How often should bearded dragons be fed?
- Hatchlings (0-6 months old): Insects 2-3x/day, vegetables daily
- Juveniles (6-12 months): Insects 1x/day, vegetables daily
- Adults (12+ months old): Insects 2-3x/week, vegetables daily
To put this in percentages, you’re looking at roughly 60-80% protein for hatchlings, 50-60% for juveniles, and 20-30% for adults. This gradual reduction in dietary protein is proportional to the rate of the dragon’s growth, as they don’t need as much protein and calories from bugs when they’re older as they do when they’re younger. It also helps prevent gout and obesity, two conditions that are extremely prevalent in the US bearded dragon population due to rampant overfeeding and poor breeding practices.
Once your bearded dragon has reached adulthood, it is safe (and recommended) to skip a salad 1 day each week. This helps prevent obesity, and since reptiles have evolved to thrive on very little food, it is actually healthiest for them. There is no reason to feel like this is cruel; you are simply doing what is best for your pet.
How many? Unfortunately I can’t provide an exact number of insects, as this depends on several variables: bug size, type of bug, and the dragon’s age, to name a few. The best rule to follow is to offer as many insects as your beardie will eat within 5 minutes.
Overfeeding and over-supplementing, although well-meant, can kill your dragon — for more information, read our section on Yolk Peritonitis.
Even hatchling bearded dragons should be offered a salad of nutritious greens and vegetables every day. While they may not lick the bowl clean, it’s best to offer some for snacking, and that will make the transition to a main diet of vegetables later on easier. Since bearded dragons are omnivores like humans, they need a variety. Feeding a variety of veggies gives your dragon a good balance of the nutrients s/he needs to keep bones healthy and immune system going strong. Fortunately, the list of dragon-safe vegetables is a long one.
- Bok choy
- Cactus pads
- Collard greens/Spring greens
- Mustard greens
- Mustard cress
- Pea shoots
- Turnip greens
Mixers (to be fed occasionally):
- Artichoke heart
- Beet leaves
- Bell pepper
- Carrot greens
- Cucumber, peeled
- Carrot, grated raw
- Clover (pesticide- and herbicide-free)
- Dandelion greens/flowers
- Lemon balm
- Mint leaves
- Rose petals
- Squash, raw
- Sugar snap peas
- Swiss chard
- Yam, grated raw
Vegetables should be sliced into thin, bite-sized pieces than your beardie can grab with his/her tongue. Wet or slimy vegetables like cucumber and cactus may frustrate your dragon since these don’t stick to tongues very well. You can hand-feed these to him/her, but your dragon may accidentally bite you in the effort to get it.
Wild plants and flowers (aka “weeds”) can add some highly beneficial variety to your dragon’s diet (after a thorough washing, of course). However, not all found plants and flowers are safe for feeding, and some are deadly. So if you’re unfamiliar with the plants in your area or you’re in a highly urban area, it’s good to grow your own “wild” plants for your dragon to munch on even if all you have is a window box. Arizona Tortoise Compound and ProRep both offer excellent seed mixes for a very reasonable price. Use organic potting soil and no pesticides for optimally edible results.
Some people like to feed their dragons spinach or lettuce. Lettuce – yes, even romaine – is essentially water in vegetable form, with no value except in giving your beardie diarrhea. If your dragon is dehydrated or constipated, lettuce may be a beneficial temporary addition to the salad bowl. As for spinach, this contains a very high quantity of calcium-binding substances (oxalates) that hurt rather than nourish your dragon. So don’t put those in his/her salad dish, please.
Up to 10% of your beardie’s diet may consist of fruit. Fruits tend to have a higher water content and more sugar than vegetables, so they must be fed sparingly to prevent a laxative effect or obesity. They make excellent treats, however. My Nabooru went wild for cantaloupe.
- cactus fruit (aka prickly pear)
Mixers (to be fed occasionally):
For an extensive list of bearded dragon vegetables, fruits, and associated nutrition facts, please visit www.beautifuldragons.com/Nutrition. This is a good resource to keep saved on your phone for reference while you’re at the grocery store.
When choosing bearded dragon bugs, make sure that they are no bigger than the space between your dragon’s eyes. This rule can be bent for insects such as superworms and hornworms, but is extremely important for roaches, crickets, and pinky mice.
Good feeder insects include:
- Dubia roaches
- Discoid roaches
- Red runner roaches
- Black soldier fly larvae (phoenix worms)
- Repashy Grub Pie gel mix
All feeder insects should be gutloaded for at least 24 hours before feeding to your bearded dragon. Ideally, they should come pre-gutloaded from the breeder. If they weren’t, or you buy your feeder insects in bulk, the easiest way to keep them fed and gut-loaded is with a rotation of Lugarti Dubia Diet and Grassland Grazer.
Every once in a while, you can give your dragon a nice, high-fat treat. Your dragon will become obese if fed these too often, but hey, that’s why they’re called treats.
- Hornworms (captive only; wild are toxic!)
- Pinky mice (no more than 1x/month)
Don’t feed your dragon wild-caught bugs! These can have parasites that will transfer to your dragon, may be coated in poisonous pesticide/herbicide, or may be naturally toxic. BeardedDragon.org has a very helpful chart of insects are are toxic for beardies to ingest. Not listed, however, are box elder bugs, which are also toxic.
To ensure that your beardie is getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, you need to keep two forms of supplementation on hand: calcium powder and multivitamin powder. Take care not to use these too often; over-supplementation can be just as deadly as under-supplementation.
How to use calcium supplements
Generously dust feeder insects before feeding. Most people prefer the “shake-and-bake” method of dusting, where you stick all the bugs in a bag or disposable plastic container and shake them until they are evenly coated in powder. Calcium sticks better to some bugs than others, and if you’re feeding phoenix worms, you don’t need to dust them at all, as they are naturally high in calcium.
Our favorite calcium supplements are:
- Arcadia CalciumPro MG
- Rep-Cal without Vitamin D3
- Repashy SuperCal LoD
- Miner-All Indoor (D3)
- Miner-All Outdoor (no D3)
- Jurassic Natural Calcium
- Jurassic Natural Calcium with D3
It’s a good idea to keep two calcium powders on hand for your bearded dragon: one with D3 and one without. Use the on without D3 as your main calcium supplement, but replace it with the calcium with D3 once a month to top off your dragon’s vitamin D reserves.
It is alright to occasionally skip a dusting (once every 3-4 feedings) so your bearded dragon’s system doesn’t become overloaded with calcium.
How to use vitamin supplements
Dust on salad once per week for juveniles and every other week for adults. Bee pollen is an exception; this can be used twice as often. You may have to stir it around, since some dragons are sensitive to the taste of the powder and need convincing. I like keeping my bearded dragon vitamins in a salt shaker for easy application.
For omnivores, we recommended using Arcadia Earthpro-A as your main multivitamin, as it contains a variety of carotenoids to help your beardie’s body manufacture the vitamin A that it needs, as needed. The supplement also contains a good variety of other vitamins and minerals, including bee pollen.
There is a common misconception about bearded dragons that they shouldn’t have water bowls because they don’t readily drink water from bowls/can’t see standing water. But just because you don’t often see your reptile drinking doesn’t mean that they don’t need a water bowl. After all, you don’t always see them poo or eat their salad, but you see the evidence afterward. Part of good reptile husbandry is making sure that your pet has free access to clean drinking water.
Use a shallow water dish large enough for your bearded dragon to soak its whole body if it so desires. We’re big fans of the Zoo Med Reptile Ramp Bowl over at ReptiFiles HQ because it’s large enough for soaking and the ramp enables easy access.
Make sure to provide tap water, not distilled, filtered, or softened. Here’s why. Also, do not use Reptisafe or other water “conditioners” that claim to remove chlorine from your pet’s drinking water. The tiny amount of chlorine in your tap water is negligible, and the conditioner is arguably more dangerous to your reptile’s health.
Soaking greens is an easy way to help your dragon get extra water if you’re worried about dehydration, and it helps keep your greens fresher for longer. It’s a win-win situation! Just cut off excess stem, slice the leaf lengthwise through the central stem, cover with water, and then store in the refrigerator. After 24-48 hours, pour out the water, pat dry the leaves, and store between layers of paper towel.
How often do you need to soak/bathe your bearded dragon?
We mentioned that it’s a good idea to provide a water bowl large enough to facilitate soaking, and at this point you may have heard from other sources that the best way to keep a bearded dragon hydrated is by regular soaking. I’m not sure where this rumor started, but a common misconception among beardie owners is that they are able to absorb water through their cloaca. This is a myth!! Bearded dragons get water only by ingesting it. If you are concerned about dehydration, help your dragon get water through its food using the abovementioned method.
It’s a good idea to give your bearded dragon opportunities to soak voluntarily in its enclosure. It’s a bad idea to force it to soak by giving it regular “baths”. This is because water — especially warm water — has a laxative effect on bearded dragons, which can cause them to poo before they’re done fully digesting or poo more often than they should, which can actually encourage dehydration.
So how often should they be soaked/bathed? Honestly, no more than 1x/month — unless your bearded dragon likes to swim, as supervised swimming is a great way to encourage exercise.
- PRO TIP: Since bearded dragons have a tendency to occasionally soak and poo in their water bowls, make sure to use a veterinary disinfectant like F10SC or chlorhexidine when cleaning to make sure you get rid of all the nasties.