Welcome to Part 6 of the Bearded Dragon Care Sheet: Bearded Dragon Diet and Nutrition!
One of the most important things you must provide your bearded dragon is a nutritious, varied diet for best health results. Although providing an ample diet is not very difficult there are many things you should do and many you shouldn’t.
Bearded dragons should be offered fresh food and water a minimum of twice per day, but generally are fed as many as four to five times a day. Feeding frequency can vary depending on age and time of year. We will get to that in just a bit.
- Learn about providing a bearded dragon with a wholesome, nutritious diet
- Discover the different insects, vegetables, and insects that make up a good dietary plan for a bearded dragon
- Learn how the dietary needs of a bearded dragon changes with age
- Determine what insects and plants are recommended for a good diet and which ones are not
- Learn the diet requirements of a bearded dragon during the baby, juvenile and adult stages of life
- Discover different ways to feed a bearded dragon
- Learn the importance of vitamin and mineral supplements
- Learn how to provide fresh water for a bearded dragon and the importance of bathing
Some feeder insects tend to be better choices than others, while some should be avoided altogether. Some plant matter is highly recommended to offer, while some should be avoided.
Also, how much insect food or plant matter food you offer can vary greatly depending on the age and overall health of the bearded dragon.
So, let’s jump in and talk about these subjects, along with others, pertaining to diet and nutrition requirements of bearded dragons.
Keys To Success
- Proper diet and nutrition is vital to the overall health of your bearded dragon and can be one of the most challenging aspect of ownership
- Staple insects, greens, vegetables and fruit should make up the largest part of a bearded dragon’s diet
- Mix in occasional greens, vegetables, and fruit to give the diet balance
- Always avoid rhubarb and avocado as these are toxic to bearded dragons
- Avoid feeding baby bearded dragons mealworms due to their hard chitin
- Avoid feeding bearded dragons fireflies, boxelder bugs, and any wild-caught insects
- Baby bearded dragons (hatchling to 5 months old) should be fed approximately 60% – 80% insects and 20% – 40% plant matter
- Juvenile bearded dragons (5 months old to 18 months old) should be fed approximately 50% insect prey and 50% plant matter
- Adult bearded dragons (over 18 months in age) require about 25% – 30% insect prey and about 70% – 75% plant matter in their diet
- Always dust food items with a calcium supplement, and use a multi-vitamin supplement at least once per week
- Always provide a bearded dragon with fresh, dechlorinated water daily
Diet Requirements of Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons are omnivorous, which means they eat both meat (primarily insects) and plant matter. In the wild, bearded dragons consume insects, plants, and the occasional small lizard found in their native environment. They consume a wide variety of food items in the wild, and this should be replicated as much as possible in captivity.
The most widely available insect food items for pet bearded dragons are:
Staple Insect Prey
Occasional Treat Insects
- Wax Worms
- Butter Worms
- Earthworms (rinsed)
- Phoenix Worms
- Super Worms (large Mealworms)
Crickets, dubia roaches, and horn worms should make up the largest portion of the bearded dragon’s protein diet. The insects listed under “Occasional Treats” should only be offered intermittently and should not be the base of the protein portion of the diet.
Wax worms should be offered as occasional treats due to their high fat content, which can cause issues with obesity as the bearded dragon matures.
The insect prey items outlined above can usually be found in most pet stores or from breeders found online. Adult bearded dragons can be offered small pinkie mice, but it’s recommended to stick with insects for protein needs.
Avoid offering any wild-caught insects unless you know they are free of pesticides or chemicals, and you know what they are. Never feed your bearded dragon a strange insect from outdoors. It is recommended to only feed insects that are bred as reptile food from reputable breeders and pet stores.
Insects to Absolutely Avoid as Food
- Fireflies (lightning bugs)
- Boxedler Bugs
- Wild-caught Insects
Plant matter such as fruits and vegetables can be easily found in most grocery stores. The vegetables offered should consist of a large variety, including:
- Dandelion Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Turnip Greens
- Acorn Squash
- Butternut Squash
- Green Beans
- Snap Peas
- Sweet Potato
- Yellow Squash
The vegetables listed above should make up the largest portion of the plant matter mixture in the diet of your bearded dragon. All vegetables and fruit offered should be finely shopped to make it easier for the bearded dragon to eat. Never offer any food item that is too large.
- Bok Choy
- Carrot Tops
- Celery Leaves
- Kohlrabi Leaves
- Swiss Chard
The greens listed above should be offered occasionally and in smaller portions than the staple greens. These can be mixed in with the staple greens and vegetables. Some of these greens are high in oxalates and should be offered no more than once or twice per week in small amounts.
- Bell Peppers
- Celery Stalks
- Green Peas
As with the occasional greens, the vegetables mentioned above should only be offered once or twice a week and mixed with staple greens and vegetables.
There are some vegetables that should be offered rarely or avoided all together.
Vegetables Fed Rarely
- Beet Greens
Beet greens and spinach contain high amounts of oxalates, which can be fatal in bearded dragons in high doses. It also is a calcium binding agent which can prevent the absorption of calcium. This can lead to issues such as Metabolic Bone Disease over time. Spinach and beet greens can be feed to your bearded dragon, but it should be only very seldom.
Lettuce contains very little nutritional value and should be avoided. The only time lettuce should be fed is if the bearded dragon becomes extremely dehydrated. A little lettuce can help with hydration issues, but too much can lead to diarrhea, further complicating dehydration. Chopped and peeled cucumber is a better option for hydration.
Bearded dragons can eat tomatoes, but in a very limited capacity. Tomatoes are very acidic and can cause issues if fed frequently. A little tomato every now and then is okay.
Vegetables Fed NEVER
- Prickly Pear
- Honeydew Melon
You do not need to use every vegetable, fruit, and insect mentioned in every feeding, but the staple and occasional foods should be rotated as much as possible to offer a varied diet. Varying the insect and plant matter items is very important for good, long-term health of your bearded dragon.
Diet Requirements of Baby Bearded Dragons
Baby Bearded Dragons require a higher amount of proteins in order to build muscle, body mass, and develop fat reserves. This requirement means that babies need a larger percentage of insects than plant matter. Babies will also need to be fed more frequently than older bearded dragons. It can be very common to feed a baby four or five times per day, and consume up to 70 – 80 pinhead crickets per day.
So, if you feed your baby bearded dragon five times per day, make three feedings insect prey and two feedings half insects and half varied plant matter. During the plant matter feeding offer the vegetable/fruit mix before offering the insects. Most bearded dragons will go after insects first and totally ignore the vegetables. You want to train your bearded dragon to like and eat plant matter at an early age.
Results will vary depending on the particular bearded dragon. Some take to vegetables very easily, some tend to deter from consuming them.
Diet Requirements of Juvenile Bearded Dragons
Once your bearded dragon reaches the juvenile stage their diet needs change a bit.
They should be developing good body mass and developing those fat reserves so the amount of insect prey can drop while the amount of plant matter should be increased.
The frequency of feedings may also decrease, but it can depend greatly from one bearded dragon to the next. Typically, a juvenile should be fed around three times per day.
If you feed your juvenile three times per day, offer half insects and half plant matter at each feeding.
An alternative is to feed only plant matter in the morning, only insects in the afternoon, and a mix of both in the evening. These are just examples that can be altered to fit your schedule and needs.
Diet Requirements of an Adult Bearded Dragon
As your bearded dragon reaches maturity its diet requirements will change quite a bit from that of a baby – the opposite in fact. Now the adult needs far less insects and mostly varied plant matter.
The large amount of fruits and vegetables needed in an adults diet is why it’s so important to train them to like plant matter at an early age. If you wait until they are juveniles or adults to offer them vegetables and fruits it might be very difficult to break them of their insect addiction.
At this stage fruits and vegetables should be the most abundant offering in their diet. Insect prey should be offered much less. The frequency in needed offering will lessen as well. Many adult bearded dragons will only eat once or twice a day.
If you feed an adult twice per day (once in the morning then once in the evening) offer chopped vegetables and fruit in the morning, then another portion of plant matter with a few insects in the evening.
Feeding insects to a bearded dragon is not very difficult, as it will usually readily go after this food item. There are some tips and tricks you can use while feeding crickets and other insects.
Feeder insects should be gut loaded for at least 24 hours before feeding them to your bearded dragon. Gut loading is the process of feeding the feeder insects a highly nutritious meal before feeding them to your bearded dragon. This is an optimal method for ensuring your bearded dragon receives the most nutritious foods possible.
Firstly, never feed your bearded dragon an insect that is too large. Keep in mind that the feeder insect should not be larger than the space between the bearded dragon’s eyes. For babies that’s usually 1/4 of an inch or less.
Since bearded dragons are typically very docile and friendly it is very easy to feed them by hand. Simply grab a cricket, roach, or horn worm and hold it in front of the bearded dragon. Once the beardie notices the wiggly insect he will swipe at it with his tongue and munch away.
Grasp the insect firmly enough to keep hold of it, but not so tight as to kill it or keep the bearded dragon from being able to snatch it away. It may take you guys some practice to get the hang of it, but once the bearded dragon realizes you are feeding it will not take long.
For very small insects you can use bamboo feeding tongs to hold the food. Make sure the tongs are bamboo or plastic. Use plastic covers over the tips of metal tongs to prevent possible injury to the bearded dragon.
You can simply hold out a small piece of fruit or vegetables for them to take from you. For baby bearded dragons you can hold a piece of fruit in the palm of your hand and watch as they climb into your hand to take it.
Hand feeding is a great way to bond with your bearded dragon and to tech him you are a friend.
If you are pinched for time and can’t hand feed, then placing the insect food into a suitable bowl is another option. You need to select a food bowl that adequately holds the insect prey while being shallow enough for the bearded dragon to be able to see the food and reach it.
There are specially made bowls just for feeding reptiles found at most pet stores. These bowls are super for offering different worms, such as mealworms and wax worms. You can use a store-bought feeder bowl that is very attractive, or use a simple plastic bowl that is suitable.
When feeding crickets, we prefer to use the Cricket Rock made by Exo Terra. The Cricket Rock is just as it sounds – a bowl with a lid, shaped like a rock used to offer crickets to the reptile. Add how many ever crickets you plan to feed your bearded dragon in this particular feeding, close the lid, then set the Cricket Rock into the terrarium. Pull out the special plug in the front of the Cricket Rock, and the crickets will begin coming out of the rock one at a time – ready to be snatched up by your bearded dragon.
Once your bearded dragon learns this Cricket Rock means it is dinner time, he will sit in front of it and wait for you to pull the plug. It’s great fun to watch!
Feeding Plant Matter
Feeding your bearded dragon plant matter is pretty straight-forward. Make sure the fruits and vegetables are finely chopped and in small enough pieces so the bearded dragon can easily eat them. A small electric food chopper, or processor, works well.
Simply load the chopped plant matter into the bowl, sprinkle some calcium and vitamin supplement on top, and place into the terrarium. Again, you want to use a shallow bowl so the bearded dragon can see the food, and be able to reach it.
Also, be sure to vary the staple and occasional fruits and vegetables as much as possible to provide the most complete diet possible.
Vitamin & Mineral Supplements
Even with a varied and complete diet, bearded dragons will still lack some nutrients in captivity that they normally get in the wild. That’s why it is very important to provide vitamin and mineral supplements when feeding your bearded dragon.
The most important supplements to provide are calcium with vitamin D3, and an general multivitamin. These supplements come in a powdered form engineered to stick to food items.
Insect feeders should be dusted and coated with Repashy Calcium Plus supplement at each feeding. Veggie mixes should also be sprinkled at each feeding as well.
Repashy SuperVite should be added to insect prey or veggie mixes at least one feeding per week.
Dusting Insects For Feeding
Dusting insects, especially crickets, can be a challenge at times. Fortunately, there are some fantastic products available to make it a snap. There is the Cricket Shaker Cup available where you place a little supplement powder into the bottom, then add the insects. Screw the lid on firmly, then give the cup a shake. This throughly coats each insects with supplement powder and they’re ready to feed.
The Cricket Rock can also be used to dust insects. Simply sprinkle a little supplement powder in the bottom of the rock, add insects, replace lid, and give the rock a couple good shakes.
Viola! Your insects are thoroughly coated and ready for feeding.
Providing Your Bearded Dragon Fresh Water
Although many bearded dragons will not drink directly from a bowl of water, you should provide a shallow bowl of water at all times. Bearded dragons cannot see standing water in a bowl and usually will not drink from it.
Clean, fresh water should still be offered because they can accidentally stumble in, and perhaps take a drink. You never want to leave any pet without water, even if they very seldom drink any.
The water offered should be fresh and, most important, dechlorinated. You can use bottled spring water, or tap water that has been treated with a dechlorinator.
An excellent dechlorinator made for reptiles is Zoo Med’s ReptiSafe Water Conditioner. This will remove any chlorine, ammonia, and other substances that could harm your bearded dragon.
Misting Your Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons typically intake water in the wild by licking droplets of rain, or dew that roll off the end of their nose. To mimic this action you can fill a small misting bottle with fresh, dechlorinated water and gently mist your bearded dragon. He may not like it at first, but after a couple seconds you will see him begin lapping up the droplets of water off the end of his nose.
You will want to mist your bearded dragon for a few minutes at least two to three times per day.
Bathing Your Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons love getting baths, and you should give yours a bath at least once a week. Let the bearded dragon soak in warm water for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Use a small cup to scoop water and slowly pour over his body. Avoid getting any water in their eyes, mouth, or nose.
Make sure the water is not so deep that the bearded dragon could drown. A sink works well for a baby or juvenile, while a tub will with about an inch and a half of warm water works well for adults (depending on its size). The bearded dragon will typically splash and play around in the water taking care of most of the bathing himself.
Frequent bathing will help provide good hygiene and keep your bearded dragon well hydrated. Be sure to monitor your bearded dragon the entire time to prevent any accidental drownings.
We have covered a lot on the diet and nutrition aspects of keeping bearded dragons, now let’s go over some example feeding schedules for your bearded dragon.