Six Ways to Get your Bearded Dragon Eat Vegetables
Causes for Refusal to Eat Vegetables
To get a bearded dragon to eat vegetables is not always so easy. Prior to adulthood bearded dragons become omnivores and eating vegetation becomes a part of life (prior to that they are insectivores).
If your bearded dragon is pre-adulthood then eating vegetables is low on the priority list, it still requires a good range of insects. By all means provide vegetation but this should simply be to get it accustomed to it and only a small portion of their diet (opposite to adulthood diet). The Pogona minor minor can be problematic with vegetation, however some success may be had with the following techniques.
Do not dust vegetation with calcium and other supplements. They are not very palatable and may well tip the balance of whether to eat or not to eat vegetation. Keep dusting for insects. Other potential causes for not eating vegetation or simply not eating:
Inadequate heating will cause a bearded dragon to slow down.
- Poor lighting
This may be inadequate UVA and/or UVB. UVA impacts the way the environment is seen and subsequently has the potential to impact behaviors such as feeding.
- Inappropriate food dish
Wide and very shallow dishes are far better where the food can be seen easily.
- Illness or injury
- Onset of brumation
Brumation may be mild or barely noticeable except for a slow down on eating.
- Too young
Bearded dragons are not omnivores until pre-adulthood and require a good range of insects until this age.
It is pretty much recommended across the board to feed a portion of vegetation to juveniles. However, from years of seeing post after post from community members asking how to get their young bearded dragon to eat vegetables, there aren’t a great deal being successful. Given their natural diet at a young age doesn’t include much vegetation, it is no wonder.
In the wild they are naturally very active as juveniles, running around catching their prey. If they are not provided the same opportunity in captivity, instead restricted to a few feet of space, then the only thing they really have to spend energy is growing. So it would be logical to assume that a little vegetation in place of a few insects, if they will eat it, would reduce the amount of excess protein while still allowing them a certain volume of food. Of course one could instead look at how to provide a large natural habitat where they can indeed chase down some prey.
Techniques to encourage bearded dragon to eat vegetables
Tempting through Flavors
If your bearded dragon has a favorite food in the fruit or vegetable range then use it as a mask on vegetation. It may be berries, apples or any other food from the acceptable ranges. Blend, juice or mash up the favorite food item and spread it over the vegetation. Try to feed some of the flavor enhanced food by hand or leave it with your bearded dragon. Experiment to see which works the best.
Cutting it Fine
When introducing vegetation, cut it up finely. This will help prevent picking and choosing between food items since it will be chopped too finely to be able to separate.
Movement encourages interest from bearded dragons and can be used to attract attention to vegetation. The insects may need to be slowed down first by putting them in the fridge for a few minutes before mixing in the salad. Chop the vegetation very finely and place the insects in the mix. Some bearded dragons are clever enough to sort though and simply target the insects.
Vegetation can presented by tying whole leaves in a bunch and suspending them from the top of the enclosure, held by hand or any other means to secure the leaves so they can be tugged on. This will allow the leaves to be cropped as desired which is more akin to behavior in the wild.
A more natural feeding behavior, grazing, can be provided by offering trays of live growing vegetation. This is particularly easy with plants such as clover, grass, dandelions, basil and other small edible plants. A dozen trays of vegetation should be sufficient to allow for rotation to renew growth. Fertilizers should not be used to promote growth, that will likely result in high levels of nitrates in the food. If the opportunity exists to plant a garden for this purpose outdoors then it may be a better proposition. The plants should be established enough to prevent them being pulled up by the root and subsequently eaten whole with any soil attached.
Variety still remains the key in the long run and this method of providing food does provide an ideal source of fresh food and environmental enrichment.
Hand feeding vegetation can also kick start interest. Try offering vegetation with a worm in a manner that it cannot avoid taking the vegetation along with the worm. Care needs to be taken in how the food is held when offering to ensure you are not accidentally bitten, feeding tongs will provide protection.
Whole leaves can also be offered in this manner. Again using movement such as waving it in front of the bearded dragon to attract attention. The bearded dragon may be tempted to crop at it. Ensure your bearded dragon does not become dependent on hand feeding, this should not be a constant practice.
Withholding food has not been included on the list as a means to encourage eating vegetation primarily because of the stress it is likely to cause the animal. Withholding food is best under veterinary guidance.
- Wotherspoon, A. D. (2007). Ecology and management of Eastern bearded dragon : Pogona barbata. Thesis, University of Western Sydney, Richmond. Retrieved from University of Western Sydney Library.
- Wotherspoon, D., & Burgin, S. (2011). Allometric variation among juvenile, adult male and female eastern bearded dragons Pogona barbata (Cuvier, 1829), with comments on the behavioural implications. Zoology, 114, 23-28.
- Wotherspoon Danny, Burgin Shelley (2016) Sex and ontogenetic dietary shift in Pogona barbata, the Australian eastern bearded dragon. Australian Journal of Zoology 64, 14-20. doi.org/10.1071/ZO15019
- Thompson, S. A., & Thompson, G. G. (2003). The western bearded dragon, Pogona minor (Squamata: Agamidae): An early lizard coloniser of rehabilitated areas. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia, 86, 1-6.
- Ghaly, A. E., Mahmoud, N., & Dave, D. (2012). Nutrient Composition of Dandelions and its Potential as Human Food. American Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology, 8 (2), 118-127. doi:10.3844/ajbbsp.2012.118.127