Calcium Sands: Is It Worth The Risk?
Youíre in a pet store looking to purchase a substrate for your reptile. As you walk up and down the isle you come across various options to choose from but one in particular catches your eye. It comes in many ďprettyĒ colors and you think it would make your reptile enclosure look great! So what is this substrate you found? Calcium sands.
Calcium sands have been out in stores for many years now. Their colors change and their prices seem to get higher but one thing that has remained the same over these years is the fact that they are dangerous to your reptile. The most common questions I get asked when I say that calcium sands should be completely avoided are
1. How can it be bad for my reptile when the bag says itís ď100% digestibleĒ?
2. Arenít frilled dragons from desert environments how could this be bad?
3. Donít reptiles need calcium so why would this be bad for them?
4. If itís so bad for the animals, why do these companies make them and say they are ok to use?
5. Iíve used it for (insert time amount here) and never had any problems so why should I change it?
Let me answer these questions one by one:
1.The packaging alone will tell you how itís harmful to your animal. Majority of the bags brag about how their calcium sands ďclump when wetĒ. It is this reason why calcium sands are such a risk. If you have calcium sand currently then you will know this is a fact. As soon as the sand absorbs any liquid it becomes rock hard and sticks to the bottom of the tank. The same goes for when your dragon licks the sand or gets a mouthful when he misses a bug or piece of greens in his enclosure. Depending how much your dragon ingests over time depends on how quickly all of the sand will collect in your dragonís digestive tract. After enough has collected in the dragonís intestines and stomach there will be a point where your dragon will become impacted with sand and not be able to pass the sand and ultimately die from it. Poor husbandry can make this happen quicker. The grains of sand are much more coarse than sifted play sand is and can tear or scar the insides of your dragon.
2.Very little of a frilled dragonís natural habitat is made up of sand. In fact their natural habitat is mostly dirt and woodlands. Also a frilled dragon in the wild does not live anywhere near as long as they do in captivity. Calcium sands are dyed sands with artificial coloring so when the dragon walks through it enough it will dye the dragonís scales the color of the sand. Not to mention the dragon will collect grains of sand in their eyes and nose which can cause irritation of the eyes and blockage of the nasal cavities which can without doubt harm your dragon. Calcium sands can get very dusty which can lead to respiratory issues for your dragon as well.
This also holds true to Bearded Dragons as well. Bearded Dragons are from a desert environments and occasionally encounter sand but majority of their land is a clay terrain with a light dusting of loose dirt and sand over it. That sand that they do encounter isn't filled with calcium or colors that may attract them to eat it unlike the calcium sands do.
3.Yes, this is true that many reptiles' need calcium as a part of their diet but they can easily overdose on calcium which is bad. When you dust their food you can regulate how much calcium they take in as opposed to keeping them on calcium sands where they can take in unknown amounts of sand which not only may have too much calcium in it but also will have bacteria in it from their poop and dead bugs or dried up greens in it along with particles of actual sand. Everyone knows it is unhealthy to eat anything with bad bacteria on it so how could it be safe for your dragon? No matter how much you scoop out the poop there will still be bacteria hiding in the sand even if you cannot see it.
4.Companies donít do long term research that will show results such as impaction so to some this is just not known to them. Another reason is none of these companies have regulations as to what is safe and what is not. To a lot of them it is mostly about marketing and making the most money. In a perfect world these companies would only produce good products but unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world.
5.Well this answer kind of goes with answer #1. Depending on how much sand your dragon has ingested over a period of time will determine how quickly an impaction occurs. After knowing all of the risks why would you keep your beloved pet at risk?
Here are some pictures of sand impacted reptiles and impacted reptile from other dangerous substrates like crushed walnut shells (Probably the 2nd most dangerous substrate out there).