Updated: September 26, 2021 by Jennifer Munsell
As bearded dragons grow, they need to be fed differently. But how do you know when to feed them? This guide will help you identify how often to feed your bearded dragon according to how old they are.
Depending on their age, bearded dragons will eat anywhere from several times per day to just a few times per week. They need to be fed a certain amount of food at various times throughout the day (or week), which will also depend on their age and size.
This guide will take you through the stages of a bearded dragon’s life and detail precisely how much they should eat, what body proportions they should have, and how often you should feed them.
There are specific foods that bearded dragons should eat and others that they should avoid. Some of these restrictions apply throughout the dragon’s life, and some only apply to a specific age range. Bearded dragons are omnivores and should eat a varied diet that includes vegetables, insects, and vitamin supplements to ensure they remain happy and healthy throughout their life.
This article will explore the food items you should be feeding your bearded dragon and in what quantities according to their age. We will also go over what food items your beardie should never eat. It is important to stay aware of these dietary restrictions to avoid health complications such as obesity and vitamin deficiency.
Finally, we will explore some of the health problems your dragon may face if they are over or underfed and how you can identify and correct them.
How Often to Feed Bearded Dragons Based on Age
Your dragon’s age plays a large role in how much and how often you will feed them. Babies will eat more often and mostly eat insect protein, while adults will eat less frequently and mostly eat plant matter.
Baby bearded dragons (0-2 months) should be fed three to four times per day. They are growing rapidly and need the energy from their food to develop their organs and maintain a healthy weight. The majority of their diet needs to be protein (80%) with a small amount of plant matter (20%).
Five times a day, offer your baby beardie their protein. These can be any of the approved protein items.
You can hand feed the insects or worms to your dragon, or you can place them in the enclosure on a clean, flat dish for your beardie to chase around for exercise. Let your babies eat as many insects as they want for 10 to 15 minutes, and then remove any insects that remain.
Even tiny baby dragons can eat as many as 15 to 20 medium-sized crickets a day, so be prepared to make frequent trips to the pet store or purchase bugs online from time to time.
Juveniles that are 3 to 9 months old should be fed around two or three times a day.
Provide them with leafy greens more often than you would for a baby beardie. Always remove uneaten greens or other foods after each feeding session. You don’t necessarily have to throw away the leftovers; just save them for the following meal.
Twice per day, offer them their insects. Let them eat as many insects as they want in a 10 to 15 minute window and then remove the remaining insects.
As they age, continue to provide your beardie with access to leafy greens throughout the day, but start adding some variation from the other plant material items. Remember, as your dragon gets closer to adulthood, the ratio of plant matter to insect protein in their diet will need to change significantly.
Sub adults (12 to 18 months) should be fed twice a day. They should have access to a variety of plant based items throughout the day. Start to incorporate different kinds of the leafy greens as well as other vegetables into their diet more often.
Twice a day, offer them their insects. Let them eat as many insects as they want in a 10 to 15 minute window and then remove the remaining insects. Do not include mealworms yet at this age, they are still too young for the exceptionally hard bodied insects.
Adults over 18 months old should only be fed insect protein once a day. Their diet should be made up of 80% vegetation or plant material and 20% insect protein at this point.
You should only feed them insect protein items around three to four times a week. During these feedings, they should eat around 10 to 15 crickets or other medium-sized insects at a time.
You can start to include mealworms and superworms in their diet more often now. However, these insects aren’t particularly nutritious, and their exoskeletons made of chitin can be rough on a bearded dragon’s digestive system. It would be better to avoid them and stick to other insects that provide more protein and nutritional benefits like crickets and Dubia roaches.
Make sure they are fed a wide range of vegetables, dark, leafy greens, and other safe plants once or twice a day. Always clean out their enclosure at night and pick out any pieces of food that have landed on the substrate.
What About Water?
Bearded dragons of all ages should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Place a small, shallow water dish in their enclosure on the opposite end of their basking area. If the water is too close to the heating element, then the water will evaporate quickly and increase humidity levels in the enclosure.
Your dragon’s water dish should be:
- Heavy-bottomed so it will not tip over easily,
- Non-porous so it does not affect humidity levels,
- Shallow enough so your bearded dragon has easy access, and
- Refreshed and cleaned daily.
If you see any food items such as veggies or insects in the water, they should be removed and the water should be replaced immediately.
The type of water you use will depend on the quality of the water in your area. You can contact your local municipality or council to find out how much chlorine and minerals are in your tap water.
Bearded dragons should not be drinking highly chlorinated water. If your tap water has a lot of chlorine in it, then use a basic filter to make your dragon’s water safe. You can also use spring or still bottled water as an alternative. Never give your bearded dragon sparkling or carbonated water.
What Can Bearded Dragons Eat?
A bearded dragon’s diet should be varied and include lots of healthy and tasty foods. Beardies are omnivores, so their diet consists of insect protein as well as vegetation.
The insect protein portion should make up 80% of a baby or juvenile’s diet and 20% of an adult dragon’s diet. Juveniles need the huge amount of energy that protein provides for growing, while adults do not need as much protein to maintain their bodies. It helps to feed your dragon live insects for added stimulation, exercise, and enrichment, but dried insects are also available from most pet shops.
Small, soft-bodied insects such as hornworms and silkworms are good candidates for the protein portion of your beardie’s diet, regardless of their age.
As a treat, you can offer your dragon waxworms or butterworms. These should only be offered as an occasional tasty tidbit, as they are very fatty. They should not be offered more than once a week. Live black soldier fly larvae are another great meaty treat for bearded dragons, as they are excellent sources of protein.
Hard-bodied insects such as crickets, Dubia roaches, superworms, and mealworms should form part of the subadult and adult’s diet. Too much soft food can cause gum disease in bearded dragons.
Crickets are the usual go-to insect for bearded dragon owners. Dubia roaches are slightly more expensive than crickets, but they have a lot more protein and other essential nutrients. They are not as popular or easy to find as crickets, but nutritionally they are a far better choice.
Another common hard-bodied protein item for bearded dragons is the mealworm. You should only offer them to adults, as they have a harder exoskeleton made of tough chitin, which can cause impaction in younger beardies.
Never feed your beardie worms or any kind of insects from your garden or backyard! They could contain parasites or be coated with pesticides that will harm your bearded dragon. Make sure you always get your beardie’s food from a reputable source.
Vegetables should make up 20% of a baby or juvenile’s diet and 80% of an adult’s diet. See what your bearded dragon likes and what it doesn’t by trying a variety of safe foods. Food is a great way to provide stimulation to your reptile, so change up their diet every now and then to keep them interested.
Leafy greens such as turnip greens, collard greens, clover, dandelion greens, escarole, and watercress are all great options. They provide good roughage to keep your beardie’s digestive tract clear, and they vary in color and flavor.
Starchy vegetables such as zucchini, butternut and yellow squash, sweet potatoes, and parsnips provide a good amount of energy and should be served raw for some crunch and maximum nutrients.
Some fun veggie alternatives include peas, bell peppers, and carrots. Feeding a variety of vegetables to your beardie means they get their vitamins in and stay healthy and happy. Always serve your beardie raw vegetables. Cooking vegetables reduces the amount of nutrients in them. Finally, make sure all vegetables are washed and free of pesticides.
Fruit should be used as a treat item and should not be given to your beardie everyday. Fruit is high in sugar, which can cause rapid weight gain. Too much fruit can also alter your beardie’s natural yeast levels and lead to infections.
Avoid all citrus fruits because of their high levels of acidity. Too much acid will upset your beardie’s stomach.
Safe fruits include watermelon, apples, mangoes, plums, kiwis, berries, pears, grapes, and apricots. Make sure you chop up your fruits to manageable sizes.
All stones, seeds, and pips should be removed from fruits before being given to your bearded dragon. Grapes must have the seeds removed, as they can get lodged in the digestive tract and cause choking or impaction.
When feeding your beardie fruit, make sure you include some fibrous vegetables in the same meal so any soft fruit gets cleaned out of their teeth. If the fruit is allowed to sit on their teeth, it can ferment and cause tooth decay.
Other Plant Matter
In the wild, bearded dragons eat flowers, weeds, and other plants, so it is a good idea to include them in their captive diet when you can.
Dandelions, hibiscus, geraniums, and even roses are all good options.
Make sure you have identified the plant correctly and ensured it is free of disease or parasites. Always wash them thoroughly before offering them to your beardie, as they may have pesticides on them that can poison your dragon.
Your bearded dragon must get a calcium supplement added to their food. This is vital. If you have an underweight or pregnant bearded dragon, they should get a little bit more than a healthy one.
Dust food items in the supplements according to the instructions on the specific branded product you have. Powder supplements are best and the most common, but liquid supplements are also sometimes available.
What Should Bearded Dragons Never Eat?
Bearded dragons will eat what is put in front of them even if it is harmful, so it is up to you to make sure they stay safe.
- Dairy items are a big no-no for bearded dragons. Their gastrointestinal system is not designed to process dairy.
- Avocados and rhubarb are highly toxic to bearded dragons. Feeding your beardie these items will kill them.
- Spinach and beetroot tops can be fed in small quantities but should be avoided as they interrupt with calcium retention in bearded dragons.
- Iceberg lettuce (and other light lettuce types like romaine) is mostly water and does not hold any significant nutritional value or enough fiber to be beneficial to your beardie.
- Onions and chives, celery, and mushrooms should all be avoided.
- Red meat and seafood can contain harmful bacteria and parasites and should never be fed to your dragon.
- Finally, any insect that glows should be on the no-go list for your beardie. Glowing insects such as fireflies are extremely toxic to all reptiles.
Help! My Bearded Dragon Isn’t Eating!
Do not panic. There could be a number of things causing your beardie to refuse food.
- Sometimes your bearded dragon might be full and not interested in food for the day.
- Your beardie might not be interested in the food item you are offering them.
- The food item may be too big; use the space between their eyes as a guide to maximum food size.
- Your beardie could be about to enter brumation.
If they begin to lose weight or they refuse food for a number of days in a row, then check the following criteria:
Check Temperature Settings
Bearded dragons are exothermic and cold-blooded desert animals. This means they need outside sources of heat to regulate their body functions. Your bearded dragon might be too warm or too cold. If the temperature is too cold, then your beardie won’t be warm enough to digest its food properly.
Check the Lighting
Does your beardie have access to UVB lighting? Is the lighting set on a timer that mimics a natural photocycle? If your beardie does not have enough light during the day, then they will not have enough time to digest their food and become hungry.
If it remains dark in their enclosure for too long, they could be preparing their bodies for brumation. Brumation is the reptile equivalent of hibernation for mammals.
Check for Shedding
Bearded dragons shed their skin like all reptiles. Baby and juvenile bearded dragons can shed their skin quite often as they are growing rapidly. Adults only shed a few times per year. During their shedding time, bearded dragons usually refuse food.
Do not panic; once they are finished shedding, they will be as hungry as ever!
Check for Parasites
Check the enclosure for small black or red dots moving around. Check around your beardie’s eyes, nostrils, and mouth for these dots. These dots are a sign of a mite infestation. Mites cause stress and illness. Clean your enclosure and give your beardie a bath. Ask your vet for a round of antiparasitics as soon as possible.
See a Vet
There is a chance your bearded dragon is ill, is suffering from impaction, or has internal parasites if none of the above steps have solved the issue of them not eating. Regardless of what’s going on with your dragon’s health, your vet will help you care for them properly.
Health Problems Caused by Incorrect Feeding Practices
There are many health issues that can arise if you feed your dragon too much, not enough, or improper foods. Here are some things to avoid when feeding your beardie.
Underfeeding a baby or juvenile bearded dragon will cause stunted growth and can cause starvation and death.
Too little protein or vegetation will lead to an unbalanced diet and a lack of energy or essential nutrients your beardie needs to function.
Underfeeding calcium will lead to Metabolic Bone Disease. Calcium is what makes your beardie’s bones strong. Too little of it means their bones will become soft and brittle, leading to painful deformities and broken bones.
A chubby lizard might be funny to look at but is no joke in reality. Overfeeding your bearded dragon will lead to obesity.
Obesity puts strain on internal organs and will cause heart problems, fatty liver disease, and kidney failure. Obesity kills reptiles. Make sure you feed your bearded dragon a healthy and balanced diet.
Overfeeding calcium will lead to hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia occurs when calcium deposits build up in the joints, which makes movement painful. Hypercalcemia also leads to heart and other organ problems.
Impaction is caused by a blockage in the digestive tract. It is a potentially fatal health concern.
If your bearded dragon is eating its loose substrate with its food or out of boredom, then its digestive tract could get blocked. This blockage leads to pain, infection, sepsis, and death. It needs a trip to the vet and possible surgery to rectify.
Too many mealworms can also cause impaction due to their chitinous exoskeletons that are tough to digest, especially if your bearded dragon is younger than 18 months old.
To avoid impaction, feed your beardie on a clean dish they can access easily. Avoid using loose substrates like sand, sawdust, and woodchips. Instead, use reptile carpet or tiles. Even paper towels will work in a pinch.
FAQs on Feeding Bearded Dragons
Can you overfeed your bearded dragon?
Yes. Beardies will happily eat what is put in front of them. Overfeeding leads to health problems, so you should keep a regular feeding schedule.
Do bearded dragons eat every day?
This depends on their age. While babies and juveniles will eat multiple times per day, adults will eat anywhere from once per day or a few times per week. You should set up a feeding schedule to keep track of what and when your beardie is eating and stick to it.
Why is my bearded dragon always hungry?
If your beardie is young, then it needs a lot of energy to grow, which is why it is always hungry.
If your beardie is an adult and a healthy weight, then check on the heating elements in their enclosure; they may be burning too much energy regulating their body temperature if their enclosure is too hot or too cold.
Alternatively, your beardie may not be getting all of the nutrients they need in their diet. Double check how old they are against what proportions of food they should have in their diet.
Can I feed my bearded dragon bananas?
Bananas contain high amounts of phosphorus and low amounts of calcium. In large quantities they are harmful to bearded dragons. Bananas can be used as a small snack or treat item in small amounts once every week or so.
Can my bearded dragon drink tap water?
Yes, but check the chlorine levels first. Too much chlorine in your beardie’s water will harm them. If your water supply has too much chlorine in it, then filter it through a commercial water filter first.
At the Tail End of Things
It is important to know exactly what and how much your bearded dragon should be eating. It is equally important to know what is toxic and unhealthy for your beardie to be eating.
Knowing these things will help you feed your bearded dragon a balanced and healthy diet that will help it grow and live a long life.
Knowing how often to feed a bearded dragon is essential because it ties in with their ability to grow to their full size, develop their organs when they are young, and maintain a healthy weight as adults.