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Whether you grew to like bearded dragons because of their super cute cuddly faces or because they are as close as you will get to owning a dragon from legends, feeding your new pet is something you will want to make sure you do right.
Captive pets have to rely on their owners for 100% of their nutrients. That means that you must take the time necessary to ensure your bearded dragon is getting the nutrition he or she needs to grow and thrive.
When I got my bearded dragon, I wanted to be 100% sure I knew how to feed her right. Even though I have a college degree literally studying animals, we didn’t really cover reptiles or reptile nutrition. I did a lot of research to make sure I was giving her a nutritious diet, the results of which I am sharing here with you today.
The great news is, there are lots of things your bearded dragon can eat. That also means there is a lot of concern when it comes to making sure he has a balanced diet. There are a few things to keep in mind as you develop a feeding program for your Bearded Dragon.
Note: It is incredibly difficult to find specific, scientific information regarding Bearded Dragon nutrition. There are lots of websites, blogs, forums, etc where people offer feedback but very little verifiable information. All of the information below has been compiled from a variety of reputable sources. A complete list of references is at the bottom of this page.
Life Cycle Stages
An interesting thing I found during my research is that the breakdown of bearded dragon life stages seems to vary widely depending on which resource you are consulting. That being said, the below is a generalization where no rule appears to actually exist.
Bearded dragons undergo five different stages in their life cycle. These are:
- Egg – Incubation takes around 40 – 90 days
- Hatchling / Baby – 0 to 4 months
- Juvenile – 5 to 12 months
- Sub-Adult – 13 – 24 months
- Adult – 2 years old and older (24+ months)
Each stage has slightly different feeding recommendations. For young bearded dragons, it is very important that they receive enough calcium in their diet to support strong bone growth.
Calcium is commonly added by dusting insects or veggies with a calcium powder. While you could dust either food source, bearded dragon owners find that dusting the insects helps to ensure the nutrients are consumed as, like a lot of toddlers, most bearded dragons prefer eating live food to eating their veggies.
Dietary Requirements by Age
|0 – 4 Months||Daily||2 – 5 times per day|
|5-12 Months||Daily||3 – 4 times per week|
|12 Months +||Daily||2 – 3 times per week|
In addition to greens and insects, bearded dragons need supplements to ensure they develop properly. Supplements are especially important for young beardies as they develop, but should also be provided to adults as well.
|Calcium Powder with NO vitamin D3||2 – 3 times per week|
|Calcium Powder WITH Vitamin D3||2 – 3 times per week|
|General Reptile Mineral Supplement||Once per week|
Treats are awesome to include to add variety. Depending on what you choose, treats can add color, texture and flavor enhancement to your bearded dragons diet.
While it is fun to try new things, remember that treats should be fed in moderation. Fruits, for example, are typically higher in sugar.
Remember that while growing, protein is super important. For this reason, you want to especially avoid overfeeding treats when your bearded dragon is young. Stick to a few bite-sized treats fed on top of greens and try to limit to just a couple times a week at most.
As an adult, they can definitely eat more treats since they have finished growing. Also, volume-wise, they can have bigger pieces.
Some foods bearded dragons enjoy as treats include:
- Scrambled Egg
In the case of treats, too many can be a bad thing but, adding a few here and there, is great to mix things up.
Baby Bearded Dragon Nutrition (0 – 4-Month-Old Hatchlings)
Just as a baby human has different nutritional needs from a toddler, child or adult, so does a baby bearded dragon.
In fact, you will need to change and adapt your feeding plan as your pet grows and matures.
A baby bearded dragon should be fed a diet consisting of approximately 50% fresh greens and offered feeder insects once or twice per day. When possible, insects should be “gut-loaded” with nutrients and dusted with an appropriate supplement.
This information is according to a paper written by Paul Raiti, DMV and certified reptile veterinarian in 2012 for the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery echos this recommendation.
This is slightly different from an earlier paper written by Bob Doneley for the 2006 North American Veterinary Conference in which he indicates that baby bearded dragons should be offered insects 2 – 3 times a day.
There is conflicting information from bearded dragon owners across the web who, instead, advocate for feeding babies insects 3 – 5 times per day.
How Many Times Per Day to Feed A Baby Bearded Dragon
In this case, it can be hard for any bearded dragon owner to figure out what the right thing to do is. I think of it this way, the big thing we are concerned with is that the baby gets enough to eat that they can grow.
I chose to feed 3 times per day because it fits my schedule and is still consistent with the veterinary recommendations I cited above.
I feed once in the morning before I leave, once around 3:30 p.m., and again around 6. Alara (my beardie) gets as many dubia roaches as she can eat in 15 minutes and then I take any uneaten ones out.
Everything I have read seems to indicate that offering food more frequently is best for a baby.
But what types of greens and feeder insects should you use? Let’s have a look.
Fruits and Vegetables
At this stage, your baby bearded dragon should be offered about 50% plant matter and 50% insects. This mimics what a juvenile would eat in the wild.
The reality is, the babies tend to eat more like 80% insects and 20% plant matter. It is important that they have the option for veggies and greens though!
In order to help set the stage for good eating habits for the rest of your beardies life, it is essential that you provide him with a good variety of leafy greens and vegetables now.
That way, as he ages, he will be less likely to become a picky eater. The great thing is, there are a lot of items you can choose from.
Greens and Vegetables for Baby Bearded Dragons
The majority of the plant-based portion of your bearded dragons nutrition should come from plants like:
- Red Leaf Lettuce
- Romaine Lettuce
- Grape Leaves
- Turnip Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Collard Greens
- Dandelion Greens
- Strawberry Leaves
Size of Greens and Vegetables
Be sure to chop up your greens and vegetables before feeding. While bearded dragons can tear finer leaves, chopping their food makes it that much easier for them to eat it.
As with feeder insects mentioned below, aim for pieces no longer than the size of the space between their eyes. This tends to be a good indicator of what will be easiest for your beardie to swallow.
While the above list is some of the more common greens, it isn’t comprehensive. There are, however, some greens you should avoid. Be sure to check those out at the bottom of this article!
Feeder Insect Size
Feeder insects at this stage need to be small. A good rule of thumb is that the length of the feeder insect should be no larger than the space between your bearded dragon’s eyes.
Remember that your bearded dragon doesn’t chew his food so choosing the right size feeder insect ensures they can be swallowed easily.
Types of Feeder Insects
Common feeder insects for bearded dragons at this stage include:
- Small Silk Worms
- Dubia Roaches
- Black Soldier Fly Larvae (Soldier Worms / Phoenix Worms)
A Special Note About Meal Worms
Various bearded dragon owners across several forums recommend NOT feeding babies meal worms and super worms until over 12 months of age.
The thought is that the exoskeleton causes an impaction danger. In fact, some recommend feeding them only as a treat even for adults.
Meal worms are easily obtained, easy to grow and easy to feed. I couldn’t find any veterinarians specifically addressing this and, at least for my bearded dragon, I would rather err on the side of caution and choose another feeder insect for her.
Juvenile / Sub-Adult Bearded Dragon Nutrition (5 – 18 Months Old)
At this stage of development your juvenile bearded dragon should be eating about a 50 / 50 split of plant matter and insects. By now, you have probably already figured out what your dragon likes or doesn’t like to eat.
Even though he may have favorite foods, be sure to continue to offer a variety of greens. A varied diet will help to ensure your bearded dragon is getting the nutrition he needs.
Reducing the Number of Insect Feedings
Insects can continue to get bigger as the dragon grows. For my Alara (my beardie), I plan on cutting her insect intake back very slowly over time.
I’ll eliminate the afternoon feeding one day, then two days, then three and so on until she is down to eating twice a day.
Once she is down to that level I’ll wean her gradually off twice a day feedings to once a day.
The goal is to wind up at 2 – 3 time per week feedings once she is around 18 months.
Adult Bearded Dragon Nutrition (19 Months +)
As an adult, your bearded dragon should be eating mostly greens with insects occasionally. You’ll want to continue to give a variety of different greens and veggies for the salad portion of your dragons diet.
While I haven’t gotten to this stage yet with Alara, I hope the transition will be easy for her. I plan to go slowly, much like my (more immediate) plan for reducing the number of insect feedings.
The reality is, by the time you and I are at this stage, we should have a pretty good understanding of our individual bearded dragon’s preference to help ease the transition.
Of course, I know it is possible for a new bearded dragon owner to buy an adult. If that is the case, try and get as much information about the feeding schedule before you bring him home.
The more consistent you are initially, the more likely you are to succeed at getting your new pet to eat well at home. Once he is eating well, then you can start slowly mixing things up.
Remember to always choose foods from the safe list. Since insect feeding decreases, you will need to dust the veggies with supplements instead of relying on calcium or multi-vitamin dusted insects as a delivery method.
How to Feed Insects to Bearded Dragons
In each of the bearded dragons life stages, insects are an important component to their overall diet and nutrition. Did you know that there is a wrong way and a right way to feed insects to your beardie?
For each stage, I’ve already talked about choosing the right size of insect. That part is easy. The insects should be smaller than the distance between your bearded dragons eyes.
Typically, whether you are feeding insects several times a day or only a few times a week, you’ll offer them to your bearded dragon for 15 minutes or so and then remove any uneaten insects.
But how do you feed them? That really depends on the type of insects being fed.
Gut Loading Insects
Gut loading is a term that was new to me. It is really easy to understand though. You just want to make sure your feeder insects are eating the most nutritious foods available.
Gut loading insects is the process of feeding insects very highly nutritious foods so that they can pass that nutrition on to the animal that relies on them for food.
If they will eat it, give your feeders the same highly nutritious food your bearded dragon eats. In addition, you can feed your insect supplements.
Feeding your insects larger amounts of calcium, for example, will result in a more calcium-rich (aka nutritious) feeder insect. Since bearded dragons need calcium for proper health, this is a win-win.
You can even buy special insect food formulated for gut-loading. Be sure to purchase a high-quality brand though as lower quality supplements may not be consistent or deliver the nutrition promised on the label.
Worms are the easiest, and my favorite to feed. You just put them in a dish and let your bearded dragon feast.
Some worms are better at crawling out of a container than others but overall you shouldn’t have too much trouble.
Try to remove all uneaten worms after the allotted feeding time. Thankfully, unlike with other insects, if you miss a worm or two you shouldn’t have too much trouble with uneaten worms biting or scratching your beardies.
Mixing Things Up
One fun thing to do with worms is to put a couple underneath your bearded dragons leafy greens. This can especially help a picky eater who isn’t interested in eating anything that isn’t moving.
The movement of the worms under and through the “healthy” or green part of the meal can help pique your bearded dragons’ curiosity and encourage him to “taste” the food.
Foods to Avoid Feeding to Bearded Dragons
Just as with many other species, there are definitely some foods you will want to avoid feeding your bearded dragon. These foods can be grouped into three categories:
- Foods that cause digestion issues.
- Foods that cause nutrition issues.
- Foods that are toxic.
These leafy greens should not be fed to your bearded dragon. They contain oxalates that can inhibit the absorption of calcium and other trace minerals. The oxalates bind to the nutrients and make them unavailable for use by the bearded dragon.
- Beet Greens
- Swiss Chard
Some items are just hard to digest. These include:
- Meal Worms
- Wild Caught Insects (may be hard to digest but the danger here is that they are an unknown)
These “greens” aren’t necessarily dangerous for your bearded dragon but they offer little to no nutritional value.
- Romaine Lettuce
- Iceberg Lettuce
The foods in this category seem “healthy” but can actually be toxic for a bearded dragon. They should be excluded from your bearded dragon’s diet. These include:
Keep in mind that this is not intended to be a complete list. When in doubt, it is safer to not feed something than risk your bearded dragon’s health.
It is my practice to rinse ALL veggies / foods I give my bearded dragon. I believe this helps to ensure there are little to no pesticides on the food.
Even though this article is about food, water is a critical component to the “care” of your bearded dragon and I wanted to take a minute to give you a few notes about water.
You should always ensure your bearded dragon has access to a clean water dish. While you may only rarely see him/her use it, it is still important that it is there.
Even though bearded dragons live in the desert, dehydration is still a serious concern.
Axelson, Rick. “Bearded Dragons – Feeding.” VCA Hospitals, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/bearded-dragons-feeding. Accessed 2019-11-11.
Bjornebo, Heather. “Bearded Dragon Nutrition.” Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital, 15 Aug. 2016, azeah.com/lizards/bearded-dragon-nutrition. Accessed 2019-11-11.
Raiti P (2011): Husbandry, diseases and veterinary care of the bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Conference ARAV, Seattle. 36–48.