Technically, bearded dragons are omnivores, but this doesn’t say much about their actual diet. At least, not as much as you’d like to think.
In other words, the fact that they’re omnivores doesn’t say exactly what they heat, how much of each food item, and what vitamins and minerals they require to stay healthy.
Fortunately, this is exactly what we’ll discuss today. The goal is to have a more in-depth look into the bearded dragons’ dietary preferences and needs to break down their nutritional requirements.
So, let’s get started!
Overview of Bearded Dragon Nutrition
Bearded dragons have some of the most complex dietary requirements that can only be understood by separating them into different categories:
- Overall nutritional needs – As omnivorous animals, bearded dragons require a strict nutritional balance consisting of macronutrients, micronutrients, and adequate hydration for proper nutrient intake. They can only meet their nutritional goals by consuming a wide variety of foods, including leafy greens, veggies, insects, and some occasional protein-rich meat.
- Macronutrients – These consist of 3 components: carbs, proteins, and fats. Bearded dragons get most of their carbs from their plants and veggies, while proteins and fats are of animal origin. The exact amounts of macronutrients necessary for a bearded dragon vary dramatically based on the dragon’s age, size, activity level, and metabolism. The actual species also matters, as not all dragons have the same dietary requirements. Some may prefer 60% of their diet to be plant-based, while others go up to 90%.
- Micronutrients – Here, we’re talking about vitamins and minerals, primarily vitamin A, vitamin D3, and calcium. Other micronutrients are also necessary, but in smaller amounts, compared to these 3. Vitamin D3 and calcium are particularly important for bearded dragons, as they are for most reptiles. That’s because vitamin D3 is necessary for adequate calcium synthesis, while calcium is vital for skeletal and organ health. Vitamin A is another core component aiding with skin and eye health.
- Hydration – Few people think of water as being an important component in the beardie’s diet, but it is. The lack of proper hydration can lead the bearded dragon to stop eating and even experience health issues, some of digestive nature. Without sufficient water, the dragon may experience constipation and even compaction in more severe cases.
This categorization explains why bearded dragons are trickier to keep, despite their overall hardiness and adaptability.
They have more complex nutritional requirements, so they need a variety of food items considerably more than other reptiles.
Bearded Dragon Diet
While you can set up your bearded dragons any way you want, I recommend sticking to the following 3 categories:
1. Feeder Insects
Your bearded dragon won’t eat as many insects as often as other reptiles, but they do need them either way.
Because of this, feeder insects are the best option you have. Setting up a feeder enclosure is fairly easy because insects don’t mind overcrowding and won’t remain there for long anyway.
Because you can’t have too many feeder enclosures for a dozen insects, I recommend sticking to 3 of the most popular options: Dubia roaches, mealworms, and crickets. These typically contain all of the protein and fats that your bearded dragon needs to stay healthy and strong.
To milk this experience of all its potential, I recommend the following:
- Keep the feeder container clean and healthy – You don’t want the enclosure to collect fungi, bacteria, or other pathogens that could contaminate the insects. Clean the enclosure regularly, supervise humidity levels, and remove dead insects if necessary.
- Feed the insects wisely – Keep the insects on a nutritious and fulfilling diet to help them grow fast and juicy. This will boost their nutritional content considerably and provide the lizard with a sizeable food deposit moving forward.
- Dust the insects – Always have a vitamin D3 and calcium powder available to dust the insects. This is necessary if your beardie isn’t getting all of its micronutrients from the rest of the food items. Speak to your vet to see whether your bearded dragons are in danger of experiencing calcium deficiency anytime soon. Also, keep in mind that too much calcium isn’t ideal either.
Most importantly, feed your dragon wisely. Don’t provide it with too much live food because bearded dragons require more plant-based foods overall. In terms of frequency and insect portion size, the situation is more subjective in nature.
But you do have some objective facts, such as the one that says juvenile bearded dragons eat insects in larger numbers and more often than adults.
As a general rule, you can provide a juvenile bearded dragon with up to 20-50 insects per day, while adults are fine with half that 2-3 times per week.
Bearded dragons eat a lot more plant-based foods as they mature and don’t require as much animal protein as the younger ones.
Another important note regards mealworms and waxworms. Only feed these in moderation because they are rich in fats, and your bearded dragons don’t need as much fat as adults.
2. Veggies and Fruits
Bearded dragons require a variety of veggies and fruits to get their critical vitamins and minerals. The sky is the limit for the type of veggies and fruits you can provide your beardie with.
Here are some examples to consider:
- Veggies: Broccoli, carrot tops, sweet potato (cooked), mustard greens, turnip greens, yellow squash, endive, green beans, cucumber, kale, collard greens, etc.
- Fruits: Blueberries, kiwi, mango, cherries, cantaloupe, bananas, apples, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, pears, etc.
An important note here: you should also pay attention to the frequency of each food item. Some veggies are better served daily, for instance, such as mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion leaves, and butternut squash.
Others are better fitted for weekly feedings, like okra, green cabbage, carrots, celery, and others. This is because some contain oxalates, which are harmful in high-enough quantities, while others are simply not as nutritious. Kale is a good example of the latter.
You should also exercise caution when it comes to fruits. The standard recommendation is that fruits should only be served weekly or once every other week, depending on the fruit itself.
Blueberries come weekly, for instance, kiwis are better served once a month, while mango works great several times per week. The reason why fruits are better served rare is because of the sugar content, leading to health issues and obesity.
Plus, some fruits are not as nutritious and contain too much water, like cantaloupes and watermelons.
You should also keep in mind that there are fruits and veggies that you want to avoid entirely. We’re talking about avocados, rhubarb, lettuce, beet greens, citrus fruits, and wild plants.
The reasons depend on the food item itself. Some contain toxic components, others have too much fiber and can cause diarrhea, while others are acidic and cause digestive problems.
When it comes to preparing your beardie’s veggie-and-fruit meal, a minimum effort is necessary.
Wash the food items, peel them if required, and cut them into smaller pieces for ease of consumption; your beardie will do the rest.
3. Commercial Lizard Food
Commercial foods are always available if you need to supplement your dragon’s diet a bit. However, I would advise avoiding specialized commercial foods if possible and sticking to a natural diet closer to the lizard’s organic feeding habits.
If you’ve never purchased commercial foods for your bearded dragon, here are the main pros and cons to expect:
- Convenience – Commercial foods are ready-to-eat, which already eliminates the time wasted on preparing the food.
- Balanced nutrition – Commercial foods are nutritionally balanced, and you can choose different products with different labels, depending on your lizard’s requirements.
- Consistency – These products are also nutritionally optimized and denser in terms of nutritional value. In other words, the dragon needs less food to meet its macro and micronutrient quota.
- Limited variety – While commercial foods offer decent nutritional variety, they cannot match a natural and diverse diet that combines veggies with plants, fruits, and live insects. At most, commercial foods work as supplements in case of absolute necessity but should make up your beardie’s main diet.
- Lack of stimulation – Bearded dragons are used to feed on fresh plants, veggies, fruits, and insects, and they’re biologically programmed to look for those foods. They get mental satisfaction from finding and consuming them, which applies to captive-bred lizards just as much as it does to wild ones. So, a natural diet will appeal to bearded dragons more than a commercial one.
- Costlier – A diet based on commercial food only, or primarily based on one, is overall more expensive than a natural one.
- Not generally applicable – Not all bearded dragons have the exact same dietary requirements. Some may be pretentious and require specific foods. Others may simply reject commercial products altogether, in which case you need to adjust to the animal’s requirements.
Overall, I would say that commercial foods should be treated as an option. Only include them in your bearded dragon’s diet sparingly to add some diversity.
Feeding Techniques and Tips
When it comes to feeding and nourishing your bearded dragon properly, the situation is more complex than may appear at first sight.
There are several aspects to consider in this sense, such as:
How often you need to feed your bearded dragon depends on the animal’s age, size, and overall appetite. Not all dragons eat as often or consume the exact portions and foods, so you need to adjust to each lizard’s preferences.
As a general rule, your bearded dragon will eat less frequently as it matures because its metabolism slows down over time.
So, baby bearded dragons may require 2-3 meals per day, juveniles may need 1-2 meals per day, and adults one meal per day or one every other day. Older individuals will only eat one consistent meal every 2-3 days, depending on the specimen.
Also, the food offered plays a critical role in this sense too. You can provide your dragon with veggies daily, even for adults, but insects should only come once every several days. Fruits are fine once per week at most.
Most bearded dragons eat better in the morning since that’s their most active time. This is important because it’s when bearded dragons usually hunt and eat in the wild, too, and it makes sense from a biological perspective.
Bearded dragons eat most of their food in the morning, when temperatures are relatively low, bask in the sunlight and warm up the rest of the day, which aids in digestion.
Most will also consume some additional food in the evening, especially when they’re younger and have faster metabolisms.
Not many people realize that lighting plays a critical role in the dragon’s digestion. More specifically, we’re talking about UVB radiation, which is necessary to boost the production of vitamin D3.
Vitamin D3 is critical for proper calcium absorption. Without it, it doesn’t matter how much calcium the lizard takes in; its body will simply fail to synthesize it.
So, you should always provide your bearded dragon with a stable source of UVB lighting. This will speed up the digestive process and promote adequate nutrient absorption.
As we’ve already discussed, water is of critical importance for bearded dragons and reptiles in general. Without it, the lizard will begin to experience digestive problems (among other issues), constipation being the first to transpire.
Fortunately, bearded dragons have learned to use most of the water around them, so you don’t need to do much to keep the animals well-hydrated.
I recommend 3 approaches in this sense:
- Environmental humidity – Keep environmental humidity within the 30-40% range. This is enough to keep the lizard properly hydrated, but feel free to adjust to your beardie’s requirements.
- A water bowl – Provide your lizards with a water bowl with clean and fresh water. Change the water daily or even more frequently, depending on how fast it gets too dirty to drink.
- Water-rich foods – Some fruits and water-rich veggies are great at times as bearded dragons can get much of the water they need from their food. Some wild bearded dragons don’t even drink water for weeks or months, so long as they have sufficient water-rich foods around.
We’ve already discussed the importance of temperature for your beardie’s overall health and comfort. But maintaining the ideal temperature is also necessary for the digestive process.
A good basking spot allows beardies to regulate their core temperature and accelerate their metabolism, which activates the digestive process.
Always stick to the overall recommendations that I’ve provided in today’s article regarding the ideal temperature structure in your beardie’s enclosure.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Naturally, there are some issues you want to avoid when it comes to your beardie’s feeding plan.
- Overfeeding – This is a sensitive topic because the silver lining between normal feeding, overfeeding, and underfeeding is never clear enough. More importantly, I cannot advise you properly in this sense either, aside from providing you with the standard feeding recommendations. For a more personalized insight, you should discuss it with your vet or a reptile professional. They will be able to assess your unique situation and lay out a feeding plan to match your pet’s precise requirements and personality.
- Inappropriate or harmful foods – Never feed your bearded dragon what it wouldn’t eat naturally. You never know how the reptile’s organism will react to foods it’s not used to consuming. You should also always verify the food’s quality. Make sure it’s fresh and safe; spoiled or contaminated food can severely impact your beardie.
- Insufficient hydration – Few things can be said under this topic that we haven’t already mentioned. One of them would be to make sure that your beardie always has a source of clean and fresh water available in its enclosure. Another one is to provide it with water-rich veggies and fruits. Beardies get much of their water from the very food they’re eating.
- The size – Check the size of the food items themselves to make sure your beardie can eat them safely. If they’re too large, the lizard may experience impaction due to the pieces getting stuck into the intestine.
We’ve already discussed the importance of variety, lighting, and temperature in the feeding process, so we won’t go over these again.
Expert Opinions on Bearded Dragon Diet
If today’s article highlighted anything, it highlighted the complexity of the bearded dragon’s diet and nutritional requirements.
But you could always use the experts’ input into the issue, so here’s some you can use:
- VCA Animal Hospitals – An article by Gregory Rich, Laurie Hess, and Rick Axelson details the standard diet for a bearded dragon and recommends a 50/50 animal-plant diet as a basis. You also get specific percentages and portions in terms of the exact plants and veggies to use in your beardie’s diet (source).
- Frances Baines – Dr. Frances Baines details the typical beardie’s diet in its “The Bearded Dragon Manual”, while also providing extensive information about the lizard’s lifestyle and general requirements (source).
- College of Veterinary Medicine – This institute, belonging to the University of Illinois, dissects the bearded dragon’s lifestyle, requirements, and diet, focusing on differentiating between safe and toxic insects and how they impact the lizard (source).
Bearded dragons aren’t too pretentious about their diets, but they aren’t exactly easy to feed, either. The main issue you will be having is food diversity.
A healthy and well-nourished lizard demands a variety of food items that you will need to cycle through over days and weeks to come.
You should also provide your beardie(s) with occasional snacks like mealworms for a plus of nutritional variety.
It’s best to consult an expert in bearded dragons in this sense because if you get the diet right, everything else will follow suit accordingly.