Using cat litter for bearded dragons is generally not recommended. While cat litter may seem like an inexpensive and readily available substrate option, most types of cat litter can pose health risks and should be avoided for bearded dragons.
Can you use regular cat litter for bearded dragons? No, regular clumping and non-clumping cat litter should not be used for bearded dragons as it can cause impaction when ingested.
Can you use non-clumping cat litter for bearded dragons? No, non-clumping cat litter is still not recommended as it can contain clay, silica dust, and other chemicals that are not suitable for bearded dragons when ingested.
Can you use clay cat litter for bearded dragons? No, clay cat litter should be avoided as it can expand when ingested leading to impaction, a potentially life-threatening condition for bearded dragons.
Can you use clumping cat litter for bearded dragons? No, clumping cat litter can cause severe impaction issues if ingested by bearded dragons.
Can you use pine or wheat cat litter for bearded dragons? No, pine and wheat-based cat litter are still risky substrates that can cause impaction or toxicity issues if ingested by bearded dragons.
Can you use paper-based cat litter for bearded dragons? Potentially, unscented paper-based cat litter may be used with caution, but substrates designed specifically for reptiles are still recommended over cat litter.
Can you use crystal cat litter for bearded dragons? No, crystal or silica gel cat litter poses a high risk of impaction and should not be used for bearded dragons.
Dangers of Using Cat Litter for Bearded Dragons
Most types of cat litter pose dangers to bearded dragons if ingested, even in small amounts. Here are some of the main risks:
- Impaction – Clay clumping litter can expand in the digestive tract when wet. This can cause a blockage and impaction, which can be fatal if not treated.
- Toxicity – Clays, silica dusts, and fragrances/deodorizers in cat litter can be toxic. Pine and cedar litters also pose a toxicity risk.
- Intestinal blockages – The hard granules of clay and crystal litters can cause obstructions when swallowed.
- Abrasion – The rough texture of some litters can scrape the throat and digestive tract.
- Dehydration – Absorptive litters like clay and silica gel can pull water from the body when ingested.
Bearded dragons explore their environment and taste substrates out of curiosity. Accidental ingestion of substrates is very common, so impaction and toxicity risks should always be minimized.
Types of Cat Litter to Avoid
Here are the specific types of cat litter that should be avoided for bearded dragons:
Clay Cat Litter
Both clumping and non-clumping clay litters pose impaction risks. The moisture-activated sodium bentonite clay used in clumping litter can expand to over 15 times its dry size when ingested. Non-clumping clay litter is less risky, but the granules can still cause obstructions.
Crystal Cat Litter
Silica gel crystals, like those found in crystal cat litter, are highly absorbent. They can dehydrate the reptile’s body or cause intestinal obstructions when swallowed. The fine dust these litters produce can also cause respiratory irritation.
Clumping Wood Litters
Clumping wood litters typically contain added clumping agents like bentonite clay. This means they can still expand and cause impaction when ingested. Look for non-clumping, pelleted wood litters instead.
Avoid any scented, deodorizing, or antimicrobial types of cat litter. The fragrances, chemicals, and additives used can be toxic to reptiles if ingested.
Plain paper-based litters without additives may be safe in small amounts. However, the paper can still pose an impaction risk. Unscented, chemical-free pellets are safest.
Walnut Shell Litters
Crushed walnut shells are sometimes marketed as eco-friendly cat litter. However, their sharp edges can damage the digestive tract if swallowed by reptiles.
Pine and Cedar Litters
Pine and cedar contain volatile oils that can be toxic to reptiles. The phenols released can cause respiratory and liver damage. Even phenol-free pine/cedar litters pose impaction risks.
Alternatives to Cat Litter for Bearded Dragons
There are several safer substrates that can be used for bearded dragons instead of cat litter:
Reptile carpet provides a soft textured surface that won’t cause impaction if ingested. It should be cleaned regularly to prevent bacterial growth.
Plain paper towels work well for younger dragons. They are inexpensive and easy to replace when soiled or worn.
Shredded newspaper can cover the habitat floor. The ink is non-toxic and paper is digestible if swallowed.
Indoor/outdoor turf mats work well if a naturalistic look is desired. They are soft, easy to clean and won’t cause impaction.
Reptile Sand Mats
Sand mats designed for reptiles provide gentle texture for shedding. Calcium-based reptile sands are safer than mineral sands if ingested.
Ceramic or Slate Tiles
Natural stone tiles retain heat and are easy to clean. Textured tiles provide grip without loose particles.
Spot Cleaning vs Full Substrate Changes
With any reptile substrate, spot cleaning waste is important. Scoop out urates, feces, and leftover food daily. Deep clean and disinfect the entire tank every 4-8 weeks.
For disposable substrates like paper towels, full substrate changes are needed whenever soiled. Reusable substrates like reptile carpets only need to be fully changed out every few months.
When to Change Paper Towels
- Discard and replace paper towels after each bowel movement or urination
- Change out all towel substrate at least twice per week
- Swap out towels immediately if they become extremely soiled
When to Change Reptile Carpet
- Spot clean carpets daily by wiping down soiled areas
- Rinse and disinfect entire carpet every 2-4 weeks
- Replace carpet every 2-3 months
Avoid leaving soiled, damp, or overly worn substrates in the habitat. This helps prevent bacterial and fungal growth.
Best Practices When Using Alternate Substrates
Here are some tips for safely using alternate substrates for bearded dragons:
- Provide plenty of opportunities for exercise outside the habitat
- Add branches, rocks, logs and other accessories for climbing enrichment
- Use paper-based substrates for younger dragons under 12 months old
- Spot clean all substrates daily and replace as needed
- Disinfect reusable substrates like carpets regularly
- Avoid dusty, loose substrates that could be accidentally ingested
- Never use any substrate containing clumping agents
There are a few situations where cat litter may potentially be used with caution:
As an Emergency Substrate
Plain, unscented paper-based cat litter may be suitable for very short-term or emergency use if other more suitable substrates are unavailable.
For Adult Dragons Over 1 Year Old
Plain paper cat litter may be considered for older adult dragons in a pinch, but is still not an ideal solution compared to substrates specifically made for reptiles.
Under Very Close Supervision
Cat litter could potentially be used with exceptional care and monitoring to watch for signs of accidental ingestion. However, this requires extreme owner diligence.
Even in these situations, cat litter does pose risks and other substrates are strongly recommended whenever possible.
In summary, cat litter is generally not recommended as a substrate for bearded dragons. The potential health risks of impaction, toxicity, and intestinal obstruction outweigh any benefits. Safer options like reptile carpets, paper towels, recycled paper pellets, and artificial turf can help provide texture without the same risks of ingestion.
If cat litter must be used temporarily in an emergency, only plain, unscented paper litter should even be considered. At all other times, substrates specifically designed for reptiles are the best choice for bearded dragons to thrive in a safe, healthy habitat.