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Crested Gecko Complete Substrate Guide

Crested Gecko Complete Substrate Guide

What Is The Best Substrate For A Crested Gecko?

Whether you are creating a naturalistic, bioactive, or easy-to-clean terrarium for your Crested Gecko, we will be covering several different substrate options to help you choose the best substrate for your Crested Gecko! If you are researching different options for your pet or seeking to gain knowledge on keeping Crested Geckos in bioactive or naturalistic setups, we will be breaking down the pros and cons of several different Crested Gecko substrate options! For more information on Crested Geckos, check out our Crested Gecko care sheet here!

There is no single best substrate choice for a Crested Gecko. The best Crested Gecko substrate depends on what works best for you and your animal. What is best for one Crested Gecko owner may not be the best for another. You may find it beneficial to try several different options and see which works best for you!

Solid Substrate Options:

  • Paper towel
  • Shop towel

Pros for solid substrate:

  • Easy to clean and sterilize
  • Quarantine or hospital enclosure friendly
  • Reduce the risk of impaction related to ingesting loose substrate*
  • Lower initial cost
  • Less heavy for enclosures that cannot support a heavy load

Cons for solid substrate:

  • Doesn’t provide natural digging
  • Some options may be slick or not allow for proper grip
  • Not aesthetically pleasing and looks unnatural
  • Requires more frequent cleaning
  • No odor control
  • Doesn’t hold humidity as well

Loose Substrate Options:

  • Commercially available tropical substrate mixes (Tropical ABG mix)
  • Topsoil/sand mix

bioactive enclosure by Zen Habitats for geckos and crested geckos

Pros for loose substrate:

  • Provides for natural digging and burrowing opportunities
  • Bioactive compatible
  • Less maintenance to keep clean if bioactive
  • Holds humidity
  • Makes your enclosure look more natural

Cons for loose substrate:

  • Higher initial cost
  • Impaction risk - Many studies have been done and it has been determined that the loose substrate alone does not cause impaction, but multiple factors along with the use of loose substrate including:
    • Incorrect loose substrate material (large materials like stones, gravel, or large chip mulch)
    • Dehydration
    • Improper diet and/or supplementation
    • High parasite load in the gut
    • Metabolic bone disease or other ailments that may hinder proper digestion

*Disclaimer: An animal kept improperly can become impacted without the presence of loose substrate. A healthy, properly kept animal should easily pass small amounts of ingested substrate material, such as getting dirt in their mouth when trying to catch a bug or getting soil in their mouth while digging a burrow.

Unsuitable or Unsafe Substrate Options:

  • Reptile carpet: Harbors bacterial growth and can catch reptile toenails in the fibrous material. Nearly impossible to clean and sanitize.
  • Wood products (coarse large grinds of mulch, bark chips, and wood shavings): Can lead to impaction if ingested and particle size is too large to pass through the digestive Softwoods such as cedar and pine are toxic due to volatile oils that can aggravate the respiratory tract. Poor humidity retention/will mold in high humidity
  • Linoleum / Shelf liner: Many of these products release VOCs which can be harmful to breathe in.
  • Gravel: unnatural, hard on joints, difficult to spot clean and sanitize, impaction risk if swallowed.
  • Coco coir / Coco fiber: Very dusty when dry, clumps together when saturated. Best when mixed in with other soils like topsoil and sand and not used as a stand alone substrate.

How to Create Your Own Substrate Mix for Crested Geckos

For Crested Geckos, it’s best to use a humidity retentive, soil-based substrate that is similar to what is found in their natural tropical habitat. You can create your own substrate mix for Crested Geckos using a mix of 60% organic topsoil and 40% sand. You may choose to add small amounts of sphagnum moss, coco chip/mulch, or horticultural charcoal to help the mixture remain airy and not as likely to condense around plant roots. Saturate the mixture and combine. Finish off with a generous layer of dried leaf litter.

Bert the crested gecko in a bioactive habitat and bioactive substrate mix, crested gecko substrate guide by Zen Habitats

Decorating the Terrarium

Decor plays a vital role in your Crested Gecko’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall well being. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nicer! Without décor, your Crested Gecko’s terrarium is just an expensive box of dirt. Crested Geckos are arboreal, and without things to climb on, the enclosure is relatively useless to your gecko.

Cork rounds, branches, fake vines, ledges, and live or artificial plants work well as décor in a Crested Gecko terrarium. You can also provide additional hideouts both on the ground and hanging around the enclosure. Arrange these items in a way that encourages your gecko to climb and explore and provides a variety of places to sleep in during the day.

To learn more about providing enrichment to your animals, check out our Reptile Enrichment Article!

crested gecko using a wheel in its enclosure by Zen Habitats, crested gecko enclosure by Zen Habitats

About the author: Maddie Smith Maddie has been keeping reptiles as pets for more than a decade. She has a passion for educating others about animals, and currently works with over 50 different species including reptiles, amphibians, and birds!


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