Aside from proper living quarters, the absolute most important aspect to raising a thriving healthy bearded dragon is the proper balance of a nutrient rich diet. It is important to consider what your dragon needs to have the best opportunity to live a long healthy life. Just like humans, the balance between different food types is important to maximize the vitamin and nutrient intakes across the board. Much like us, dragons’ diets should ideally be balanced between proteins such as crickets, worms, roaches and other protein sources, as well as rich in veggies. Veggies are important as they break down faster in your dragon’s digestive system and help replenish your dragons’ depleted water source, as most dragons do not actually drink water in a conventional sense. To find out more about a balanced diet for your dragon continue reading below.
Balanced Dietary Options Include:
Pinky Mice (baby mice)
Raddish & Carrot Tops
It is important to keep in mind each food brings a different nutrient value to the table, so a proper balance to your dragon’s diet is key to maximizing the benefits of all the foods listed above.
A balanced diet for an adult Bearded Dragon consists of about 75% “Live” food and 25% Veggies. There is no formula to calculate the perfect diet. Each Dragon will have preferences of its own to take into account as well. It is also important to keep in mind different foods of the same size can contain drastically different nutrient concentrations. For example the exact same amount of iceberg lettuce vs romaine lettuce, iceberg would have a fraction of the nutritional value romaine has as iceberg is almost exclusively water concentration.
An example of a basic balanced diet for an adult bearded dragon could look like:
4 dozen+ Large Crickets per week (given in two to three equal feedings)
The amount of Crickets can be factored by many aspects, the size of your adult dragon, the age, seasons, temperature, or even hormone levels. You will have to monitor your dragon to find the exact amount necessary, but this number can be used as a simple guideline of how many to expect as necessary. Ideally you will want to “gut load” your crickets and then give them a calcium powder coating just prior to feeding your dragon, more on that soon.
Bowl of Veggies consisting of Romaine Lettuce, Kale, thin Diced Carrots, Radicchio and a smashed Grape (Replenished three to four times weekly)
Most dragons will eat only as much as they need, and keeping a small supply of greens available at all times for your dragon is typically OK, but if you notice your dragon simply devours everything you put in front of it consider monitoring their size and be sure they are not over eating. In the wild many animals instincts tell them to eat as much as possible because they don’t know when the next meal may come. Over feeding your dragon can lead to poor health and even death.
The diet described above would pass as adequate, but you ideally would want to add more variety to give your dragon every opportunity to flourish. Mixing in Dubia Roaches for even more protein per serving, or giving Mealworms with their high fat content to an undernourished or egg caring dragon to help fatten them up. There is much you can do to maximize the health of your dragon with a balanced diet. Incorporating more foods only provides your dragon more opportunities to reap the unique benefits each food item offers. Just like with humans, even variations in the greens, veggies and fruits offered can offer benefits of all varieties and this logic is important to consider when preparing your dragon’s diet.
It is important to consider smaller dragons will need more live food as they are growing at significantly faster rates then their adult counterparts. Baby and even juvenile dragons can be much harder to maintain with their delicacy and demanding dietary requirements and are not recommended for those new to the lizard keeping world. This will be discussed more later.
A collection of information gathered regarding the nutrition value of different “live” food options for your bearded dragon. These numbers are approximations of the most basic breakdown of each food item.
Crickets | about 70% Moisture, 20% Protein, 5% Fat, 5% Other
Dubia Roaches | about 60% Moisture, 30% Protein, 5% Fat, 5% Other
Superworms | about 60% Moisture, 20% Protein, 15% Fat, 5% Other
Mealworms | about 65% Moisture, 20% Protein, 15% Fat
Waxworms | about 60% Moisture, 15% Protein, 20% Fat, 5% other
Butterworms | 60% Moisture, 20% Protein, 5% Fat, 15% other
Commercial Dragon Foods
Commercial Dragon food is simply the term we use to describe the prepared meal options available at most pet shops specifically formulated for Bearded Dragons. While we don’t use such items ourselves instead choosing to feed fresh and live food options, many dragon keepers will attest to at least working them in as a dietary option. While nutrition values vary from brand to brand, this can be a nice way to supplement your dragon’s diet if you can’t otherwise get them to eat a particular type of greens or live food. Available in multiple varieties and options this food is typically presented in a pellet form and fed to your dragon in a bowl or dish incrementally through out the week. Be sure to read up the nutrition label and ideally reviews on any item before you use them to be sure you are getting the best possible product for your dragon. Again, we do not feel pellet based processed foods are necessary to maximize your dragons health, we just simply wanted to describe another option available.
Foods to Avoid
A list of food items either lacking dietary value or that poisonous and harmful to your dragon.
Locally Caught Wild Insects
Local insects such as spiders, beetles, roaches, etc may seem like a nice treat for your dragon but the truth is crickets from your backyard are much different then the farm raised feeder crickets you’ll find at your local pet shop. Local insects grow up outside and are thus exposed to all the parasites, bacteria, pesticides and other harmful ingredients for disease. Considering by logic every dragon outside of Australia is more then likely captive bred, the likelihood they have been sheltered from many of these things for generations is completely realistic.
We hate to be redundant as we just listed wild caught insects, but if for any reason you disregard that information, please NEVER ever consider feeding your dragon fire flies. With more children now raising dragons of their own, it is important they understand how dangerous the fire flies “glow” is to your dragon no matter how “cool” it may look to watch. The same element that allows them to glow is incredibly toxic to your dragon and even one could result in death or unfavorable health conditions.
Iceberg Lettuce is not so much bad for dragons, it just simply presents very little in the way of nutritional content. Consisting of nearly all water content, it is simply a waste of space and energy for your dragon’s digestive system. The only practical use would be for hydrating a dehydrated dragon but romaine and other greens as well as misting can offer just as much in ways of water content while still presenting a worthwhile dietary content.
Live Adolescent or Adult Mouse
While many dragon keepers shun the idea of, some people enjoy that wild sense of what a dragon presents in life. They may want to see their mighty dragon capture and eat a live mouse, but this can be dangerous in numerous ways. Mice when staring death in the face can put up a heck of a fight. With sharp claws and sharper teeth, they can bite and scratch your dragon during capture as well as when your dragon attempts to consume them if still alive. Consider your dragon has no teeth, and the mouse may not die immediately, giving it an opportunity to scratch and bite at important organs near the head and neck. Plainly said anything more then a live pinky or (thawed) frozen mouse is just not a good idea.
Fish are not something commonly found in the wild for your dragon considering their most common stomping grounds. Unlike turtles and even some other reptiles fish are actually somewhat toxic to your dragon. Fish are also more prone to parasites and bacteria and can be harsh on your dragons digestive system.
While it is completely realistic that your dragon could consume another lizard, such as a smaller gecko, anoles or likewise, it does not mean that is a healthy or wise dietary option. A quick search of YouTube will demonstrate a few occasions of this happening but it is important to consider your dragon should never consume anything larger then the space between its eyes. It is also important to consider the lacking dietary value another lizard offers, as well as the likelihood, especially if wild caught, they are carrying a parasite or bacteria. Finally, even this is not enough to deter you from such actions, other lizards can claw and scratch at internal organs while being swallowed and cause fatal damage.
There is very little for a dragon to gain from processed meats such as turkey, chicken, ham, beef and other meats in way of nutritional value. Some meats may even be toxic to your dragon. It is also important to consider many meat varieties made for humans are prepared with other ingredients such as oils and preservatives that may also be toxic to your dragon.
There is plenty other out there that could be harmful to your dragon. The best rule of thumb is simply this, if you don’t know, don’t try. There is more then enough logical, proven, healthy options why force a potentially hazardous food your dragon’s direction? Always take into consideration what anything you feed your dragon may actually offer it, if that item doesn’t seem beneficial, it probably isn’t.
It is very important to take into consideration the size of the food you are giving your bearded dragon. With live food it is important to never give your dragon anything wider then the space between its eyes. This is a good rule of thumb when choosing food as it is roughly the same distance as the passage way in your dragon’s throat. This is especially important to maintain in baby and juvenile dragons as even large crickets may often be too much for a youngster.
Baby Bearded Dragons should only be fed small crickets, roaches and worms, and you should also take extra care in dicing their vegetables to as small as possible to make them easier for your developing dragon to consume and digest.
Adult Dragons can typically readily handle a large romaine leaf without preparation, but even simply chopping your greens to more manageable size simplifies the process for your dragon. Adult dragons have no issues with the largest of crickets, most worms, roaches, and can even consume small (baby) mice as a beneficial dietary option.
How Often to Feed
The truth is there is no set timetable to when or how frequently your dragon needs to eat. Taking all things into consideration many factors from age and size to time of the season and local temperature can play a factor in your dragons dietary behavior. A good idea is to feed your dragon every day. Perhaps greens 4 times a week and live food such as crickets, worms and/or roaches on the 3 days in between. Give your dragon about an hour to consume as much of the veggies they can, and then remove the remainder. Do this for a few feeding sessions to get an idea of about how much greens they eat per setting when regularly fed on the same schedule. Likewise, when feeding live foods, present your dragon with as many crickets, roaches, or food of choice as they can consume before they start slowing down. At this point remove the dragon and save the remaining food items for next time. Do this a few times over the course of a month and you can get a pretty good idea of how many crickets your dragon will need per setting. Take note, this technique shouldn’t be applied with worms. Dragons can eat quite a few and in doing so, over consume.
You never want to over feed your dragon so be sure to keep an eye on your dragons health, if they appear fat or bloated, it may be best to consider cutting back some. An overweight dragon will appear lethargic and slow with minimal activity. It is also important to make sure your dragon is completing the digestive process in a healthy manner. If you dragon has any issues with pushing stool through, this may be because of impaction. Impaction is when your dragon cannot rid itself of excretion and for lack of a better term is essentially constipated. This, if not dealt with properly, can prove fatal to your dragon. Impaction can be caused the consumption of substrates such as dirt or sand, or dehydration or improper diet and poor health.
Where to Feed
Many Dragon keepers choose to feed their dragons in a simplified location, especially with live foods. If you don’t want crickets crawling into a dark corner under a rock and chirping for weeks, its a good idea to get either a Rubbermaid bin or perhaps a smaller tank/enclosure with minimal distractions and hiding spots to feed your dragon in. This simplifies the effort your dragon needs to exert to capture prey as well as assures your dragon gets every one of the tasty treats coming its way. While this is perfectly acceptable, there are very little issues with feeding your dragon in its regular habitat.
Keep in mind a few things though. The substrate you use can be accidentally digested in the heat of a chase. A cricket is hopping away in a sandy enclosure, in comes the dragon pouncing on its prey, and while it captures the cricket in one swoop of its mouth, it also catches a mouthful of sand which it then has to digest. Even a few grains here and there can collect and lead to health issues down the road. Also as previously mentioned, the potential for prey such as crickets to crawl into dark hidden parts of your enclosure, or worse yet house and start chirping for the next 2 months. It can be enough to drive a person crazy so do your dragon and yourself a favor and feed them in a separate simple container.
Gut Loading Live Food
Gut loading is the process of essentially fattening up your dragon’s live food before your dragon consumes it. This can be accomplished by giving crickets food scraps such as carrots, potatoes, veggies, berries, melons, greens and just about any other organic food source. Allowing the crickets to devour these food items over a week or two prior to feeding can really increase the nutritional value each cricket offers your dragon. The same process can be accomplished with your roaches as well as most worms. Some worms do not actually consume food but instead live off the fat deposits they are initially given until developing into their next stage so it is important to actually feed these to your dragon sooner rather than later to maximize their value.
Supplements & Vitamins
Supplements and Vitamins are readily available for bearded dragons. In an ideal world it is better to provide your dragon with nutrition in fresh food as opposed to supplements, but in some cases it is best to use both. Truthfully, even with quality UVB lamps you are still not providing your dragon with enough calcium. A great way to provide more calcium is to use products like calcium powder to apply to your crickets prior to feeding your dragons. This is the only additional supplementation we use with our dragons and recommend.
When choosing Calcium powders, avoid using any with the D3 additive. Regardless of what the bottle describes D3 as being, it is actually harmful to bearded dragons as their bodies do not need this supplementation. Basic plain calcium powder is preferred and simplest to use. Simply place your crickets in a bucket or bag along with a small amount of powder and shake. This will coat the crickets in a thin layer of calcium and provide plenty of calcium supplementation that your UVB lamps simply can’t match when compared to the sun. We use a dedicated bucket simply because any left over powder can be left in the bucket for next use. It would be difficult to overdose your dragons using this method. We recommend about once a week, although some say as often as every other live feeding.
Other Vitamins and Supplements
We thought long about how best to present this section as we simply don’t believe there are any other necessary supplements needed for your dragon. With a proper diet, lighting, attention and care you shouldn’t need anything beyond simple calcium powder. If you have any questions regarding other supplements or vitamins feel free to ask in the comments section below.
When it comes to feeding baby dragons, special care needs to be considered. Bearded dragon babies can start eating greens almost immediately, but need them to be chopped up extra fine. While it is good to present them with a variety of options, avoid any harder veggies or fruits as they can be more difficult for a small dragon to manage. Avoid veggies like carrots as they are too hard, and take time to cut and remove heavy stems from veggies like Kale, Collard Greens and even Romaine Lettuce. This will assure your baby dragon doesn’t need to work extra hard to digest his meal, and won’t choke anything trying.
Having a hard time getting a baby dragon to eat? Try colorful veggies like Radicchio to really get their attention. Many dragons both young and small can be convinced to try veggies and one trick we’ve learned over the years is their great appreciation for colorful food. If you can get your dragon to try some Radicchio, it is that much easier to introduce new greens mixed in.
Baby dragons should also eat smaller live food. Crickets are an excellent option from day one. Typically all of our baby dragons will receive their first live feeding 72 hours after hatching. The first 36-48 they remain in the incubator to finish digesting the yolk from their egg, now already in their stomach. By the 3rd day the baby dragons have become alert, active and have enough articulation to catch prey.
Crickets should be the primary source of live food for baby dragons. They are easy to manage, come in a variety of sizes and are the most cost efficient option. For baby dragons feed them crickets around 1/8″ to 3/8″ over the first several weeks. The general rule here is you want to keep any food under the size of the distance between the inside of your dragon’s eyes. That is roughly the size of their throat, and thus what they are capable of swallowing if they decide not to chew first. It is better to feed baby dragons more smaller crickets then risk them choking on food that is too big for them to handle.
As baby dragons grow, you can increase the size of the food you feed them. After a few weeks of crickets, we often start to include young dubia roaches in our baby dragon’s diet. Dubia roaches are an excellent source of protein for dragons, but for new born dragons they are a little hard to digest then small crickets, not to mention more expensive.
Avoid feeding baby dragons too many worms of any variety. Honestly, we have almost completely eliminated meal worms from our dragons’ diets. They are lower in nutritional value, harder to digest and we just prefer not to use them for our young dragons.
As far as how often to feed baby dragons you must take into consideration they are growing at an incredible rate for a cold blooded animal. Newborn dragons once they start eating need to be fed at least twice a day, ideally 3 times. Every day we present our youngest dragons with fresh greens chopped extra fine. We also offer then live food 2-3 times daily, but in smaller rations. Ideally you want your baby dragons to only eat a few crickets at a time, digest them, then eat again. Once they have grown some, and established their bodies they won’t need to be fed so often. We tend to slow down around 1-2 months, offering more and larger food options per feeding as they grow.
Really you need to watch your dragons and establish your own plan when it comes to their diet at a young age. Keep an eye on size, behavior and how much your dragons eat. If a weaker dragon is being denied food, you may need to separate them to give them an opportunity to eat. Even a couple days of being bullied by other baby dragons can be absolutely detrimental to a dragon’s development. If dragons are nipping at each other at a young age, this is typically a sign they aren’t getting enough to eat.
Once your dragon has grown some and is looking strong and healthy it is okay to start feeding them once a day, but be sure to still provide them enough food for the day. We still typically offer our dragons greens daily and live food every other day until around 5-6 months. At this point we typically go live food/greens alternating every other day.
Juvenile dragons are like the teenagers of the dragon life cycle. As such, they can be finicky, even rebellious, but one thing is for sure; they are growing and fast! While you may not need to feed these guys three times a day like new born dragons, they will definitely be needing more per feeding. Once our dragons are beyond that toddler stage where they need controlled feedings multiple times a day we typically feed them a moderate number of crickets or roaches of appropriate size once a day at first, then more per ration, but every other day. We also continue to offer fresh greens just about every day.
When a female dragon becomes pregnant, intentionally or not, it is absolutely necessary to provide even more dietary supplementation. As a dragon develops eggs their body is processing far more nutrients then in a normal situation. Obviously if a body is processing more, it needs to consume more so it constantly has a fresh stock to process. With anywhere from 15-30+ eggs developing you can imagine the toll it takes on the mother dragon’s body.
Typically we will feed our pregnant female dragons crickets or dubia roaches daily, enriching them with calcium 2-3 times per week. We also offer greens every day, but ration them by observing the intake of the dragon. We don’t want to over feed the dragon in this already delicate state. Be sure your dragon never looks bloated, as she develops eggs her stomach will actually show bumps in most cases for the last 7 days or so. If your dragon is just bloated and fat, you may be over doing it.
Female dragons come in all shapes, sizes and rates of development. Because of this reason there is no set in stone number of crickets to feed, or sure fire regimen in regards to how much to feed. If you feel confident enough to provide proper care to the soon to arrive baby dragons we can only assume you have ample experience with bearded dragons.
Sometimes, to help a female dragon get a little extra bulk we will include some meal worms/superworms/waxworms/etc. The idea is they are a little higher in fat content and are a great treat if nothing else for a surely hungry mother dragon.
For more on breeding dragons visit our breeding info page here.