Reptile Medicine and Surgery Second addition
After running a reptile related channel on Youtube for the better part of close to three years, posting on various reptile forums, and talking to many reptile keepers, it always feels like one of the main questions that come up are "Can I keep my Leopard Gecko on sand?". I have reveived various messeges on youtube, and reptile forums asking this same question and I always give the same responce. In my opinion, it is not okay.
However, not being a herpetologist or veterinarian I don't feel I can make such a broad statement as "No it's not okay" without presenting the proof and information I have collected on this, both on the interenet and in discussion with other herpetoculture hobbiests (I hate calling reptile keeping a hobby, it's a passion, but that's another story). So here is my collection of information gathered, on the much heated discussion of keeping Leopard Geckos on sand.
First, we really have to look at the native range of our friend the Leopard Gecko [Eublepharis macularius], coming from the deserts around pakistan and central asia, the first thing people assume is "Desert? I guess sand is their native substrate". Though Leopard Geckos may come across sand in their day to day (or rather night to night) dealings, it is not something they are confined to. Infact, it is thought that Leopard Geckos may spend the majority of time on hard packed clay and rocky out-croppings rather then the loose sand. So is using sand in captivity actually that much more natrual? Not really.
So what's the problem with using sand anyways? Well the main worry is impaction. Impaction is the blocking of the digestive system caused by injested substance which can't be properly broken down by the digestive systems. It's a major problem in captive reptile keeping and mainly is caused by particle substrate injestion (sand, forest bedding, coco-fibre based products), but can also be caused by improper tempuratures within the enclosure which partially disables the digestive process, or more rarely improper digestion of the chitin from more chitinous live food (Super Worms [Zophobas morio], or Mealworms [Tenebrio molitor]. However this generally is very rare). Another problem, albiet less so than impaction, is hygeine. Sand is a lot dirtier then using non particle substrates (such as Paper-Towel, Ceramic Tile, or Non-Stick Lino). Some brands of sand can also be very dusty and wreak havock on the respiratory system, especially if they are silica based sands which aren't just bad for your pets lungs, but also for yours. Leopard Geckos are also known for eating sand to try and get nutrients, which with the types of sand we use in captivity can lead to impaction. Standard Silica based sand can very easily impact an animal due to how the crystals are shaped, and the "reptile safe" calcium sands are designed to clump under moisture, which obviosly can leed to an impaction.
B-b-but my pet store says it's okay! Hearing this is one of the worste things in my opinion. Not often should you trust a petstore for advice on reptiles, amphibians, or animals in general. They are not specialists (for the most part), they are workers. Like most people in the world they are paid money to sell you product, and pawn off the most expensive items on you so you can make money. Asking a petstore for advice on substrate is like asking an employee at a knife store how to perform knee surgery, just because they sell the items that can be used for it, doesn't mean they know anything about how to use them. It's up to you to educate yourself and make your own decisions.
Fear not however, there are some really good options that are very safe for keeping Leopard Geckos on! Papertowel, though not the nicest, is very safe, sanitary, and easy to clean option for Leopard Geckos. I have used this myself for the close to three years I have had my Leopard Gecko and will never stop using it. Other good options include non stick lino, reptile carpter (the good kind that doesnt catch nails) and ceramic tiles. These look a little more natrual bun can be a bit harder to clean then paper towel. Also, if you really wan't to satisfy the natrual behavior of licking to get nutrients you can provide a small dish (such as a bottle cap) filled with a reptile calcium powder supplement. If the Leopard Gecko feels like they need extra calcium, they may be seen licking from the dish. This Is NOT a substitue for proper food supplementation however.
I thought this information would be a good thing to have around in this section as it can be very confusing to a new keeper as to why people tell them not to use sand. This article is not intended to sound negative, but rather analyze the risks of using a particle substrate with Leopard Geckos. Far too often have I seen a Leopard Gecko on sand in pet stores that have lost most of it's weight and has a bulging belly, a obvios sign of impaction. I know I can't make people not use sand from Leopard Geckos, all that can be done is trying to educate them about the risks and hope they can make their own decisions, no matter what it is. Education is the only cure for ignorance.
*Edits made May 4th 7:13 PM: Adding to article, and a few errors corrected.
*Edits made May 7th 3:01 PM: Spell checking, adding reptile carpet to safe substrate.
From Linky [In the old thred on the old forum]
My responce:What about reptile carpet Dustin? I am talking about the expensive make that are thick and do not hook nails, can geckos be housed on that?
I use reptile carpet for my dragons and my snakes and absolutely love it. Not only does it look natural but it lasts forever. I've cut it into blocks for easy cleaning, all you do is take the block that has poop on out, shake in the toilet, rinse under the tap and shake dry. You dont have to take out any furniture, dont have to use chemicals inside the cage to try and get the floor clean and most of all it takes less than a minute to clean.
People tend to leave the cages dirty because it is time consuming to clean, that is very cruel in my eyes because no living creature wants to live in their poop.
What I hate most about sand is that urates soaks into it and in time the smell inside the cage becomes unbearable. It is really a horrible way to live. Crying or Very sad
Aha! I knew I was missing one of the top substrates! Yes the proper reptile carpet that doesn't hook nails is a perfect type of substrate for Leopard Geckos, provided it's kept clean it works awesome! Thanks for bringing that up, I will add it to the list.