Bearded Dragon Complete Substrate Guide
What Types of Substrates Are Recommended For Bearded Dragons?
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.
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. Our Animal Care Manager, Kasey, also does a great job explaining some great options Bearded Dragon substrate options out there in this video.
Solid substrates are bedding materials that are solid, meaning they cannot be dug into. Some common choices for solid substrate include:
- Slate Tile
- Zen Mat
- Paper Towels
Pros for solid substrate:
- Easy to clean
- Reduce the risk of impaction
Cons for solid substrate:
- Doesn’t provide natural digging opportunities.
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 along with the use of loose substrate including:
- Incorrect loose substrate material (calcium sands)
- Low basking temperatures
- High gut parasite loads
- Metabolic bone disease
Bioactive vs. Loose Substrate – What's The Difference?
Bioactive substrates are a type of loose substrate. A bioactive substrate can support plant, microfauna, and microflora growth.
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 the 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 they products release VOCs which can be harmful to breathe in.
Substrate for baby (juvenile) 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.
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.
So - What's The Best Substrates For Bearded Dragons?
There is no set-in stone answer as to what the best substrate is to use, as there are a lot of factors when choosing the appropriate substrate for your pet bearded dragon. The choice will be dependent on you and your pet’s needs.
To learn more about Bearded Dragons, check out our Ultimate Zen Guide to Bearded Dragons! A comprehensive, over 90-page guide, all about bearded dragons!
Bearded Dragon Care
Bearded Dragon Complete Food Guide
Bearded Dragon Basics For New Owners
Beardie Tips From Zen Habitats Animal Care Manager
Zen Mat: Quick & Easy Cleaning