Updated: July 20, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell
One of the most important factors in raising a healthy and happy bearded dragon is ensuring they have a nutritious diet that promotes growth and energy. But what exactly should bearded dragons be eating? We’re publishing a series of articles on beardie nutritional health, and today we are asking whether bearded dragons can eat zucchini.
The short answer is: Yes, but occasionally.
Zucchini, known as courgette in some parts of the world, certainly isn’t toxic to beardies, and if they have a bit, they might enjoy it and it certainly won’t compromise their health. That said, zucchini should not be a regular part of their diet. The vegetable simply doesn’t contain the essential calcium that beardies and other lizards need, and it’s also high in phosphorus, which can rob their bodies of the calcium they already have. So, when choosing what to actively feed your beardie, zucchini simply should not be on the list.
In this article, we will explain exactly why zucchini isn’t great for beardies, and exactly why getting enough calcium is essential for a healthy bearded dragon. We will also share some tips on ensuring that your lizard does get all the essential calcium it needs.
Why Bearded Dragons Shouldn’t Eat Zucchini Regularly
Let’s be clear: zucchini is not toxic to bearded dragons. If they do manage to get their mouth on a portion and gobble it down, you shouldn’t expect to see them suffer from any adverse effects. But it’s certainly not something you should be actively feeding your bearded dragon on a regular basis. Why? It is all about the calcium.
Calcium is one of the most important nutrients in a lizard’s diet. They need it for healthy bone development, proper muscle function, and females need it to create eggs and maintain good reproductive health.
If they don’t get enough calcium, they can develop metabolic bone disease, which is one of the most common health problems affecting bearded dragons in captivity. It can cause them to have weak bones that are smaller than necessary to support their musculature, which means they end up with misshapen bodies and a poor quality of life. It can also eventually lead to paralysis and death.
It’s actually quite difficult for bearded dragons to get all the calcium they need for a number of reasons.
Hatchlings need about 650 mg of calcium per day, juveniles around 1100 mg, young adults about 1300 mg per day, and adults around 1500 mg per day. Crickets and other insects actually don’t contain as much calcium as you would imagine, so your bearded dragon needs to get the calcium from the other things that they eat, namely fruits and vegetables.
This is where zucchini fails as good food for a bearded dragon as it contains just 16 mg of calcium per 100 grams of zucchini. So, they would have to eat an awful lot of it to get their daily calcium needs.
But worse than that, zucchini is also high in phosphorus. This binds with calcium in the body when digested and prevents calcium from being digested into the bloodstream. For this reason, it’s important to give bearded dragons and other lizards foods that contain more calcium than phosphorus, ideally at a 1.4:1 ratio. But zucchini contains more phosphorus than calcium.
So, not only does zucchini not offer the calcium that your beardie needs, but it can also flood their system with phosphorus, which can rob it of the calcium it already had.
So, in short, while you don’t need to panic if your bearded dragon eats a piece of zucchini, it’s not something that you should intentionally be giving your beardie.
Best Vegetables for Bearded Dragons
So, if zucchini is off the menu, but your beardie needs plant matter to provide them with calcium, what should they be eating?
First and foremost, leafy greens that are high in calcium. Specifically cactus pad, collard green, dandelion leaves, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, and grape leaves.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the best choices are berries, especially blackberries, figs, papaya, squash, and sweet potatoes.
You can also “gut load” insects before giving them to your bearded dragon by feeding them calcium-rich foods shortly before passing them on to your beardie to be devoured.
You may also consider giving your beardie a calcium supplement that can be sprinkled on their food as a topping. They are generally available at most good pet stores. Below are some of our top choices from Amazon.
- Zoo Med Reptile Calcium with Vitamin D3
- Fluker’s Reptile Calcium Supplement
- Zilla Reptile Health Supplies Calcium Supplement
If you’re feeding your beardie a diet that is high in natural calcium, you only need to give them a supplement a few times a week. Too much calcium can cause hypercalcemia. While this is rare, it usually happens with over enthusiastic pet parents who accidentally give their lizard too much.
Don’t Forget Vitamin D3
As well as making sure that your beardie is getting enough calcium and limiting their phosphorus intake, it’s important to ensure they are getting enough Vitamin D3. Why? Because without this essential Vitamin, your lizard can’t absorb and make use of calcium anyway.
Vitamin D3 is the type of Vitamin D that reptiles get from sun exposure through basking. While supplements exist, they just don’t do the job as well. About 12 hours of UVB exposure per day is considered ideal, so you should have a powerful UVB bulb in your lizard’s tank. Also remember that you need to change the bulb every six months for it to maintain its strength.
How Do You Know if Your Beardie isn’t Getting Enough Calcium?
Having read all this, you will be forgiven for worrying that your beardie may not be getting all the calcium they need. There are a few signs to look out for that can alert you to a calcium problem.
Consider the following symptoms:
- Laziness, lethargy, and a general lack of interest in doing anything
- Loss of appetite, which can quickly manifest as weight loss
- Constipation or otherwise irregular bowel movements
- Signs of stress
- Receding lower jaw or soft faw and facial muscles
- Swelling in their limbs or bumps in their bones, especially along the spine
- Frequent bone fractures or breaks
These are all very worrying signs of long-term calcium deficiency, and it’s time for a visit to the vet to take active measures to restore their health.
Read our complete beginner’s care guide for bearded dragons here.
Do beardies like zucchini?
Many owners report that their beardies seem to quite like the taste of zucchini and gobble it up. But it does not contain much nutritional value for them, and they’re better off eating other vegetables that contain more calcium.
Is cucumber safe for bearded dragons?
Cucumber is safe for bearded dragons in moderation. But don’t give them too much as it contains a lot of water that can upset your lizard’s digestive system. It should also not be a staple in their daily salad as it does not contain enough calcium to help meet your beardie’s daily requirement.
Can bearded dragons eat scrambled eggs?
Bearded dragons can eat cooked eggs, but this is a treat best reserved for adults and they should have no more than half an egg a day at an absolute maximum. Insects are a better source of protein for them. If you scramble eggs, make sure not to add any additional ingredients or seasoning.
Feeding your bearded dragon a diet that meets their nutritional needs is essential for raising a healthy beardie in captivity. They eat a range of animal-based proteins (mostly insects) and plant-based matter. They need lots of calcium to stay healthy, and plants are the main course of that calcium. So, it is essential to feed your lizard plants that are high in calcium and that don’t contain too much phosphorus, since that leaches calcium from their system.
This is why zucchini, while not toxic to beardies, shouldn’t form part of their diet. It contains very little calcium, and the calcium that it does contain probably won’t be absorbed by your beardie. Best keep the zucchini in your own salad bowl and make your beardie a salad of veg and other plants more nutritious for them.
Do you have any advice on what to feed a bearded dragon? Share it with the community in the comments section below.