Sand (Loose Substrate)


This is probably the most  controversial topic in the beardie world (and many other reptiles).  People believe that since they are found in a desert that means their  whole tank should be full of deep sand or sand-like substrate. The old  way of thinking is that when beardies eat the sand, it somehow helps  them digest food. There are many reasons why loose-substrates are  dangerous, expensive and unsanitary. 

*** For  this page, I will be using the word SAND to define any loose-substrate  that resembles sand, which includes: walnut sand, calcium/vita sand,  excavator sand and reptile sand ***

Reason #1: IMPACTION

This is the biggest  reason why VBR is against sand and wood chips. This is a common  occurrence with captive reptiles. Impaction is when sand or certain foods  cause the beardie to be essentially severely constipated and blocked up.  Impaction can occur from beardies licking or eating the substrate. This  CANNOT be prevented by feeding them in a bowl or outside of the  enclosure. Beardies lick to explore their surroundings and smell, so no  matter how much you try they will lick and ingest the sand or actually  swallow full wood chips which can injure them internally. 



Sand and wood chips  harbour bacteria from feces/urates and even from their food. Sand has  also been linked to yellow fungus disease, a fatal flesh-eating fungus.  If a beardie has a cut or any kind of injury, sand has been known to  cause infections from getting into the wounds. Sand and wood chips can  also cause serious eye infections, this can happen from dust or the  actual substrates getting into their eyes. 


Reason #3: UNCLEAN 

Sand and wood chips cannot  be properly cleaned. Even if the feces is removed, bacteria begins to  spread throughout the substrate and needs to be replaced. This is the  equivalent to making a cat live directly in their kitty litter and not  being allowed to get away from it.  

Reason #4: NOT NATURAL

Believe it or not, sand  is not natural for beardies. The Australian desert is primarily hard compacted clay, rocks and trees/shrubs. People often forget that beardies are semi-tree dwellers and spend most of their time in a tree  or perched on a rock or log. They do not come into contact with that  much dirt/sand as it would be dangerous to spend too much time in the  open. The sand and substrates sold at pet stores are often not natural  sand to begin with. Calcium sand, for example, is a fortified substance  that almost turns into concrete when wet.

Walnut sand which is made of  crushed walnut shells is a common substrate, yet is not something most  animals would come into contact with or even think to ingest. Walnut  sand has even been known to cut the insides of beardies stomachs.

Reason #5: EXPENSIVE

Using sand or wood chips  is not cheap, surprisingly. The substrates all have to be replaced at  least monthly, often needing more than one bag to fill up an enclosure.  One bag of vitasand costs about $19, so if you buy at least one bag a  month that can equal up to $230 a year. Tiles, our favourite 'substrate'  is often already in people's homes, even if bought from a hardware  store, it would only be a onetime cost and will last virtually forever.

What options are available other than loose substrate?

Tiles (recommended),  slate tiles/flat stones, reptile carpet, reptile grass, papertowel,  newspaper, sand mats, shelf liners and even blankets. The possibilities  are endless when it comes to decorating with non-loose substrates. 

More pros: 

  • Non-loose substrates are washable, meaning they can be sanitized.
  • Tiles and slate rocks help to file beardies nails down, something that would happen naturally in the wild.
  • Tiles, stones, and even  reptile carpets or grass are esthetically pleasing. Enclosures become  more customizable, this means you can give your beardie different  textures to feel.
  • Tiles and stones hold heat extremely well, no need for dangerous heat rocks or mats.
  • Since non-loose substrates are cleanable, enclosures often smell much better and are more enjoyable.
  • Non-loose substrates often encourage beardies to be more active and move freely through their enclosures