If bearded dragons are hot weather creatures, sand makes sense as a substrate.
But many bearded dragon owners will see their pets eating sand and wonder why.
This is a serious issue (and a mistake!), so I wanted to do some research and provide a clear answer for you on why they eat sand.
As a general rule, bearded dragons eat sand only as an accident when eating other food. However, some may eat sand because of a calcium deficiency in their diet. Unfortunately, overeating sand substrate can lead to serious health issues like impaction, which could be fatal.
Find out more here about why your reptile is eating sand and how to prevent this issue.
Why Is My Bearded Dragon Eating Sand?
If you come across a bearded dragon (Pogona Vitticeps) eating sand, there is not necessarily anything wrong with him, but it a cause for concern.
Sand causes impaction and other digestive issues, which may prove highly dangerous to your pet.
There are two main reasons your reptile friend will eat sand, and both of them are worth checking out.
Bearded Dragons Eat Sand Accidentally
This is even more common with baby bearded dragons and juvenile bearded dragons.
When they lick to eat crickets or other healthy greens, they’ll often get a bit of sand with it.
A little bit at a time isn’t disastrous, but too much is problematic.
With the younger reptiles, they lick things in their bearded dragon tank simply as a way to explore.
It’s not possible to prevent this accidental ingestion, which is why experts recommend you never use sand as a substrate.
Eating Sand To Supplement Calcium
These reptiles do what it takes to ensure they get the proper amount of calcium in their diet, including eating sand.
In the wild, this means they consume different foods than what we would ordinarily feed them in captivity.
Calcium is a staple in their diet because it keeps their bones healthy and strong.
Without enough calcium, bearded dragons suffer severe health effects, including:
- Brittle bones which may break from minor impacts or handling
- Structural deformities in juveniles
- Tail rot
- Skittish behavior
These reptiles have a sixth sense about them, telling them when they may not be getting enough calcium in their diet.
When they start to feel their calcium levels dropping, a bearded dragon will eat more insects.
This is important to note because many of the insects we feed our reptiles have substantially less calcium than what they would receive in the wild.
The other way a bearded dragon may get more calcium in his diet is through eating dirt.
Unfortunately, the reptile sand included in most terrariums is not as high in calcium as the dirt they would eat naturally.
They hail from a more wooded area, meaning they eat a lot more soil than sand.
However, your pet lizards do not understand the distinction.
It is just their instinct to consume dirt or sand.
Make sure you’re using a calcium supplement in your pets diet to meet their calcium needs.
We have a post on the best calcium supplements for bearded dragons to help you find a good option.
Bearded Dragon Health Problems Caused By Eating Sand
One of the issues with a loose substrate in your habitat is your bearded dragon may eat it, just like they do with sand.
This loose substrate can cause them to become impacted.
Not only is this uncomfortable for an adult bearded dragon, but it could be fatal if left untreated.
How will you know if your reptile is impacted?
The first sign is they will not have regular bowel movements.
A baby bearded dragon should have a bowel movement about once a day.
Adults can go for about a week without having a bowel movement.
When these bowel movements stop, owners need to be highly concerned.
Another critical way to tell your dragon is suffering is to look at its belly and its gait.
If they appear to be stiff while walking, this is a troubling sign.
Some may lose control over their back legs or may present as very shaky.
Take a look at their back and belly.
Any large bumps or tender areas should be cause for concern.
What Do I Do If My Bearded Dragon Gets Impacted?
If your reptile has consumed too much calcium sand and become impacted, there are a few ways to solve this at home.
Tackling this problem quickly is essential to prevent long-term harm from befalling your bearded dragon.
The first thing to do is give them a warm bath.
Make sure the temperature of the water is at least 100° degrees Fahrenheit (38° C).
Add plenty of water so they can comfortably swim in their bath for at least twenty minutes to a half-hour.
You may need to add additional water to keep the bath at a comfortable temperature for them.
A massage may also stimulate their digestive system.
Run your fingertips from the top of the head down along their side.
Alternatively, press downward on the chest toward the abdomen.
This is a more intense massage, but it is pretty helpful when it comes to helping your bearded dragon pass his calcium sand.
Another option to help them poop is olive oil.
We have a post that goes into more detail on giving bearded dragons olive oil as a natural laxative if you’re interested in this option.
While impacted, avoid feeding your bearded dragon live food.
Instead, they should have foods easy on the digestive tract such as:
- Baby food purees like pumpkin, apple, or prune
- Canned pumpkin mixed with water
- Sugar-free fruit juices
If all these attempts to correct this issue fail, you may need to take your beloved pet to the veterinarian.
This expense might be pretty costly, but your bearded dragon’s life could be at stake.
How Can I Keep My Reptile From Eating Sand?
The best thing to prevent impaction is to keep your bearded dragon from eating sand in the first place.
Experiment with different types of substrate to determine what your reptile likes the best.
Many people use reptile carpets because they cannot be consumed.
Experts recommend using a solid bearded dragon substrate such as a rubber shelf liner or newspaper as well.
If you insist on using sand (which we do not recommend), it comes down to calcium.
Whether you have a baby bearded dragon or an adult, it essential to make sure their dietary needs are being met.
They are more likely to consume sand substrate if their diet is lacking in calcium.
This issue is easily remedied by dusting their food with calcium powder.
A healthy reptile should also be getting calcium-dusted crickets or mealworms to help balance out their nutrients.
This helps to prevent a calcium deficiency which would lead them to eat more sand.
Another way to ensure they get more calcium in their diet is to leave a bowl of calcium-filled snacks available at all times.
Many owners like to use sepia, which has been shredded into bite-size pieces.
This gives them the same type of calcium but without the need for constant live feeding.