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There are many substrate options available for bearded dragon owners to purchase. When you walk into your local pet store, you may see a shelf ever so neatly lined with multi-colored sand. You may also find pebbles and reptile carpets. Well, don't walk, RUN away from that junk and save your money! Why, you ask?
Although many people believe these store bought substrate options to be safe and sanitary for their beloved bearded dragon, that couldn't be farther from the truth. "But if they sell it at the pet store and it has a picture of a dragon on it, it must be safe, right?" Wrong! "But dragons live on sand and pebbles in the wild!" Also, wrong! Bearded dragons do not live on loose sand in Australia. It's much more compact and closer to the texture of rock.
Loose substrates like sand are not safe for your pet dragon for a number of reasons. Let's start with bacteria. Sand can harbor a great deal of bacteria over time. Every time your dragon uses the bathroom in the sand, it is going to leave behind bacteria. Even if you scoop the sand and remove the evidence your dragon left for you, unseen bacteria will still lurk within your bearded dragon enclosure. This can lead to nasty parasites like coccidia and giardia, which are extremely unpleasant for you and your dragon. It can take a while to rid your dragon of these harmful parasites, and cost quite a bit at the vet, so why not practice cleanliness and provide a sterile environment right away? Skip the sand!
Another reason that sand is harmful to a bearded dragon is due to digestion. If you're a bearded dragon owner, you know that they lick EVERYTHING in sight. With that being said, can you imagine if your dragon ate sand? You may toss a few feeders into the enclosure and your dragon would surely gulp down some sand. This would be unfortunate for your dragon. Sand consumption can lead to impaction. Dragons are not able to digest sand. Period. Impaction is painful, may require surgery, and could even lead to death. Again, just skip the sand! This also applies to any other loose substrate. No pine straw, walnut shells, or wood shavings!
What about reptile carpet? Although for the most part safe, reptile carpet is also known to harbor bacteria and fungus. Even if rinsed and dried, all of the bacteria on the carpet may not be guaranteed to be gone. Once again, this can lead to parasites or skin infections. Not fun, right? Right. They also only last about a month and are costly to replace. Depending on your enclosure size, you may end up spending upwards to twenty or more dollars a month on carpet. No thanks!
Dragons cannot be left on a plain glass surface either. Leaving your dragon to roam on plain glass, with its basking and UVB lights, could cause burns. So, what can you use? Paper towels! Glorious, sanitary, easy to change daily paper towels! Paper towels are cheap and make for easy clean up. Your dragon can roam within their enclosure safely. Paper towels are a win win for you and your sweet dragon! Another easy alternative is newspaper.
In short, if you want to save some cash, which you will surely need to do as a bearded dragon owner, then ditch the loose substrate! Go for the safer and cleanlier options listed above! Save your money for feeders, proper lighting, or that cute little hammock you saw. Take your baby for proper checkups. You got this!
Next week, I will be addressing proper lighting. Stay tuned...