Top 5 WORST Reptile Substrates

Finding the right type of substrate, or bedding, for your reptile can be very difficult. Whether you are working with a tropical gecko or a desert lizard, it’s important to know what to look for. It has to be safe, free of dust, non-toxic, non-irritating, absorbent, and not likely to be eaten – or at least be passed through the digestive system if it is.

Some substrates that are good for one environment type are not necessarily good for another. Similarly, some bedding is good for one type, but dangerous for another. You need to know your reptile species!

When it comes to choosing a bedding, use common sense. Any brand of pet litter that advertises clumping or scoopable is going to be a problem – this includes corn cobs, clay litter, and any kitty litter, which often contains clumping agents like bentonite and silica. Things that clump will stick to tongues and get into food; once swallowed, they can wreak havoc on the intestines. Sharp particles can also get into the mouth or cloaca and cause irritation and infection. Skin irritation can also occur – although scales look tough, reptiles actually can have rather delicate skin. Pet litters are often very dusty and can cause respiratory issues.

Don’t use sharp rocks, such as un-sanded, rough lava rock, as decoration, and avoid stones and gravel altogether for bedding, as they don’t cushion falls for climbing reptiles and are not good for burrowing. You can use them for a drainage layer, but they can be heavy so be cognizant when putting together a naturalistic enclosure. Larger, smoother stones are best for decor.

There are many options when it comes to reptile enclosures. So while there isn’t always a definitive BEST substrate, there are some contenders for the WORST. Especially ones that are specifically marketed to reptile keepers despite known concerns voiced by hobbyists and vets.

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For Sale: Female Crested Gecko – RC #11

Price: $225.00 Out of stock

For live animals you *must* select FedEx Overnight Shipping

RC-#11 is from our friend and local breeder Rob Clark of Four Peaks Reptiles. High-percentage partial pinstripe harlequin female crested gecko. 23 grams as of 1/24/2015.

For Sale: Unsexed Crested Gecko – Rumfort


For live animals you *must* select FedEx Overnight Shipping

Rumfort is from our Tricolor project, this one is offspring from Awesome-O X Sienna. Reddish-brown coloring is a lot like mom (Sienna), with some interesting patterning from dad (Awesome-O). Light blueish eyes.

For Sale: Male Crested Gecko – RC #2

Price: $125.00

For live animals you *must* select FedEx Overnight Shipping

RC-#2 is from our friend and local breeder Rob Clark of Four Peaks Reptiles. Parcial pinstripe male harlequin crested gecko. Note: Polydactyl; extra toe “nubs” on back feet do not affect health or behavior. 25g as of 1/18/2015.

Chlorinated Water

Some people have concerns with chlorine in tap water, but there have been no reported problems with crested geckos. Certain other reptiles may be more sensitive – and amphibians and fish are definitely sensitive to tap water. If your tap water is safe (you can check quality reports online for most municipal areas), then there’s no real problem with using plain old tap water. However, if you live in an area with contaminated tap or well water, or if you have a variety of animals like fish and amphibians to care for, you should learn about chlorinated water and how to deal with it.

How is Chlorinated Water Harmful?

For most animals, chlorinated water is not a concern. Humans may find the taste unpleasant, and the water can still contain sediments and dissolved solids that could cause other issues of water quality. Always use water sources approved for human use. For example some outdoor pipes, spigots and garden hoses are not labeled for drinking water. They can impart lead and other harmful elements to an otherwise safe water source!

One concern for reptile keepers with glass or clear plastic enclosures is that the minerals in tap water cause hard water deposits. This impairs viewing and can interfere with adhesion of arboreal geckos, like cresteds.

Chlorine and chloramine are chemicals used to treat tap water to make it safe for human consumption; it is assumed that it is therefor safe for other non-aquatic vertebrates. Animals that don’t live in water ingest water orally, and the chemicals are broken down while it works its way through the digestive system, before reaching the bloodstream. These chemicals are used because they kill microorganisms that can make you – and possibly your pets – sick.

Drinking water

Chlorine and chloramine, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, are highly toxic to fish because it causes gill necrosis. Chlorine and chloramine may do the same thing to lungs if they were constantly exposed the way fish gills are to water containing the treatment. However, it’s just the nature of the aquatic environment and the way gills work. Similarly, amphibians like frogs, toads and salamanders have semi-permeable skin that lets a variety of chemicals access the bloodstream directly. The only direct harm to reptiles would be if they routinely soak in water and take in the chemicals via the cloaca, which may then enter the bloodstream without being digested.

So if you have chlorinated water, and don’t want to use it – what can you do about it? You can dechlorinate your water or you can use a different source. To make water safe for fish or amphibians, you need to either remove the contaminants from tap water or use a different source of water.

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