Is bearded dragon overfeeding a thing? And if so, what should you as a beardie owner know about it?
A while back a reader named Joy left a comment on our blog, Top 5 Signs You May Have a Malnourished Bearded Dragon:
“I always see people say to feed “as many insects as your dragon can eat in 10-15 minutes”. That can’t be true, or my bearded would go through 100 superworms, roaches, and waxworms in a single feeding.
“I built my 6-month-old (bearded dragon) a 5′ x 2′ x 2′ bioactive desert enclosure, so he is living like a natural ‘predator’ with isopods, naturally-breeding crickets, black soldier flies, and waxworm moths — PLUS he eats a bowl of greens and veggies twice a day — PLUS he absolutely attacks the tongs when he is fed superworms and his bowl when he gets fed dubia roaches 2 times a day. Everything is, of course, laced with calcium and multivitamins.
“His appetite is VORACIOUS and his poops are good! He seems super healthy. But is it possible to OVERFEED a dragon? And how can you tell if you are overfeeding?“
First of all, we love that Joy had the courage and insight to question the mainstream narrative about feeding bearded dragons. (It’s a great thing to be able to do when it comes to any subject, but that’s a topic for someone else’s blog!)
In THIS blog, we’re going to tackle the subject of overfeeding bearded dragons. It’s an important one, because being overweight can damage your dragon’s health and even shorten his life.
Read on to learn all about bearded dragon overfeeding: its consequences, how to know if your bearded dragon is eating too much, and most importantly, how to avoid overfeeding your bearded dragon.
(And Joy, if you’re reading this, we hope that it will provide legit answers to your well-thought-out questions.)
“Is It Possible to Overfeed A Bearded Dragon?”
The short answer here is “yes.” Bearded dragon overfeeding not only happens, it is actually quite common.
Joy’s observation that her healthy bearded dragon doesn’t seem to have an “off” switch where eating is concerned is valid. Part of that may be her dragon’s age. At 6 months, he is still a growing boy and could very likely be experiencing a growth spurt. Just like in human teenagers, this can result in a roaring appetite—and that’s perfectly normal.
But keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for bearded dragons to overeat in captivity. Some will eat until they are vomiting because the feeding response is so strong and often there is very little else to make life interesting for them.
What Are The Consequences of Bearded Dragon Overfeeding?
Every beardie owner should be concerned about bearded dragon overfeeding. Here are a few reasons why bigger isn’t always better when it comes to bearded dragons:
- Overfeeding bearded dragons is a primary cause of fatty liver disease, a serious illness in reptiles that can cause liver failure and premature death.
- It can also lead to impaction, which can be life-threatening.
- As in all animals, bearded dragon overfeeding leads to excessive weight gain, which can cause all sorts of other health issues and generally shortens their life span.
If you are breeding bearded dragons, here is another reason to avoid overfeeding them: too much weight gain can reduce male fertility. Just like with humans, when a male beardie gets morbidly obese, testosterone levels go down and fertility drops.
So now we know exactly why we need to be careful about bearded dragon overfeeding. Next, let’s examine another of Joy’s questions on the subject: How can you tell if you’re doing it?
How Can You Tell If Your Bearded Dragon Is Eating Too Much?
Wondering, ‘How can I tell if I’m overfeeding my bearded dragon?” Here are three tell-tale signs your bearded dragon is getting too much to eat:
- Fat tail. Often the most obvious sign of overweight in a bearded dragon is a super plump tail. If it’s a male, you should be able to see the hemipene bulges; if you can’t tell he’s a boy his tail is too fat. Females of course don’t have hemipenes but you can look for that chunky tail—and also two other places:
- Fat feet. Look at your beardie’s feet and legs. If they’re getting too many calories for their activity level both sexes will pack weight in these areas.
- Fat head pads. Beardies have fat pads on back of the head. These will start to bulge and feel squishy when they get fat, so it’s another good body part to monitor.
OK, so how can you ensure that your beardie dosn’t lose his beach bod due to overfeeding?
How to Avoid Bearded Dragon Overfeeding
Here are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind to keep your beardie fit and trim:
Feed the salad first.
A proper bearded dragon diet includes both veggies (primarily leafy greens) and insects. One great way to keep your dragon from overeating is to make the veggies his first course. Once he’s full, the insects come afterwards.
For adult dragons, think of the insects as a garnish or dessert rather than the main course, and you should be good.
Feed right for their age.
The majority of an older dragon’s diet should be leafy greens. 80% vegetables (primarily greens) to 20% insects is a pretty good ratio for the average beardie.
However with young dragons, it’ll be 80-20 in the other direction. Hatchling dragons eat primarily insects. As they grow they will continue to depend heavily on the fat and protein insects provide for their first few months.
If you have a younger dragon, we do recommend feeding as many insects as they want in that 10-15 minute window. However as they approach 8 to 10 months, it’s time to gradually move towards a greens-heavy diet.
Watch the stool and make sure he’s not having loose stools because that’s a sign something’s out of balance. (Unless you are feeding escargot snails and you can expect a horrible tarry mess – don’t say we didn’t warn you!)
As for Joy’s little buddy, he sounds like a healthy boy. As long as his poop keeps looking good and he’s alert and active and not showing signs of overweight he’s fine—and so will your dragon be!
Make feeding fun
As mentioned, oftentimes a bearded dragon will overeat because honestly, it’s the most exciting thing in his life!
In the wild, a bearded dragon gets a lot more stimulation all day than he will in even the best designed enclosure in captivity. He has to look out for predators, navigate a constantly changing environment, and hunt down a huge variety of prey. An indoors beardie is still wired for all of that – so it’s no wonder if his feeding response goes into overdrive!
The antidote here is, of course, enrichment. There are lots of things you can do to help keep beardie boredom at bay that are beyond the scope of this article. (Just google “beaded dragon enrichment ideas” and you’re sure to find things to do!)
But one idea that you might want to try that is directly related to the topic of bearded dragon overfeeding is to try a feeder toy or two.
You know those little balls for cats and dogs that you can put kibble in and they have to work to get it out? They make similar ones for lizards. Give one of these a try and see if it helps reduce the amount your beardie eats without reducing his fun!
Bearded dragon overfeeding is indeed a real concern that every responsible beardie owner should be aware of. We appreciate Joy for raising these important questions and challenging conventional wisdom.
- Overfeeding can have serious consequences, including fatty liver disease, impaction, excessive weight gain, and even reduced fertility in breeding dragons.
- Recognizing the signs of bearded dragon overfeeding, such as a plump tail, fat feet, or bulging head pads, is crucial for maintaining your dragon’s health.
- To prevent overfeeding, remember to prioritize leafy greens in their diet, adjusting the ratio of insects as they age.
- Additionally, enriching your dragon’s environment can help curb their voracious appetite and prevent overeating. Consider using feeder toys to make feeding more engaging while maintaining their well-being.
In the end, by following these guidelines and staying vigilant, you can ensure your bearded dragon lives a long, healthy, and happy life. And to Joy, we hope this information helps you continue providing the best care for your beloved dragon.
Fed responsibly, dubia roaches are a nutritious part of any age bearded dragon diet. The Bug Shed offers delectable dubias at affordable prices to keep your scaly friend healthy and happy throughout his life! Click here to shop now.