Ask half a dozen hobbyists or professional herpetologists to recommend the best bedding for a bearded dragon and you're likely to get six different answers. Beardie bedding is one of the most controversial and hotly discussed subjects in the reptile keeping hobby and some substrates are downright unsuitable to the point of being dangerous. Even the calcium sand sold in pet stores has horror stories attached to it in addition to recommendations from experienced keepers who swear by the stuff. Bearded dragons sometimes ingest substrate along with their food which may lead to impaction, a fatal form of constipation. Tiles, paper, reptile carpet and anything that's too big to eat are safe options, but you can also use silicone-free sand or beech chips for adult beardies.
Loose substrate is only a suitable option for adult bearded dragons over 35cm in length. Washed and dried children's play sand is safer than the calcium sand sold in pet stores because it seems to "pass through" rather than staying in your beardie's digestive system when eaten. Never put babies on sand or any form of loose substrate or they may die from impaction if they accidentally ingest it with their food. Baby bearded dragons eat an astonishing amount of food and they like to try everything in their enclosure to see if it's edible. Unfortunately this means that the little critters will also eat whatever you put down as substrate. Some babies even develop a taste for calcium sand and actively eat it with fatal results.
Beech chips provide a dry, dust-free bedding material but as with all loose substrates, there is always the risk of impaction. Most adult bearded dragons won't eat their bedding, but keep an eye on your pet to make sure he isn't the exception to the rule. Spot clean wood chips daily and replace the whole batch after about two or three months.
Commercially produced reptile carpet is a practical way to keep your vivarium clean and hygienic because it's machine washable. Buy enough to cut into two identical pieces so you always have one in the tank and one freshly washed. Swap them over at least once a week and spot clean every day. If you don't want to splash out on branded reptile carpet, non-adhesive textured shelf liners from a DIY store are a cheap alternative. Make sure you pick one that is washable and use it in the same way as reptile carpet.
Slate and tile
Natural materials such as flat pieces of slate or tile not only add to the aesthetics of your vivarium, they're excellent places for your beardie to take a nap. Bearded dragons rely on the environment to thermoregulate and keep their body temperature constant. A warm rock holds heat from your basking bulb as nature intended and stone-based flooring also provides an effective way of keeping your beardie's claws under control. Slate is easy to spot clean and you should give it a thorough scrub down at least once a week.
Paper towels or newspaper are the best choice of hygienic bedding for baby bearded dragons if you strip it out and replace it every day. Babies do little more than eat, poop and sleep for the first 12 months, so keeping your vivarium clean is a full time job. Disposable substrate is definitely the way to go and there's no danger of impaction for youngsters.
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