Bearded dragons are omnivores and although only about 10% of an adult dragon’s diet consists of protein, it is still a very important part of their diet. Young dragons need more protein as they are still growing, and roughly 50% of their diet should consist of arthropod derived protein. Sources suggest owners should feed their beardies insects, including crickets and mealworms or occasionally baby mice or pinkys as a proteins source. These are easy to keep live; dry (insects); or frozen (mice) and are widely available in pet stores.
I am sure that you have wondered whether you can feed your dragon other sources of protein such as meat and fish. It is almost natural for us to wonder if our pets can eat what we eat, and as with many other pet species – this often happens. Therefore, to answer your dragon protein related questions I did some research to found answer to question: Can bearded dragons eat meat and fish?
The short answer to this question is that dragons in captivity should definitely not be fed any raw, cooked, cured or processed meat or fish products. An occasional feeder fish will not do any harm, but canned, processed, cooked or any other raw fish should not be part of your dragon’s diet. Let’s discuss what protein is safe and what the dangers are.
Raw meat and fish can carry parasites and harmful bacteria that can cause disease and upset their digestive systems. Too much fish can also negatively affect the delicate mineral and water balance of your pet, which can make him seriously ill.
Why is meat and fish bad for your dragon?
Wild bearded dragons are known for eating lizards or small fish on occasion, but this is definitely the exception. Some owners believe a feeder fish such as a goldfish every now and then is acceptable. Be sure to make this is very infrequent and that the fish you feed your dragon is small enough to prevent choking or impaction. Meat, chicken, pork and fish and all their derivatives whether raw, cooked, canned or processed, should not be fed to your dragon for three reasons.
- With very little exception, dragons’ digestive systems are designed to digest plant material, insects and arthropods. Meats are generally higher in phosphorus than in calcium, which is a very important mineral for a dragon’s normal development and health. If he eats too much meat, it can lead to a calcium imbalance with long term health problems relating to skeletal and muscular development. The concentrations of other minerals and vitamins in insects are also very different from that of meats and can thus lead to an imbalance of nutrients in your dragon. This can also lead to diseases and abnormalities in the long run, and should thus be avoided.
- Obviously, any spices or preservatives on meats and meat products will be very detrimental to your dragon. This includes salt, which can upset their water balance and place unnecessary strain on their kidneys. When meat is cooked, it also alters the protein structure and the water content of the meat, which can make it more difficult to absorb properly.
Processed meat and fish products also contain preservatives and colorants in many cases, which are very detrimental to the health of humans and animals as it interferes with their hormonal system.
- Lastly, meats, especially chicken and fish products can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and possibly also with parasites that can infect your dragon and cause disease.
What protein sources are safe?
If you truly want your dragon to be in optimum health, you should try to replicate in captivity what your dragon would have eaten in the wild.
Wild bearded dragons feed mainly on what they can find, which includes a large seasonal variety of plants and flowers as well as a wide variety of insects. Studies on the central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps), which is one of the most popular pet lizard species, have shown that they eat arthropods from nine different orders or groups. These include mostly ants and termites, but also crickets, grasshoppers, cockroaches, butterfly and moth larvae, flies and mosquitoes as well as spiders. Here are some key points to remember.
- Diversity. As with the fresh greens, fruits and vegetables your feed your dragon, diversity is also important when it comes to protein sources. Try a couple of insect types you commonly find in your pet store and try to feed them live, frozen or dried, to see what your dragon prefers. Alternate protein sources regularly to retain the diversity and to prevent your dragon from getting too used to a certain insect type.
- Get creative. You can even get creative and try to catch a couple of flies or grasshoppers from your garden to feed to your dragon. If you do this, avoid large or potentially poisonous spiders, fireflies as well as insects with warning colors such as red, yellow and black. These insects can sometimes be poisonous and may cause an upset stomach. Also avoid catching snails, slugs, cicadas and lizards in your garden and feeding them to your beardie. These animals can carry parasites that can infect your dragon. They can also be exposed to insecticides that can kill or harm your dragon.
- Size matters. Finally, when it comes to feeding whole prey items, always make sure that the item is smaller than the distance between the dragon’s eyes, as this will prevent choking.
- Portion size. Young beardies should be fed up to three times a day in small portions and should also receive proteins every day. Adults need to eat less often and should only be fed insects every second day or less. Animals in captivity are not as active as their wild counterparts are, and should receive less food to prevent obesity. If your suspect that your dragon may be eating too much, you can include fasting days in their diet. Many suggest to have two days feeding, one day fasting for adults. Make sure to feed you adult dragon only once per day.
What other common foods are bad for my beardie?
Not surprisingly, there are many other food items in our fridge and pantry that are not suitable for a dragon to eat. Let’s have look at some of these and why you should avoid them.
- Milk products – although dairy products such as cheese, milk and yoghurt are high in calcium, dragons cannot digest these products or extract the calcium. The lactose in these products will also cause bloating and diarrhea as their digestive systems are not designed to digest milk in any stage of their life.
- Sugar – this is definitely a NO-NO for any pet. They do not need it as they get enough healthy calories from their normal diet. Sugar and sugar-laiden products can lead to obesity and other health problems.
- Starchy items – These include bread, rice, potatoes and other wheat products. Dragons cannot digest these items and it can lead to digestive problems and impaction. Impaction is a medical condition where the buildup of undigested food in the digestive system leads to bloating, and if severe, it can cause weight loss and other health problems.
- Dog and cat food – Both wet and dry, these foods are often very high in fats and proteins, and will not do your dragon any good. Beardies need a very high proportion of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet, and these foods will certainly not provide them.
I hope this guide has answered some of your dragon feeding questions. What is your beardie’s favorite protein source – leave your comments below.