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Pet Snakes provides easy to understand, practical information and facts to help the new snake owner take care of their animals. At Pet Snakes we want to provide information that will help you enjoy your reptile more than ever.

Choosing the right bedding for your pet snake

There are a variety of bedding materials you can use in your pet snake tank. This article will help you pick the ones that are most suitable. We will examine each type of bedding based on the following 5 criteria:

  1. Availability
  2. Cost
  3. Characteristics
  4. Appearance
  5. Personal opinion

This isn’t meant to be a full comprehensive list of all possible types of substrates just the ones that are most common among snake owners.

Sand
There are a number of different specially packaged sands available for reptile owners in your local pet store. Generally they are colored pink, green, red, or something else. A lot of the time they’ll be supplemented with calcium which is more for lizards than snakes.
Availability
It is very easy to find sand that is touted for use as reptile substrate. Almost any pet store will carry it especially the larger chain stores like PetCo and Pet Smart. You can also easily order it online from a variety of sources.
Cost
Sand is relatively cheap even for the specially supplemented kind. It will cost you around $6 or $7 for a 5 pound bag. Of course “special feature” sand will cost more such as the kind that glows in the dark.
Characteristics
Sand is messy. It is also dangerous for your snakes. It is well known for causing impaction because they can’t digest it. It also gets under their scales (including the ones that cover their eyes), but is especially known for getting under the belly scale.

Beyond the health concerns it is also difficult to work with. Each time your snake goes to the bathroom you need to completely remove all of the sand, clean the tank, and replace it with fresh sand. It doesn’t take long before it gets very tedious.

Appearance
As mentioned before it comes in a variety of colors and “styles”. It makes for a very pretty bedding as long as you keep it cleaned out and changed frequently. The glowing in the dark and multi-colored features are kind of neat especially for younger kids.
Personal Opinion
Sand is a bad horrible idea for use as a substrate in a snakes tank. First and foremost due to the health risks it poses. Most people also have a tendency to just scoop a little of it out when it has been soiled, but because of how it absorbs moisture you really need to start completely fresh each time. Save the sand for the sandbox or the bottom of the fish tank. It does NOT belong in with your pet snake!
Astro-turf
Synthetic grass isn’t just for football fields anymore. It has also found a place in the hearts and minds of snake lovers.

Availability
Astro-turf is readily available. You can find it at almost any pet store and barring that you can find it at Home Depot, Lowes or almost any other garden center in your area. You might also find it under the generic names of artificial grass and/or artificial turf.
Cost
Astro-turf is relatively inexpensive but unless you buy it from the pet store you will most likely end up with far more than you need. For example a 10 foot x 10 foot square is a common size. Most owners of pet snakes have no need for anywhere close to that amount.
Characteristics
A pet snake will feel right at home on astro-turf (as much as a snake can feel at home). It is easy to clean and easy to change out. Most people will get at least 2, sometimes 3 pieces of astro-turf for each tank. That way when one is soiled they just pull it out and throw in a clean one. Then they throw the soiled one in the wash, let it dry and repeat the process. Very convenient.

The downfall is that it can start to smell badly because it absorbs the odors from your snakes urine and feces. You also have to be very through in cleaning it both because of the odors and it tends to trap bacteria in the fibers.

Appearance
There’s not much to say about the appearance of astro-turf. It looks like fake plastic grass. The older it gets and the more worn the less like grass and the more like plastic it looks.
Personal Opinion
In the past I’ve used astro-turf and while it does the job it certainly isn’t my first choice. Far better than sand, but inferior to a number of other substrate choices. This is one of those situation where it won’t hurt anything to use astro-turf, but there are better solutions.
Cypress Mulch
Cypress mulch is often touted for its ability to hold humidity thus making it easier to raise when necessary. It is readily available at the pet store and fairly inexpensive.

Availability
Just about any pet store will either have it in stock or be able to readily obtain a supply of it. There is of course always the online option as well if you prefer to have things shipped directly to your door.
Cost
You can find 24qts of cypress mulch for about $25 average price. Your milage may vary. You can also get lesser amounts for less cost, but it actually goes fairly quickly if you use it right.
Characteristics
Like mentioned before cypress mulch is touted by snake owners for its ability to help hold moisture and thus raise humidity. It has a nice “woody” smell to it, but isn’t over powering. One of the biggest problems with cypress (or any other wood-based mulch) is that if you have a mite infestation it becomes very difficult to get rid of them because they will thrive in the cypress.
Appearance
Cypress mulch looks like a forest floor. Chunks of brown and black wood substance. It makes for a nice base in a display case where you are showing off your pet snake.
Personal opinion
This is by far my second favorite substrate. If it weren’t for the number of snakes I have this would be my choice as a bedding. If you are looking for a natural substrate that will do what you need it to do then consider using cypress mulch.
Newspapers, and paper towels

Cheap, convenient, and easy. Hard to beat these as substrate for your snakes cage.

Availability
You can buy paper towels by the roll and good sales come up all the time. Newspapers on the other hand you can easily get for free. Go into any McDonald’s in the later morning and you’ll see newspapers all over the place. Grab a few of them. Actually go into any restraunt that serves breakfast and grab some of the papers sitting around on the tables. You can also grab handfuls of free newspapers at the grocery store where the local town paper is often set out and distributed for free. Finally if all else fails go talk to a neighbor who gets the paper. Chances are they’d be more than happy to have you take it off their hands.
Cost
Paper towels will cost you a few dollars, but they are inexpensive and a roll can last you quite a while. Assuming of course that you use it only as replacement bedding in your snake’s tank.

As I mentioned above you should have no problem finding free newspaper. Even if you can’t for some reason get any for free buying a sunday paper should get you enough newspaper to last for a few weeks. At least if you’re the average pet snake owner and only have a few for your personal enjoyment.

Characteristics
Aside from being cheap and easy to obtain newspaper and paper towels are also extremely easy to use. They get dirty you pull them out, clean out the tank and put new ones in. Literally it takes about 30 seconds to give your snake fresh, clean substrate.

By no means is it the perfect substrate however. With paper towels you need to be sure that you don’t get perfumed as it can cause respiratory issues for snakes. You’ll also find they have absolutely no tolerance for moisture. Once they get wet you’ll need to replace it all instead of just scooping out the general area. The same is true for newspapers.

Another issue with newspapers worth mentioning is the fact that some people are concerned with the ink and the possibility of it being toxic. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of ink used in modern newspapers is made of organic pigments. It is the same kind of ink and dyes found in tattoos, and cosmetics. Here’s an article that tells you about using newspaper bedding for livestock and talks about things like toxicity.

Apperance
In a word: UGLY. You won’t be winning any decorating contests using newspaper or paper towels.
Personal Opinion
Newspapers are my favorite substrate followed closely by paper towels. Cost plays a huge factor and then the fact that they are so easily replaced when soiled by a snake. If you’ve never tried it before I highly suggest giving it a shot.

In the end the substrate you choose to use must first and foremost provide a suitable medium for your snake and then it needs to be something you can both work with and afford. There are other choices for snake bedding such as crushed coconut shells that weren’t mentioned in this article. That’s because of time and space limitations not because they are a poor choice.

  • Bri

    What about Aspen bedding?

  • PetSnakes

    Aspen is just fine. Do NOT use cedar or pine for bedding however because the chemicals in it are deadly for reptiles.

  • http://pet-snakes.com sue

    i have a ball python and she is about 3 1/2 feet long. I have a cage i would like to put her in. It’s about 5feet by 5 feet. I got a log from the beach, and would like to put that in her cage. What do i need to do to use it.

  • chase

    hey guys.do i have to have a heating lamp to keep it alive throug hwinter? or can i just put newspaper and it can bury?

  • PetSnakes

    Chase,

    Sorry I’m not sure what kind of snake you have so it’s hard to tell what you need. If you can tell us what you have we can respond appropriately.

  • http://? Tim

    It may sound weird but I use a mixture for my snakes. 50/50 Cypress Mulch and Coconut husk fiber. I do about an inch on top of a few newspapers and when it needs changing i just roll the newspaper up like a sleeping bag; substrate and all.

  • ryan

    hey my name is ryan and i’m wandering if it would be alright to use paper towles for my baby california king snake for only 1-3 days at the most

  • PetSnakes

    Tim,

    What’s the advantage to mixing the cypress and coconut? I tried the newspaper thing but found it was always a mess.

  • PetSnakes

    Ryan,

    Some people use newspaper or paper towels for the entire life of their snake(s). Doesn’t hurt anything as long as you keep it fresh.

  • Danielle

    I have a ball python and i feed my snake live mice will it be harder for him to use aspen stuff or should i just stick to towles?

  • Todd

    I use fir bark as my substrate and spot clean it as needed. How often should I change the entire substrate bedding?

  • ES

    I have a ball python as well and he just just fine with the aspen snake bedding. I started off with astro-turf and was an okay fan of it but then found the aspen snake bedding and really like it. there are time when the snake gets a piece of aspen in his mouth but he usually gets it out on his own. also the aspen snake bedding is treated so it will not harm the snake. there has been a time or two when i've had to get the piece out of his mouth because he could not get it but it absorbs nicely and he seems to enjoy it a lot more than the astro-turf.

  • Amy

    DONT USSE SAND FOR SNAKES! IT AFFECT THIER EYES AND SCALES!!!!

  • http://pet-snakes.com Pet Snakes

    In general yes, but there are some snakes that live in sandy areas as part of the native habitat but most keepers probably won't have them.

  • Jes

    Ahhhhh I need new bedding then, currently sNd is in my desert kings tank D:

  • Kidiu

    Thanks. I was planning to switch to newspapers, not just because of cost, but because I feel it would be softer than my current aspen bedding.

  • Matt

    would it be ok to house my feeder mice in pine bedding?

  • Jillian! :}

    I used sand and it made my snakes look grainy so i switched to wood chips and then they shed, they look BEAUTIFUL and they have ever since i switched, i would reccomend this!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001679274373 Caitlynn Marie Marley

     I recently took a trip to the vets for my pet king snake because he was acting strange,
    they asked what substrate I use for his cage. Which is cocoa soft bedding. I was told by a reptile store it was a bit better than the other wood/ mulch ones for absorbing moister and so on. However the veterinarian was very precise about how bad any type of cocoa, wood chip, dirt, or sand is.
    “THEY CANNOT DIGEST ANY OF THOSE & THEY CAUSE BACTERIA TO TAKE OVER .” Also, it doesn’t absorb the wastes and filth, plain and simple. You HAVE to use newspaper/paper towel if you care about your pet snakes health.  She also said that you have to be clearing the tank out and bleaching it once a week, which is ALOT for a heavy 45 gal. tank. I was in a way upset because I was informed that the cocoa soft was one of the best and to me looked very natural and beautiful. The newspaper will look like crap, and rather poor looking. BUT I will do what’s best for his health so that another trip to the vets will not be necessary for quite sometime. To wrap up this story my snake had a mouth infection which she said was VERY common but can be very serious if not taken care of quick enough. There are multiple things that could have caused it but the main concern was the substrate, and keeping the tank clean. Just because something looks natural and very nice doesn’t mean that it actually is, and keeping your pet healthy.

    (Another tip : Try your best at changing the water everyday even if your snake doesn’t bathe in it, or hasn’t even been near it. Regardless of how clean you keep the cage, it will always have some bacteria, it’s just a matter of how much bacteria. Depending on how committed you are and how much you’re willing to spend, bottled water is always VERY GOOD instead of tap water!)

    Thank you for reading,
    Ms. C. Marley & Cuervo the snake ?

  • Knozbleed

    I fed my snake a mouse that had been in pine shavings is this ok?  Its a one time occurrence.

  • http://pet-snakes.com Pet Snakes

    In total disagreement with you, Metalmistress3. I always feed my snakes in their cages and have never had an issue. The only time I have had an issue is when I tried to feed in a separate cage. Besides, how do you account for the people who have hundreds if not thousands of snakes that they don’t have the luxury of swapping out cages for feeding? They seem to have no problems.

  • http://pet-snakes.com Pet Snakes

    You can put in a branch, piece of bark, etc to help the snake shed. As far as moisture goes corn snakes are from temperate climates so they don’t have as much need for specific humidity ranges to help them shed.

  • Pans07

    in the past i used pine and cedar, for bedding when i first started, although one of my rats got sick and died, because of toxic chemicals they produce, most are effected because of allergies, aspen is by far the better choice, along with the recycled paper bedding are also great and safe.

  • Python

    Have you ever tried to feed a 20ft Burm out of its enclosure??

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RNKLKRBQHRE6DGVUJA7BSTOF6M Amber

    I’m wondering if newspaper or paper towels would be a better choice for my sand boa?  I am currently using sand because that’s what the breeder told me was best.  I am having trouble getting him to eat.  i am thinking of changing substrates and trying to feed him in the cage (the breeder also told me to take him out and feed him in a separate container).  Can you make some suggestions?
    samsmommy136@yahoo.com

  • Ic369

    i have 3 ringneck snakes and they are just beautifull. cn i put flower soil in the tank for bedding?

  • Olaf

    Sand boas can use any kind of subsrate not only sand. They do tend to burrow so Aspen shavings are ideal. They’re soft and safe and perfect for any snake in every way. If he’s being difficult eating I would definitely make thatyour first priority. If you need help with force-feeding (I would only recommend this if it’s a health issue) you can email me

    ginoolafia@gmail.com

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