Best Substrate Choices for Bearded Dragons

Substrates are an important part of a Bearded Dragons tank setup, it could have negative effects on their health if chosen without researching the options available.

There’s a wide variety out there and I am going to teach you which ones are the best and safest compared to the ones you should avoid.

Substrates Quick Overview

A substrate is a material used on the bottom of your Bearded Dragon tank. 

Herpetologists (The fancy word for reptile specialist) have placed the types of substrate into two categories, loose particle substrate (LPS) and non-particle substrate (NPS).

When providing Bearded Dragons with a substrate, you’ll want to replicate their natural habitat as best as possible.

I recommend using substrates such as;

  • Bioactive
  • Reptile Carpet
  • Excavator Clay
  • Ceramic Tiles
  • Rubber Liner
  • Newspaper

The substrates I recommend avoiding are;

  • Wood chips or bark
  • Sand
  • Paper towels
  • Moss

I’m going to talk about these different forms of substrate in depth throughout this article.

5 Best Substrates for Bearded Dragons

Here is a list of the 5 best substrates I recommend using for Bearded Dragon;

Bioactive

A bioactive substrate is a mixture of loose particle substrates to create a self-sustaining ecosystem within the enclosure. They’re used by experienced reptile owners and I don’t recommend attempting this if you are a beginner.

The most common ingredients used for bioactive substrates are a mixture of play sand, organic topsoil, and clay. The percentages used will vary depending on the size of your enclosure and the digging habits of your beardie.

Bioactive substrates create the most natural looking and enrichment opportunities within their environment but this doesn’t mean they come without risks.

Due to using LPS, you’ll need to ensure the compound mixture is done correctly to prevent any impaction.

You’ll have to monitor the humidity regularly ensuring it doesn’t reach levels higher than 40%.

Pros

  • Natural looking environment
  • Allows digging
  • Enrichment opportunities

Cons

  • For experienced owners
  • Risk of impaction
  • Regular humidity monitoring

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpet comes in a range of shapes, sizes, and colors. It’s usually sold in starter kits for Bearded Dragons, because of this it’s among the most used forms of the substrate by reptile owners.

It’s a great substrate to use because it replicates the natural habitat using the range of different colors you can get.

It doesn’t require replacing as often as some other substrates such as newspaper. However, it does require regular cleaning, I recommend cleaning the reptile carpet at least twice a month. This is because of the potential bacteria build up from feces and waste food, causing illness.

Pro Tip: Have multiple cuts of carpet to allow your beardie to always have a fresh substrate whilst the old one is being cleaned.

Pros

  • Easily acquired
  • Reusable
  • Can be made to look natural with colors
  • Can be fitted to any tank size

Cons

  • Regular cleaning
  • Have to buy a minimum of two cuts
  • Risk of claws being snagged in fabric
  • Bacteria buildup

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Excavator Clay

Excavator clay is a great substrate for the creative mind, you can create tunnels, bridges, and hides for your Bearded Dragon.

Although it can be quite time consuming to set up, you don’t need it to go in all of the enclosure. Clay works really well when teamed up with ceramic tiles.

Putting the time into setting up the clay will be cost effective, because instead of purchasing decorations you can make them instead.

Pros

  • Long lasting
  • Can be used with other substrates
  • Can get creative with tunnels, hides, and other decoration

Cons

  • Time consuming to create

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Ceramic Tiles

Ceramic tiles have the longest life span when it comes to longevity as a substrate.

You’re able to get ceramic tiles from any hardware store, and if you have the dimensions you require with you then you’re able to get the tiles cut to size upon purchase.

Pros

  • Great heat conductors
  • Doesn’t affect humidity levels
  • Easy to clean
  • Doesn’t deteriorate

Cons

  • Can be awkward to fit
  • Slippery

There are discussions that tiles are bad for your beardies joints, this can be caused due to the slippery surface of the tiles. To avoid this, you can get nontoxic adhesive and stick dustings of sand to the tiles to make them rougher surfaces.

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Rubber Liner

Rubber liner is commonly used for shelving and drawers in kitchens. However, some reptile enthusiasts have utilized this product within their Bearded Dragon enclosures. 

It is cheap to obtain and longer lasting than other substrates. It is easy to cut to size and place within the tank. It will not cause impaction and it will not alter the humidity levels.

When purchasing rubber liners, ensure you’re choosing a nontoxic or naturally created product. This is because as your beardie tank will be running at high heat, you’ll not want toxic fumes exerted from the liner.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Long lasting
  • Cuts to size
  • Doesn’t cause impaction
  • Doesn’t alter humidity levels

Cons

  • Can shrink due to high heat
  • Toxic fumes if wrong liner purchased

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Newspaper

Newspaper is a great temporary substrate but I wouldn’t recommend using this as a permanent feature. It’s best used as a backup option, for example, if you’re cleaning or replacing their other substrates.

It’s cheap and easy to acquire. It makes the early stages of owning a Bearded Dragon easy to maintain as you’ll be getting used to cleaning their habitat of feces and waste food. Newspaper is especially great for baby and juvenile beardies because they defecate regularly.

Unfortunately, the newspaper doesn’t meet the requirements for a “natural habitat” substrate. So if you’re looking for a more realistic substrate within your Bearded Dragon tank, then newspaper is not the choice for you.

Pros

  • Easy to replace
  • Cheap
  • East to find
  • No risk of impaction

Cons

  • Needs frequent replacing
  • Only for temporary use

Substrates to avoid

Sand Only Substrate

Due to Bearded Dragons being from semi-arid areas of Australia, many people think sand is a good substrate to use.

I disagree and don’t recommend the use of sand alone. It’s okay if it’s mixed correctly with other substrates to create a bioactive environment, or to create rougher surfaces for grip. 

Sand in their natural habitat is more compacted, more clay like than the fine sand we buy from pet stores or online.

Using sand can lead to impaction in your Bearded Dragon. This is a severe form of constipation. The sand will get clogged up inside their intestinal tract and eliminates the ability to defecate as they should. This is a serious health condition and can lead to the death of Bearded Dragons.

Wood Chips or Bark

Wood chips and bark are LPS. These shouldn’t be used for Bearded Dragons due to the risk of impaction. 

Some woods like pine and cedar are toxic to Bearded Dragons leading to skin irritation and respiratory problems. 

Moisture content remaining in the wood will also affect the environment, the heat within the tank will increase the humidity levels because of the moisture within the wood. 

Moss

I don’t recommend the use of moss, the high levels of moisture within it will alter the humidity in the tank too much leading to health concerns such as skin irritation and respiratory problems.

Due to the high levels of moisture within this substrate, it holds bacteria buildup which also leads to health concerns which are easily avoided.

Conclusion

Ensuring you do research on substrates is important to your Bearded Dragon’s health. I recommend the use of non-particle substrates as they’re safer and easier to maintain.

Remember, safe substrates to use are;

  • Bioactive (Experienced reptile owners)
  • Reptile Carpet
  • Excavator Clay
  • Ceramic Tiles
  • Rubber Liner
  • Newspaper

Loose particle substrates may seem like a good idea, but the risk of impaction is too high and I recommend avoiding using these.