When it comes to shopping for things for our homes, most of us know what we like.
We have particular brands of things we buy, and we stick with them because they are
comfortable, the price is right, etc. We know that are regulated to prevent false
claims and ensure safety. But how do we know what to buy for our pets? Many of us
rely on advertisements and product labels, and we read them with great relish, hanging
on every word. "Look, honey, this heat rock says it's got a temperature regulator
in it!" or " Hey, this one says it is hypo-allergenic!" or better yet, "Look, this
one says iguanas prefer it over any other brand!" Now wait a minute. Just how do
we know these statements are true, anyway? Unfortunately, for many pet-care items,
we have no way of knowing. The pet care trade is not regulated the same way products
made for humans are. So, how do we KNOW that iguanas prefer brand X over brand Y??
We don't. So, how do we choose? By looking at all available possibilities, comparing
them, and using our own good judgment. Below are some bedding products available
for reptiles and other pets. I have added my own comments, based on experience, listening
to the experiences of others around the world, and my own common sense. This is my
opinion, only, and is not set in stone, but perhaps it can guide a new reptile owner
away from some of the "proven" bad products and avoid a heartbreak.
Particulate substrates (made of little pieces):
Reptile bark nuggets (various brands): NOT a good substrate, especially for iguanas.(Yes,
I know what the bags say…) It's nice-looking, yes, but can be swallowed. Once ingested,
it frequently gets impacted (stuck) in the digestive tract, usually leading to a
slow, painful death for the animal. Would you let a 2-year-old play with chunks of
bark unsupervised??? Would you let a 2-year-old eat off of a plate you placed on
Reptile bark mulch (various brands): see the comments about nuggets, same applies
here. Aspen is the only possible acceptable choice (for snakes), but only if feeding
is done in a separate area.
Sand: ditto (Am I getting boring here??) Also, in addition to impaction, it can cause
abrasion to the belly area and arms. Again, think in terms of a 2-year old human….
Would you let them loose unsupervised on it??
Cat litter: Causes impactions, as well as leading to lung problems from inhaling
the dust. Abrasions similar to sand are caused as well. VERY BAD CHOICE, unless
your reptile is really a cat.
Corn cob: Causes impactions, is NOT digestible (I don't care what the pet store told
you.) Also causes abrasions to the mouth area if it gets in between the gums and
lips. This may lead to severe mouth rot. Another problem: Corn cob frequently contains
reptile mites, a pesky parasite that can injure or kill your reptile pet (similar
to fleas on your cat or dog.) (see my Mite Article.)
Reptile/bird litter: looks like tiny green onions that have been squashed and turned
brown. It's cheap, but has the same problems as corn cob.
"Lizard litter" brand from ESU - a good choice, as far as we can tell. Evidence suggests
it *is* ingestible, doesn't have mites in it, doesn't cause abrasions. Easy to clean
(like clumping cat litter.) More expensive to start off with, but you use less over
time as you only change the soiled part. As with any particulate substrate, feed
in another tank to minimize any ingestion.
Jungle Lizard Litter, ESU - good "potting soil" type bedding, great for burrowing
animals. This is made of dirt, however, so impactions are possible. Also, a mess
when you take your animal out of it. Good choice for planted terrariums, burrowing
animals, etc. Make sure you feed in another tank to try to minimize ingestion!!
Walnut shell bedding (various brands) - may cause impaction, some abrasion, though
less than sand. Looks nice, can be inexpensive. Not recommended for lizards, though
snakes would be less likely to ingest it, as long as you feed them in a separate
"Care Fresh" brand recycled paper bedding - great for snakes and lizards, can hold
in humidity, or be used dry. As with other substrates, feed in a separate area.
Newspaper pellets: Should be OK for snakes, some concern over newspaper ink fumes
(no problems yet documented). As with any particulate bedding, feed in a separate
"Calci-sand" from T-Rex: Touted as ingestible, but some concern over impactions has
been expressed by users. Feed in a separate area. Not recommended for lizards. Some
concern for abrasion has been raised as well.
Aspen bedding - Widely used in the industry, non-toxic. Good for burrowing snakes
and lizards. Feed in separate area.
Bottom line on particulate beddings: Some are OK for snakes, as long as feeding is
done in a separate area. Lizards should avoid most particulate bedding.
Reptile carpet/pressed felt carpet: Works great, looks nice, easy to clean in washer
or in sink. Should be cleaned WELL between usings (with bleach). More expensive at
beginning, but doesn't have to be replaced often. Doesn't have "loops" that can
catch on claws. Good choice for any reptile.
Newspaper: most widely used substrate. Cheap, easy to replace. Doesn't look as nice,
and may give off fumes (not documented yet.) Available at your local convenience
store when needed.
Blanketing: nylon/polyester/acrylic blankets cut to fit cages, cheap, easy to replace
when they finally shrink beyond usability. Available at most discount stores. Must
be cleaned with bleach between uses.
Bottom line: Solid substrates are easier to use than most particulates, easier to
obtain, but don't look as nice, and aren't for burrowing reptiles.
So what is MY top pick for substrate? Two of them: Newspaper or CareFresh; but you
decide what is best for your situation and budget.
As with anything, there will be instances where exceptions to these generalizations
will occur. Use your own judgment, and remember that you can't trust what the ad
or packaging say…. Feel free to call with any questions, comments, or concerns.
Bonnie Keller is the Founder of the VA Reptile Rescue, Inc., as well as the Founder/Past
-President of the NH Herptile Society. She can be reached by e-mail.