Bearded Dragons may be ancient lizards, but they were only introduced to the U.S. in the 1990s, though they have become a very popular choice for domesticated pets.
Bearded Dragons are native to the woodlands and deserts of Australia.
When the reptile is transferred from the wild to the aquarium (preferably at last 75-gallon,) it is essential to recreate the natural environment as much as possible.
Deciding on what substrate to put on the ‘ground’ of the aquarium for bedding is a personal choice, but there are some substrates that are better than others.
We will explore the different types of bedding to use, which ones are best and which ones you should avoid for the safety of your bearded dragon pet.
Substrate isn’t the only thing to think about when getting a bearded dragon, though.
You should also consider UV lights (or access to sunlight) and/or heat lamps. Adding branches into the new habitat ensures your lizard will be happy and healthy, as they love to climb.
Types of Bedding/Substrate
Substrate is the material you use to cover the floor of the aquarium tank.
It determines not only how frequently you will need to clean the tank, but also what type of environment the enclosure will be.
Substrate options include:
Sand is the most common type of substrate for bearded dragons. Sand is most like their native desert landscape.
Bearded dragons love to burrow and sand is loose enough to allow that. However, that looseness can be a danger.
Young bearded dragons can eat the sand and become impacted. That means their digestive system is blocked, which is often fatal.
Even adult lizards can accidentally ingest the sand when chasing crickets or other live insects used as food.
If you chose to use sand, regular playground sand is a good choice. You can also give your bearded dragons the insects in a shallow dish to prevent sand ingestion and possible impaction.
Reptile carpet is a cage liner made from synthetic carpet. It is meant to simulate the grass and surface of the desert. Reptile carpet is easy to clean – simply remove it the soiled carpet and replace with new.
However, reptile carpet isn’t without dangers. There is concern that the bearded dragon can rip a claw out if it gets snagged in the carpet. Use carpets with tight weaves instead of loops to prevent this.
Simple old newspapers can be used as substrate. Newspapers are easy to clean and they don’t pose a risk for impaction.
Many pet stores sell shredded newspapers for substrate to let your bearded dragon dig. But the shredded newspaper as substrate can retain humidity, causing the enclosure to become dangerously humid for the lizard.
Bark and Mulch
You can use bark and mulch to line the bottom of the enclosure to be used as bedding. However, it’s not recommended.
This is due to the risk of your bearded dragon ingesting it, as well as increasing humidity levels of the habitat.
Ceramic tiles are the trendy option for bearded dragon substrates. You can purchase the type of times usually placed in kitchens and bathrooms to line the floor of the enclosure.
This gives the aquarium a sleek look while being easy to clean. However, the tile doesn’t really have anywhere for your bearded dragon to dig or burrow.
Clay Burrowing Substrate
Like sand, the clay is closest to the natural habitat of the bearded dragon. In fact, the clay is made by mixing a special type of sand with water.
The clay poses no risk of being ingested because it hardens and can’t be eaten. If you want to rearrange the clay after it is hardened, you can easily do so by adding more water.
You will be able to make hills and caves for your bearded dragon. Your bearded dragon will love it, because they can dig their own caves and tunnels.
Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons – Top 8 Options
1) Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate
The clay can be molded into tunnels and hills. It is loose enough for your bearded dragon to dig their own tunnels that are safe from collapsing.
But it is firm enough to prevent your bearded dragon from ingesting the substrate, preventing the risk of impaction.
While the substrate is meant to last for a long time, you need to keep an eye on any of it that is exposed to the heat lamp or if it starts to emit a bad odor.
The Clay Burrowing substrate is 100% natural. It doesn’t have chemicals or dyes added.
2) National Geographic Deluxe Large Reptile Terrarium Liner
The texture of the substrate is short, brown artificial grass. Grass in the desert is more brown than green, giving your Bearded Dragon a feel of ‘home.’
The heavy duty rolled grass can be cut to fit exactly the size of the enclosure. If needed, you can save the roll for future use.
The risk of ingesting is null and void because the liner is inedible. Impaction is a serious concern for owners of bearded dragons, but this bedding can remove all worries of that happening.
The liner can easily be washed by hand and reused for a long time.
3) Exo Terra Sand Mat
It is easily removed and cleaned for a hygienic habitat.
The measurements of the mat are 35.5 by 17.5, but it can be cut to fit smaller tanks.
The sand mat provides firm flooring instead of loose sand for your bearded dragon’s safety.
4) Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner
The roll of the liner can be cut to size. It is made of non-abrasive absorbent material. The plush carpet comes in green or brown, giving the enclosure the appearance of a desert.
The carpet is treated with an enzyme that reduces odors. Despite this, the substrate is entirely safe for your bearded dragons because the carpet isn’t loose enough to be eaten.
It is an especially good choice for juvenile bearded dragons.
5) Zoo Med Juvenile Bearded Dragon Carpet Substrate
If it becomes soiled, it can be easily replaced or simply removed and cleaned.
It’s no-fuss bedding that can be installed on the bottom of the enclosure.
Putting in a few small branches for your bearded dragon to rest on can make your pet’s new home comfortable and safe.
The carpet can’t be ingested. But be sure all the looser strands are cut away to prevent your lizard’s nails from getting stuck on the loops.
6) Zilla Ground English Walnut Shells Desert Blend
Your bearded dragon will feel like they are in a true desert home where they can dig and burrow.
You’ll want to use up to 2 inches of the desert blend to allow your bearded dragon room to dig.
It is recommended that the walnut shells be removed and replaced once a month.
However, the remnants are 100% compostable. The substrate is a great heat conductor to keep your pet comfortably warm.
7) Zoo Med 26080 Repti Cage Carpet
The Zoo Med carpet can’t be ingested by your pet bearded dragon, which makes it a safe substrate option.
It is cost-effective because it can be cut to size and cleaned when necessary.
The carpet is absorbent, so it may need to be scrubbed with soap and water to remove odors and clean soiled areas.
8) Zilla Alfalfa Meal
The bedding is ultra absorbent and gives your lizard up to 2 inches of comfortable layering.
What Not to Use for Bedding
Bearded dragons have small digestive systems, making it difficult for them to pass objects through. Young bearded dragons are especially at risk, due to their curiosity and even smaller digestive system.
When a bearded dragon’s digestive system is blocked, it is called ‘impaction.’ It is usually fatal and something you want to avoid.
The most common cause of impaction is eating the substrate made up of small particles that is used to line their enclosure.
Sand and bark are two of the most common substrates that pose a risk to your bearded dragon becoming impacted. Both contain small, loose particles.
Old newspaper, reptile carpet and clay are the best options to avoid impaction.
Do Bearded Dragons Need a Heat Lamp?
Bearded dragons originate in the desert climate. So, it’s no surprise that they like their enclosures to be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They especially like to bask on rocks under the beating sun.
But how do you get the sun indoors? You can’t, but you can buy the next best thing: a heating lamp. The lamp can be positioned directly over your lizard’s favorite rock.
This also keeps the other side of the enclosure cool so that your bearded dragon can move between the different temperatures.
You will also need an ultraviolet lighting system to provide your bearded dragon ample amounts of vitamins that they miss out on by being indoor pets.
The lights should be turned off at night; even bearded dragons need darkness to sleep.
Top Pick and Final Thoughts…
And the winner for best bedding choice is Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate.
That’s my top pick, but not just because it sounds super fun to mold the clay into hills or watching a bearded dragon dig tunnels.
This substrate made from clay seems the safest option to prevent impaction. It is too firm to eat, but still loose enough for your bearded dragon to burrow.
I have a Weimaraner, a dog breed that is prone to bloat. It is something that is always in the back of my mind when I feed my dog or he drinks a lot of water.
It sounds like impaction in bearded dragons is similar to bloat and the result is usually not good.
The other bedding options are great in their own ways, but the clay is one of the few that is 100% natural without added chemicals or dyes. It also gives your bearded dragon the closest experience of its true desert habitat.
And the clay substrate saves money because it can be remolded into different shapes and has a long life span.
Burrowing and tunneling are good sources of exercise for your bearded dragon. It can be difficult for them to exercise in the confines of a tank.
Like most species, lizards need regular activity to keep them mentally and physically healthy.
I’ve learned a lot of new things about bearded dragons while researching the best bedding to put in their enclosures. I don’t see myself getting a bearded dragon any time soon, as I prefer for my pets to have fur.
But it was interesting getting to know more about the ancient lizards with spiky beards. Thank you for coming along on this learning experience with me.
I hope you found the best bedding option for your bearded dragon.