While in the wild bearded dragon live in a desert-like environment with rocky outcrops, gravel, sunbaked clay, sand patches, especially the red sand as well some vegetation, mainly grasses, shrubs, and some treats.
However, in captivity, they live in terrarium whose environment mimics their natural habit with correct temperature (with basking bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, heat mats, etc.,) and humidity.
Do bearded dragons need bedding or substrate?
Yes. Beardies need a substrate or bedding, which is the material placed at the bottom of your pet’s tank that could be solid or loose. This bedding has many roles, such as creating a desert-like look, making it simple for these pets to walk, helping in wearing down their nails, and so on.
Otherwise, it will be cumbersome for your lizard to walk on a terrarium surface such as glass as such is slippery, and your enclosure will look less appealing depending on the tank type you have.
While it has many disadvantages, not using a substrate has its advantages. For instance, you don’t have to wash or replace it, and it is easy to remove stool. Also their no impaction risk and so on.
Features of the best flooring for beardies
Different pets require different types of substrates. For breaded dragons, some of the crucial things to look at in good bedding include:
- It should be reptile safe, i.e., it should be nontoxic, non-ingestible, or digestible in case your pet ingests it, especially in case of a loose substrate. Avoid those that will cause impaction or have sharp edges.
- Easy to clean or spot cleaning
- Affordable in case you have to replace it often
- Absorbent but doesn’t trap moisture or spilled fluid.
- Less messy and non-dusty
- Provide an excellent grip to avoid your pets slipping.
- Mimic their natural habitat
- Help wear down their nails
- Encourage some natural behaviors such as digging.
- Should minimize chances of feeder insects hiding in them
- Should prevent micro-organism and mold growth
Bearded dragon substrate options
There are many options, from commercial to homemade ones. Some of the commonly used bedding or ideas include the following:
1. Sand substrate – loose bearded dragon substrate
Sand is a popular substrate among many reptile owners, including those with bearded dragons. It is easy to spot clean, affordable, and looks like their natural habitat (desert). Furthermore, it will also encourage digging behavior.
However, not everyone accepts sand as a safe substrate for these reptiles, with proponents and opponents giving different opinions.
Opponents associate sand with the impaction risk (blocking of the intestinal tract), especially to baby and juvenile bearded dragons if they swallow a lot. Therefore, avoid it if you have a baby or juvenile beardies.
On the other hand, sand proponents state that it is safe for adult beardies as well as other pets, including snakes, turtle, or tortoise. However, don’t put their food on this substrate they will ingest some as they eat.
If you decide to use sand, go for bearded dragon safe sand that does not have sharp edges. Also, this substrate should be silicon-free such as the children play or playground sand since it has round grains reducing the abrasion risk.
Furthermore, it should wash and sift it to ensure it is not dusty as dust can cause respiratory problems.
Also, while other people may have a different opinion, reptile sand (such as Repti-sand) is safe for adult beardies. If you opt for it, follow its manufacturer’s direction.
Finally, besides spot cleaning where, replace it after 3-4 months and ensure it does not get wet as this will increase humidity, encourage mold growth, and so on.
2. Stone or ceramic tiles, porcelain, linoleum or textured slate flooring
These tiles are available in most home improvement stores. They are the most preferred option by many people as they are easy to clean. You need to spot-clean them the moment they are soiled and thoroughly clean and disinfect them once in a month.
When buying them, ensure they have a rough texture to provide the needed traction for these pets to be able to walk on them comfortably. Furthermore, a rough surface will also ensure their nails wear out naturally.
Avoid sealing them together, as this will make it hard for you to remove them from your terrarium for cleaning. Just ensure your tiles tightly fit together.
Finally, ensure you provide a digging spot since these pets cannot dig on these tiles. However, not all beardies dig.
3. Reptile carpet and mats
The reptile carpet or rug is popular bedding you can use in your vivarium. It is non-dusty, cannot be eaten, safe for juvenile and baby beardies and is easy to clean if you choose a type that is machine washable (you can wash with your standard washing machine
Spot clean it each time it is dirty and thoroughly wash it once it is dirty. Having two will be a great idea since you can use the second one while cleaning the first carpet. Always ensure it has no free loops as they may entangle your pet’s claws and toes.
Reptile carpets are available in pet stores and online shops, including PetSmart, Amazon.com, eBay, and many others.
4. Nonadhesive and textured shelf liner
These are more or less like reptile carpet. They look more appealing than paper towels or newspapers, come in many colors and are easy to clean, i.e., you can spot-clean textured shelf liners or wash them with a standard washing machine. However, avoid the use of driers as they will damage them
5. Newspaper and paper towels
Newsprints, paper towel, brown wrapping papers, and any other safe paper is a cheap and readily available substrate for your beardies if you want something you use once and throw away afterward. Newspapers will be less expensive than paper towels.
However, some people find them less attractive, not very absorbent, and it can be cumbersome to have to remove and place new ones every day. Furthermore, you have to change them severely if you have young or baby beardies as they have more bowel movements, and they don’t offer the best grip.
Finally, selecting shredded paper will a good if your pet loves to dig when compared to using sand as the latter may cause impaction.
6. Aspen shavings
Aspen shaving does not have toxic oils, making them an excellent substrate choice if you have bearded dragons, snakes, and other lizards. They come in various textures and chip sizes.
These shavings look more appealing than paper towels or newspaper, and easy to spot clean and will provide a digging opportunity to your pet. Furthermore, they are very absorbent, and they offer odor control and are readily available.
However, your pet’s dung may clump them together. Also, if wet, these shaving may grow molds, which is unhealthy for these pets.
Finally, when buying aspen shavings, go for the dust-free brands that are heat-treated to ensure they don’t carry any parasites or germs.
7. Artificial grass or turf
Similar to reptile carpet but easier to clean. However, they may be scorchingly hot if placed close to a heating lamp.
If you have them, spot-clean whenever it gets soiled and thoroughly clean, disinfect it once it becomes dirty.
Finally, ensure it doesn’t have loose strands as they may tangle your pet’s feet or nail.
8. Leaves and leaf litter
It is an excellent alternative to the newspaper. It will provide a hiding spot. However, leaves are hard to clean. Instead, replace them daily. Ensure the specific leaves used are not toxic to your pets.
9. Bioactive substrate
Also, a bioactive substrate (looks like their natural habitat and it self-cleans depending on invertebrates, fungi, or live plants) will be a good idea.
Unlike other substrate types, it will help prevent infections due to the use of the fungus and bacteria to compete with pathogenic ones.
If you opt for a bioactive substrate, make it 2-3 inches deep, ensure you aerate it well, and it must remain moist without being wet to avoid humidity spike and remove any food remains and stool.
10. Alfalfa pellets
Alfalfa pellets are a great pick since they won’t harm your pets even if they ingest them. However, it will be unhygienic for your reptile to eat them once it has defecated on them
Furthermore, they have a strong smell that you may not like, may crumble and become dusty, and in case of moisture, they will quickly grow molds.
11. Excavator clay substrate
An excellent choice if you are creative and willing to form tunnels, hills, and so on. These tunnels shouldn’t collapse afterward.
What to avoid
On the unsafe substrates, different people have different opinions. From our experience and from what others have shared, some of the bearded dragon bedding to avoid include:
1. Calcium sand such as Calci-sand and Vita Sand
If you choose sand, ensure you avoid Calci-sand since it is nothing other than calcium carbonate, which, if ingested in high amount, may cause high calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia). Hypercalcemia leads to calcification of soft tissue and damage to vital organs like their kidney and liver.
Furthermore, it may irritate your pet’s respiratory system (trachea, nose, or lungs) or eyes since it tends to be dusty.
2. Walnut shells
Walnut shells have low dust, are inexpensive, excellent absorbent, among many other qualities. However, they are not ideal for bearded dragons as they may swallow them together with their food, something may cause impaction.
Also, their sharp edges may irritate your pet’s eye or cause corneal abrasions or scratch their delicate skin. Only consider them if they come from a reptile expert such as Zilla Desert Blend.
3. Silica sand
Silica sand can cause abrasion, eye and nasal irritation, or even irritate the space in-between their scales. Furthermore, they are associated with silicosis, a lung disease, especially in case of prolonged exposure to silica dust.
However, going for a washed silica sand can help reduce the dust associated with this substrate, especially if your pets choose to dig.
4. Bark chips such as Zoo Med Repti Bark or Exo Terra Forest Bark
The Zoo Med Repti Bark (made from fir tree bark), cypress bark, among others, are not suitable for a desert reptile but instead those pets that thrive in high humidity as they keep moisture. Also, they present an ingestion risk as well as are prone to mite infestation.
5. Others to avoid include
- Mulches, millet, rabbit pellets, and corn cobs – Avoid them as they tend to harbor bacteria more easily while millet can cause impaction if ingested.
- Vermiculite, perlite, and sphagnum moss– All these are wrong substrates, and you should only use them if you have potted live plants or in your bearded dragon’s egg-laying boxes.
- Soil, including potting soil– It is not suitable as it will encourage microorganism growth. Use it only in potted plants you place inside your cage and ensure it is free of chemicals and fertilizers.
- Pea rock and gravel – Only use it together with safe sand. Pea rock and gravel are not ideal as your pets may swallow them, causing impaction. Furthermore, they will allow spilled water to the bottom of your vivarium, hence encourage microorganism growth.
- Pine and cedar shavings – Have volatile toxic oil fumes that may affect your pet’s respiratory system and skin.
- Avoid AstroTurf or indoor and outdoor carpet.
- Avoid anything that has chemicals or fertilizers.
- Avoid pebbles as they may cause impaction and damage your pet’s teeth. If you insist on using it, choose larger ones that this pet cannot eat.
11 best bedding for bearded dragon – loose and carpet
We have looked at the various bearded dragon bedding or flooring material. It is time to look at the best commercial brands in the market that are safe and comfortable for your pet.
1. Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner
The Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner is the most popular low maintenance, safe and indigestible reptile carpet suitable even for juvenile or younger beardies that comes in brown or green colors.
Besides its biodegradable enzyme that will minimize odor, washing it is very easy. You only need cold tap water.
Finally, it comes in typical bearded dragon tank sizes, i.e., their 10 gallons, 15-20 gallons, 29 gallons, 30 gallons, 50 gallons, 55 gallons, and 125 gallons. Alternatively, you can easily fold and cut it into any size you want.
2. Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate and compressed
This loose Zoo Med substrate will create a naturalistic habitat for your beardie as well as all other reptiles, invertebrates, and amphibians. If you intend to use for these pets or any that thrive in desert areas, use it dry, i.e., don’t wet it to avoid a rise in humidity.
Besides creating a naturalistic terrarium, you can recycle this eco earth substrate (use it in your garden or potted plants) or take it to your composite pit.
Finally, this substrate is easy to spot cleaning easy, has a great scent, and quite affordable.
If you don’t want the loose version, you can buy the Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber Substrate that expandable.
3. Zilla Ground English Walnut Shells Desert Blend
Using the Zilla ground walnut shell bedding is a perfect way to create a stunning desert-like terrarium habitat. Besides encouraging digging and burrowing behavior, it is one of the best loose substrates that have dustless uniformly grounded grains, making it very comfortable for these pets.
Your bearded dragons will stay warm since it is an excellent heat conductor. Also, it is affordable, easy to clean, and very light in weight.
4. Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate
This Zoo Med excavator clay is an excellent burrowing and digging substrate as well for molding multi-level tunnels and terraces that won’t collapse, something that will closely mimic their natural semi-arid habitat.
It is all-natural, i.e., it is chemical-free and has no dyes. Furthermore, it is easy to clean, use, and worth every penny you spend on it. Your creativity is the only limitation if you want the most naturalistic terrarium.
5. Hamiledyi Reptile Carpet Natural Coconut Fiber
This reptile carpet made from 100% coconut fiber is not only good looking and dustless but also healthy and comfortable (nonabrasive).
Furthermore, it minimizes odor thanks to its biodegradable enzyme, is easy to clean (use cold tap water), is absorbent, holds heat, and comes in various colors to help match your bearded dragon’s décor or furniture.
While it comes in standard sizes of 19.7″x11.8″, you can cut in to fit into your terrarium. Other pets, including your spider, ball pythons, leopard geckos, frog, snakes, tarantula, boas, spiders, and so on, can also use it.
I bet you will love its high density, sturdiness, low prices, great packaging, among other attributes.
6. Exo Terra Sand Mat for beardies
The Exo Terra Sand Mat is an appealing option of a naturalistic, desert-like looking bedding that is safe and hygienic. Moreover, unlike sand or loose substrate, it cannot be ingested and has a texture that will provide an excellent grip making him or her feel safer and comfortable.
Additionally, the mat will ensure little or no bacterial growth, is sturdy, comes, and comes in various sizes, or you can cut it to whatever size you like. Typical sizes are mini, small, medium, and large, as well as those for 10, 20, 40, and 60-gallon bearded dragon tanks.
7. Zilla Alfalfa Meal
The Zilla Alfalfa Meal is an all-natural substrate made from exclusively alfalfa making it safe for your adult or juvenile bearded dragon or any herbivorous or carnivorous reptiles, including iguanas, monitors, tortoise, and so on.
It’s easily digestible in case your pet ingests it, will reduce bacteria and other germs (reptile-safe bacteriostatic), is easy to clean, and very absorbent. These features will ensure it stays fresh for a longer time and thus giving you value for your money.
8. Vita Sand for Bearded Dragons – calcium sand
Vita Sand is an all-natural calcium carbonate substrate that has been fortified by only water-soluble vitamins and beta carotene substrate. It doesn’t have any artificial colorants or color sealers, will help increase calcium intake, and it is ultra-fine to avoid impaction.
Additionally, it available in six colors, and besides bearded dragons, you can use it on uromastyx, geckos, desert tortoises, and monitors.
As discussed before, the safety of Vita sand or any other calcium sand such as Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand, which orbicular grains with potassium, odor neutralizer, strontium but no silica or phosphate are debatable.
9. Zoo Med ReptiSand
This natural desert red or white sand is an excellent option if you love sand substrate. It will create a breathtaking naturalistic terrarium that will encourage burrowing and digging behaviors.
Furthermore, Zoo Med Reptisand will keep your pet warm as it is an excellent heat conductor, has no chemical or dyes, and you can also use it for your soft-shell turtles or sand boas.
10. Zoo Med Repti Cage Carpet
The Zoo Med Repti Cage Carpet is an all-natural carpet that comes in green, brown, or gray color and a soft, non-abrasive surface, perfect to all types of reptiles. It is absorbent and suitable for covering loose substrates, especially to baby bearded dragons or juveniles.
11. Zoo Med ReptiFresh Odor Eliminating Substrate
If you have trouble managing odor in your bearded dragon’s tank, consider buying this natural mineral substrate as it will absorb odor while encouraging burrowing and digging behaviors. You can also mix it with your Excavator clay, ReptiSand, or Vita-Sand to help control odor.
Its value for money, long-lasting (can last up to a year without replacement), and easy to use and maintain are some of the attributes that most users will mention if asked why they chose it.
12. Other bearded dragons bedding
- T-Rex Sani-Chips – An aspen wood chip substrate that is dustless, scent-free, absorbent that is very easy to clean.
- Zoo Med Juvenile Bearded Dragon Carpet Substrate –It is washable and easy to clean, safe, absorbent and soft (nonabrasive)
- Zoo Med Dragon Sand – It is made from all-natural fine quartz sand, making it ideal for digging.
- Habistat Bearded Dragon Bedding– It is available in the UK, specially designed for desert reptiles with a mixture of safe soil, grit, and sand, making it naturalistic.
- National Geographic Deluxe Large Reptile Terrarium Liner Grass – Heavy duty, easy to hand wash, and clean carpet.
- Emours Moisturizing Reptile Carpet Fiber Pet Mat, Green
If you have hatchlings or baby bearded dragons, go for a solid type of substrate such as reptile carpet, newspapers, and so on until they are at least 6 inches long. Otherwise, they will be sinking into the loose substrate, making it hard for them to move or hut as usual.