Bearded Dragon Feeding
Something we are often asked is how much should a bearded dragon be fed – closely followed by how often! We always try to advise on amounts and frequencies based on our many years of experience in raising baby bearded dragons, maintaining adult pets, keeping breeding beardies healthy and keeping elderly dragons fit and well.
You might wonder why it matters, as long as your dragon is eating. The truth is, most pet bearded dragons are, to a greater or lesser degree, overweight. This has a lot more implications for your dragon’s health than you might think; being overweight puts every system under pressure, and can cause long term health problems not usually associated with obesity.
New lessons are always being learned about the diet of wild beardies, which helps us to make sure that our dragons get the diet that they need instead of the diet that they want!
So what problems can an overweight dragon have?
Being overweight is very serious. It can affect every biological system your dragon has, and although it will not directly kill your dragon, it can definitely lead to conditions that will.
Metabolic bone disease is a lethal condition in bearded dragons, caused by a lack of calcium. But it’s not just the calcium that is the problem; your dragon needs calcium, UVB light, and the correct temperature. Without the heat and the UV, your dragon will not be able to use the calcium that is in the diet and will get sick. If the conditions are not corrected, your dragon will die.
What does that have to do with obesity? Well, an overweight dragon cannot control its temperature effectively. Their systems have evolved to make use of the sunshine and shade of the outback, and when in peak condition they can adjust their temperature very quickly to make optimum use of the energy in their environment. Thick layers of fat, however, make it very hard for them to warm up completely or to cool down quickly enough; their internal sensors become muddled, and this means that their bodies are always a little too cool or a little too hot. This sort of chronic, low grade physical stress can cause illness and – eventually – death.
When animals have more fat in their body than they have evolved to cope with, they have a tendency to lay that fat down around their organs. Fatty liver disease has several causes, but the commonest one is a diet too high in protein and fat, alongside a lack of exercise that leads to increased weight. Not only does this impair overall liver function, but it’s in the liver that vitamin D3 is used to make calcium available to the rest of the body’s systems. So, at the same time that the immune system is being suppressed, the dragon is also having to cope with lower availability of calcium throughout the body. Add to that a lack of temperature control and your dragon is in trouble.
Too much rich food will also cause your dragon to grow too fast. Female dragons shouldn’t reach sexual maturity until the beginning of their second year; because sexual maturity is a function of size rather than age, they can reach a size where their reproductive system starts to produce eggs before they are six months old. (Sexual maturity in female dragons occurs at 14cm snout to vent length, and for males at 11cm.) Producing eggs drains more calcium from the female dragon’s body, when she is already struggling with rapid growth, poor calcium availability and a malfunctioning liver!
Dragons don’t understand that food is always going to be available. Their instincts tell them to pack in as much protein and fat rich food as possible, so it’s up to us to understand how their diet and environment combine to enable them to live long and happy lives. An overweight beardie won’t have the energy to dash around its vivarium keeping fit – so we need to make sure that our dragons never get into that condition in the first place.
My bearded dragon is overweight! Help!
Don’t panic! It’s not an irreversible situation. If you have an overweight dragon, firstly we need to figure out how it got that way, and then correct the problem so that your dragon steadily loses weight in a safe, sustainable fashion – and then stays nice and trim. Get into the habit of weighing your dragon regularly; once a week is fine.
The first thing to do is to check your temperatures. Use a good quality digital thermometer, and check:
- Hot spot, directly under the basking light (Should be 45ºC)
- Ambient (background) temperature in the warm end (Should be 35ºC)
- Ambient temperature in the cool end (Should be 30ºC)
- Night time temperature (Should be 20-24ºC)
If your temperatures are too low (or, less frequently, too high) then you will need to address that. If you are using a red bulb, replace that for a white one for use during the day. If you require night time heating, then that will need to be added – but that’s pretty unlikely unless you have a very cold house.
Your dragon must be able to bask, and they must have access to a range of temperatures in order to regulate their metabolism. If your vivarium is too small to allow a good temperature gradient from warm to cool, then consider replacing your vivarium.
Look at what you are actually feeding your dragon. An adult beardie does not need to eat every day; wild dragons eat so much plant matter as adults that they can be classed as herbivores.So take a look at the daily diet of your dragon, and record their normal diet in a diary for a week or two. If they won’t eat greens, the chances are high that they are eating too much high protein livefood! You need to reduce the amount of livefood that your dragon eats, and completely cut out high fat items like waxworms and morio worms in favour of locusts and crickets – which should be well gutloaded and dusted with calcium or multivitamin/multimineral powder. Give an adult dragon two days a week with no food at all – sounds harsh, but it will give your dragon a good reason to be interested in that healthy food they’ve been turning their nose up at! Reduce your dragon’s calorie intake slowly – suddenly taking food away can not only cause stress, but can make them very sick. Refer to the food diary you have been keeping for your dragon and take away a few items spread across the whole week.
Exercise is another good idea. If a dragon is elderly as well as overweight then they may have some issues with joint pain or other general discomfort; obviously asking an animal in that situation to run would be downright cruel. Assess your dragon to see what level of exercise will be appropriate – for most dragons, starting them off with a stroll along the length of the sofa once a day is a great place to start. Encourage them with food; if they adore morios, then only use them when the dragon is out exercising. If they like adult locusts, get them to chase them across the living room floor – you get the picture!
Swimming is easy on the joints, but some dragons hate being in water whilst others love it. If you can get your dragon swimming it will really help them to burn some calories without jarring joints that may already be sore.
Build up exercise slowly, and remember to keep weighing your dragon so you can assess when they will be able to cope with more exercise.
Some dragons find being outside very stimulating. Make sure that it’s a nice sunny day, and ensure that they have access to shade. Provide them with a safe enclosure that they can’t dig or climb out of, and sit with them until you are sure that they are relaxed. Get creative, your beardie will thank you for it!
I have a baby dragon, how do I keep their weight correct?
Definitely easier than dieting a dragon! When you buy your new dragon from us there’s a very high chance that they will have been born here in store, and we have had control of their diet since the day that they hatched. We have found that they will all eat their greens when their temperatures are correct; we feed greens in the morning, then live foods in the afternoon. This not only teaches them that when they are hungry that bowl of leaves is actually edible, but it also gives them the rest of the day to digest the tougher plant fibre.
For the first week, it’s a good idea to just feed your dragon salads. This gets you and your new pet into good habits right from the start!
If they start ignoring their greens in favour of livefoods, check their temperatures first. Provided that they are all fine, then offer fewer livefoods until your dragon shows interest in their greens again. Also, offer lots of different types and colours of plant matter; try edible flowers, thin slices of carrot, butternut squash or sweet potato.
How much should I feed my dragon?
Juvenile Bearded Dragon
Babies – up to 1 year
- 60% insects
- 40% plant matter
Babies should be fed daily, with greens in the morning and livefoods in the afternoon. Do NOT feed livefoods multiple times a day – you are setting your dragon up for a lifetime of poor health.
Start to increase the amount of plant matter in the diet from 9 months old until your dragon is an adult (18 months to 2 years):
Adult Bearded Dragon
Non-breeding adult – 2 years +
- 15% insects
- 85% plant matter
As a full adult, give them a day or two off from food. If they won’t eat their greens when there are livefoods around, then consider offering greens on four days, one day of livefoods, then two days off. This isn’t set in stone; it’s completely fine for you to adjust these schedules to find a pattern that suits both you and your dragon. Please see the advisory schedules below.
Remember: bearded dragons are tough, resilient little survivors, and they are not stupid! It’s up to us to make sure that our dragon has a healthy diet in appropriate surroundings so that they can live a long and happy life. After all, they can only eat what we give them, so let’s give them the best!
For further information, please consider following the Beardie Vet (Dr Jonathon Howard) on Facebook. He works with wild and pet bearded dragons in Australia, and his feed is an absolute goldmine of information.
Plus, feel free to give us a call or drop us a line. We’re here to help!
Bearded Dragon Feeding Chart: Baby (Up to 9 months)
|Monday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Medium locusts||Calcium|
|Tuesday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Medium Crickets||Multi-vitamin|
|Wednesday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Medium locusts||Calcium|
|Thursday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Mealworms||Multi-vitamin|
|Friday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Medium locusts||Calcium|
|Saturday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Medium Crickets||Calcium|
|Sunday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Medium locusts||Multi-vitamin|
Bearded Dragon Feeding Chart: Juvenile (9 months to 18 months)
|Monday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Standard Crickets||Calcium|
|Tuesday||Herbivore Salad Mix||No Livefoods||Multi-vitamin|
|Wednesday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Large Locusts||Calcium|
|Thursday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Mealworms||Multi-vitamin|
|Friday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Large Locusts||Calcium|
|Saturday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Standard Crickets||Calcium|
|Sunday||Herbivore Salad Mix||No Livefoods||Multi-vitamin|
Bearded Dragon Feeding Chart: Adult (18 months +)
|Monday||No Greens||No Livefoods||N/A|
|Tuesday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Large Crickets||Multi-vitamin|
|Wednesday||Herbivore Salad Mix||No Livefoods||Calcium|
|Thursday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Morio Worms||Multi-vitamin|
|Friday||Herbivore Salad Mix||Extra Large Locusts||Calcium|
|Saturday||No Greens||No Livefoods||N/A|
|Sunday||Herbivore Salad Mix||No Livefoods||Calcium|