How often should bearded dragons be fed?
- Hatchlings (0-6 months old): Insects 2x/day, vegetables daily
- Juveniles (6-12 months): Insects 1x/day, vegetables daily
- Adults (12+ months old): Insects 1-2x/week, vegetables daily
To put this in percentages, you’re looking at roughly 60-80% protein for hatchlings, 60% for juveniles, and 15-30% for adults. These numbers are based on data collected by Judith Badham’s 1971 thesis and discussed in a post by Dr. Jonathan Howard here.
(NOTE: Based on Badham’s data, adult males appear to need less protein than adult females, likely due to the fact that wild female dragons need the extra nutrients for developing eggs.)
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 feeding 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.
If your bearded dragon has a bad habit of not eating their greens, even if you offer insects 1-2x/week, that still means that your dragon’s diet is 100% high-protein sources. For tips on getting a stubborn bearded dragon to eat their greens, read my article: Help! My Bearded Dragon Won’t Eat Greens.
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 Coelomitis.
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
- Spring mix
- 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
- Spinach (valuable source of iodine!!)
- 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.
Fruits should be offered only as occasional treats in small quantities, not a “staple” or routine part of your dragon’s diet.
Why? Fruits have a high sugar content, so they can contribute obesity, which in turn contributes to other health problems. Also concerning, “Prevalence and risk factors for dental disease in captive Central bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) in the United Kingdom” by Rebecca Mott et al. found that “fruit could be the main dietary risk factor for dental disease,” and concluded that fruit should be altogether excluded from pet bearded dragons’ diet.
If you want to give your dragon a bit of a treat, however, a little bit of fruit every once it a while is unlikely to be harmful as long as it’s rare (think 1x/month rather than daily or weekly). And beardies will certainly go crazy for fruit! Here are some safe options:
- Cactus fruit (aka “prickly pear” or “tuna fruit”)
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:
- Black soldier fly larvae
- Dubia roaches
- Discoid roaches
- Red runner roaches
- Hornworms(captive only; wild are toxic!)
- 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.
Beware of feeding your dragon wild-caught bugs! These may be coated in poisonous pesticide/herbicide, or may be naturally toxic. If you choose to collect wild-caught bugs, this article is a helpful resource on how to do so safely. 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 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 black soldier fly larvae, you don’t need to dust them at all, as they are naturally high in calcium.
The following are supplements and supplement combos that ReptiFiles recommends for use with bearded dragons:
- Arcadia EarthPro supplement system (instructions here)
- Miner-All Outdoor + Repashy Supervite
- Repashy Calcium Plus LoD
- Miner-All Indoor + Herptivite
Use each supplement as directed by the label.
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.
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. Or you may have heard that water shouldn’t be provided because it will make the humidity “too high”. Both are false.
Part of good reptile husbandry is making sure that your pet has free access to clean drinking water. Dehydration is a major problem in bearded dragons, and giving them a water bowl helps prevent that.
Use a medium-sized, shallow water dish. It shouldn’t be big enough for your dragon to soak in, or deep enough for it to potentially drown.
Make sure to provide tap water, not distilled, reverse osmosis, or softened (too much salt). Filtered and spring water are fine.
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.