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How Much Should I Feed My Bearded Dragon?
There is often a lot of confusion about what a bearded dragon should eat and how much. These reptiles have very particular needs in their dietary requirements. Depending on their age and stage of development they can rightly be described a being mainly carnivorous, or mainly vegetarian which can be confusing for some people.
A growing bearded dragon (that is, sub adult) needs a diet that’s mainly made up of livefood so that it gets the massive amounts of protein that it needs to sustain its rapid rate of growth. Once an adult, more than 20% of livefood in its diet will overload its organs and lead to an unhealthy and shortened life.
Making this more difficult, it seems each member of this species grows at a different rate, taking between a year (or sometimes even less) to 18 months to reach full adult size, so it is impossible to say at 12 months, for example, a bearded dragon should be eating this much food of this type.
The main rule to follow is that from hatchling through the juvenile stage it is almost impossible to overfeed. Feeding should start to be reduced as the sub adult stage is reached, and then reduced to a maintenance level as it reaches adult weight. There is much variation in adult weight which adds to the confusion. A healthy adult bearded dragon can be anything from 400 to 700 grams, with around the 500 gram mark being average. Females, on average, weigh less than males. Their size as adults depend on a number of factors including the nutrition they’ve had whilst growing, and their genetic makeup.
Points to Remember
You should not adopt a young bearded dragon until it is at least six weeks of age. Moving to a new home causes stress, and may put them off eating for up to two weeks. If they are younger than six weeks when moved they probably won’t have built up enough fat reserves to see them through any period of stress.
Never feed anything which is larger than the gap between their eyes. As they grow the size of the food offered should be increased but still follow this rule. Bearded dragons lose interest in smaller insects as they grow so increase the size of livefood as well as the size of chopped vegetables as the latter helps develop healthy teeth.
Always keep a bowl of chopped vegetables and fruit in the vivarium with a juvenile or sub adult, even if they show no sign of interest in it. When adult they will be mainly vegetarian, so should have every opportunity to try different foods. They seem to have quite individual tastes, so try a variety of vegetables and fruit to see what yours likes. Quite often they will eat little bits even if you think the food has been untouched.
What You Should Feed by Age and Size
From six to twelve weeks you should be feeding three feeds a day of as much livefood as he can eat in 10 minutes each time. Try not to leave any crickets in the vivarium overnight as they have been known to nip the soft parts of baby beardies quite badly, and at the very least cause them stress. If you leave a bowl of vegetables in overnight, any crickets you have missed should eat this, and not your pet.
It’s useful if you can feed your bearded dragon outside the vivarium in a plastic tub or washing up bowl – that way you can see how much he’s eaten, and you cn be sure there are no crickets left in the vivarium.
At twelve weeks reduce to two feeds per day, again consisting of how many can be eaten in 10 minutes.
I’m often asked questions such as ‘my bearded dragon eats 20 crickets a day – is this enough?’ which is impossible to answer! The best and really only way to know if you are feeding your juvenile correctly is to weigh him each week, and make sure there is a steady weight gain.
When your bearded dragon is around six to nine months old, and weighing between 250 to 300 grams reduce to one feed per day. He should be looking plumpish by this stage, with a good fat reserve at the base of his tail.
Adult Bearded Dragons
It is dangerous to continue feeding an adult livefood every day, as his metabolism will not be able to cope with all the protein. Adults should be fed livefood only two or three times a week, and fresh vegetables and fruit should be given daily. An adult should be on a maintenance diet which enables him to maintain his weight, he should not increase his weight once fully grown.
Calcium and Vitamins
As they grow so rapidly and as they are kept with artificial light, a sub adult bearded dragon cannot absorb sufficient calcium to support his rate of growth. Additional calcium must be given daily to prevent Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) which causes deformity of the limbs, and which, untreated or not caught early enough, can be fatal. One feed per day should be dusted with calcium powder, and vitamin supplements should be given twice a week. It’s possible to buy a combined calcium/vitamin supplement that can be given daily. Once adult, calcium supplements should be given weekly.
Environmental Effects on Food Digestion
No matter how well you feed your bearded dragon, if you have not set up the vivarium correctly he will not be able to digest his food properly and obtain the nutrients from it. They need a basking temperature of around 105 degrees Fahrenheit together with a strong (preferably 12%) UVB light.
What type of Livefood to Feed?
Youngsters should be fed crickets or locusts. Crickets are recommended due simply to the copious amounts they eat as they are cheaper. If you introduce locusts too early you may end up with an expensive fussy beardie. Locusts or roaches are a good food for an adult bearded dragon. Never feed a diet of meal worms – the chitin in their skin makes them hard to digest. Meal worms and wax worms can be fed as an occasional treat.
These reptiles do not need to eat pinkies. Until they are adult these will be to big for them, and once adult they do not need the extra protein unless they are undernorished (for example, one that has been neglected). They can be given to a female in between laying clutches of eggs as this is the time she will need extra protein.
Bearded dragons are living longer in captivity as we understand more about their needs and how to look after them properly. Feeding the right foods and the right amount will help your pet have a long and happy life.
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