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  • Writer's pictureIan Bromham

Is sand KILLING my beardie???

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Bearded Dragons live on sand in the wild, in captivity, it allows them exhibit natural behaviour such as digging.
Juvenile Bearded Dragon on Sand

Will a sand substrate give my bearded dragon impaction?

There is much debate over the use of sand as a substrate for bearded dragons. Every time I open Facebook or Instagram, I see comments such as “You can’t use sand in your Beardie’s enclosure, it will give them impaction”, or even questions like “what is the best substrate for my bearded dragon?”

For so long now there has been this fear mongering from unqualified and inexperienced keepers over the use of sand as a substrate.

The dark side to this misinformation is the negativity attached to commenting on social media posts, and the bullying and harassment that keepers receive for keeping their scale babies on sand.

Let’s get real!!

Bearded dragons live in a harsh arid environment, their natural habitat is on fine red clay soil, with loose litter, large gravel and decaying tree matter.

As they are semi-arboreal, they will climb the low-lying branches to bask in the sun. During times of extreme heat, they will burrow below the surface to keep cool (thermoregulate).

Gravid (pregnant) females will bury their eggs below the surface to allow the retained heat in the soil to incubate the eggs.

For us to mimic this in captivity we should be using a fine sand that doesn’t clump when wet.

Click this link to a YouTube Tutorial on "setting up a bearded dragon enclosure".

The best product that we have found on the market is washed play sand from the hardware store. At about $8 for a 20kg bag it is also the most economical substrate too!!!

“So why is everyone afraid of using sand as a substrate?”

But where did the link between sand and impaction come from?

To understand the link, we must first understand the natural biology of the central bearded dragon.

Bearded dragons require high heat to digest their food, in captivity we must provide a hot area ranging between 38-40 degrees Celsius. This will not only allow the beardie to digest their food, but it will also encourage a greater appetite leading to healthy growth.

When dragons are kept in captivity in low heat, they are unable to digest their food, have low appetite and low energy. On the chance that the beardie ingests some substrate, they will be unable to digest and excrete this regardless of the type of substrate used. This has a cumulative effect!!

Over time the build up of substrate in the beardie’s intestine will reach a critical level where they can no longer pass faecal matter.

At this time surgical intervention is required or death will be a result.

Wild Bearded Dragon on a mix of sand, clay and gravel
Wild Bearded Dragon

What do we need to stay away from though???

There are substrates on the market and in particularly in pet stores that are high in calcium, when this product gets wet it is extremely sticky and is a dangerous risk of impaction.

The main no-no is white reptile sand!!

As a personal preference I choose not to use the red reptile sand as it can stain their belly and is more expensive than the washed play sand.

A breeder’s HOT tip.

As a breeder I use washed play sand with my Central bearded dragons to mimic their natural habitat.

We have a range of care-sheets available to keep your reptiles healthy.

I wet the sand before I put in the enclosure and I allow the heat lights to dry it, thus creating a hard crust on top. I give my gravid females a deeper side of sand which I keep moist so they can burrow to bury their eggs.

The moist sand will maintain its shape and structure while they dig, it will also prevent the eggs from drying out before you retrieve them.

Final thoughts……

If we keep our beardies on the appropriate sand and our husbandry (temperatures and cleanliness) is correct, using sand in captivity is a great choice for reptile keepers of all experience levels.

If you still have any concerns about impactions, a great option is to feed your dragon outside their enclosure. I generally feed my adults in large individual tubs while I clean their enclosures.

Last time I checked, the Central Bearded Dragons natural habitat wasn't in Barbie doll houses!

Please feel free to send us some feedback below.


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