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Can Bearded Dragons Eat Prickly Pear Cactus?

Opuntia is more commonly known as prickly pear, a flowering cactus native to North and South America. 

Since the plant is abundant in some areas, many bearded dragon owners want to know if the prickly pear cactus is safe for their beardie.

Prickly pear cactus is highly nutritious and completely safe to feed a bearded dragon as long as the spines are removed. The fruit of the cactus is also edible, but you should remove the skin and seeds first.

We will dive into the many uses of the prickly pear cactus, so keep reading to learn more about what makes this plant so versatile.

prickly pear for bearded dragon

What Is The Nutritional Value Of Prickly Pear Cactus?

The prickly pear fruit is full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants such as:

NutritionAmount per 100 g
Protein0.7 g
Iron56 mg
Potassium0.3 mg
Calcium220* mg

*The fruit is also an excellent source of calcium, which is very important for a bearded dragon’s health. 

A lack of calcium will cause your beardie to develop the metabolic bone disease. 

This incurable illness causes crippling bone deformities and death, so prevention is vital.

The cactus leaf, more commonly referred to as the cactus pad, also contains: 

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6 
  • Vitamin C 
  • Thiamin 
  • Riboflavin

The cactus pads also have small amounts of iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.

The cactus pear and pads contain fiber and potassium, which aid in digestion.

The pear cactus pads are bright green, and the cactus pears range in color from green, orange, red, and even purple, depending on the species. 

There are over 90 varieties in the United States, and at least 180 total species exist throughout the Americas.

Prickly pear cacti are also excellent plants for a bearded dragon enclosure. 

You should remove the spines before adding the plant to the habitat, and you should regularly inspect the cactus for any new needles.

How Often Should Bearded Dragons Eat Prickly Pear Cactus?

bearded dragon eating prickly pear cactus

Unlike other fruits, the prickly pear does not contain high amounts of sugar, so it is safe to feed your bearded dragon as a staple fruit.

The cactus leaf is also safe to be fed as a diet staple alongside other leafy greens and vegetables.

Many bearded dragons probably don’t get as much prickly pear fruit as they would like if they lived in an area where the plant is difficult to find.

Many grocery stores have both the fruit, commonly called tuna, and the pads, known as nopales. 

If you have a hard time getting them at your local grocery store, Mexican grocery stores usually have the pears and nopales available. 

Be careful when handling the plant, as both the fruit and pads contain spines. 

Several spineless varieties of prickly pear cactus are available, but they may be more challenging to find.

The spineless species of prickly pear does well in a bearded dragon enclosure since there are no spines to worry about. 

Your beardie would be able to snack on prickly pear anytime it wanted to.

How is Prickly Pear Cactus Prepared?

The first thing you will do for the fruit is peel the skin off. 

There are small spines on the fruit, so you should wear protective gloves when handling it.

Then, you chop the pear into tiny pieces, removing any seeds as you go along. 

preparing prickly pear cactus for bearded dragon

The seeds cause constipation, so you need to remove as many seeds as possible. 

One or two seeds will not harm your bearded dragon, but too many will cause digestive issues.

For the pads, remove the spines and wash the pad very thoroughly. 

Cut away the more rigid edges and chop the rest into small, bite-sized pieces.

Always remember to chop food into pieces no larger than the space between a bearded dragon’s eyes to avoid a choking hazard.

Any unused prickly pear fruits or pads should be stored in a sealed container in your refrigerator to keep them fresh.

Which Other Foods Are Safe For Bearded Dragons?

Live feeder insects, leafy greens, and vegetables make up most of a bearded dragon’s diet. 

Fruits should only account for 10% of the plant matter in a beardie’s diet.

Fruits are limited because they naturally contain large amounts of sugars. 

Too much sugar in a bearded dragon’s diet will lead to problems like tooth decay and diabetes.

Fruits also have a poor calcium to phosphorus ratio, which is not healthy for your dragon because phosphorus dramatically inhibits the ability to absorb calcium. 

Over time, too many high-phosphorus foods will cause a calcium deficiency and possibly lead to metabolic bone disease.

Some suitable fruits for bearded dragons are: 

  • Mangoes
  • Blueberries 
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Apples 

Be sure to remove any tough skins from the fruit because they are difficult for your beardie to chew and pose a choking risk.

Vegetables and greens such as: 

  • Collard Greens 
  • Bell Peppers
  • Dandelion Leaves 
  • Green Beans 

As you’d expect, you should avoid any poisonous plant. 

Small, gut-loaded insects such as: 

  • Crickets
  • Grasshoppers 
  • Mealworms
  • Dubia Roaches

These are all excellent staple protein options to include in the animal protein portion of a beardie’s diet. 

Gut-loading the insects makes them more nutritious for your pet.

Which Foods Should Beardies Avoid?

Spinach, beet tops, Swiss chard, and star fruit are all very high in oxalic acid and should not be included as a regular staple in a bearded dragon’s diet. 

Oxalic acid forms oxalates, which prevent calcium absorption by the body. 

Calcium deficiency is dangerous and will lead to metabolic bone disease and other health issues if it is not treated as soon as possible.

Avocado is also toxic to bearded dragons and should never be fed to your beardie.

Fireflies and boxelder bugs are also highly toxic and should not be fed to bearded dragons because it will result in death. 

Be especially mindful of these insects if you take your beardie outdoors.

Avoid citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruit because they contain citric acid. 

This acid will cause digestive issues for a beardie and even harm its esophagus.

Never feed your bearded dragon any animal protein such as chicken, beef, fish, or processed meats. 

The high amount of protein in these foods will cause kidney damage to your dragon.

You should also avoid giving your bearded dragon dry pet food, as it is toxic to them and will lead to dehydration and possible severe calcium deficiency.

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What Kinds Of Plants Are Safe For A Bearded Dragon Enclosure?

If you want to provide a more natural environment for your bearded dragon, you may want to consider adding live plants to its enclosure. 

Plastic plants may look nice, but they don’t offer any nutritional value.

While real plants require more maintenance than plastic plants, the benefits far outweigh the minimal hassle. 

Not only do they make your bearded dragon feel more at home, but live plants provide your pet with an occasional snack.

Your lizard may like some plants more than others and will happily nibble them bare, so be aware of this when deciding where to place them in the enclosure. 

If your beardie can get to the plant easily, it may need to be replaced if it becomes your pet’s favorite snack.

A few toxic plants to avoid include the coral plant, shamrock plant, and tomato plant. 

These are deadly to your bearded dragon when eaten.

Some popular terrarium plants to include in your bearded dragon’s enclosure include: 

  • Aloe Plants
  • Dwarf Jade Plants
  • Mulberry Plants 
  • Prickly Pear Cactus Plants

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