There are eight species of bearded dragons and the most popular kept as pets is the inland or central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) from the arid to semi-arid southeastern parts of Australia. Pogona vitticeps is the species 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. They have sharp vision and a keen sense of smell. Young, growing bearded dragons tend to be primarily carnivores and adults tend to be more herbivorous (vegetation eaters).
As a guideline, depending on its age, a bearded dragon's diet should be about 50% plant-based material and 50% animal-based (insect) material. Always discuss your lizard’s diet with your veterinarian.
How often should I feed my bearded dragon?
Most young bearded dragons should eat once or twice daily, while older lizards may only eat every 24-72 hours, 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 leafy green vegetables and flowers and only 10-20% should be fruits. 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, as 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.
Vegetables that should represent a high percentage of the diet include:
|collard greens||beet greens||mustard greens||broccoli||turnip greens|
|alfalfa hay/chow||Bok choy||kale||parsley||Swiss chard|
|kohlrabi||bell peppers||green beans||escarole||dandelion|
A lesser percentage of the diet can include:
|cactus||squash (various)||sprouts||cooked sweet potato|
Acceptable fruit can include (most nutritious are bolded):
|apple||pear||banana (with skin)||mango|
Fruits may be preferred by your bearded dragon but are generally mineral-poor and should be fed sparingly as top dressing only. Swiss chard, spinach, and beet greens should also be fed sparingly, as they contain oxalates that can bind calcium and other trace minerals, preventing their absorption. Diets composed primarily of these foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Caution should also be exercised when feeding cabbage, kale, and mustard greens because they contain goitrogens (substances that suppress thyroid gland function by interfering with iodine uptake) and excessive intake may lead to hypothyroidism.
Vegetables can be offered cooked or raw, although raw is more natural and retains more nutrients. Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables. They should be finely chopped and mixed to ensure your bearded dragon eats a wide variety of food types and to discourage the selection of a single preferred food item.
Flowers such as geraniums, carnations, dandelions, hibiscus, nasturtiums, and roses may also be offered as treats. Flowers can be homegrown 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.
Food should be presented in a shallow, clean dish that is not easily tipped over.
What types of animal-based proteins can I offer my bearded dragon?
Appropriate animal-based protein sources include calcium-dusted crickets, mealworms, and Dubia roaches. Silkworms and hornworms are also good nutritional offerings. Waxworms and ‘superworms’ should not be offered daily because they are high in fat. All insects should be gut-loaded (fed nutritious food that is then passed on to the lizard) within 12 hours prior to being fed to your dragon.
"All insects should be gut-loaded within 12 hours prior to being fed to your dragon."
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 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 you LIGHTLY sprinkle a ‘Phosphorus-free’ calcium powder (calcium gluconate, lactate, or carbonate) on their food daily. Additionally, you can LIGHTLY sprinkle food with a calcium powder containing vitamin D3 two to three times per week. Supplements should be dusted onto small portions of salads or moist foods, and those portions should be fed first to ensure that your bearded dragon consumes them.
A common problem seen in pet bearded dragons is inappropriate supplementation with calcium and vitamins (especially vitamin D3) and minerals. Ask 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. Replace unused water daily. Wash and disinfect the water dish daily. Bearded dragons in the wild get most of the water they need from rain or morning dew on plants and the other foods they eat so some do not seem to recognize a dish of water. Misting or washing vegetable matter and leaving the items very wet can help your dragon stay hydrated. In addition, pet bearded dragons may be misted directly with water from a plant mister or soaked a few times a week for hydration.
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 evolve. Please discuss your bearded dragon’s specific dietary needs (based on his age, weight, and health status) with a reptile-savvy veterinarian.
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 might be to humans.