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Spotlight Reptiles: Bearded Dragon nutrition

Bearded Dragons – Feeding

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, which we will be discussing in this handout.

What do Bearded Dragons eat?bearded_dragons-feeding-1

Bearded Dragons come from a habitat where food may be sparse, so they accept a wide variety of different foods. Bearded Dragons are omnivorous, which means that they eat both plant and animal based foods, including insects.

They have a sharp eye and keen sense of smell. Young, growing Bearded Dragons tend to be primarily carnivores and adults tend to be herbivorous. As a guideline, depending on the age, your 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; their composition is mainly 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 (which contain high calcium), apricots, dates, raspberries and strawberries. Fruits may be eaten preferentially, are generally mineral poor and should perhaps be used sparingly as top dressing. As a treat, flowers such as geraniums, carnations, dandelions, hibiscus, nasturtiums and roses may be offered.

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, it is wise to 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 and excessive intake may lead to hypothyroidism.

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 the eating of a single preferred food item.

bearded_dragons-feeding-2

What are some acceptable animal-based protein foods I can offer my Bearded Dragon?

If you and your veterinarian decide that animal-based protein sources are acceptable, some appropriate foods 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), silk worms (occasionally), tofu, moths, slugs and earthworms. High quality, low fat dog food may be fed occasionally.

Commercial reptile canned food or pelleted food is also available. Live prey, such as crickets and various worms may be raised by the owner, retrieved from a nearby field or purchased from a pet store, bait store or reptile breeder. Care must be exercised when collecting insects, especially from the home garden, as fertilizers and insecticides can be toxic to Bearded Dragons. 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. Many veterinarians recommend that 2 – 3 times per week you LIGHTLY sprinkle all food offered to Bearded Dragons with a calcium powder (calcium gluconate, lactate, or carbonate). A LIGHT sprinkling of a good reptile vitamin mineral mix on the food is also recommended weekly, especially if it contains vitamin D3. However, use caution since too much vitamin D3 can be harmful. Supplements should be dusted onto small portions of salads or moist foods and those portions fed first to ensure that the Bearded Dragon receives them.

A common problem seen in pet Bearded Dragons is over-supplementation with 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. Make sure the water is fresh daily and 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. It is perfectly acceptable to mist the Bearded Dragon with water a few times a week too.

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. Please discuss this very important topic with a veterinarian familiar with this lizard.

WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY after feeding, cleaning and handling a Bearded Dragon.

Rick Axelson, DVM
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