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The Best Food to Feed a Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons make wonderful pets. They are active during the day, and when the adults are old enough to allow them to roam around the house for limited periods (that is, until they start to get cold) without fear of them disappearing into little hiding places, they obviously need to be . supervised at all times. They also have the advantage of being born almost tame and are happy to sit on their owner and hold a hug.
They are attractive and have great personalities, and they make excellent pets for people with skin allergies who cannot have any of the more common warm-blooded pets. In captivity with the right breeding they should live up to 10 years or even longer. The oldest I currently know is 12 years old. To reach their potential life they must be fed the right foods.
I am often contacted by people who would like to have a bearded dragon and want to know if there is an alternative to feeding them live food. The answer is a very definite NO. Although many pet stores stock dry food that is supposed to be for bearded dragons, I have never heard of one actually eating it. I’ve tried feeding mine but I think they’d rather starve!
The amount and type of live food they need changes as they grow from hatchling to adult. When they first hatch they are almost entirely carnivorous. When they are adults they are 80% vegetarian. At all stages of their lives they must have the correct balance of vegetables/fruits and live foods.
When buying a youngster and bringing it home from the breeder or pet store, it is important to always offer finely chopped vegetables/fruit. The general rule of thumb when feeding bearded dragons is to make sure that no food offered is larger than the space between their eyes. This goes for the size of the live foods on offer as well as the green stuff. If a youngster has been properly fed since hatching, it will be used to always having a bowl of vegetables in its enclosure, which it will peck at if there is nothing better to do. Juvenile bearded dragons tend to be similar to human children, apparently allergic to anything green! But if they are used to it, they will often continue to eat salad and vegetables throughout their growing period. Some bearded men refuse to touch vegetables; some (including mine!) have been known to never eat when their owners look at them as if pretending to starve will offer them something tastier. But eventually they all succumb and eat it, and when they are adults it will be their staple diet.
If you have a minor who doesn’t want to touch things, don’t worry. It will get there in time, and while it’s disappointing to spend time chomping on food that isn’t eaten, you have to persevere. It’s best to try a variety of different vegetables and fruits – some beardies like some things, others don’t. Cabbage, mixed salad leaves, kale, peppers, sweet potato, grapes, apples, carrots are all foods that a bearded man might like. Experiment with the foods you eat and see what yours likes.
Bearded dragons should never be fed avocado, and avoid foods with a high moisture content such as iceberg lettuce, cucumber, or tomatoes that can cause diarrhea.
These reptiles have an amazing growth rate: they grow 4,000 times from hatchling to adult, and should reach their full size between 12 and 18 months. To support this tremendous growth rate, they must have large amounts of protein that can only be supplied through a primary diet of live foods. When deciding whether this is your pet, you need to consider the cost of its food. During their first year of life they cost as much as a cat and some dogs to feed. There’s also the issue of getting live food, but if you don’t live near a properly stocked pet store, mail order is very efficient and you can order regularly from most online suppliers.
The staple diet of live food is crickets. These come in two types: brown and black. Blacks are supposed to be silent, but you’ll still have the odd one that will ring all night. Both are nutritious. Crickets, like other insects, have various sizes called instars. As a cricket grows, it loses its skin. First-instar crickets are the smallest, and then increase in size through several moults until they reach adult size. Don’t feed crickets that are too big for your bearded dragon (remember the eye gap rule), but on the other hand, if you try to offer crickets that are too small, they may not be interested in them.
All living food must be fed through the gut; this simply means feeding them the same vegetables you offer your barb. So, even if you don’t like vegetables, you will get the goodness by eating crickets.
As they grow rapidly, they should be fed live food 3 times a day until they are 4 months old, as much as they can eat in a 10-minute sitting each time. This can be reduced to 2 feedings, then 1 when the beardie is a good size – around 6 to 8 months. It is difficult to give a definite age, as all bearded dragons grow at different rates. As they are such voracious eaters crickets are recommended as they are the cheapest to buy.
Bearded dragons need calcium supplements: daily until they are adults, and then about every week. Calcium powder is sprinkled on their food. Without extra calcium, they are likely to develop metabolic bone disease (MBD) which causes deformities in their bone growth and is often fatal. Prevention is much better than trying to cure it.
It is perfectly possible to feed crickets and dust them with calcium powder without having to touch them using a Cricket Keeper. Empty the crickets from the tub where they are stored and add vegetables and water. Jars of water are not recommended as they are likely to drown in it, but you can buy Bug Gel, or simply put cotton balls soaked in water. Cricket Keepers have four black tubes. Crickets climb the tubes as they like to be in the dark. When it’s feeding time, simply lift one of the tubes, pour some calcium supplement down the tube, put something on top and shake vigorously. This coats the crickets evenly with calcium powder and also slightly stuns them, making them slower and easier to catch for the beardie. You can also slow the crickets down by placing them in the refrigerator for a few minutes before feeding them. Most barbs can catch them anyway, but some struggle at first, so slower-moving crickets can be beneficial.
As beards grow, they can turn into grasshoppers or cockroaches. A colony of cockroaches can be kept at home, so you can raise your own live food and make feeding much cheaper, although not everyone wants to do this. Lobsters are much tastier to a bearded dragon and also more expensive to buy. If you start feeding them too soon, you may find that they won’t eat crickets again, and therefore it will be much more expensive. For this reason, I recommend sticking with crickets as long as possible. As adults they will only need live food two or three times a week. Once they’re fully grown, too much protein will overload their internal organs, so if you overfeed them, you’ll kill them with kindness.
Mealworms should not be given to bearded dragons. They like them, but their skin is high in chitin which is difficult to digest and they are not as nutritious as crickets or lobsters. Morio worms are a good substitute, but I would still stick with crickets as a staple diet. Silkworms can also be fed daily, but again are more expensive. Waxworms should only be given as a gift, as they are very rich. They love them like we love chocolate!
Remember that feeding your bearded dragon the right food for each stage of its life is important, but so is having your kennel set up correctly. The resting temperature should be just right, as it helps them digest food properly, and strong UVB light is necessary for them to get enough vitamins.
Properly fed and kept in the right conditions, your bearded dragon should live to a ripe old age and be your companion for many years.
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