Feeding Bearded Dragons
There are eight species of bearded dragons, but the most popular one is the inland or central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) from the arid to semi-arid southeastern parts of Australia. Pogona vitticeps is the spcies discussed in this handout.
What do bearded dragons eat?
Bearded dragons come from a habitat where food may be sparse, so they accept a wide variety of different foods. Bearded dragons are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant- and animal-based foods, including insects.
"Bearded dragons eat both plant- and animal-based foods."
They have a sharp eye and keen sense of smell. Young, growing bearded dragons tend to be primarily carnivores, and adults tend to be more herbivorous. As a guideline, depending on its age, a bearded dragon's diet should be about 50% plant-based material and 50% animal-based material. Be sure to discuss a specific diet for your pet lizard with your veterinarian.
How often should I feed my bearded dragon?
Most young bearded dragons eat once or twice daily, while older lizards can be fed once daily, depending upon each pet's individual appetite.
What are some types of plant material I can feed my bearded dragon?
Most (80-90%) of the plant material should be vegetables and flowers, and only 10-20% should be fruits. As a rule, anything dark green and leafy can make up a large part of the diet. Yellow, red, and orange vegetables may also be included. Avoid fiber-rich, nutrient-poor and vitamin-deficient light green vegetables, including iceberg or head lettuce and celery; these vegetables are mainly composed of fiber and water with little nutrient value. The inner, light colored parts of some vegetables are less nutritious than the darker green, outer leaves.
Acceptable vegetables that should represent a high percentage of the diet include collard greens, beet greens, mustard greens, broccoli, turnip greens, alfalfa hay or chow, bok choy, kale, parsley, Swiss chard, watercress, clover, red or green cabbage, savory, cilantro, kohlrabi, bell peppers, green beans, escarole, and dandelion. A lesser percentage of the diet can include cactus, various squash, sprouts, cooked sweet potato, parsnips, okra, cucumber, asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, peas, and corn. Fruit can include apples, pears, bananas (with skin), mango, grapes, star fruit, raisins, peaches, tomato, guava, kiwis, and melons. Fruits that are particularly healthy include figs (high in calcium), apricots, dates, raspberries, and strawberries. Fruits may be eaten preferentially, but are generally mineral-poor so they should be fed sparingly as top dressing. As a treat, flowers such as geraniums, carnations, dandelions, hibiscus, nasturtiums, and roses, may also be offered.
"Fruits are generally mineral-poor, so they should be fed sparingly as top dressing."
Vegetables can be offered cooked or raw, although raw is more natural and retains more nutrients. Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables. Flowers can be home grown or purchased from floral shops. Often, floral shops throw out older, wilted flowers. While these may be unacceptable for sale to the public, bearded dragon owners can often get them at no charge. Before feeding them to your dragon, be sure that no chemicals have been applied to the flowers or water.
Swiss chard, spinach, and beet greens should be fed sparingly, as they contain oxalates that can bind calcium and other trace minerals, preventing their absorption. Diets composed primarily of these can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Caution should also be exercised when feeding cabbage, kale, and mustard greens; these vegetables contain goitrogens (substances that suppress thyroid gland function by interfering with iodine uptake), and excessive intake may lead to hypothyroidism.
"Swiss chard, spinach, and beet greens should be fed sparingly, as they contain oxalates that can bind calcium and other trace minerals."
Food should be presented in a shallow clean dish that is not easily tipped over. Vegetables should be finely chopped and mixed together to ensure your bearded dragon eats a wide variety of food types and to discourage selection of a single preferred food item.
What types of animal-based proteins can I offer my bearded dragon?
Appropriate animal-based protein sources include grasshoppers, gut-loaded (i.e., fed nutritious food that is then passed on to the lizard) or calcium-dusted crickets and mealworms, spiders, wax worms (occasionally, as they are high fat), silk worms (occasionally), tofu, moths, slugs, and earthworms.
Live prey, such as crickets and various worms, may be raised by owners or purchased from pet stores, bait stores, or reptile breeders. Collecting insects from outside or from the home garden is not recommended, as fertilizers and insecticides may be present in or on these insects and may be toxic if fed to bearded dragons. Fireflies should never be fed to bearded dragons, as these flies are generally toxic to lizards. Larger bearded dragons may be fed pinkie or young "fuzzy" mice sparingly.
Remember to feed a healthy and wide variety of food items from all of the food categories listed above for balanced nutrition.
Do I need to give my bearded dragons vitamins and minerals?
Bearded dragons have a higher need for dietary calcium than phosphorus, especially when they are young and their bones are growing. Generally, veterinarians recommend that 2-3 times per week, you LIGHTLY sprinkle food offered to bearded dragons with a calcium powder (calcium gluconate, lactate, or carbonate) not containing vitamin D3, and an additional 2-3 times a week, you LIGHTLY sprinkle food with a calcium powder containing vitamin D3. In addition, once a week, you should provide a LIGHT sprinkling of a general reptile mineral supplement on the food. Supplements should be dusted onto small portions of salads or moist foods, and those portions should be fed first to ensure that the bearded dragon consumes them.
A common problem seen in pet bearded dragons is inappropriate supplementation with calcium and vitamins (especially vitamin D3) and minerals. Check with your veterinarian for specific recommendations about supplementing your pet's diet.
What about water?
Fresh water in a crock that will not easily tip over should be available at all times. Provide fresh water daily and ensure it stays clean; wash and disinfect the water bowl daily.
Bearded dragons in the wild get most of the water they need from rain or morning dew on plants and the other food they eat; some do not seem to recognize a dish of water. Misting vegetable matter fed to pet bearded dragons is another way to help keep them hydrated. In addition, pet bearded dragons may be misted directly with water from a plant mister or soaked a few times a week, too, to ensure they are hydrated.
Different types of bearded dragons may have slightly different nutritional needs. Opinions vary regarding the most appropriate diet for captive bearded dragons, and our knowledge and understanding of this subject continues to grow and change. Please discuss your bearded dragon’s specific dietary needs (based on his age, weight, and health status) with a reptile-savvy veterinarian familiar with your lizard.
Remember – always WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY after feeding, cleaning, and handling a bearded dragon, as they can carry bacteria and parasites that may not be harmful to them but that may affect us.
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