This is a very important subject. Many people have had health problems because of the type of substrates they have for their cages! There are several common items people use or buy to cover the floor of their veiled chameleon cages. I’ll try to cover as many as I can here along with the pros and cons.
If at all possible, I don’t recommend a substrate at all for the cage unless it is a ground chameleon such as the rhampoleon and brookesia species. It is easier for me to clean a cage floor daily if there is no substrate or reptile carpeting. There is also less chance of bacteria build up. Sure it isn’t “pretty”, but I know my veiled chameleons will not suffer because I opted to decorate the floor of their cages.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use a substrate, it is your choice, but you do want to be careful when it comes to choosing what you will use.
ZooMed makes one of the better cage carpet on the market. It is designed to be absorbent, flat and non-abrasive. It is available in various sizes and can easily be cut to fit your cage if needed. Not very expensive either.
I prefer this brand over any other for several reasons. I have tried them all, and I have also bought indoor/outdoor carpet at local carpet stores. The regular carpet usually has chemicals, and will also fray around the edges. Astro turf is really bad, the plastic type carpeting, often the chameleon will end up ingesting pieces of it because it easily separates from the backing.
If you really feel the need to cover the bottom of your cages, this would be the only thing I would suggest using.
Soil & Moss
For some species such as the rhampoleons and brookesias, you may opt to create a naturalistic environment for them using sterile soil mixed with peat. You easily use live plants and mosses that will grow in the habitat. These species are forest floor dwellers and usually prefer dried leaf litter, low bushy plants, vines, and need a high humidity level. Using a proper setup, you can create a perfect habitat for them.
For arboreal species of chameleons, I do not recommend using soil, mosses, pebbles or gravel. If they shoot for prey on the bottom of their cage, they will usually ingest it and can possibly cause blockages and other health problems which are usually fatal. If you do you a soil type bottom, it is best it is covered with a fine mesh to prevent the veiled chameleon from ingesting any particles.
Bark & Mulch
ZooMed among several companies make reptile safe bark type products. There is no way I would ever recommend using any such materials for a veiled chameleon habitat! This would include pine shavings and other such products. Mulch is commonly used for reptiles such as monitors and snakes. This is one of the worst types of substrates you can use. I won’t even go into the good & the bad on this substrate because there are no good points for using it in a chameleon cage.
There are several various reptile sand products on the pet market. Some contain calcium such as the calci-sand. Again, I do not recommend these products for use in any chameleon cage. The reasons vary but mostly because the chameleon can ingest the sand and end up with health problems.
There may be times when the need for using a paper type product is best for the veiled chameleons. One instance is for just hatched or born chameleons. The paper can be changed daily to prevent feces build up, bacteria build up, and excess moisture in the cage.
If you find that you need to go this route, use paper towels with no print, or try the new product that just came out which is a reptile paper substrate. I do not recall the name, but as soon as I find the information again, I will post it here. It is a good product and comes in large rolls.
Do not use newspapers to cover the bottom of your cages. The ink can be toxic in some cases. Some newspaper plants use a new ink that will not be toxic, but why risk it?
When using paper based products as a substrate, you must be able;e to change it daily or at least every other day. With the mistings and humidity, it will deteriorate and the veiled chameleons can inject it. There is also the problem with damp promoting growth of harmful bacteria.
Take the time to read and research what you can. If you do not have a lot of time to constantly clean the carpet products, scoop clean soils, etc, you should really just keep a bare bottom cage. Normally materials used for the bottoms of the chameleon cages are easy to clean with a damp sponge. Excess water can be drained by drilling holes in the bottom of the cage and buckets placed under them to collect the run off. It is the safest way to go in my opinion.