Calcium Sand Substrates
are dangerous. They should not be on the market and certainly shouldn't be used as a substrate for reptiles. This page is designated to explain the risks of calcium sand substrates and will even inform you of some things they would rather you not know.
The average enthusiast that strolls into their local petstore is often met with an employee who tries to help them choose a suitable substrate for their reptile. In many instances, they lead the enthusiast directly to the calcium sand they sell, and go on to explain how it is 100% digestible and safe for use. The employee and customer know this must be true, because it is printed directly on the bag.
The bag isn't lying. Calcium carbonate (Calcium Sand), which is what these sands are made of, is 100% digestible in moderate consumption. Unfortunately, the bag doesn't list the situations in which the substrate is no longer digestible and why it poses a health risk to you and to the reptile it is being used with.
Calcium Sand - An Example Bag
The labeling on a bag is meant to tell the consumer about the product, without lying, but does not require them to list complications or issues that could arise as a result of its use. (Unless the product were to be used for medicinal purposes.)
This is the description for a product called T-Rex Bone Aid Calci-sand (Calcium Sand). This is how the products sells itself to unsuspecting consumers.
T-Rex Bone Aid Calci-sand: Made of 100% Calcium Carbonate.
T-Rex Calci-Sand (being a mineral) is safe in direct contact with heating elements. It conducts heat well and it is suitable for use with heat mats or cables buried under it to a shallow depth. It does not harbor mites and inhibits the growth of molds or fungus.
T-Rex Calci-Sand makes spot cleaning both easy and accurate. Calci-Sand clumps readily to wet waste material, drying it and preventing it from being spread throughout the enclosure.
T-Rex Calci-Sand is now available in nine colors: Chocolate Brown, Red Rock, Natural White, Blue, Green, Cherry Red, Beige, Black ,Glo-in-the-Dark and the newest colors: Black granite and Red Rock Granite. All colors are created with F.D.A. approved natural food colorants.
What the bag doesn't state is that calcium carbonate has a Mallinckrodt Chemicals Material Safety Data Sheet for safe handling. Material Safety Data Sheets are required by companies when a chemical, mineral, solvent, or other product has been proven to cause illness or injury to humans. They are required by law, by all companies, that handle these materials. This is to inform the individual that may be handling this product so they know the consequences of improper handling. If you want to acquire this information for a product you purchased, you can contact the company and request access to this information.
This is the MSDS for dealing with 100% pure calcium carbonate.
Excessive concentrations of a nuisance dust may cause nuisance condition such as coughing, sneezing, and nasal irritation.
Not expected to be a health hazard from skin exposure.
No information found, but presumed to cause mechanical irritation.
Excessive oral doses of calcium carbonate may produce alkalosis and hypercalcemia
Hypercalcemia occurs when there is too much calcium in the bloodstream. 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.
Calcium carbonate comes as a tablet, chewable tablet, capsule, and liquid to take by mouth. It usually is taken three or four times a day. Follow the directions on your prescription or package label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand. Take calcium carbonate exactly as directed. Do not take more or less of it or take it more often than prescribed by your doctor. When using this medicine as a dietary supplement, take it with food or following meals.
Chewable tablets should be chewed thoroughly before being swallowed; do not swallow them whole. Drink a full glass of water after taking either the regular or chewable tablets or capsules. Some liquid forms of calcium carbonate must be shaken well before use.
Do not take calcium carbonate as an antacid for more than 2 weeks unless your doctor tells you to.
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?
The U.S National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health also has instructions for what to do if you accidentally overdose.
In case of overdose, call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. If the victim has collapsed or is not breathing, call local emergency services at 911.
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?
One of the most common uses for CC is in antacids. This mineral has the ability to neutralize stomach acids. Neutralizing the stomach acids in humans when they don't feel well is great. As a medication serving this purpose it is wonderful. For reptiles, this is downright dangerous.
As your reptile eats stray food items on the calcium sand, insects in the calcium sand, or randomly licks and consumes the calcium sand, it is also "medicating" itself with an antacid. The more it consumes, the more neutralized the acid in the stomach becomes. In high doses, this can easily lead to an impaction as the reptiles acid would become so neutralized that it would no longer be able to digest any additional calcium sand. The reptiles ability to digest its food adequately can be impaired or can even be halted when excessive amounts have been ingested.
It can also cause constipation. This in itself can be lethal as the body is required to expel the waste and byproducts from the foods consumed. If these are not expelled, toxicity can easily and readily become a serious issue. Toxic waste, once entered into the blood stream, can be fatal.
In excessive doses, calcium carbonate is also noted as causing hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia is an excessive amount of calcium in the blood. This can lead to muscle weakness, psychological issues, nerve damage, spinal column curvature, and other serious issues.
The dust produced by Calcium Sand can be inhaled. As your reptile stirs the dust up and inhales the dust produced and made airborne, they could begin to experience eye and lung irritation.
The ingestion of calcium sand , coupled with their calcium dish you should be providing as well as the dusting of their feeder insects can easily result in devastating consequences. Don't use this stuff and help educate anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.