In the wild, bearded dragons eat mainly live food, consisting of insects and even small mammals such as mice for larger species. In captivity, bearded dragons eat a mostly protein diet consisting of insects until they reach about one year old.
Around this age or sometime before, they gradually can be switched to a more plant-based diet. A baby or juvenile dragon’s diet is about 75-80 percent insect protein, and the rest is plant material. In adulthood, this ratio is switched.
Here’s a quick list of the greens dragons should be eating: Alfalfa, Collard Greens, Dandelion Greens, Mustard Greens, Prickly Pear Cacti, Squash, Turnip Greens, Aloe Vera, Broccoli and Kale.
If you have purchased a juvenile dragon, you’ll need to know what kinds of greens and vegetables he should be fed. If you have purchased an adult dragon, you’ll really need to learn this, as plant material will form most of his diet.
Fortunately, the fact that a dragon will eat mostly greens and vegetables is one of the things that makes dragons a desirable pet. His food will be easy to find and won’t be costly. In fact, he can share in much of the salad-makings you might already have in your own refrigerator. We’ll talk about the kinds of greens to feed your dragon and what you should avoid and watch for.
How to Feed a Bearded Dragon Greens
Organic greens are the best ones to feed your beardie. You don’t want to feed him any greens which may have been subjected to pesticides or herbicides, as these may have absorbed some of the chemicals internally, meaning that washing the greens won’t rid them of some chemical residue.
That being said, always wash your greens before serving them to your dragon. They should also be served raw. Cooking takes time and also will remove some of the nutritional value. While dragons can tear leaves apart, you don’t want to offer yours large leaves. Chopping them up into manageable bits will help and will also release some of the greens’ aroma to entice your beardie and let him know that dinner is served. Looking for some help feeding your bearded dragon? Check out my article What to Feed a Bearded Dragon [The Complete Guide].
How Much Greens Should I Feed My Bearded Dragon?
As has been stated previously, juvenile dragons, and especially babies two months of age or younger, need many more insects in their diets than vegetable matter, 75-80 percent insects and the rest greens.
They are considered sub-adults when they reach the age of seven months. This is when you can start feeding more plant matter and gradually switch them over to an adult diet. Adults aged one year or more will usually eat the opposite ratio of insects to plants, usually 75-80 percent plant material.
What Greens Can Bearded Dragons Eat Daily?
The most nutritious bearded dragon greens include mustard greens, collard greens, dandelion leaves, endive, clover, bok choy, turnip greens, cabbage, celery leaves, kale, and more. Feeding an assortment will enable him to get the particular nutrients each one offers.
You can use your own judgment on much of this, but you do need to familiarize yourself with some of the nutritional value of various kinds of greens. For instance, many people want to feed a dragon or other reptile common iceberg lettuce. This lettuce is mostly water and offers very little in the way of nutrition. While this may give your dragon some of his needed moisture, you need greens that are denser in nutrients.
Calcium is a vital part of a dragon’s diet and should be given daily. Fortunately, some greens are high in calcium content, such as mustard greens. Besides calcium content, you need to learn the calcium to phosphorus ratio of each kind of green. Phosphorus can bind to certain nutrients such as calcium and prevent proper absorption. The ideal ratio of calcium to phosphorus is two to one.
Oxalates, or oxalic acid, is another substance that acts much the same way as phosphorus. Those greens high in oxalates, such as spinach, should be avoided. Those with moderate amounts won’t hurt your beardie as long as they aren’t fed daily. You’ll want to mix up his daily assortment of greens anyway, so it will be easy to add in some of these occasionally to vary his daily diet.
Another substance to watch out for is goitrogens. These compounds interfere with thyroid gland function. Unfortunately, beardies are prone to thyroid problems, so you can see how this would be a problem. Some of these greens include cabbage and kale, so if you feed these, do so only occasionally.
What Greens Do Bearded Dragons Like the Most?
Beardies usually love dandelion greens and mustard greens. However, like anyone else, even yourself, individual beardies will tend to have individual tastes, so don’t get flustered if your beardie doesn’t seem to care for a particular food he’s supposed to love. Also, don’t be tempted to pluck these from your yard, especially dandelion greens, if you treat your lawn with any pesticides or herbicides.
They are both easy to grow, as you may know from trying to rid your lawn of dandelions. Just grow them organically in untreated soil, without any chemical fertilizers or other treatments, and you should be fine. You can always pluck the blooms to prevent them from reseeding anyplace else. In fact, you can have your own beardie garden with greens just for him. This will give him really fresh greens and save you money in the warm months.
How To Train a Bearded Dragon to Eat Vegetables
One good way as your beardie approaches adulthood is to keep fresh greens in the enclosure daily. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t eat many at first. Depending on the age of your dragon, he’ll gradually reduce the number of feeding times needed per day, from five in babies, to once for adults. Part of this stems from the fact that baby stomachs can’t hold much. Just like human infants, they need more frequent, smaller meals.
Training him to eat greens and vegetables should start early. You might try offering your dragon some chopped vegetables and greens first thing in the morning. If he hasn’t eaten any by afternoon, don’t starve him hoping to force him to eat the greens. Go ahead and feed him something he likes. The goal is to offer the plant food first before anything else, then again later for another feeding if he’s young. Keep trying and he’ll get the message.
You’ll probably find that as they age, dragons just naturally start eating more greens. If yours doesn’t do this, perhaps it’s because he’s too full of crickets or other insects. If you notice that he just won’t eat greens, try cutting down on the number of insects he’s offered at meals and see if that doesn’t make a difference.
You might want to keep your greens in a shallow dish, perhaps in a corner that’s easy to reach but which will prevent your dragon from walking over it, scattering the greens, during the day. Change them every day.
7 Tips to Get Bearded Dragon to Eat Vegetables
Warm up his food – To keep your greens fresh, you’ll probably want to keep them in a good place in your refrigerator. To serve them to your dragon, however, it’s best to let them warm up to room temperature first. Beardies don’t eat chilled food in the wild, and they won’t be tempted by greens straight out of the fridge. It probably isn’t good for them as well even if they did eat them.
Cut the offering into smaller pieces – A dragon presented with large leaves may not just chow down, especially if he’s young and just being introduced to greens and vegetables. Larger leaves may be offered by hanging them on the enclosure side by a clip or suction cup. Kale and dandelion greens are great to offer this way. Your dragon can go to them anytime he feels like a snack.
Try a little fruit – Beardies usually love fruit. Sometimes, especially with babies or very young juveniles, a bit of chopped fruit in the mix will entice him. Fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, figs, apples, papaya, dates, peaches, apricots and watermelon are usually fine for beardies and they enjoy these occasionally.
However, they should not be fed every day as the sugar can lead to a fat dragon and they also can suffer from tooth decay. It can also cause problems with yeast levels in the body. Stay away from citrus fruits.
Hand-feed – As previously mentioned, starting your beardie on greens and vegetables should start early while they still comprise a small part of his diet. If your beardie doesn’t show any interest in them and he is used to being handled, try offering them in your hand. You can move a leaf around to get his interest.
If this works, you can entice him to his veggie bowl to get his own. Some beardies will get spoiled by this trick, and you don’t want to get him used to the idea that he only has to eat veggies if offered from your hand.
Bee pollen – Dragons just love the taste of bee pollen for some reason. Try sprinkling some on his greens. It not only will perk up his interest, but bee pollen has plenty of vitamins for your beardie.
Add a couple of insects – Add a couple of insects to the salad bowl to get your dragon started. To keep them from moving from the bowl, try putting them in a bag and shaking it up. That should stun them enough so that they forget how to move. You can also try putting them in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to slow them down. Your fussy beardie will probably get some greens in his mouth while grabbing the insects. This will especially be effective if used in his first morning feeding.
Try salad dressing – No, not the stuff from your shelf. There is actually salad dressing made for bearded dragons. For some reason, it really gets them to eat the greens and vegetables. Of course, you don’t want him to get spoiled, so gradually cut down on the amount of dressing you put on his greens until he’s eating like a normal dragon.
Why a Bearded Dragon Won’t Eat Greens
Much like any animal, or human for that matter, individual dragons have individual tastes. Beardies tend to be really picky eaters, compounding the problem. They may just not like the greens you’re offering him.
The wide variety of greens he can eat makes it easy to try different ones. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding out what he likes. Don’t be afraid to introduce some he didn’t prefer previously into his daily assortment, however, especially if this includes some highly nutritious kinds.
While dusting his greens with calcium powder is necessary if his insect food isn’t gut loaded, if there’s a little too much powder on his greens, a dragon may not care for them. See if plain ones will make a difference, then gradually add the calcium powder if needed.
Also, while beardies usually gravitate more toward greens and vegetables as they reach adulthood, this isn’t always the case. It’s always good to start offering greens early. Even babies do require some greens in their diets. Some babies or juveniles need a little training and urging to begin. Once they start, you won’t have any trouble gradually changing the insect to plant ratio as they age.
The Calcium Question
Bearded dragons must have sufficient calcium and vitamin D3 to allow them to properly absorb and metabolize the calcium. While you can feed him calcium-rich greens and his UVB light will provide some vitamin D3, it doesn’t come near what a dragon gets in his natural habitat. His natural environment is something that just usually can’t be replicated for a pet dragon.
If he doesn’t get sufficient calcium from his diet, his body will start to draw it from his bones, which will cause metabolic bone disease. This disease is far too common in pet dragons, and it’s caused by a lack of sufficient calcium in the diet, period. Besides bone problems, the disease causes damage to muscles and tissues as well. Your dragon can end up with paralysis or even death. Once the disease has started, it’s very difficult to reverse, so prevention is vital.
The vitamin D3 problem is mostly addressed by his UVB light, but some must still be added to his diet. Calcium must be provided in his diet. This is one reason you need to learn about the particular vegetables and greens you offer him, and which ones are high in oxalates or phosphorus, both of which cause problems with calcium absorption in the dragon’s body.
Even with calcium-rich greens and vegetables, your dragon will still need more. One way to provide extra calcium is to dust your greens and insects with calcium and vitamin D3 powder or you can use liquid supplements. Just make sure what you choose is for bearded dragons. Supplements made for humans or other animals may contain phosphorus, which will render your efforts less than desirable.
An easier way to supplement your beardie’s diet with calcium is to gut load the insects he eats. This will help the problem beardie owners sometimes have with getting their dragons to eat greens when they have too much calcium dust on them.
Put the crickets or other insects you intend to feed him into a separate container the day before. Feed them leafy greens, sweet potato or papaya, which are all calcium rich. You may also want to dust those with calcium powder to make sure your insects are properly loaded for your dragon. Be sure to feed him those insects the next day, or the extra nutrients you’ve stuffed them with will pass out of their systems.
Should I Feed My Bearded Dragon Spinach?
Spinach, since it is so high in nutrients, is often thought of as an ideal part of bearded dragon greens. However, it contains high levels of oxalic acid or oxalates. This substance also binds to calcium and other trace minerals, hampering absorption.
Spinach contains high levels of oxalates, over twice as much as collard greens, for instance, and should be avoided. While some greens contain moderate levels of oxalates and can be fed occasionally, spinach contains such as high level that it shouldn’t be fed at all.
Collard greens do have more oxalates than many other choices but can be fed to your dragon, just perhaps not daily. With the large variety of available greens that your dragon can eat, this should not be a problem.
You’ll be able to provide a variety by changing up his daily assortment of greens. Just like a human, some beardies can get bored eating the same thing day after day (except for crickets, of course). Those greens with higher levels of oxalates can be added here and there to mix things up without harming your dragon.
While bearded dragons do tend to eat a wide variety of greens, vegetables and fruits along with their live food and this makes them relatively easy to feed, they do need sufficient calcium and vitamin D3. If you’re a new owner, the prospect of gut loading insects may seem a bit complicated, but once you get started, it’s pretty easy.
You’ll be glad you got the hang of it if you have a young dragon that eats mostly insects, as you’ll get tired of dusting them before each meal. You’ll also prevent the problem of the occasional beardie that is turned off by the calcium powder. Take care of his one special, vital need and he’ll be a long-lasting, enjoyable pet for you.