Bearded dragon substrates
The substrate, or bedding, is the material that is on the floor of the Bearded dragon container. For Bearded dragons, each substrate has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Some substrates are more specifically used for certain purposes.
There are many types of substrates that can be used for Bearded dragons. When it comes to choosing a suitable substrate, various characteristics need to be considered. Considerations include its purpose, what the substrate looks like, cleanliness, ability to clean, absorbancy, digestibility and safety with regards to swallowing.
Commercial reptile or Bearded dragon substrates are available from most specialised pet shops or over the internet. Some Bearded dragon keepers prefer to collect their own substrates.
Safe substrates for Bearded dragons
Good substrates for Bearded dragons include news- or brown butcher paper, carpet, plastic foam mats, Astroturf, alfalfa/rabbit pellets or maize/cornmeal.
These substrates are all easy to clean and are considered safe when ingested. The safest, or best, Bearded dragon substrates with regard to ingestion are paper- and carpet-like substrates, but they might have obvious aesthetic disadvantages.
Unsafe substrates for Bearded dragons
Any bedding/substrate consisting of particles or granules (e.g. sand, gravel, maize, pellets, bark, etc.) can be accidentally or purposefully ingested by Bearded dragons and carry the dangers of causing deadly obstructions and impactions. Granular substrates also often supply hiding space for insects such as crickets.
Although various forms of sand are used with great success by Bearded dragon keepers, none of them are 100% safe. Their justification is based on the low probability of being ingested or swallowed based on the size of the lizard and husbandry methods practised.
Although not always preferred as a permanent substrate, sand does make for a good egg-laying substrate. Moist sand is popularly used temporarily during the late gravid stages of breeding Bearded dragons.
During shorter periods where a pregnant female Bearded dragon shows digging/burrowing behaviour, an egg-laying box containing an egg-laying substrate should be supplied. Good egg-laying substrates include moist sand and moist vermiculite.
Vermiculite is also a safe temporary substrate to use to prevent skin shedding problems in Bearded dragons. Also see safe and effective ways to help a shedding Bearded dragon for more information.
Egg incubation substrates
The best egg incubation substrates for Bearded dragons are vermiculite and perlite. Vermiculite is relatively cheap, easy to obtain and tends to hold moist very efficiently. Vermiculite can be mixed with an equal volume of water.
Below the substrate
To make it easier to remove or replace a substrate, many Bearded dragon keepers use a lining of old newspaper or a sheet of plastic before adding the substrate.
As part of good hygiene practices, soiled substrates need to be removed at least once a day. Where granular substrates are used, the affected area can be removed, but where non-granular substrates are used (e.g. carpets or butcher paper) the entire substrate sheet needs to be removed. One can use an inverted plastic bag over your hand or disposable medical grade gloves instead of bare hands to prevent direct contact with faeces. It is also recommended to remove, clean, disinfect or even sterilise cleanable substrates at least once a week. Also see best Bearded dragon hygiene practices for more information.
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