appears to be a lot of choice out there in substrates
marketed for reptiles. Fortunately, the decision making
isn't so difficult, once you realize how dangerous or
inappropriate so many of them are for your reptiles.
The labels the product manufacturers use
to tout the supposed safety and desirable qualities of
their products unfortunately bear little relation to the
reality of the nature of the material and form their products
is little difference between those substrate products
that claim to be "digestible" vs. those that
are indigestible. 'Digestible' means that which can be
safely broken down and nutrients extracted; 'indigestible'
is that which cannot be broken down. Indigestible matter
may or may not be able to pass through the intestinal
tract to be eliminated with the waste products. If it
doesn't pass through, it can form an obstruction in the
gut, one which may eventually block the passage of ingesta
or, if farther down the tract, can prevent feces from
being passed through to elimination.
matter can also puncture or abrade the gut lining, causing
perforation, sepsis, or inflammation. All wood, paper,
sand, litter and cob products are indigestible, regardless
of the fact that they were created from organic (previously
living plant) sources.
Natural! It's Biodegradable!"
diapers are biodegradable...it takes, what, 300 years?
Orange peels are also biodegradable - they only take 5
years when exposed to the elements. Biodegradability is
*not* an appropriate criteria when deciding on a substrate
in so far as using it as a measure of safety for the species.
is a wood product...and consistently causes respiratory
infections in prehensile tailed skinks. I've also noticed
that water in snake enclosures evaporate faster when this
bedding is used than when I use pine shavings. Shavings,
wood and paper pellets have caused and will continue to
cause intestinal blockages in reptiles of many different
species...just because it is "natural" (wood)
or "biodegradable" does not mean, as product
manufacturers and pet stores imply, that they are safe
for use as substrates... If that line of reasoning were
true, there'd be no cause for concern with our iguanas
eat things like coins (metal biodegrades), balloons (latex
is natural), oleander (it's a plant and iguanas are herbivores,
line: pet product manufacturers have one primary goal:
their bottom line, not the health of your pet. You must
become a proactive consumer and learn to ignore the hype
and marketing department's hyperbole and half-truths,
and evaluate the product itself.
of Problematic Substrates
touts their Calci-Sand as a calcium supplement. Unfortunately,
this is harmful for most reptiles, such as green iguanas,
as if they do ingest it, it will cause impactions, just
like all other particulate substrates. Desert animals
who live on sand don't ingest enough of it to make it
worth the expense, not when plain, cleaned playground
sand can be purchased for about $5 per 50 pound bag. Bottom
line: The way to prevent metabolic bone disease is not
by dumping a bag of an overpriced, potentially harmful,
substrate into their enclosure, but to provide a proper
calcium supplement for those species who need it; feed
a properly constructed and supplemented diet to herbivores
and omnivores; feed healthy prey to carnivores, omnivores,
and insectivores; and provide UVB-producing fluorescents
or direct unfiltered sunlight to those species dependent
on UVB for the formation of pre-vitamin D for adequate
Zoo Med's Repti-Bark and other bark products are indeed
"an all natural product made from the ground bark
of fir trees." They do not, however, make a "perfect
cage substrate for all high humidity loving reptiles [including]
Iguanas, Anoles, Hermit crabs, Tarantulas, Toads and many
types of Geckos." Just ask all the iguana owners
whose iguanas have died from ReptiBark gut impactions,
or were saved by having the vet cut them open and remove
clumps of bark from their intestines.
Bed-a-Beast and Bedding Bark
These have the same problems: they are wood
and so are not suitable for many reptiles, despite manufacturer
and seller claims. The most hysterical claim, if one can
find such things amusing, is that they are "sanitary"
(due to being heat treated) and "mite-free".
Well, everything is mite-free until it is exposed to mites!
There are no manufacturers out there intentionally impregnating
their particulate substrates with mites. That happens
in pet stores when the stores accept mite-infested animals
from their wholesalers, distributors or from people walking
in off the street. The mites, which generally proliferate
under the inattentive/uncaring eye of the pet shop employees,
start doing what mites do: wander around and breed like
the tiny arthropods they are. Within a few short weeks,
all wood products within mite strolling or hitchhiking
distance has been colonized by mites. Buy the wood product,
and you have now colonized your reptiles' enclosures with
them. As for sanitary, they are sanitary only until they
are wetted by food, urates, feces, or blood. If you don't
clean the enclosure regularly, including disposing of
soiled substrata and cleaning and disinfecting the enclosure
surfaces, it doesn't matter how sanitary a substrate is
when it starts out.
Cob/Walnut Litter/"Desert Sand"
Many years ago, bird keepers became aware of the problem
associated with using walnut shell litter for their birds:
shortly after being wetted with water or feces and urates,
a colony of bacteria started growing, often underneath
the surface of the litter. So, what happened when the
walnut shell recyclers found they'd lost a significant
share of the bird market? Repackaged their crushed shells
for reptiles, of course! One went one step farther and
touted theirs as safer than sand. Given that I've never
seen sand get moldy, that's a pretty odd claim to make.
Why is walnut shell (and corn cob, for that matter) not
suitable for reptiles? Aside from promoting bacterial
and fungal growth (yes, even when they have been "heat
treated" at the factory), they can stick to the hemipenes/cloacal
tissue when it is everted during defecation and are thus
retracted up into the body, causing irritations and inflammation.
They also cause irritation, inflammation or injury to
the digestive tract if ingested intentionally or accidentally
- and no matter how closely you watch your reptile, you
aren't watching it 24/7. If that reptile is an arboreal
lizard who spends a great deal of time investigating new
things with its tongue, ingestion is guarantee.
Litters = Particular Problems
problem with particulate litters in general is that clumps
of feces/urates/litter tend to get buried under a layer
of litter in the course of the reptile moving around its
enclosure, so the moldy clumps may not be found for a
while...leaving the reptile to come into physical contact
with it, which helps break it up and create airborne spores
or particles which are then inhaled, or infect tiny skin
defects, or get into the eyes, all of which can cause
inflammation and infection.
litters, like the CareFresh, are so dusty all the time
that many reptiles develop respiratory infections within
24 hours due to the inflammation caused by the inhalation
of dust particles. Prehensile-tailed skinks are particularly
prone to this.
a less inflammatory look at substrates and appropriate
uses of, please see the Substrates
for Reptiles article.
for Green Iguanas and Other Large Arboreal Lizards
of all to clean and disinfect
to get, can be machine washed with bleach
as 'green' environmentally, but safe and easy
(Indoor/Outdoor artificial grass carpeting)
be cheap but wears out and kind of a drag to clean
and\par disinfect when you get into big pieces
or Freezer paper
bit slippery when wet but not as fumy as newsprint
or newspaper. Available at restaurant supply houses.
actually be pretty expensive if purchased at moving
supply store; may be obtained in remnant rolls
from newspapers. Less toxic than printed newspaper
edible, the only truly digestible particulate
substrate, but sometimes dusty; wetted portions
must be removed ASAP as it gets moldy very quickly
in warm iguana enclosures
not use ANY particulate matter, including those new lizard
litters and bark products which claim to be safe for iguanas...they
are not. No sand, gravel, rocks, cat litter, paper litter,
any kind of litter corn cob, shavings, bark, "calcium
sand" or sand of any kind.
for Reptiles (Excerpt from Master's Thesis)
and Diarrhea in Green Iguanas
of Laxatives in Reptiles
Of Cedar Or Pine As A Substrate
on the use of pine in captive herp environments