What kinds of foods should you feed your bearded dragon?
How often do beardies eat?
Should you give your bearded dragon supplements?
These are all essential questions when it comes to an understanding the nutritional needs of your bearded dragon.
Without the proper vitamins and minerals, your bearded dragon will become more susceptible to illnesses such as metabolic bone disease, upper respiratory infection, or tail rot.
It is also important to know which foods are safe for your bearded dragon not only to protect its health but so you are able to offer a wide variety of foods.
When a bearded dragon eats the same foods constantly, it will develop picky eating habits.
In this article, we give you details on which foods are safe and unsafe for your bearded dragon, what conditions may affect your beardie’s appetite, and what to do if your pet is refusing to eat.
We will also provide information on how often to feed your bearded dragon, as the frequency and meat to plant ratio varies according to your beardie’s age.
Table of Contents
What To Feed A Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons are omnivores, meaning their diet includes a variety of insects as well as plant material. An adult bearded dragon’s diet should consist of at least 20%-25% insects, with the rest including various vegetables, leafy greens, and a small amount of fruits.
Live insects are found at most pet stores, and you may also choose to raise your insects if you have the time and space.
When shopping for vegetables, leafy greens, and fruits, be sure to choose organic produce to avoid possible contamination from pesticides.
Since bearded dragons are such small reptiles, any amount of pesticides, especially if given long-term, will be harmful to these animals.
It is also essential to know your bearded dragon’s age when you acquire them, as the dietary needs of baby and juvenile beardies are much different from the needs of adults.
The best staple insects to include in your bearded dragon’s diet include:
- Dubia Roaches
- Black Soldier Fly Larvae
Insects such as waxworms, silkworms, super worms, and mealworms all have high-fat content and should be fed sparingly or as a snack to keep your beardie from becoming overweight.
Since many insects do not contain much nutritional value on their own, they should always be gut-loaded before feeding them to your bearded dragon.
Gut-loading is done by feeding your insect feeders various nutritious fruits and vegetables and allowing them to digest these nutrients for 12-24 hours.
This period ensures the insects have had enough time to absorb the nutrients, so they can pass them on to your bearded dragon.
An empty insect offers very little nutritional value to a beardie.
In addition to a varied plant diet, you may also lightly sprinkle the insects with a calcium or multivitamin powder supplement before feeding them to your bearded dragon to achieve optimal nutrition.
Insects also tend to have high calcium to phosphorus ratio, and a calcium supplement balances this out.
Too much phosphorus inhibits the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals in a bearded dragon’s body, and the optimal calcium to phosphorus ratio is 2:1.
Insects to Avoid
You should never feed your bearded dragon fireflies or any other insect which glows, as these are very toxic.
Boxelder bugs are also toxic for beardies and will cause death if frequently ingested.
Venomous insects such as bees, wasps, and scorpions are also hazardous and should never be fed to your bearded dragon.
When purchasing insects, you should always buy them from a pet store, where they are specifically bred as feeders.
Insects sold in bait shops are very likely to contain harmful parasites and other diseases because they are most likely caught in the wild.
Wild-caught insects should never be on the menu, because in addition to possible parasite infestation, they may have been exposed to pesticides from gardening.
As a general rule, you should not feed your bearded dragon any insect larger than the space between its eyes.
This prevents a possible choking hazard as well as any digestive issues such as impaction.
Safe Vegetables and Leafy Greens
The best vegetables to include as staples in your bearded dragon’s diet are:
- Green Beans
- Snap Peas
- Sweet Potato
These vegetables are at the top of the list due to their high amounts of vitamins A and C and fiber.
There are several nutritious leafy greens, such as:
- Collard Greens
- Turnip Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Dandelion Greens
You should also include these as staples in your bearded dragon’s diet due to their high amounts of calcium and other minerals.
While not toxic to bearded dragons, you should feed tomatoes very sparingly due to their high acidity.
Too much acid in a beardie’s diet will cause numerous digestive issues such as indigestion and reflux.
We have a post with more information on adding tomatoes to your bearded dragon’s diet if you want to learn more.
You should always cut vegetables and leafy greens into small pieces to avoid choking.
Vegetables and Leafy Greens to Avoid
Spinach and beet greens are also not inherently toxic to bearded dragons, but they should be fed sparingly, if at all, due to their large amount of oxalates.
Oxalates bind to calcium and prevent it from being absorbed in a bearded dragon’s body.
This leads to a calcium deficiency and causes metabolic bone disease, which is incurable and usually fatal.
Avocado and rhubarb are both extremely toxic to bearded dragons and should never be fed to them under any circumstances, as even a small amount may lead to death.
You should not feed iceberg lettuce to bearded dragons or other reptiles due to its lack of nutritional value.
Since iceberg lettuce is mostly made of water, it will easily cause diarrhea in beardies.
Some reptile owners suggest feeding iceberg lettuce to a beardie when dehydrated, but this will exacerbate the problem if fed too much.
In such a situation, it is best to stick with peeled cucumber pieces.
Cucumber offers a healthy amount of hydration along with enough substance to avoid diarrhea.
Fruits do not offer as many vitamins and minerals as vegetables and leafy greens.
Sugars are also naturally present in fruits, making them less nutritious and potentially leading to diabetes.
Fruits are also high in phosphorus, which is dangerous if enough calcium isn’t provided.
For these reasons, fruit should only make up around 10% of a bearded dragon’s diet.
Some fruits to offer regularly are mango, papaya, and prickly pear.
Other safe fruits to feed in more limited quantities include:
- Peeled Apples
These fruits are good sources of fiber and antioxidants, and they contain enough water to help prevent dehydration.
Fruits to Avoid
Even though they contain high amounts of vitamin C, you should not feed citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit to a bearded dragon.
High amounts of citric acid are tough for a beardie’s digestive system to handle.
This acid buildup will lead to digestive problems such as indigestion and acid reflux, which may cause the bearded dragon to regurgitate its food.
Other Foods to Avoid
It is also crucial for you not to feed your bearded dragon “people” foods, especially processed foods like hot dogs and lunch meats.
You should never feed your beardie anything from your plate, such as beef, chicken, french fries, or dairy products.
A bearded dragon’s body is not equipped to digest these foods properly, and it will become very sick if any of these types of foods are eaten.
Should You Add Vitamin Supplements To Your Bearded Dragon’s Diet?
Even with a carefully monitored diet with various insects, vegetables, leafy greens, and fruit, a bearded dragon’s diet may still be lacking in nutrition.
The most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies in bearded dragons are calcium, vitamin D3, and vitamin A.
Adding powdered mineral and vitamin supplements to your beardie’s diet regularly will eliminate these deficiencies if given in the proper amounts.
These supplements are added by gently dusting feeder insects, vegetables, and fruits.
To dust feeder insects, place a small amount of the calcium or vitamin supplement in a small plastic container.
Then, add the feeder insects, cover the container, and very gently shake to coat the insects.
You may also find it helpful to lightly spritz the insects with water before adding them to the container to help the supplement powders stick to their bodies.
Let’s take a closer look at these supplements and learn why they are necessary.
Calcium is the most critical mineral in a bearded dragon’s diet.
Without proper amounts of calcium, a bearded dragon is very susceptible to metabolic bone disease.
Metabolic bone disease occurs when the reptile’s body cannot absorb enough calcium, so it leeches it from the bones.
As the disease progresses, the bones become very deformed and lead to several health problems.
If the disease causes enough spinal damage, the nerves will be affected, leading to paralysis.
The symptoms of metabolic bone disease include softening of the jaw, bowed legs, twitching, lethargy, and the bearded dragon’s inability to walk or hold its body up from the ground.
There is no cure for metabolic bone disease, and it is often fatal.
This is why it is so vital to prevent the disease by adding a quality calcium supplement.
The two main factors inhibiting calcium absorption are too much phosphorus and a lack of vitamin D3.
It is safe to add a calcium powder supplement to every feeding of your bearded dragon.
Vitamin D3 is essential for the proper absorption of calcium in a bearded dragon’s body.
Many calcium supplements include vitamin D3, but it is also available on its own.
This is done to avoid possible D3 overdose in reptiles who receive an adequate UVB light daily.
Reptiles such as bearded dragons can synthesize D3 from the vitamin D they absorb through UVB light.
As long as a bearded dragon receives at least 12 hours of UVB light every day, vitamin D3 supplementation is usually unnecessary.
If you are unsure about how much UVB light your bearded dragon is getting, it is safe to add a light dusting of a D3 supplement twice per week.
In addition to calcium and D3, vitamins A, B1, and C are also essential to a bearded dragon’s metabolic function.
Vitamin C supports a healthy immune system, B1 helps the muscular and nervous systems run smoothly, and vitamin A helps prevent upper respiratory infections.
Be careful when choosing a multivitamin supplement for your bearded dragon, however.
Bearded dragons are only able to process vitamin A through beta carotene.
A supplement with vitamin A is likely to cause an overdose because the beardie would be unable to process the high amounts of artificial vitamin A offered in some supplements.
Symptoms of a vitamin A overdose include swollen eyes, throat, and body, as well as lethargy.
To avoid a vitamin A overdose, choose supplements containing beta carotene as its vitamin A source instead.
Beta carotene is more easily processed by the bearded dragon’s body, regulating how much is synthesized into vitamin A and prevent overdose.
A deficiency of vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, will also cause issues such as muscle twitching and tremors.
These symptoms are often misdiagnosed as metabolic bone disease, so it is essential to note whether or not your multivitamin supplement includes thiamin.
How Often Should You Feed Your Bearded Dragon?
How often you feed your bearded dragon depends on the age of the animal.
Baby and juvenile beardies have different nutritional requirements than adults, and they should also be fed more often.
Young bearded dragons should have a diet mainly consisting of insects, supplemented by plant-based foods.
As they grow older and become adults, bearded dragons transition to a diet made of mostly plant matter supplemented with insects.
In this section, we will take a closer look at each age group’s dietary needs, including what to feed and how often.
Baby Bearded Dragons
Baby bearded dragons need a higher amount of proteins to support their rapid growth and development.
A baby beardie’s diet should consist of 80% gut-loaded insects and 20% plant material.
It is not unusual to feed a baby bearded dragon between 4-5 times every day.
Calcium and vitamin supplements should also be added to every feeding to ensure the baby beardie has all of the nutrients it needs to grow healthy and strong.
It is also essential to make sure the feeder insects are properly gut-loaded before each feeding.
Three of the daily feedings should consist of only insects, while the other two feedings should include a mix of half insects and half plants.
During the mixed feedings, it is vital to offer the fruits and vegetables before the insects.
Otherwise, the bearded dragon will likely ignore the plant materials in favor of the tastier insects.
You should encourage your beardie to eat fruits and vegetables early on.
This way, the bearded dragon becomes accustomed to the plant foods and is less likely to become a picky eater later on.
You should feed your baby beardie as much as it will eat in a 10-15 minute span and promptly remove any uneaten food after this time.
Juvenile Bearded Dragons
Once your bearded dragon reaches the juvenile stage at 5 months old, its dietary needs will change.
Your beardie will need to transition to a diet of 50% insects and 50% fruits and vegetables at this stage.
The frequency of these feedings will also drop to 3 times per day.
At each of these feedings, there should be a 50/50 mix of insects and plant matter.
You should still be adding supplement powders and gut-loading the feeder insects at every feeding.
Once again, feed your young beardie as much as it will eat in a 10-15 minute timespan, and remove any uneaten food as soon as your pet is finished eating.
This not only prevents food spoilage, which will cause digestive stress and illness, but it also prevents any feeder insects from biting at your bearded dragon and causing injury.
Adult Bearded Dragons
When your bearded dragon is 18 months old, it is considered an adult.
Adult bearded dragons have very different dietary needs than when they were babies, requiring just 20% of the diet in the form of insects and the other 80% as fruits and vegetables.
The frequency of feedings will also drop to once or twice per day.
This dietary transition in adulthood is why it is essential to encourage your beardie to eat fruits and vegetables at a young age.
If a bearded dragon is not introduced to fruits and vegetables very early on, it will become a picky eater as it grows into an adult.
A diet of primarily insects will not support all of the nutritional needs of an adult bearded dragon.
In this life stage, bearded dragons are not growing as rapidly, so they do not require as much protein or fat.
Too many insects in an adult beardie’s diet will cause it to become overweight and develop health issues.
Instead, they need the nutrition from fruits and vegetables to maintain healthy bones and keep their bodies running smoothly.
Continue to properly gut-load feeder insects and provide calcium and vitamin supplements at every feeding.
Allow the adult bearded dragon to eat as much as it will eat within 10-15 minutes, and promptly remove any uneaten food.
Bearded Dragon Feeding Chart by Age
The following table is a handy reference chart on the dietary needs and feeding frequency of a bearded dragon based on age.
|Bearded Dragon Age||Dietary Needs||Feeding Frequency|
|Baby (up to 5 months old)||80% insects, 20% plant matter||4-5 times per day|
|Juvenile (5-18 months old)||50% insects, 50% plant matter||3 times per day|
|Adult (over 18 months old)||20% insects, 80% plant matter||1-2 times per day|
Are There Other Things To Consider About Your Bearded Dragon’s Diet?
Aside from the types of foods you feed to your bearded dragon, there are other considerations for their diet.
Many external factors will affect the way your bearded dragon eats and digests its food.
These factors include the quality of the dragon’s drinking water, the temperature and humidity inside its enclosure, and even the substrate’s choice in its habitat.
We will break these three topics down so you will have a better understanding of what your beardie needs to stay healthy.
In addition to a well-rounded diet of gut-loaded insects, fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens, you should be providing your bearded dragon with clean freshwater every day.
You may even need to clean the water dish and add fresh water multiple times a day.
This is because bearded dragons often defecate when they soak in water.
If the water is not frequently changed, bacteria and fungus will grow and cause health issues in your beardie.
Dehydration may also lead to a loss of appetite or constipation, so it is vital to ensure your bearded dragon stays adequately hydrated to avoid these issues.
The Temperature and Humidity Inside of the Enclosure
The proper humidity level inside of your bearded dragon’s enclosure should range between 20%-40%.
Improper humidity will not only affect your beardie’s appetite, but it may cause problems with fungus overgrowth and shedding.
Invest in a good hygrometer to keep track of the humidity changes inside of the enclosure.
The ambient temperature of your bearded dragon’s enclosure should be between 75-85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C), with a basking area on one end reaching temperatures in the range of 90-100° degrees Fahrenheit (44° C).
Since bearded dragons cannot regulate their body temperature on their own, it is vital to provide a basking spot to warm themselves.
A proper hide should also be provided to give your beardie a place to cool off.
Proper temperature is vital for a bearded dragon’s digestive system to work correctly.
If temperatures are allowed to drop too low, a beardie’s digestive system will slow down and stop functioning as it should.
The reptile may even go into brumation if the low temperature is allowed to persist.
Brumation is similar to hibernation in mammals, except bearded dragons still need to drink water every day to stay alive, even though they do not need food.
A good thermometer will allow you to check the temperatures inside of the enclosure.
Regularly monitoring the temperature is vital to making sure your beardie’s digestive system stays functioning correctly.
One of the most common items affecting a bearded dragon’s digestion is the choice of the substrate in its enclosure.
A loose substrate, such as sand, is easy to be accidentally ingested during feeding time.
Over time, these tiny foreign particles will build up in the bearded dragon’s digestive system and form a blockage known as impaction.
Impaction keeps the bearded dragon from defecating, and it will become severe if left untreated, even leading to death.
Choosing a smooth substrate such as reptile carpet or tile will prevent this type of impaction from happening.
If you notice your bearded dragon is refusing to eat or if you have observed it straining to defecate, you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible from proper diagnosis and treatment.
For a bearded dragon to be healthy, you need to provide it with a proper diet of insects, fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, and supplements.
While feeding a bearded dragon may seem confusing at first, it becomes much easier over time.
Knowing which foods to feed your beardie and which ones to avoid will go a long way in maintaining your beardie’s health and quality of life.