If you are a new bearded dragon owner, you are probably already aware that taking the time to choose the correct substrate for your pet is absolutely crucial and could have a big impact on your pet’s health going forward.
You cannot just put any old material in the base of your bearded dragon’s cage; you must choose one that is suitable and safe for your reptile. However, you may also have to deal with budget restraints and find something that you can source locally and conveniently.
You have might come across something called calcium sand and wondered if this is a possible option, as it is often recommended by pet stores, but many owners of bearded dragons are strongly opposed to it and will suggest that you do not use it.
So, can you use calcium sand for a bearded dragon or is this a substrate that you should avoid?
Sand might seem like a good option for a lizard, but it’s important not to just dive in with the first thing that appears to be suitable.
Doing careful research before you choose a substrate could save your pet from disaster and you from expensive veterinary bills, so don’t just grab the first thing that a pet store recommends or that you see on a shelf.
Always thoroughly check whether the substrate is actually suitable for a bearded dragon before purchasing it.
Is Calcium Sand Safe For A Bearded Dragon?
Calcium sand sounds like a great choice of substrate – it’s dry, soft, desert-like, and presumably packed with calcium that will boost your dragon’s health if it does accidentally consume some of its substrate, so you might be tempted to grab a bag of this as soon as you see it.
However, despite the fact that some pet stores recommend it and use it, calcium sand is widely considered an unsafe option, and many owners of bearded dragons avoid it and advise against it.
Sand has traditionally been a popular choice of substrate for bearded dragons because it is cheap, readily available, and it looks great inside the enclosure – just like the bearded dragon should look in the wild.
It certainly outstrips old carpet or torn up newspaper in terms of aesthetics, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly safe.
Many people believe that bearded dragons live in the desert, and this is another reason that sand has become a popular substrate option, because it seems like the most natural choice for a desert-dwelling reptile.
However, bearded dragons actually come from dry woodlands in Australia, and mostly live on soil with small amounts of sand and lots of leaf litter.
They may encounter sand in their natural environment, but they don’t spend their entire lives on it, and if they consume some of their substrate in the wild, it does not contain a lot of sand overall.
Why Is Calcium Sand Bad For Bearded Dragons?
Calcium sand is bad for bearded dragons because if they eat it, it can cause an impaction, and this could kill your bearded dragon.
Bearded dragons can sense when they are not getting enough calcium in their diets and unfortunately, their solution to this is to eat some of the substrate that they live on, because this gives them access to more calcium and balances the minerals in their bodies.
That’s not too dangerous in the wild where they are mostly eating soil, but if their substrate is entirely composed of sand, it can cause internal blockages.
Calcium sand swells up when it is wet, and the inside of your bearded dragon is wet – so even if your bearded dragon only eats a small amount of sand, this can quickly swell up to form blockages inside the dragon’s body, which is extremely dangerous.
Calcium sand contains lots of useful minerals (besides calcium), such as magnesium and vitamin D, but it remains a dangerous source of these things, and you should not encourage your bearded dragon to eat it.
To be clear, many bearded dragons can live in an enclosure with calcium sand without ever getting an impaction, and you do not need to immediately panic if there is a little of this in your dragon’s enclosure.
However, you should recognize the risks and ensure that your bearded dragon is on a safe substrate. Never use calcium sand for baby bearded dragons, which are at far greater risk of impaction.
What Substrate Should I Use Other Than Calcium Sand For Bearded Dragons?
There are plenty of great substrate options that you can use for your bearded dragon, including reptile carpet, newspaper, slates, and alfalfa pellets, which should all be safe.
Reptile carpet is a particularly good option because it has been specifically designed with the safety of reptiles in mind, and it comes in a variety of patterns.
However, it is tricky to clean, which can be a problem unless you have a second piece that you can swap it for while cleaning.
Newspapers are a great, cheap option, but they are not reusable and they do not look very attractive. They also need to be cleaned regularly because they will smell bad quickly, and they will soak up any liquid and hold onto it, making the enclosure wet.
Ceramic tiles or pieces of slate are an excellent choice because they are easy to clean, tough, and long-lasting, but it is difficult to get ones that will fit your dragon’s tank well. Any of these substrates will work, so choose one that suits you and your needs, and your dragon should be happy.
So, using calcium sand for a bearded dragon’s substrate is not a great idea, especially if your bearded dragon does not get enough calcium in its diet and is therefore inclined to eat the substrate. You should always dust your bearded dragon’s food with calcium powder to ensure that it is consuming enough of this vital nutrient and not relying on its substrate to supplement its diet. If you are going to give your bearded dragon calcium sand, do so in a controlled, safe way.