Why Is My Crested Gecko Eating Substrate?

It’s definitely an interesting (and startling) sight to see your crested gecko with a mouthful of substrate! But what does it mean if your pet is eating its substrate, and is it something to be concerned about?

So why is my crested gecko eating substrate? If your crested gecko is eating substrate, there’s a chance it’s not getting the nutrients it needs in its diet. But your pet may also just be overly curious about its surroundings, or it may ingest substrate on accident while eating prey. 

In this article, we’ll go over the importance of substrate and the reasons your crested gecko may be eating it. Plus, you won’t want to miss our guide to the best substrate options for crested geckos!

What Could Make My Crested Gecko Eat Substrate?

First, it’s very possible you’ve just got a curious pet on your hands! It’s not unheard of for crested geckos to “taste-test” a new substrate as they adjust to their environment. However, you definitely don’t want your pet to eat substrate on a regular basis, so if you notice it happening more than once, it’s wise to either go substrate-free or select a substrate that can be digested easily.

But another possible reason your crested gecko may be eating substrate is because it’s hungry or lacking nutrients in its diet. Be sure to provide a balanced diet for your crested gecko, including gut-loaded crickets, waxworms, and mealworms.

You’ll also want to provide fruit or fruit-flavored baby food a few times a week, and use commercial crested gecko pellets to cover any other nutritional needs.

Finally, your crested gecko may accidentally get a mouthful of substrate when it attempts to attack its prey. The best way to avoid this is to simply provide a food bowl for your crested gecko instead of placing its meal on top of the substrate.

Why Is Substrate Important for My Crested Gecko’s Tank?

Substrate is the material used to cover the bottom of your crested gecko’s tank. It’s sometimes referred to as bedding. Substrate provides a surface for your crested gecko to walk on, and with some types of substrate, your pet can dig and burrow as well.

In addition, substrate is important to your tank setup because it helps retain moisture and maintain the appropriate humidity level in your pet’s tank. It can also absorb odors and make your crested gecko’s tank easier to clean. 

What Is the Best Kind of Substrate for My Crested Gecko?

Although the type of substrate you choose might not seem important, it can actually have an effect on your crested gecko’s overall health! Every part of your pet’s environment contributes to its wellbeing. With so many choices available for crested gecko substrates, it can be difficult to know which is the best for your pet! Read our guide to the most common substrate options below.

No Substrate

Because of the risk of impaction, some owners choose not to use substrate at all. This is definitely an option, but it does mean you’ll have to clean your crested gecko’s tank on a daily basis. You’ll also want to take note that because of the humidity needed for your pet, the tank will develop small pools of water without substrate to soak it up. 

These pools of water can then breed bacteria if you don’t keep up with a consistent cleaning schedule. However, many owners think it’s definitely worth it to go substrate-free, especially if they have crested geckos that enjoy eating substrate!

Newspaper/Paper Towels

If you’re on a tight budget, newspaper or paper towel is a good choice for your crested gecko’s substrate. You’ll need to change it on a daily basis, or every time it’s soiled. But paper towels and newspaper are quick and simple to switch out, and they won’t break your budget.

Newspaper and paper towels also don’t come with a risk of impaction, an issue similar to constipation when your crested gecko gets material stuck in its digestive system.

Paper towels are often recommended for baby and juvenile crested geckos because they have the highest risk of impaction from substrate. Although newspaper and paper towels aren’t the most aesthetically appealing choice, they get the job done and don’t pose any dangers to your crested gecko.

Sphagnum Moss

There are many different types of moss that you can use as substrate, but sphagnum moss is the most popular among crested gecko owners. Sphagnum moss not only looks great and is perfect for a more naturalistic vivarium setup, but it also retains moisture well.

This means there will be less need for you to mist your crested gecko’s tank because the sphagnum moss will do its part in keeping the humidity level up.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks to sphagnum moss. First, it’s one of the most expensive substrate options. It’s also been known to harbor fungus in some cases if it’s not switched out frequently enough.

Bioactive Soil

If you want to go completely natural, bioactive soil is the substrate for you. Although it takes some additional effort to put together, you only need to switch it out every few months. A bioactive soil substrate should contain:

  • 40-50% potting soil
  • 10% peat moss
  • 30% coconut husk or coconut coir
  • 10% sand
  • 5% orchid bark
  • 5% cypress mulch

The potting soil serves as a base. Ensure it doesn’t contain any chemicals, fertilizer, or pesticides. The peat moss and coconut husk or coir give the mixture more structure as well as the ability to retain moisture. Finally, the sand, orchid bark, and cypress mulch help the substrate to drain more easily. 

If you create a bioactive soil substrate, be sure to mist it regularly; it should always be slightly damp, but not soggy. 

Carpet

Reptile carpets are on the cheaper end of the spectrum, and they come in different shades and colors so you can pick one that matches your tank setup. Be sure to purchase at least two pieces of carpet so that you won’t have to go without substrate while cleaning. 

Carpet substrate will need to be removed and cleaned on a regular basis. You can also use it as a base at the bottom of the tank with another kind of substrate layered on top of it. Just remember that if you put a moist substrate on top of carpet, the carpet will quickly grow bacteria.

As long as you stay on top of a regular cleaning schedule, it shouldn’t become an issue. 

One thing to look out for with carpet is that the texture can sometimes cause problems for crested geckos. The loops in some carpet choices can catch your pet’s fingers or teeth, causing injury. 

Coconut Husk/Coconut Coir

Coconut husk and coconut coir are made of the same substance, but coconut husk comes in larger chunks and coconut coir is more of a fiber. Coconut husk comes with more of a risk of impaction, while coconut coir is actually safe for crested geckos to ingest.

Although it’s definitely not recommended for your pet to eat coconut coir, it should pass through its system without issue.

Some other benefits of coconut coir are that it naturally resists mold and fungal growth. It does a great job of absorbing odor, keeping your crested gecko’s tank smelling fresh and clean. And it also has a nice natural look that complements many different tank setups. 

Cypress Mulch

While cypress mulch is commonly used among crested gecko owners, there are a few reasons why it’s not always recommended. It does have an aesthetically appealing natural look, but it also comes with sharp pieces that can cause internal injury if ingested by your pet. 

Cypress mulch retains moisture well, and it is great at absorbing waste, which means you don’t have to change it as often as some of the other substrate options. But cypress mulch also comes with the risk of being too moist and becoming a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria.

Additionally, it’s very difficult to spot clean cypress mulch, so it’s necessary to completely replace it every few weeks. 

Wood Shavings

Pine and aspen shavings are two options you can check out if you’re interested in using wood shavings as your crested gecko’s substrate. Just remember to stay away from cedar shavings, which contain oils that can lead to severe health problems for your pet.

One downside of wood shavings is that they can be dusty, but they do look natural and absorb moisture. Additionally, they’re not very expensive, and you can spot clean wood shavings easily. 

Bark

Bark substrate has an appealing look, retains moisture, and is easy to clean. It typically comes at a low cost, but there is a small risk of ingestion and impaction. 

Conclusion

If you’ve noticed your crested gecko eating substrate, it may be lacking something in its diet, or it may just be curious about its environment. It’s also possible that your pet ate substrate by accident when attempting to catch its prey.

Substrate is an important part of your crested gecko’s tank setup, so be sure to choose the substrate option that’s right for you and your pet!

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