Is sand a good substrate for bearded dragons

Is sand a good substrate for bearded dragons?

Choosing the right flooring for your home can be stressful. There are so many types of flooring to choose from. There are also so many subtypes to pick from too. But imagine that you don’t get the power to choose your flooring. And that someone picks a kind of flooring that is harmful to you.

Not very cool right? But this is exactly how bearded dragons whose owners choose sand as substrate feel.  

If you are thinking of using any kind of sand as a substrate for your dragon, my advice is; don’t do it. Sand is not a good substrate for a bearded dragon under any circumstances.

Now the question is; if sand is not a good substrate for dragons. What is? Why isn’t sand a good substrate? And what exactly makes a good substrate? Below, I am going to answer these questions and more. I have to point out that is is not just a sand substrate that is not good for your dragon. Every kind of loose particle substrate is bad for your dragon.

Loose Particle-Based Substrates

Most bearded dragon owners are going to advise not to use loose particle substrate. This is because loose particle substrates are too loose.  They are potential health risks to your dragon since they can be ingested. They can also go into the eyes and nose, potentially leading to serious infections.

Some of the loose particle substrates to avoid

1. Calcium Sand (Calci-Sand)

Calcium sand is loose sand that has calcium in it. But don’t be fooled by the name. Calcium sand is still sand and it will still cause impaction.

Many pet stores will tell you that calcium sand is safe and digestible but it isn’t. It can lead to impaction issues just like regular sand can.

Another thing to consider with any type of sand is that it is not hygienic.  You will leave juices and flecks when a bearded dragon poops and you clean the poop out. This can lead to parasites and health issues if ingested or if it comes in contact with food.

2. Play Sand

This is usually a better sand option than calcium sand. This sand is however not ideal as a substrate for bearded dragons. This is because of the ingestion and infection risk.

Besides, play sand, in spite of the name, isn’t really ideal for “playing”. This is because it doesn’t hold its shape properly. If your beardie is looking to dig in their substrate, you should know that play sand won’t hold up.

In order to make it hold up, you could dampen it a little. But don’t forget that this will raise the humidity and this can cause some issues. Besides, play sand is known to stain bearded dragons skin. It is not something you want your dragon to be in for too long.

3. Wood chips/shavings

Wood shavings are toxic and can be dangerous. It is advised that you stay away from them completely.

4. Walnut shells

They are dusty, sharp, and they have the potential for internal bleeding if ingested.  It is best to about it altogether

5. Alfalfa pellets

This is one of the few truly digestible substrates. They are better to lose particle substrates option than the ones earlier discussed. It however also carries a risk for impaction if too much is consumed.

It is also important to know that just as with any other loose particle substrate, there is still the risk of parasites being left behind from urine and feces. This is better than most loose particle substrate but it is by no means the best substrate option.

6. Millet

Just as all the other substrates mentioned earlier, millet can cause impaction when ingested. It can grow mold and lead to the spread of bacteria and parasites. It is not a good substrate option.

Non-Particle Substrate

The better and healthier substrate option is the none particle options.

These substrates are usually safer options for your bearded dragon because they don’t cause them to become impacted. They also do not get moved around easily. So they don’t end up irritating your beardie’s nose or eyes.

They are also the easiest to clean. This means that they don’t present the risk of parasites. They also don’t have the hygiene issues that loose particle substrates do. Here are a few examples of these healthy options.

1. Substrate Tiles for bearded dragon

Irrespective of whether slate, linoleum, or ceramic, tile is a good option for bearded dragon’s enclosure substrate. Apart from the fact that they are very affordable,  they are also low maintenance. This is because you likely won’t ever have to replace it. Tiles can be slippery so it is advised that you don’t get tiles that are too smooth. Or better still, you should provide your dragon with enough branches to climb over. Another way to heP.your dragon love his tile is to clip his claw nails. You should also avoid leaving water on the tiles. This can cause them to fall too often

Another thing you can do to reduce slipping on the tiles is to use a little bit of non-toxic adhesive and some topsoil or sand to add some traction and make the tile grittier. There isn’t any risk of impaction since the sand will be so fine and stick to the tile. It also will not get into the eyes or nose. Your bearded dragon can enjoy himself on it.

It is, however, important to make sure that whatever tile you get light or heat. It should rather absorb it.

Tile is easy to clean and easy to maintain. It also looks attractive and helps you keep your bearded dragon’s nails nicely filed.

2. Rubber Shelf Liner

This is still a new discovery amongst bearded dragon owners and lovers. it is easy to clean and relatively cheap.  This material makes a great substrate option and can last up to several years before it would need to be replaced.

It is a great option for dragon owners who are looking for something fast and convenient, it is especially nice because you won’t have to deep clean more than once or twice a week.

3. Newspaper/Paper Towels substrate

Newspaper and paper towels are good substrate options. This is especially so if you’re on a really tight budget.  It is however important that you remember to regularly switch out soiled newspaper and paper towels. This will help you avoid leaving germs in your bearded dragon’s tank You can try paper towel and newspapers if you are short on cash or are just trying to gather enough money to build something more durable.

4. Bearded Dragon, reptile Carpet

This is a better option than any loose particle substrate. But listen, this option is problematic because it is so difficult to clean. It can also harbor bacteria and smells. You may need to spot clean often so get two if you must use this option. You will replace the old one with a new one when you are cleaning the old one.

5. Excavator Clay for dragons.

Excavator clay is yet another option for substrates. It is so cool because it gives you the ability to tunnels and hills for your bearded dragon. It can prove useful If you have the time and are willing to spend it on creating a nice habit for your dragon. You can take the time and effort needed to really build a great enclosure.

This clay works well on tile and you can either use it throughout or for just some parts of the enclosure. It allows you to make a custom or personal landscape for your dragon.

Impaction in Bearded Dragons

Loose particle substrates have been known to cause impaction when ingested. This risk is especially common with baby bearded dragons.

They have been known to ingest particles while eating so it will make no sense to fill up their enclosure with particles.


My conclusion is that even if the list of possible substrates seems endless… you should limit yourself to the certified safe ones. Stay away from loose substrates and stick to substrates that have been identified here as the good ones.

Non-particle substrates like reptile carpet, ceramic tile, and newspapers are the safest options. Loose particles-based substrates like play sand and gravel, pose some health risks. This is especially true for younger dragons and is not my first choice for you to use.