Bedding and Substrate Options for Pet Reptiles

Lizard in the terrarium
Agentur-kroeger / Getty Images

Some reptiles like to burrow, others prefer to bask, and some need a humid environment. Different kinds of bedding offer different risks and benefits. Depending on what kind of reptile you care for you may need to take some of these things into consideration. Here are some common options for reptile bedding or substrate.

  • 01 of 10


    A close-up of wood chips

    Jun Takahashi/Getty Images

    Bedding made from wood comes in different forms, sizes, types, and even colors. The most common types of wood used to make bedding are pine, cedar, Douglas fir, aspen, and cypress. It can come in the form of shavings, pellets, and chips. Veterinarians warn away from using pine and cedar as the smell can irritate the respiratory tracts of the animals living in it.

    Wood beddings are best for arboreal species of reptiles, or ones that don't spend much of their time on the ground. Some concerns with shavings, pellets, and bark chips are the lack of absorbency, odor control, fleas/mites in the shavings, and that shavings can hurt the feet of some reptiles or even cause splinters.

    Some companies dye their shavings different colors or infuse them with chlorophyll. Besides staining the reptile the color of the bedding, these don't do much for odor control or absorbency.

  • 02 of 10

    Recycled Paper Bedding

    A package of Carefresh Bedding

    This type of bedding isn't always marketed to the reptile community, but many owners like the absorbency the small pellets and soft pieces of recycled paper have. It isn't a natural type of bedding for reptiles, but some reptiles like to burrow under the soft paper pieces.

  • 03 of 10

    Coconut Fiber

    A close-up of Eco Earth Bedding

    The stringy fiber pieces, also known as the husk, on a coconut are a different choice for reptile bedding. They are often sold in expandable chunks or bricks and are popular among owners of reptiles requiring high humidity. The gardening industry also sells a variety, but it often has fertilizer in it that can harm reptiles.

    Odor control and absorbency are good, and burrowing reptiles especially enjoy coconut fiber.

  • 04 of 10

    Alfalfa Meal

    A close-up of Alfalfa Meal Bedding

    Alfalfa meal is ground up alfalfa hay, which is then compressed into small cylindrical pellets.

    These pellets are quite absorbent, and some manufacturers add reptile-safe germ control agents to the meal. The pellets are also biodegradable, help with odor control, and should be fairly safe if accidentally ingested.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Paper Towels and Newspapers

    A single roll of paper towels

    Eric Anthony Johnson/Getty Images

    These are possibly the most inexpensive types of bedding. Some owners shred the towels and newspapers to create a "fluffier" type of bedding, which is good for burrowers, and others just put sheets down on the bottom of the enclosure.

    Paper towels and newspapers are absorbent but do nothing for odor control. Owners like the availability, cost, ease of clean-ups, and lack of possible ingestion. It is obviously very unnatural for any reptile but otherwise presents no large problems.

  • 06 of 10

    Reptile Carpet

    Brown reptile carpet

    Exo Terra

    Colors and textures vary, but most carpets are washable. This is the main draw to reptile carpeting. Some stores will cut carpets to match tank sizes, while others are pre-cut and sold for specific enclosure measurements.

    There is no risk of ingestion, and being able to wash them keeps the enclosure sanitary.

  • 07 of 10


    A pile of vermiculite

    LaureniFochetto/Getty Images

    Vermiculite is a mineral that is used in many different ways. For reptile bedding, vermiculite is processed by heating it. When water is added, it separates into many layers and expands into long worm-like pieces.

    This type of bedding is great for high humidity reptiles and burrowers. It is an alternative to peat moss.

  • 08 of 10


    A box of Terrarium Moss

    There are a few different moss varieties used as bedding for reptiles, all of which are good for those preferring high humidity or burrowing. This is a natural substrate like sand.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Ground Walnut Shells

    A package of Zilla Walnut Shell Bedding

    As the name says, this substrate is made of finely ground walnut shells. It can cause impaction, does not hold water, and has no odor control. It is easily scooped like cat litter to dispose of waste and does not clump like sand bedding.

  • 10 of 10


    A package of Repti Sand

    Play sand, vitamin-infused sand, and digestible calcium sand are available to reptile owners. Possible ingestion is the biggest concern for reptiles who eat where they live. Digestible calcium sand is okay to digest if it is in small amounts, but obviously, if a reptile were to get a mouth full of any of these types of sand, impaction would occur.

    Sand that is dyed will usually stain the reptile, but the dye will not harm their skin.

    Owners like sand for desert species of reptiles. It is a natural substrate, and if ingestion is not a concern, the sand does not present any other major problems.

    Sand does clump when wet, sticks to wet feet, and does not help with odor control, but some reptiles, such as the sand boa, need sand to burrow.