I have a baby Bearded dragon that I got from some guy. He kept them on a gravel like sand which looks horrible and if the little guy did eat some he would not pass some of it through.

I know I'm not suppose to have them on sand especially this small, but mine has had no problems and I take him out when I feed him and he/she has been on it since birth. I am upgrading his enclosure to 20 gallon tank so it will be a bit bigger. More than half the surface will have tiles and the little remaining will be sand. I want him to be able to dig and play in the sand.

I was going to get Zoo Med's Excavator clay but have learned it hardens like a rock and I want him to be able to dig and play in it. Is there any other sand or dirt that sticks together or something he can dig in without it collapsing or should I just get normal sand?

5 Answers 5


You said it. Any substrate that can be ingested, especially sand, is not safe for Bearded dragons - no matter the type, quantity, their age or size.

Some commercial products, like for example Zoo Med's Excavator, will probably claim that their substrate is safe and "digestible" when ingested, but in my opinion it can still cause problems.

I'm not aware of any academic research on the topic, but literature, internet consultants and myself would suggest caution when used. Saying that, sand-like substrates are considered more natural and are still popular choices.

The problem is that many Bearded dragons will have "sand cravings" especially if their Calcium/VitD requirements are not met. They might also accidentally ingest substrates when preying on live, moving insects. Although rare, I had to put many Beardies to sleep because of sand impactions - the risk is real! Insects, like small crickets, might also have ample hiding space if a course textured substrate like some "dirts" are used.

When using sand-like substrates it is advisable to make sure it is hygienic and easily replaceable. When you talk about Excavator clay that hardens, why is that? It should be replaced before that happens. Whatever else you might use, it must also be free of insects and other bugs.

To answer your question, "normal sand" is very vague. It differs from area to area etc. If you absolutely want to use sand, stick to a commercial one. There are a few on the market. Consider a big name like Zoo Med and Exo Terra. Ask your local reptile friendly pet shop for their stock preference and availability.

  • I agree with ignoring a manufacturer's claim that a substrate it digestible. In my experience, it's the ones that put that on their packaging that are the most suspect. I'd actually recommend staying as far from Zoo Med products as you can. Their site it full of false information, and a lot of their products make sketchy claims (like the one above). Apr 11, 2016 at 11:18

This suggestion comes from my experience with Uromastyx.

Uromastyx love to dig, so recently, I started using a clay/sand mix that allows for basic burrows. While I've never had an impaction problem (and I've used plain sand for years), I know the potential certainly exists, so I can't in good consciousness say I recommend sand.

The substrate that I'm thinking of switching to, once I can find a suitable source, is birdseed. It has the same general traits as "non-sticky" sand, but has the added bonus of being readily edible if it's accidentally, or otherwise, ingested.

Here's where I originally learned about using birdseed. Do a search on the page for "bird", and it'll be the first result. I recommend reading that entire paragraph, as it goes over everything they've tried, and the problems that they ran into.


My youngest one uses ecoturf, while the older one has the carpet like bottom, she had an injury on her underbelly and we switched it during her recovery so her site didn't get infected. But she likes the carpet better so we stayed with that.


I would recommend not having a particulate substrate while he's a baby. Larger adults have less of a problem passing foreign objects, but there's always a possibility that it won't be passed and you could end up with an impaction.

If you decide to give him a place to dig when he's older, consider a mix of organic potting soil with sand, I've used that with Uromastyx without a problem, but again there is still a risk with any particulate substrate. Don't use calcium sand or walnut shells.


http://www.beardeddragonlady.com/impaction--constipation.html http://www.moonvalleyreptiles.com/enclosures/top-5-worst-reptile-substrates http://www.herpcenter.com/reptile-articles/calcium-sand-dangers/


No sand really, at least not for babies and juvies. For adults use play sand (if in US - http://ace.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pACE3-2091863enh-z8.jpg).

Basically the sand MUST not turn into hard stone-like piece after it gets wet. It must be like running sand when it gets wet. Then the probability of impaction is lower as the sand will more likely just pass through the dragon instead of forming a hard ball which will just stay inside and impact the dragon.

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