There are a variety of bedding options for pet snakes. When choosing a substrate, it is best to consider four main things: availability, cost, appearance, and characteristics. How well does it hold moisture? How difficult is it to clean? Are there any health risks? Below is a list of common snake substrates and a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
There are a number of different packaged sands that can be purchased from pet stores or ordered online. The prices are reasonable, ranging from $5-10 for a 5lb bag. Sands come in a variety of colors which look neat in a snake enclosure. There are even sands that glow in the dark or under a black light. The major disadvantage of sand it it’s known health concerns for snakes. Unless you have a snake that is specifically adapted to living in sand, such as a Kenyan boa, sand can cause serious problems. It is well known to cause impactions, as it is indigestible. It also gets under belly scales and causes irritation and uneven shedding. Sand is not recommended for snake substrate in most circumstances.
Artificial turf can be purchased at any pet store or home improvement depot. It is relatively inexpensive. AstroTurf looks nice in a snake enclosure and is easy to take out and replace when soiled. It is best to have a few pieces that you can swap out when needed. The disadvantage is that the turf can quickly become smelly as it absorbs the odors from urates. It can also start to fray from repeated washings, so make sure to check it frequently and replace as needed.
Cyprus Mulch or Bark Chips
There are two big advantages to bark and mulch. They both look more “natural”, and so create a aesthetically pleasing snake enclosure. They also hold moisture very well, making it easier to maintain and change humidity. These materials also have the advantage of letting the snake burrow and dig if it chooses to do so, helping it feel more secure and express natural behaviors. Bark and mulch are readily available at most pet stores, but can be slightly more expensive than other bedding options. One disadvantage to mulch or bark is that if you get a mite infestation, it can be very difficult to control with a more “natural” substrate.
Compressed Coconut Husk
Coconut husk is better at maintaining moisture than Cyprus or aspen, but it is also more expensive and takes some preparation to get it ready for your snake tank. It comes in compressed blocks which need to be soaked and broken apart. The major disadvantage to this substrate is that it easily sticks to prey items which can cause impaction. Since it does maintain moisture so well, it has to be checked and changed out frequently to make sure it does not get moldy or harbor bacteria. However, many snake owners choose this substrate because of it’s softness, moisture and look.
As a brand-new snake owner, I started out with aspen bedding instead of bark chips or mulch. Small snakes may find it easier to locomote through aspen bedding, which is smaller and lighter. Aspen is a light color similar to pine shavings and so doesn’t look as “natural”. It can hold moisture fairly well and is relatively inexpensive to purchase at most pet stores. The differences between mulch, bark, or aspen bedding usually comes down to aesthetic preference and the size of the snake.
The biggest advantage of newspaper is the cost: free! It is easy to use your daily paper or collect it from neighbors and friends. It is also easy to clean, as you just take out the soiled paper and put in fresh. This is a great option for those people on a budget or those who have many snakes to care for and clean every day. You can also use paper towels, but make sure not to get the scented kind as they can cause respiratory issues. There is some concern about ink toxicity, but most modern newspapers use a natural soy-based ink which is completely harmless to animals.
Compare and Contrast
So what is the best option for your pet snake? It really depends on your budget, your time commitment and your aesthetic preferences. Newspaper is cheap and easy to clean, but it doesn’t look the best and doesn’t allow for any burrowing behaviors that so many snakes have. Sand is out for most snakes given the multiple health problems associated with it. Any of the barks or mulches are great options, but care must be taken when feeding so as not to allow snakes to ingest substrate with their prey. They also need to be spot-cleaned daily and completely replaced often. If moisture content is important to you, the coconut husk might be your best choice, while Cyprus or aspen would serve you well as a cheaper option.
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