Bearded dragons make wonderful pets. They are active during the day, and when the adults are large enough to be allowed to roam the house for limited periods (ie until they start to get cold) without fear of them disappearing into small hiding places, they obviously need to be supervised at all times. They also have the advantage that they are born almost tame and are happy to sit on their owner and will take a hug.

They are attractive and have great personalities, and they make great pets for people who are allergic to fur and can’t have any of the more common warm-blooded pets. In captivity with the correct breeding, they should live up to 10 years or even longer. The oldest I know today is 12 years old. To reach their life potential, they need to 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 resounding NO. Although many pet stores stock dry food that is supposed to be for bearded dragons, I have never heard of one that actually eats this. I’ve tried to feed it to my people, but I think they’d rather starve!

The amount and type of live food they need changes as they grow from hatchlings to adults. When they first hatch, they are almost entirely carnivorous. As adults they are 80% vegetarian. At all stages of their life they should have the right balance of vegetables/fruits and live foods.

When purchasing a juvenile and bringing it home from the breeder or pet store, it is important to always offer finely chopped vegetables/fruits. The general rule of thumb when feeding bearded dragons is to ensure that no food offered is larger than the space between their eyes. This applies to the size of the live food on offer, as well as the green stuff. If a juvenile has been fed properly since hatching, he will always have a bowl of vegetables in his enclosure, which he will nibble on if there is nothing better to offer. Young bearded dragons are often similar to human toddlers, apparently allergic to anything green! But if they have gotten used to it, they will often continue to eat salads and vegetables throughout the growing period. Some bearded men refuse to touch the vegetables; some (including mine!) have been known to never eat them when their owners watch them as if pretending to be starving to offer them something tastier. But eventually they all succumb and eat it and by the time 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 arrive on time, and although it is disappointing to spend time buying food that has not been eaten, you must persevere. It’s best to try a variety of different vegetables and fruits – some bearded men like some things, others don’t. Cabbage, mixed salad leaves, kale, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, grapes, apples, and carrots are all foods that can attract a barbet. Experiment with the items you eat and see what yours likes.

Bearded dragons should never be fed avocado, and avoid foods with a high moisture content, such as iceburg lettuce, cucumber, or tomatoes, which can cause diarrhea.

These reptiles have an astonishing growth rate: they grow 4,000 times in size from birth to adulthood, and should reach full size between 12 and 18 months. To maintain this tremendous rate of growth, they must have large amounts of protein that can only be supplied by a main diet of live foods. When deciding if this is the pet for you, you need to consider the cost of their food. During their first year of life they cost as much as feeding a cat and some dogs. There is 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 set up a regular order with most online vendors.

The staple live food diet is crickets. These come in two types: brown and black. Blacks are supposed to be quiet, but you’ll still get a weird one that will ring all night. They are both nutritious. Crickets, like other insects, come in various sizes called instars. As a cricket grows it sheds its skin. First instar crickets are the smallest and then increase in size through several sheds until they reach adult size. Don’t feed crickets that are too big for your bearded dragon (remember the eye-space rule), but if you try to offer crickets that are too small, they may not be interested.

All live foods must be gut-fed; this simply means feeding them the same vegetables that you are offering your barbet. So even if you don’t like vegetables, you’ll still get the goodness from eating crickets.

When growing rapidly, they should be fed live food 3 times a day until the age of about 4 months, as much as they can eat in one 10-minute session each time. This can be reduced to 2 feedings, and then to 1 when the beard is a good size, around 6-8 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 weekly thereafter. Calcium powder is sprinkled on their food. Without extra calcium, they are likely to develop metabolic bone disease (MBD), which causes deformities in the growth of their bones 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. You empty the crickets from the tub in which they arrive at the keeper and put vegetables and water in it. Pots of water are not recommended as crickets are likely to drown in it, you can buy Bug Gel instead, or just put cotton balls soaked in water. Cricket Keepers have four black tubes. Crickets climb pipes because they like to be in the dark. When it’s time to eat, simply pick up one of the tubes, sprinkle some calcium supplement down the tube, place some on top and shake vigorously. This coats the crickets evenly with calcium powder, and also slightly stuns them, making them slower and easier for the barbet to catch. You can also slow down the crickets by placing them in the refrigerator for a few minutes before feeding. Most barbets can catch them anyway, but some have a hard time at first, so slower moving crickets can be beneficial.

As the beards grow, they can turn into locusts 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 more palatable to a bearded dragon and also more expensive to purchase. If you start feeding them too soon, you may not eat crickets again and therefore it will be much more expensive. That’s why I recommend keeping the 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 locusts. Morio worms are a good substitute, but I’d still stick to crickets as a staple diet. Silkworms can also be fed on a daily basis, but again they are more expensive. Wax worms should only be given as a gift as they are very tasty. They love them the same way we love chocolate!

Remember, feeding your bearded dragon the correct food for each stage of its life is important, but so is having your vivarium set up correctly. The temperature at which they sunbathe 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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