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Bearded Dragon Solid Substrate Guide

Bearded Dragon Solid Substrate Guide

What is a Solid Substrate?

Solid substrates are bedding materials that are solid, meaning they cannot be dug into. If you are creating a habitat for your bearded dragon, we highly recommend setting up your entire enclosure, before your pet arrives in its new home.

Some common choices for solid substrate include: 

Slate Tile

Slate tile can make a great solid substrate because it holds onto heat and can provided your pet beardie the belly heat, they need. The downside of slate tile is that it can be slippery and difficult to grip onto. When using slate tile, it is sometimes a good idea to use multiple different solid substrates so that your dragon has a grippier surface to stand on.

Zen Mat by Zen Habitats

The Zen Mat is a great solid substrate choice because like slate it holds onto heat, but unlike slate, it has a rough surface which makes it easier for your animal to stand and not slip around. The other feature of the Zen Mat is that it is cushioned, which helps soften the pressure on your pet’s joints.

Newspaper & Paper Towels

Paper products are a great, cost-effective solution, but should not be used more than temporarily. Paper is great to use for quarantine, or if you have an ill or recovering animal as it is easiest to clean and disinfect the enclosure when the substrate can be disposed of.

the Zen Mat in a 4x2x2 Zen Habitats Reptile enclosure. An example of solid substrate in a bearded dragon enclosure

Pros and Cons for a Bearded Dragon Solid Substrate:

Pros for Solid Substrate:

  • Easy to clean 
  • Reduce the risk of impaction 

    Cons for Solid Substrate: 

    • Doesn’t provide natural digging opportunities.

    Solid vs. Loose Substrate. What’s the difference?

    Substrate is the term used for the “bedding” inside a reptile’s habitat. Opinions of substrate options for bearded dragons vary widely by keepers and professionals in the reptile hobby. 

    How To Create A Bearded Dragon Bioactive Terrarium

    Loose Substrates: 

    A loose substrate is any sort of bedding that is made up of “loose” materials like dirt or sand. Some common loose substrate options include:

    • Commercially available sand and soil mixes 
    • Super fine quartz sand 
    • Bioactive mixes 
    • Excavator clay 

    Pros for Loose Substrate:

    • Provides natural digging opportunities 
    • Less maintenance (bioactive setups) 

    Cons for Loose Substrate:

    • Impaction risk 
    • Many studies have been done and it has been determined that the loose substrate alone does not cause impaction, but multiple factors a long with the use of loose substrate including: 
      • Incorrect loose substrate material (calcium sands) 
      • Dehydration 
      • Low basking temperatures 
      • High gut parasite loads 
      • Metabolic bone disease 

    Substrate options that are not recommended:

    Some solid and loose substrates, even though are commercially available, are not appropriate for bearded dragons. Please see the attached list and reasons why: 

    • Reptile carpet: Harbors bacterial growth and can catch reptile toenails in fibrous material. 
    • Calcium or Vitamin sand: These are dusty which can cause eye irritation. They can also cause impaction due to the calcium carbonate that it is made up of. Calcium carbonate can also neutralize stomach acid which can lead to digestive complications if swallowed. 
    • Ground nut shells: These are also dusty and can lead to impaction if ingested. 
    • Wood products (mulch, bark, shavings): Can lead to impaction if ingested. 
    • Linoleum/Shelf liner: These are a great way to customize the look of your enclosure, but many of the products release VOCs which can be harmful to breathe in.  

    Substrate for Baby Bearded Dragons. 

    Bearded dragons explore their worlds by taste, and hatchlings are no exception. Hatchling bearded dragons will lick and taste everything in their enclosure, for this reason a loose substrate may not be appropriate for young beardies. We prefer to use a solid substrate for baby dragons such as tile, the Zen Mat, newspapers, or paper towels.

    Are you looking to upgrade your bearded dragon’s current enclosure? Are you starting off brand new with a young, bearded dragon? This guide will go over the pros and cons of different substrates to help you choose the one that will work best for you and your pet bearded dragon’s needs.

    baby bearded dragon complete care guide 

    Substrate for Sick Bearded Dragons. 

    Whether your bearded dragon is acutely sick with an upper respiratory infection, has a chronic medical condition like MBD (metabolic bone disease) or is recovering from a procedure like surgery, using a solid substrate can help make your life much easier.  

    If your beardie is sick with an infection, it is best to use a substrate that can be fully disinfected and sanitized, if you were to use a loose substrate it would be near impossible to make sure that all pathogens have been removed from the enclosure. In cases like this, paper towels or newspapers are recommended as they can be removed and disposed of.  

    Some special needs dragons may not have full mobility and can struggle with a loose substrate, for these beardies a product like the Zen Mat can be very helpful. The Zen Mat holds onto heat well and has a cushioned and textured surface which is easy on your animal’s joint and prevents slipping and sliding around while walking.

    Kasey, Zen Habitats Animal Care Manager author bio

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