Bearded dragons are one of the most popular reptiles to keep as pets. One of the most important reasons for this is the wide variety of foods that a dragon can eat and the fact that adults eat mostly plant matter.
This means that unless you are raising a baby or young juvenile dragon, you won’t have to keep a constant supply of live food around. Even so, by the time your pet reaches adulthood, usually around one year of age, the need for live food will be much less.
In addition, the plant material that a dragon can eat covers a wide variety of easy to obtain vegetables, greens and fruits. Any local grocery store can easily feed your dragon without having to buy expensive or exotic foods.
Because of this and the lesser need for live food for adults, feeding a dragon isn’t as expensive as feeding some other reptiles. Also, feeding him will be much easier in the process, as some greens can be left in his tank for occasional munching.
However, a dragon owner learning what to feed a bearded dragon needs to educate himself on a few things in order to feed his pet properly without unknowingly feeding him something harmful.
It’s up to the owner to look out for his pet and not just rely on feeding him what he likes. Fortunately, with the wide variety of foods your beardie will eat, having to avoid some will not be a problem.
In this article I will be going over Vegetables, Fruits, Greens, Meat/Insects as well as live foods and needed vitamins that a bearded dragon CAN eat and what a bearded dragon CAN’T eat.
What to Feed a Bearded Dragon
There are three main things that a dragon owner must learn about what to feed a bearded dragon and when deciding on vegetables, greens and other foods in his pet’s diet.
Calcium vs phosphorus, oxalates and goitrogens. Calcium is a very important part of a dragon’s diet, especially when he is young but also all through life.
It’s so important that even with a diet high in calcium-rich foods, your beardie will usually need some sort of calcium supplement, such as supplement dust on his insects or gut-loaded insects fed with calcium-rich food the day before they become dragon food.
1] Calcium vs phosphorus – While it’s important to choose foods that have a high calcium content, an owner must also be aware of possible substances in the plants that can interfere with the absorption of calcium. For instance, the calcium to phosphorus ratio in any plant food must be considered.
Phosphorus can bind to nutrients such as calcium, preventing absorption in the dragon’s body. While it’s hard to avoid phosphorus in plants, the optimum ratio of calcium to phosphorus is two to one.
2] Oxalates – also bind to calcium. Some foods, such as spinach, may seem like a good choice, but they have an oxalate content and so should be avoided. Foods containing goitrogens interfere with the function of the thyroid gland, which regulates your dragon’s metabolism, and so should also be avoided.
3] Goitrogens – are substances that eventually interfere with thyroid function and by extension, your dragon’s metabolism. Some plant foods are high in these and should be avoided. Need help setting up a feeding schedule read my article The Complete Bearded Dragon Feeding Schedule.
What Vegetables Can Bearded Dragons Eat?
Bearded dragons can eat a wide variety of greens and vegetables. Many owners appreciate this because it makes it easy to keep stocked with common foods that aren’t expensive. They can eat many of your own salad greens. A variety should always be offered, whatever you include in the mix from day to day. Chop them together to make a beardie salad.
For instance, bearded dragons usually love mustard greens. Since these greens are dark green and nutritious, it would seem to be a good thing if your dragon loves them. However, mustard greens are high in substances that can harm his thyroid gland and eventually interfere with his metabolism. They can be fed to your dragon if he likes them, just sparingly.
This is why it’s important to know what potential dragon foods contain. Some foods can be fed occasionally for a treat or to provide variety without harm, while some should just be avoided altogether. There are many nutrition charts available that will tell you what substances, vitamins and minerals most common vegetables and greens contain.
Then you need to use your own judgment. If your dragon is really picky and likes one of the questionable foods, you can probably give it to him once a week or so to encourage his appetite without harm.
Any plant food should be served at room temperature. While you’ll probably store your vegetables and greens in the refrigerator, let them warm up before serving them to your dragon. Also, they are best served raw to preserve all the nutrition they contain.
After all, nobody cooks anything for them in the wild. They should also be chopped into bite-size pieces. Don’t leave any uneaten vegetables in your dragon’s enclosure once he’s finished.
Vegetables with hard skins should be peeled and any seeds or stems removed. Carrots are an exception, as they have thin skins, so you can use them as a guide. Any stringy parts inside should also be removed, such as those inside green peppers. Basically, you want to serve the softer pulp.
Vegetables to Feed Your Bearded Dragon
While different lists of good plant foods for beardies abound, and some will have a food on the preferred list while another may have it on the avoidance list, most will agree on these.
* Cactus pads
* Sweet potato
* Bell pepper
* Acorn and yellow squash
* Green beans
Vegetables to NOT Feed Your Bearded Dragon
Questionable Foods [Consult Your Veterinarian Before Feeding These]
* Iceberg lettuce
“Avocados absolutely should not be offered to your dragon. They actually contain chemicals that are toxic to beardies. Just a small amount can make your pet sick and too much can kill him. Onions and chives should also be avoided. Many sources advise against mushrooms as well.”
What Fruits Can Bearded Dragon Eat?
Fruit is something that dragons enjoy, but it should not be a regular on your list of what to feed a bearded dragon. The sugar content can actually make a dragon fat, and he can develop yeast problems from eating fruit. Soft fruit can ferment and actually cause tooth problems.
Because of this, some recommend feeding these fruits only once or twice a month. Besides, most fruits are low in mineral content, so while they like fruits, they aren’t as nutritious as foods such as greens.
As with vegetables, most fruits should be peeled, and any seeds removed. Fruits should be chopped into bite-sized pieces as well.
Fruits to Feed Your Bearded Dragon
* Strawberries [feed on occasion]
* Blueberries [feed on occasion]
However, since bananas have a high phosphorus to calcium ratio, they should be fed only occasionally.
Fruits to NOT Feed Your Bearded Dragon
* Citrus fruits of all kinds are not recommended dragon foods.
* Watermelon is mostly water and little nutrients [feed on occasion]
What Meat/Insects Can Bearded Dragons Eat?
While bearded dragons are considered omnivores, that is, they’ll eat almost anything they find, what we consider meat is not good to feed to dragons. The meat they eat should be in the form of live insects. While adult dragons only need insects as about 20-25 percent of their food, babies and juveniles need far more insect food instead of plant food.
Your best bet for staple insects will be Dubia roaches and/or crickets. The other choices can be fed to keep a variety in your dragon’s insect diet. A few should be fed only as a treat because of high fat content, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them entirely.
Dubia roaches are often touted as the best staple insect to feed your beardie. While the term “roach” may make some people get the willies, they really aren’t the creepy kind you may find occasionally invading your home.
Dubia roaches are high in protein and relatively low in fat compared to other insect foods. They are easily purchased from pet stores or online. They also can be bred at home, providing you with a ready, inexpensive source of food.
If you are raising a baby or young juvenile dragon, his food intake should consist of 75-80 percent insects, which gradually can be reduced as he nears adulthood. For this reason, many owners choose to raise their own insects.
While many people have at least heard of breeding crickets at home, you can get more information on breeding crickets in my article How to Breed Crickets for Bearded Dragons. Most people are not aware that Dubia roaches can also be raised at home. Raising these roaches has several advantages over raising crickets.
The roaches are quiet, whereas crickets are quite noisy during breeding times, even to the point of annoying your dragon. The roaches aren’t as smelly as crickets can be. They also are unable to climb and escape, unlike crickets.
They live longer than crickets. If you can get over the creep factor of roaches, they are a great insect to raise for your beardie. They do require a bit more of a complicated setup, however, so do some research before deciding on raising them versus crickets.
Crickets are the most popular insect to feed beardies. They are easily bred by owners raising young dragons that need mostly insect food, and most pet stores and bait shops carry them. They are also easily available online. Since the harder body parts, such as the hind legs, can be hard to digest, it’s best to feed younger dragons young crickets, which are a little softer.
Goliath worms or horned worms are familiar as the larva of sphynx moths. They provide a good source of calcium. They can grow to a length of four to five inches and can be purchased at some pet stores or online.
They generally come in large cups loaded with food that contains 15 to 25 larva. They grow quickly and will be feeder size after only a couple of days. Of course, you’ll want to save these for adult dragons unless you get some really small ones.
Silkworms can also be purchased in cups containing worm food just as Goliath worms. They can get to slightly over an inch in length and are very nutritious. In addition to a high protein level, they have a high moisture level, which is important for your beardie. They don’t have a high fat content, which is good.
Wax worms are smaller white grubs or worms that are a great treat. They have a good protein and calcium content. They can last up to a few weeks. However, they should only be fed to your dragon occasionally, as they do have a high fat content.
Butterworms are another small worm or grub about an inch long. They offer plenty of protein and high calcium levels. They are great as supplemental food.
Phoenix worms are another good insect for your beardie. They are also known as black soldier fly larvae. They have high levels of protein and calcium. While they are easy to keep, they are quite small, so maintaining enough stock to make them a staple of your beardie’s diet would be a problem.
They shouldn’t be left entirely out of the selection, though. Fill a shallow bowl with ten to fifteen of these worms to keep them from being lost in the enclosure or stepped on.
Earthworms are a good source of moisture. They also are a good source of protein and contain a lot of calcium, along with vitamins and minerals. Don’t, however, be tempted to dig them up out of your garden.
A better choice would be to get them from a pet store or bait shop, or you can easily raise some yourself. Purchased worms have been raised on farms without chemicals in their bedding. Unfortunately, along with the good stuff, earthworms do carry a lot of fat, and so should be fed only occasionally, not as a staple food.
What Meat/Insects CAN’T a Bearded Dragon Eat?
As mentioned before, the meat people eat is not good for dragons. This includes chicken, beef, hamburger and fish.
“As far as insects, don’t ever feed your dragon a firefly to see if it glows inside him. Fireflies have chemicals in their bodies that are toxic to dragons.”
Likewise, the crickets and worms you find in your yard should be avoided. They may have absorbed lawn chemicals or fertilizer. Even if your yard hasn’t been treated, some chemicals may have drifted over from a next-door neighbor’s yard. Wild-caught insects can also harbor parasites that can harm your dragon.
In addition, you may feed him or allow him to catch and eat insects that are harmful to him, and he will usually go after any live insect he sees. It’s also hard to know what is bad and what is good. While some wild reptiles eat a lot of ants, they are bad for dragons. Likewise, many types of caterpillars have chemicals in their bodies that are harmful to dragons. Opt for either store-bought insects or those you have raised yourself.
One insect that is commonly fed to dragons that shouldn’t be, or should be fed sparingly, is the mealworm. While adults aged 18 months and over can eat them, it’s best to feed smaller mealworms to them. This is because younger mealworms won’t have quite as hard an outer shell as large ones.
This shell is tough to digest and is one of the common causes of impaction in bearded dragons, simply because their owners didn’t know better, or a pet store employee recommended them.
Mealworms are something beardies like, so they can be fed occasionally. They are good for mixing into another food you want your dragon to eat so that he’s enticed. However, they should never be fed to younger dragons, especially babies.
In addition, mealworms are high in fat. Excess fat in your dragon’s diet is just as harmful as it is in yours and can have the same effect. Mealworms are also high in phosphorus, which inhibits calcium absorption. In short, there are better options as far as live food.
As with the vegetables and greens, it’s a good idea to do a little research and familiarize yourself with the various nutritional values of various insects that beardies are usually fed. To provide variety, some that are high in fat or otherwise aren’t good as a diet staple can be fed occasionally just to spice things up or for a treat.
What Greens Can Bearded Dragons Eat?
Greens should rate high on your list of what to feed a bearded dragon. Along with vegetables that are considered greens, the leafy tops of other vegetables are usually dark green and very nutritious. While it’s neither good for your dragon nor appetizing to offer your dragon large leaves, you can hang long leaves such as dandelion in the tank for occasional snacking.
Otherwise, they should be torn into smaller pieces. As with vegetables, leftovers should not be left in a dragon’s enclosure. However, hanging a long leaf or two from the side of the tank by a hook or suction cup for snacking is allowed. Just change it for a fresh one once it wilts.
Greens to Feed Your Bearded Dragon
* Collard Greens
* Dandelion Greens
* Broccoli Tops [small amounts]
* Alfalfa Hay
* Bok Choy
* Clover Leaves
* Swiss Chard
* Kale [on occasion]
* Plantain Greens
As noted, before, some lists will have additional choices while others argue against some. This is where you need to do some research on the calcium to phosphorus ratio and the possible number of oxalates or goitrogens contained in each food, then use your best judgment.
Greens to NOT Feed Your Bearded Dragon
A substance that some greens contain that causes problems is goitrogens. These substances interfere with iodine uptake, which ends up suppressing the function of the thyroid gland. This can lead to hypothyroidism in your pet. Since the thyroid gland regulates metabolism in the body, you can see how serious a condition this can be.
Because of the risk of goitrogens, greens that are high in them, such as cabbage, kale, and mustard greens, should be fed sparingly. Most dragons love mustard greens, and you don’t have to avoid them altogether, just feed them once a week or so.
“Spinach should be avoided. Spinach especially contains a high number of oxalates.”
Greens Used with Caution
As with vegetables, some experts put some greens on the good list while others have them on the avoidance list. These include Swiss chard, beet greens and mustard greens. You’ll have to use your own judgment as to whether you want to feed them to your dragon occasionally or not at all. In any case, they are not to be considered staple greens.
Can I Raise My Own Bearded Dragon Greens?
You certainly can do this, especially if you raise them indoors in window boxes or hanging baskets, for instance. You can have your beardie garden outside if you can prepare a space that won’t be subjected to any kind of chemical drift from sprays anywhere else in the yard or from neighboring yards.
If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse, so much the better, but not if you use any chemicals on your other plants. These greens must be raised completely organically, without any kind of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In addition, the soil used must be absolutely free of any chemicals. Look for soil labeled as being organic.
What Weeds Can Bearded Dragons Eat?
* Dandelion Greens
* Dead Nettle
* Bind Weed
In addition, many beardies like to eat flowers. While these shouldn’t be a staple part of your dragon’s diet, they certainly can be added as an occasional treat. Of course, dandelions make this list, along with geraniums, carnations, hibiscus, nasturtiums and even roses and violets (not the African variety).
Some dragon owners like to let their dragons run around outside, although it’s not clear how they manage to catch them once it’s time to come in. Besides this problem, it’s not a good idea to just let them run loose in the yard.
They’ll usually go after any insect they see, good or bad. They can also eat plants that aren’t good for them. If you want to give your beardie some unfiltered sunlight, which he’ll probably love, put him in a container with a screened top. Don’t just leave him out there unattended.
You’ll need to watch to make sure he doesn’t get too warm or cold. When he’s in the full sun his enclosure may get too hot, especially if the sides are glass or some other solid material.
What Can’t Bearded Dragons Eat?
Bearded dragons should not be fed anything from the wild. While it may seem harmless to pluck dandelion greens from your yard, especially since you probably pull the plants up anyway, any plants from your yard that may have had anything sprayed on them is not good for your beardie. In addition, even fertilizer applied to your yard can harm your dragon. You also have no control over what chemicals may have drifted over in the air from another yard.
Despite being a common practice, mealworms should not be considered a staple insect food. They can be fed to get your dragon interested in his greens if he’s picky by putting a couple in his salad or as an occasional treat.
However, the younger worms should be chosen, if possible, as their shell is not as hard as those on the larger worms. Babies should absolutely not be fed mealworms. That shell is responsible for a lot of intestinal impaction problems. Impaction is a dangerous blockage and requires veterinarian attention.
“Any milk or milk products should not be given to your dragon. Dragons don’t produce the required enzymes to digest these.”
What Do Baby Bearded Dragons Eat?
Baby beardies, those under four months of age, eat mostly insects. In fact, 75 to 80 percent of their diet should be insects, with the rest being plant matter. Plant food is important for your baby.
Besides, it’s important to get him used to eating plant material when he’s young so that it will be easier to adjust his food ratio of insects to plants as he ages. In addition, babies eat smaller, more frequent meals, which should be no surprise.
Small crickets and Dubia roaches are great baby beardie food. Feed them as many as they will eat in five to ten minute feeding times five times a day. Once your baby reaches three to four months of age, reduce the feedings to four times a day. By the time he’s a year old, he’ll just need two feedings a day.
“Pay attention to the size of the insects you feed your dragon. A good rule of thumb is to not feed insects longer than the space between your dragon’s eyes. A baby can choke trying to get down insects that are too large. In addition, the exoskeleton of insects may thicken with age, making them harder to digest.”
Also, the ratio of insects to plant foods changes with age. While babies under four months usually need a diet that’s 75 to 80 percent insects, this changes gradually to a diet that’s 75 to 80 percent plant foods by the time he’s reached full adulthood at 18 months. If he gets used to plant food at an early age, this gradual shift in the insect to plant ratio should present no problem. In fact, it probably will happen naturally.
What is the Best Live Food for Bearded Dragons?
While crickets are usually listed as the most common beardie insect food, many owners opt for Dubia roaches as the main insect. Both can be raised by owners for baby and young beardies, although there are pros and cons for both.
Dubia roaches are generally considered to be less problematic in terms of being silent and not causing the smell that crickets will. They also live longer than crickets. However, they do require some learning to have a successful breeding colony. If you’re thinking of breeding insects for dragon food, it will behoove you to investigate the ins and outs of breeding both crickets and Dubia roaches.
What Vitamins Do Bearded Dragons Need?
Besides the all-important protein and calcium, bearded dragons do need supplemental vitamins as well. There are three main things that a dragon owner must learn about what to feed a bearded dragon and when deciding on vegetables, greens and other foods in his pet’s diet. These are calcium vs phosphorus, oxalates and goitrogens.
Calcium is a very important part of a dragon’s diet, especially when he is young but also all through life. It’s so important that even with a diet high in calcium-rich foods, your beardie will usually need some sort of calcium supplement, such as supplement dust on his insects or gut-loaded insects fed with calcium-rich food the day before they become dragon food.
They need vitamin D3 to help them metabolize the calcium and use it. Wild dragons get all the vitamin D3 they need from natural sunlight. This is why the type of lighting you use for your dragon is so important. How much calcium and vitamin D3 you give yours in supplemental form will depend on how much natural sunlight he gets and his age.
Baby Dragons – Usually need a daily dose of both calcium and vitamin D3 to ensure that their bones grow correctly. Baby dragons can grow surprisingly fast, so you’ll soon see why they need so much attention paid to healthy bones and bone growth.
Juvenile Dragons – Need these supplements three to four times per week, more so when they are on the younger end of the juvenile designation.
Adult Dragons – Need from one to three supplements per week, but there seems to be a lot of varying opinions on this. Your best bet is to have your dragon examined by a veterinarian with dragon experience. He’ll be able to tell you the overall health of your dragon and to make suggestions as to diet changes or supplements he feels your beardie needs.
Along with calcium and vitamin D3, your dragon needs other vitamins and minerals just as people do. Vitamin A is important, but if your dragon loves dark greens and yellow vegetables, he’s probably getting all the vitamin A he needs from them.
He can fall victim to an overabundance of vitamin A in his system, which may lead to vitamin A toxicity. If your dragon needs more vitamin A, choose a supplement that features it in the form of beta carotene.
Iron is needed much more so in baby dragons than in older ones. Like vitamin A, too much can build up in the system. Dark greens are usually full of iron, so your dragon will likely be getting enough if he likes these greens.
The best way to make sure your dragon gets the vitamins and minerals he needs, besides calcium and vitamin D3, is to get a multivitamin supplement specially formulated for a dragon and his needs.
Juveniles and adults will probably need one only once per week and a baby may need two. Again, this is one of those subjects about which there are a lot of opinions. Your veterinarian can best advise you on this matter. For more information on vitamins read my article Should I Be Giving My Bearded Dragon Vitamins?
Adding Calcium and Vitamins
Calcium and Vitamin D3 must be added to any beardie’s diet throughout his lifetime. In addition, a multi-vitamin supplement is needed. These will be separate supplements; there is no one supplement that contains everything.
In fact, there seems to be no clear consensus as to how often each supplement should be offered. Some sources recommend a calcium and D3 supplement at least three times per week. Some sources advise a calcium supplement as often as every day with the D3 only three times a week.
A multi-vitamin supplement designed for bearded dragons should be used a least once a week. Again, some sources urge that this supplement be used up to five times per week. You’ll have to read up on various supplements that are offered for sale and then use your own judgment or ask your veterinarian.
One of the main ways to give your dragon supplements is to dust insects with the supplements before feeding them to your dragon. This is best done by putting the insects into a baggie containing the dust. There are special cups you can buy for this that also feature a spout to enable you to get the dusted insects out, and many other such items.
Probably the most efficient way to add calcium to your beardie’s diet is to gut-load his insects. This means separating the ones to be fed to your dragon the next day and feeding them calcium and vitamin-rich foods. Don’t let these loaded insects sit around, as the extra nutrients will pass out of their systems if they are not offered to your dragon by the next day.
There is commercial cricket food available, some specifically made for gut-loading, but it is not necessary. You can feed your roaches or crickets dry cat or dog food, fish food, and dark green leafy vegetables. Crickets, especially, will eat almost anything you put in front of them, so they are easy to gut load.
What Food Should Sick Bearded Dragons Eat?
What to feed a bearded dragon that is sick is something that should be handled by a reptile or exotic pet veterinarian. As far as certain foods to feed or avoid, there isn’t really anything recommended. Of course, you should avoid offering him anything that may be questionable for whatever reason.
There are many reasons for a dragon to get sick or not feel well, and unless you know the cause, you can’t really take appropriate action. You may, in fact, make things worse. If your dragon is impacted, for instance, food won’t help his condition, and some may make it worse.
If your dragon shows mild signs of not feeling well and his appetite is off, try tempting him with his favorites. This is where knowledge is key, as he may just be preparing to shed his skin or preparing to brumate. Make sure he’s warm enough and that he has plenty of water. If he doesn’t respond, or he really looks sick it may be time for a vet trip.
There is quite a bit of controversy regarding feeding a sick dragon some sort of nutritious gruel through a syringe or force-feeding him. Probably your best course of action is to avoid this practice unless your vet advises it. He can also show you how to do it with the least stress on your dragon.
Will I Need a Veterinarian for My Bearded Dragon?
You certainly should know of a veterinarian who has experience with reptiles and bearded dragons. As far as regular visits, opinions vary wildly. You should certainly have your pet checked out when you get him.
This visit can also serve as a baseline so your vet can more easily detect problems later on. He can show you the best way to administer medication if needed. Your vet can also advise you on food choices. This advice is much more important than that from a pet store employee.
If you live in a rural area, it may be next to impossible to find an actual “herp” or exotic pet vet. While this is the optimal choice, you don’t want to drive 120 miles for a checkup. Check out available vets in your area and see what experience they’ve had with bearded dragons and other reptiles.
Breeders are an excellent source of recommendations, as they always have good relations with a vet. The availability of a vet is one good thing to consider before you even adopt a beardie. If you have no access to a suitable vet in your area, perhaps a dragon is not a good choice as a pet. You owe it to him to keep him healthy and happy. Caring for his medical needs is part of this.
Knowing what to feed a bearded dragon is an important part of keeping him in good shape. It’s not enough to just read down a list. You really need to be knowledgeable about your pet’s nutritional needs so you can make decisions about what to feed yours and how much.
Remember that bearded dragons have different tastes like anything else, and you may have a really picky one that narrows down the list of available foods. In that case, you’ll have to rely on your own judgment as to encouraging his appetite with a questionable food that he likes.
Your vet can be a valuable resource for deciding on food choices. A checkup will reveal if your dragon is deficient in a nutrient or nutrients so you can adjust his diet accordingly. It’s not enough to just buy all the right lamps and enclosure and crickets, plop him in there and ignore the rest.
Your dragon is like any other creature. He has specific needs that he gets from his food and it’s up to the owner to see that his needs are met. Once you get the hang of his food needs, however, it won’t seem so complicated, and you’ll be able to just enjoy your dragon while he gets to enjoy his life.
This guide “What to Feed a Bearded Dragon” is just that… A Guide. You should always consult a Veterinarian if you have any concerns with your bearded dragons diet.