controversy as to whether they are safe for your dragon or not.
Other substrates are more solid or more of a cover, such as carpet, newspaper or paper towels, shelf liners and ceramic tiles. Each has its pros and cons, but in any list of the best bedding for bearded dragons, reptile carpet usually tops the list or is close to the top.
The carpet is similar to AstroTurf or fake grass. It can be easily washed, most waste can be shaken off if it is done daily before it sticks too hard, and some kinds are even machine washable. It comes in various colors and patterns, your dragon won’t try to eat it or accidentally ingest it, and it is made of materials safe for your dragon.
The cons are the cost, as it isn’t the cheapest type of substrate available, but most carpets will last quite a while. It also requires having two carpets, as the carpet needs to air dry once cleaned, and this can take a few hours. The yearly cost ranges from $14 to $40 for two carpets.
Excavator clay or burrowing clay is not well known but is great for beardies. When wet, it can be formed into caves, hills and valleys that will stay formed once it dries. It’s not something your dragon will ingest, and he’ll enjoy burrowing into it. It’s not hard to spot clean once it’s been moistened and dried. It’s definitely something to check into.
Newspaper or paper towels usually come near the top of any list. They are easily replaced and relatively cheap. They can get shredded by beardie toenails, but they can be weighed down with the various basking rocks and other enclosure parts to cut down on this. You will need to replace it daily. You’ll probably want some other small enclosure to keep your dragon in while you replace the bedding. The annual cost is around $10 or so.
Some people are attracted by ceramic tiles as flooring. They are easy to spot clean, do not absorb moisture and don’t warp. The problem is that you’ll have to cut the tiles to fit your enclosure space. For best results, you’ll need to get it cut by somebody with a tile cutter. These ensure straight, smooth cuts.
Some people even use slate tiles, which are much more costly. For ceramic tiles, the cost will range from $5 to $20 for a 120-gallon tank, plus whatever it will cost to get the tiles cut.
Is Sand or Carpet Better for Bearded Dragons?
Many people like to use sand, especially since it mimics somewhat the desert environment that many wild bearded dragons live in. Actually, the desert regions that most dragons inhabit are not composed of just sand. There is usually more hard-packed soil around, not sand dunes. Some dragon species live in woodlands.
The only problem with sand is that your dragon can pick up and swallow sand that may stick to crickets or other live food. Even moist greens can pick up sand. While one grain of sand here and there isn’t much of a problem, too much sand can lead to impaction, or a blockage in the dragon’s gut, especially if you’re using ordinary sand.
This is a serious condition and must be remedied by a trip to the vet. In addition, some sand is dusty or has sharp edges which can actually cut a dragon’s digestive organs. Sharp-edged sand is more likely to clump in the dragon’s digestive tract as well. What type of mineral composes the sand may cause additional problems.
It’s kind of a pain to keep clean as well. When cleaning your tank, you’ll have to take out a good scoop of the sand along with any waste to make sure you get the sand that the moisture has seeped into. This means keeping replacement sand around.
If you want to use sand, use playground sand. This sand is not as dusty as some other types. It is primarily made up of quartz, washed to remove dust, then blasted with water to smooth down sharp edges.
This will keep your dragon, especially a baby, from getting any cuts on his feet and also help to keep him from getting a cut or wound in his digestive system in case he ingests a grain or two. Another way to use sand in your beardie’s enclosure is to mix your sand with some clean soil that has not had any chemicals or pesticides applied on it or in it.
When talking about carpet, we’re talking about reptile carpet. This is a carpet made especially for use in reptile enclosures. It’s almost always at or near the top of any list of the best bedding for bearded dragons. It’s usually made from high-density tech fiber or recycled plastic. It can be cut to fit your enclosure.
They are easy to clean, with some types even being machine washable. The problem in cleaning is removing fecal matter, which should be removed daily. The longer it stays on the carpet, the tougher it will be to remove. Usually, the carpet itself is washed completely once a week. Since it needs to be air-dried, you’ll need two carpets, putting one in the enclosure while you wash and dry the other.
The carpet will eventually get a frilly appearance, which may happen after just a few washes. This change may make it easier for your dragon to get his claws stuck in the carpet, which may result in injury when the beardie tries to free himself. If you need information on setting up your enclosure check out my article How To Set Up a Bearded Dragon Enclosure on the Cheap.
What’s the Best Reptile Carpet for Bearded Dragons?
There are many good brands of reptile carpets on the market. One of the top finds is Zilla’s Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner. This product is made from recycled materials. Most waste and dried food can be just shaken off daily.
Of course, your dragon produced urine as well, and this product is both absorbent and treated with biodegradable enzymes to reduce smells. It is recommended that you trim your dragon’s toenails to prevent his getting them caught in the carpet, but other than that, it’s pretty easy to use. Of course, you should get two so you can use one while the other is being cleaned.
Another choice is Zoo MEd’s Eco Cage Carpet. It’s made with tanks in mind, so if you’re keeping your beardie in an aquarium or other glass enclosure, this is one to consider. Repti Cage Carpet for Reptile Cages is very safe, and it comes with two pieces in the pack, so you won’t have to buy two of them.
Can I Use Wood Chips for Bedding for Bearded Dragons?
While some recommend using wood chips or bark, both of these have sharp edges and both carry the risk of impaction. They also absorb humidity in the enclosure, which may make the air dry enough to cause health problems such as respiratory problems and problems shedding their skin when necessary.
Some advocate pellets made from wood and bark, but again, there is a real risk of impaction. The type of wood chips is important as well, as woods such as pine and cedar contain oils that are harmful to dragons.
While using wood chips or bark is relatively inexpensive, the risk is probably not worth it. If you do use these, it’s recommended that you feed your dragon someplace outside of the enclosure to keep him from ingesting any substrate. Not having the right size enclosure can also effect the type of bedding, read my article Bearded Dragon Enclosure Size [What Size Do You Need?] for tips and ideas.
Is Calcium Sand a Good Choice for Bearded Dragon Bedding?
Some people think that since dragons need calcium in their diets, using calcium sand will help their pets. If a dragon accidentally swallows a grain or two, he’s getting calcium. Some owners who notice their dragon eating sand will think that using calcium sand will aid the dragon in getting his needed calcium. Calcium should be provided by his normal diet, not by having to ingest calcium sand. This sand is not a good replacement for a diet lacking in calcium.
Calcium sand usually has sharp edges and is more likely to have grains clump together in the intestines, causing impaction. Additionally, calcium sand has another problem besides causing impaction. Calcium sand is alkaline in nature and can actually neutralize the stomach acid the dragon uses in digestion. This could lead to other health problems. Note that some products marketed as terrarium sand are calcium carbonate sand.
Best Loose Substrate for Bearded Dragons
Excavation Clay – This substrate is less well-known, as you won’t see it in many lists of the best bedding for bearded dragons. It’s also sold as burrowing clay. It looks and feels like the natural habitat of most dragons. You can create hills and caves with it when it’s wet that will remain when it’s dry. Your beardie won’t eat it or ingest it, so there are no worries about impaction. It also gives your dragon the ability to dig, which is a natural behavior. It also is easy to clean.
Playground sand – This is sand made especially for playgrounds. It has been water blasted to round off sharp edges, which means that it is less likely to clump in the dragon’s digestive tract and cause a blockage. It’s also made from quartz, so it is harmless. Like any sand, you’ll have to remove sand around any waste you remove, so frequent replacement is necessary.
Alfalfa pellets – These are used for rabbit and horse feed. If your dragon should eat these pellets, they usually can be safely digested, but there is still some risk of impaction. Any waste, especially liquid waste, should be removed from the tank daily if these are used, as the pellet will absorb moisture. When they become wet, they start to dissolve and can easily grow mold.
Loose coconut fiber – This is sold in pet stores and online and is a soft, loose, natural substrate. It will absorb moisture, keeping odor down but necessitating cleaning more of it out daily than you might want to make sure you get all the fiber that has absorbed liquid waste. You’ll need to change it out completely at least every six months.
Whatever bedding you choose for your bearded dragons is up to you and on your particular circumstance. In use the tips in this article you will find a good bedding option, just remember to keep it cleaned or replaced regularly.