Owning a bearded dragon usually means keeping live insects for your pet to eat.
Keeping live insects in your home is not always the first thing you think of when adopting a bearded dragon.
Freeze-dried food seems to fix a lot of food and mess issues, but are they safe?
As a general rule, bearded dragons should not be fed freeze-dried foods. These reptiles obtain the majority of their water intake through their food. Any form of dried insects completely lack moisture and usually have significantly lower nutritional values than their live forms.
If your beardie is fed a well-balanced diet and doesn’t mind dried food, treating it to a freeze-dried insect here and there may be the one exception to this rule.
We’ll review what freeze-drying food means, the nutritional aspects associated with supplementing live insects for dried ones, and the likelihood of you owning a beardie willing to eat them.
What is Freeze Drying?
Freeze drying, scientifically known as lyophilization, is a process used to extract moisture from food.
This technique is most commonly practiced with fruits and vegetables for human consumption.
Some food companies have created freeze-dried insects to be used as a form of bearded dragon foods.
Lyophilization is a three-step process which generally takes between 20 and 40 hours to be completed.
The total time will differ depending on the type of food which is being dried.
This process removes the moisture from everyday food while preserving its nutrients.
It is a healthier version of air-dried food, which loses the majority of its nutritional value in the drying process.
The three stages a food must go through to reach a freeze-dried state are:
- Sublimation drying
- Desorption drying
The first of the three steps is the most straightforward.
Foods going through lyophilization will need to be frozen at a rapid rate.
This is done to prevent ice crystals from forming on the food.
If the freezing process is done too slowly, the final product will be compromised.
Once the food is successfully frozen, it will enter the second phase of the freeze-drying process.
This step is called sublimation drying.
Sublimation requires high levels of pressure and heat to turn the frozen water molecules (ice) directly into gaseous water molecules (vapor).
The sublimation drying stage is performed in a vacuum-tight freeze dryer and will take anywhere from a few hours to well over 24 hours.
This stage of lyophilization removes approximately 95% of moisture present in the original food.
The third and final stage of this process is called desorption drying.
Desorption is the exact opposite of absorption.
This stage is necessary to remove any remaining water in its liquid state.
When desorption begins, the temperature is raised within the freeze dryer.
This process will remove the remaining liquid water molecules from the food inside.
At the end of the entire process, you are left with a dried product retaining anywhere from 1% to 4% of the original moisture of the fresh food.
Benefits of Freeze-Dried Bearded Dragon Food
While we do not recommend feeding a freeze-dried or dehydrated insect to your pet dragon, there are several benefits associated with dried foods.
The first and most important benefit of the freeze-drying process is the retention of original nutrients.
Most dried foods lack nutrients and moisture, which are the two most essential aspects of beardie food.
However, foods like freeze-dried crickets only lack moisture.
The rapid freezing and sublimation drying help to preserve the food without losing the quality or quantity of its essential vitamins and minerals.
Healthier Than Many Other Commercial Types
Another positive aspect of freeze-drying is preserving the taste, color, and shape of the food.
Thanks to how moisture is extracted from the food, the final product maintains its original shape in a smaller, dried-out form.
The preservation of taste and physical appearance means a freeze-dried cricket will not appear much different than your typical feeder insect.
The same goes for other freeze-dried insects such as dubia roaches and mealworms.
It is the healthiest version of dehydrating foods, including insects.
All commercial foods for beardies are dried out in some way.
To select the best choice for your pet, you will want to look for a reputable brand selling foods with high-quality ingredients.
The top commercial foods contain no additives and are nutrient-dense.
Options such as Fluker’s Freeze-dried crickets meet all of these qualifications.
Easier To Manage
The final benefit associated with freeze-dried bearded dragon foods is their size, price, and shelf life.
Keeping live crickets requires a bin large enough for them to survive without trampling one another.
These bins of jumping crickets take up extra space in your home and often smell bad.
However, since live insects are a staple food for beardies, we must adjust to acting as bug keepers and reptile owners.
The extremely long shelf life and low prices of a bulk can of freeze-dried or dehydrated food is a much simpler way to go.
While dry foods are never an ideal food source for beardies, options like Fluker’s freeze-dried crickets have more nutritional benefits than most.
Commercial cricket diets dried through other methods are lacking in vital nutrients and often have unnecessary additives.
Drawbacks of Freeze-Dried Dragon Food
Lack Of Moisture
Lack of moisture is the first of these negative aspects, briefly mentioned in the previous section.
Beardies receive the large majority of their hydration through water in the live insects and fresh leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits.
When food is lacking moisture, it does not benefit the dragon.
These lizards cannot see standing water.
They will only know water is present when it is agitated in some way.
Many times when owners leave water bowls out for their pets, the water is left untouched.
You need to teach the beardie the water is there.
Most owners who have beardies who do not take an interest in their water bowls stop placing them in the enclosure after a while.
This is usually an acceptable practice as long as the dragon is provided with plenty of moisture from a balanced meal each time it eats.
Beardies need to be bathed regularly.
This does not necessarily mean putting your pet in a tub and scrubbing it clean.
Rather, you will fill up warm shallow water in a sink or tub and allow it to enter once it realizes there is water there.
Bath time is meant to hydrate the lizard via water absorption through the skin.
It is also a fun time to interact with your pet, as bearded dragons are natural swimmers and will likely enjoy playing in their baths.
Increased Risk Of Impaction
Another negative of freeze-dried foods is their ability to increase the risk of impaction due to their dryness.
Since these bug snacks are so dry, it will become difficult for the animal to digest them if it has eaten too many.
Essentially, your pet is constipated, and it will get backed up.
When a beardie is suffering from impaction, you must intervene immediately.
This condition is common in this lizard, and it has the potential of becoming a fatal situation.
A warm bath is usually one of the first home remedies owners will attempt to first realize their pet is suffering from impaction.
Moving around in the warm water helps the digestive system loosen up and pass the impacted food.
The animal is also obtaining more moisture by hydrating itself through its skin.
If a bath or light massage in the impacted region of the abdomen does not alleviate the situation, you will need to take your pet to the vet immediately.
Because impaction is so common and has the potential of turning into a scary situation, owners do everything in their power to remove the risk entirely.
In strict cases, this would mean not feeding any sort of dried foods to their beardies at all.
With slightly more lenient owners, they will be sure to limit their pet’s consumption of foods such as freeze-dried crickets as a very rare snack.
Ideally, if you choose to feed your beardie freeze-dried insects, you should only give them a very small amount.
Do not use them to completely substitute their usual live feeders.
These crunchy insects are meant to be used as a snack, not a meal replacer.
We recommend incorporating other water-packed foods into the snack time.
For instance, if you provide your pet with a few dried crickets, you should also place a small salad in its food dish.
Since this occasion would be a treat day for your dragon, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to incorporate some watery fruit into the salad as well.
This way, you will help counteract the insect’s dryness while also providing your reptilian friend with a delicious meal.
We have more information on this in our post dedicated to overfeeding bearded dragons.
Lack Of Nutrition In Worms
We recommend against purchasing any form of dehydrated mealworms for your beardie.
Dried bugs are essentially exoskeleton, and this most definitely includes worms.
These will arguably pose the greatest risk of impaction for your pet.
When an insect is dead upon purchase, you do not have the option of gut loading it before you feed it to your beardie.
Gut loading is an important practice done by owners before providing feeder insects to their pets.
Ensuring the insects eat a well-balanced meal beneficial for the reptile approximately 12 – 24 hours before feeding time will help give the dragon all of its vital nutrients.
Dehydrated insects only have the option of being dusted with calcium and D3 powder or a multivitamin supplement before they are given as a snack.
While it is still important to dust your insects with these supplements, it is not nearly as effective as gut loading and dusting live insects.
Bearded Dragons Don’t Like Them
Most bearded dragons show no interest in freeze-dried insects.
These lizards are hunters, and it is unnatural for them to eat something already dead in the wild.
When your beardie realizes these insects are not jumping or moving around, it will likely turn its nose up at it.
We do not view this as such a bad thing.
In reality, the only reason you would need to give your pet these dehydrated insects as a snack is if they like them.
Check out our post on the best worms for bearded dragons to learn more about the worms bearded dragons enjoy most.
Exceptions To The Rule
There are two exceptions to the rule of not feeding your bearded dragon freeze-dried insects.
The first and most common one has been previously mentioned.
If your pet enjoys eating these dehydrated insects, high-quality freeze-dried insects is the best option.
The other reason you would feed your pet freeze-dried insects is in an emergency where you have no way of accessing food for it.
Since these products have such a long shelf life, some owners choose to purchase a can or two to keep in the event of extreme weather or a natural disaster.
This is more common in areas which experience hurricanes or blizzards regularly.
Other than in an emergency or as a very rare treat to a dragon who loves the taste of dehydrated insects, you should not consider purchasing freeze-dried food for your pet.