Urge pet stores to stop carrying/selling sand for bearded dragons
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Bearded dragons have become one of the most popular reptiles in the pet trade over past few years due to their docile nature, unique personalities, beautiful color variations and moderately easy care.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of miscommunication and incorrect information out there when it comes to what is best for them. For this petition, we are specifically talking about using sand (or any other loose substrate, such as ground walnuts) as a substrate for the bottom of their tanks. If you walk along the reptile aisle at any pet store, you will see endless variations of sand to choose from. Whether it's calcium infused sand, bright green, blue or pink sand for fun, or sand that claims to harden when wet to avoid ingestion, all of the variations have one thing in common - a large logo smacked right on the front that says "VET APPROVED" and "GREAT FOR BEARDED DRAGONS". This could not be further from the truth.
What is sand?
"Sand is a loose granular material. The most common component of sand is silicon dioxide in the form of quartz. Weathering processes — such as wind, rain and freezing/thawing cycles — break down these rocks and minerals into smaller grains." - http://www.livescience.com/34748-what-is-sand-beach-sand.html
Sand might feel soft on your feet, but under a microscope, you will see it is composed of sharp rock and glass particles. It is not meant to be in the digestive system of any living thing.
Risks of using sand:
Simply put, sand causes impaction. Impaction leads to serious complications in bearded dragons (also leopard geckos and other reptiles) and ultimately death. What exactly is impaction? It is when foreign objects (like sand particles) build up in the digestive system and ultimately block it entirely, leading to painful issues, paralysis and/or death. One example of this is with the beardie named Drako, who was taken in by a local reptile rescue:
"I've read the bags of calci-sand and repti-sand and I know the "experts" claim that sand is great for beardies, but I've seen too many die because of it. A beardie on sand will eventually swallow the sand and not all of it will pass through them. All it takes is a few grains of sand stuck in their bellies to start catching bits of digested food. Over time those bits of food and sand snowball into a bigger and impassable clump.
Drako's intestines were filled with clumps of sand and partially digested food and because of the clumps, he felt "full" so he stopped eating. Eventually, his body attempted to pass the clumps and when he did, the clumps ruptured his insides. He passed a blood clot last night and then continued bleeding internally." - http://sarahsbeardeddragonrescue.blogspot.com/2014/01/one-more-reason-why-i-hate-sand-drako.html
Poor Drako ended up passing and unfortunately, this is all too common, simply because of SAND. Time and time again, you will hear of sand killing beardies, both large and small. Impaction doesn't discriminate. I run an Instagram account for my bearded dragons with over 20k followers. I am in contact with many beardie owners daily (who have thousands of followers as well). The reptile community is large and information spreads fast among us when beardies are sick. We cannot count the amount of times people have commented or messaged us sharing their own terrible stories of impaction and how sand has killed their beloved pets.
Sand is also a breeding ground for bacteria and horribly unsanitary, which poses its own set of risks.
Arguments FOR sand:
However, something you will commonly hear is, "my beardie has been on sand for years and is fine." Bearded dragons are very good at hiding illness. Why wait until it is too late? Why do you need something terrible to happen to PROVE that sand is going to kill your beardie? Learn from the mistakes and losses of others.
Another popular "argument" is, "they like to dig". They dig to hide. Provide them with a hide and they will be set.
But by far, the most popular argument is, "sand is their natural environment." IT. IS. NOT. They are from the desert, specifically Australia. However, "desert" does not mean "sand". It merely means a lack of precipitation. Bearded dragons come from areas where the ground is compact clay, rocks and dirt. Any danger imposed with loose dirt is a natural risk that we choose to eliminate when we decide to take them in as our pets. They are our pets, not wild animals. There is absolutely no reason for sand.
So why do pet stores insist on selling these bags of sand? Not only do they sell regular sand, but this new "calci-sand" or "vita-sand" which is made of calcium carbonate.
"Hypercalcemia occurs when there is too much calcium in the bloodstream. This can lead to muscle weakness, psychological issues, nerve damage, spinal column curvature, and other serious issues. Alkalosis is very much like hypercalcemia but typically results in renal failure or metastatic calcification instead of nerve, muscle, and tissue damage.
Calcium Carbonate is also used for medicinal purposes. The U.S National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health offers its own advisory on calcium carbonate.
We are instructed to avoid using this product for longer than 2 weeks unless being monitored by a doctor. Our reptiles are placed on this stuff for months and years at a time. If it isn't safe for us to use for longer than 2 weeks, what makes you believe it is safe for your reptile? Humans are hundreds, if not thousands of times larger than most reptiles. We have safe handling instructions for calcium carbonate, instructions for limited use of calcium carbonate, and what to do if we overdose on calcium carbonate. How could anyone believe this stuff, which is apparently a risk to humans if ingested more than prescribed, is safe for an animal a fraction of our weight?" -read more risks at: http://www.herpcenter.com/reptile-articles/calcium-sand-dangers/
Many new beardie owners ask pet store employees about substrates and they are led directly do this sand, unaware of the risks. Even "bearded dragon starter kits" sold in pet stores include this sand (along with other dangerous items not meant for bearded dragons). On the Petco website, they blatantly RECOMMEND using calci-sand for beardies - http://www.petco.com/content/petco/PetcoStore/en_US/pet-services/resource-center/caresheets/bearded-dragon.html
This has GOT to stop. Pet stores need to eliminate sand from their shelves and revamp their starter kits by removing sand bags (and also by adding correct UVB tube bulbs and ditching the harmful coil UVB bulb, as well as getting rid of those awful purple and red lights).
If pet stores are worried about profit losses, just redirect customers to purchasing reptile carpet or eco-carpet. It's a safe alternative. I am urging Petco to remove all sand and loose substrates from their reptile shelves and to share better and safer information for new beardie owners. What have they got to lose? (Unless the ultimate goal here is to kill bearded dragons on purpose so customers will return to purchase a brand new baby dragon, which is horrible.) I urge you to sign this petition that will go directly to James M. Myers, the CEO of Petco and the founder of Zoo Med Labs. Inc. Gary Bagnall (Zoo Med's logo says "save your reptiles", funnily enough). If they begin making this change, other pet stores will hopefully follow.
I have never ever been to any exotic/reptile vet (and I've been to many) where they recommend sand. In fact, they all highly advise against it. I know many other bearded dragon owners who insist their vets say the same. Only misinformed vets suggest it. Once again - it is not their natural habitat! As pet owners we take it upon our selves to eliminate natural risks (impaction does happen in the wild) so they can be as safe as possible in our care. Other natural risks include getting parasites from bugs (beardie owners make sure to buy the highest quality feeders), dehydration (we provide water), getting eaten by hawks (we obviously don't let this happen!) and many other things.
Many people do not research online first to get different opinions. They simply trust that the pet store will know best. It is Petco's responsibility to ensure that accurate information is available to educate pet owners on safe husbandry for their animals.
PETCO - GET RID OF SAND FOR BEARDED DRAGONS!
Additional reading on bearded dragons who have suffered and/or died due to sand:
(You can also search google images for "bearded dragon sand impaction" for graphic pictures.)
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