There are eight species of bearded dragons and the most popular kind kept as a pet 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/insectivores and adults tend to be more herbivorous (vegetation eaters).
"Bearded dragons are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant- and animal-based foods, including insects."
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. (Photo at right shows juvenile bearded dragons; photo courtesy of Gregory Rich, DVM)
How often should I feed my bearded dragon?
Most young, bearded dragons should eat once or twice daily. Adult dragons may only eat every 24–72 hours, since they are no longer in a growth phase. It also depends on each pet's individual appetite.
What are some types of plant material I can feed my bearded dragon?
Most of the plant material (80-90%) 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 celery and iceberg or head lettuce, 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.
Recommended vegetables include:
A smaller percentage of the diet can include:
|cooked sweet potato
Acceptable fruit can include (most nutritious are bold):
|banana (with skin)
Your bearded dragon may prefer fruits, but these are low in mineral content and should be fed sparingly, as a treat only. Swiss chard, spinach, and beet greens should also be fed sparingly, as they contain oxalates, chemicals that can bind calcium and other trace minerals, preventing their absorption. Diets composed primarily of these foods can lead to nutritional 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."
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 nutritious. Waxworms and “superworms” should not be offered daily because they are high in fat and tend to cause your beardie to become overweight.
All insects should be gut-loaded (fed nutritious food that is then passed on to the lizard) within 12 hours of being fed to your dragon. Most pet stores carry a variety of “gut loading” diets for insects. You can also feed fresh vegetables to the insects before feeding them to your pet. (Photo at right shows an overweight bearded dragon; photo courtesy of Gregory Rich, DVM)
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 they are generally toxic to lizards. Larger bearded dragons may be fed “pinkie” or young "fuzzy" mice, sparingly.
"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."
Remember to feed a healthy and wide variety of food items from all the food categories listed above for balanced nutrition. Consumption of an imbalanced diet will lead to serious health conditions such as hypocalcemia (low blood calcium) or Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).
Do I need to give my bearded dragon 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 should be always available, in a dish that will not easily tip over. 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.
You can help your dragon stay hydrated by misting or washing vegetable matter and leaving the items very wet. In addition, you can spray mist directly on your pet bearded dragon with water from a plant mister. It is also recommended to soak your bearded dragon a few times a week in warm water, for several minutes, to keep them hydrated.
Do I need to have a UV light for my beardie?
The simple answer is yes. The discussion is: what type and how many? Ultraviolet (UV) light is essential to help the body utilize vitamin D3, which helps the body absorb calcium from the diet. Consult the lighting guide with your UV bulb to decide with bulb they recommend for bearded dragons.
"Ultraviolet (UV) light is essential to help the body utilize vitamin D3, which helps the body absorb calcium from the diet."
Different types of bearded dragons may have slightly different nutritional needs. Opinions vary regarding the most appropriate diet for captive bearded dragons. 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 harmful to humans.