Looking for suitable Vegetables for your bearded dragon?
You may have noticed that different sites and forums offer conflicting advice and suggestions on what are suitable vegetables for bearded dragons to use as staple foods and which should only be given occasionally.
When I was first starting out I also found this frustrating and I was worried if I was giving my dragon too much of something that could be harmful. Since then I have learnt that if you offer your bearded dragon a varied diet of vegetation ratio 80/90 : 20/10 of vegetation to fruit (if you want to give fruit) they should thrive. We go into more detail about these ratios in our article titled How Much Should I Feed My Bearded Dragon And When?
Vegetation includes leafy greens, vegetables and flowers. The main bulk of the 80/90% should be made up from darker leafy greens and vegetation. Fruit should be given sparingly and never exceed 1 to 5% ratio of fruit to vegetables. We go into which fruits to give or avoid in our article Can Bearded Dragons Eat Fruit?
A good rule of thumb is the darker the leaf the more nutrients and calcium it is likely to contain e.g collard greens, escarole and turnip greens.
Some Food Warnings
Be cautious of foods containing high levels of Goitrogens, Oxalates and Phosphates.
Goitrogens are substances that disrupt the production of thyroid hormones and excessive amounts can lead to hyperthyroidism. This disruption occurs because goitrogenic foods interfere with the iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. When insufficient iodine is available, the thyroid cannot produce the thyroid hormones properly. The hypothalamus in the brain senses this and produces different hormones to trigger the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones.
If the thyroid cannot keep up with the demand it grows larger and forms a ‘goitre’ or an enlarged thyroid. You’ll see this in the neck of your bearded dragon if it’s happening. Unfortunately there appears to be little research into the amount of goitrogenic substances in foods even though there’s research to suggest that goitrogens are problem. With this in mind, the foods listed as ‘high in goitrogens’ are rather anecdotal rather than scientifically verifiable in my research. If someone can point me to actual data that would be fabulous 🙂
Phosphates And Oxalates
Phosphates and Oxalates are agents that binds to calcium and disrupt the effectiveness of calcium absorption into the body. A diet that is high in phosphates and/or oxalates can cause health issues for a bearded dragon including MBD. A diet that is high in calcium and low in oxalates/phosphates will help prevent MBD. Be aware that correct UVB lighting is essential for calcium absorption too. It’s not just a case of feeding high calcium content vegetables. MBD is a devastating disease which leads to deformed bones, paralysis and eventually seizures and death.
High levels of oxalates can also cause kidney issues.
Safe Vegetables for Bearded Dragons
Below is a list of food items that is safe to feed bearded dragons. The list is by no means fully comprehensive or exhaustive though, just a few suggestions if you’re not sure. If you’re thinking of feeding your bearded dragon a vegetable that isn’t on the list, feel free to drop in on the Facebook Group and ask.
All vegetation must be washed and chopped into manageable but distinguishable pieces with excess moisture removed to avoid the food becoming soggy and unappetising.
Fibrous stems and shoots should be removed, make sure you peel the skins, remove seeds, pips and stones. Grate hard vegetables or finely chop. Veg can be raw or cooked – raw contains more nutrients.
Staple Vegetables ( Every Day Vegetables )
These are the vegetables for bearded dragons that should be fed daily. They should make up the bulk of the adult bearded dragon diet. Baby and juvenile bearded dragons should also have vegetables and greens given daily but may not eat as much. Baby and juvenile bearded dragons require more protein than adults and therefore should be fed more live food. See our post How Much Should I Feed My Bearded Dragon and When? for more information.
Collard Greens are part of a group of leafy green vegetables, common in many western countries. The group also includes cabbage, broccoli and kale although these latter vegetables aren’t as suitable as a staple vegetable. We’ll go into those other greens later.
Raw collard greens are 6% carbohydrate, 3% protein with negligible fat content. They’re an excellent source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. They’re also a good source of calcium. They are mildly goitrogenic though, but the benefits should outweigh the down sides making the best vegetable for bearded dragons.
Dandelion Leaves along with their flowers are fabulous for your bearded dragon. Our bearded dragon loves them and indeed seems to eat virtually no other vegetable.
You can pick Dandelion leaves and flowers when they’re in season and freeze them. But don’t pick them from a roadside or somewhere where people walk their dogs for example. But your own back garden should be OK. Dandelions are great value food for your bearded dragon.
Dandelions are 9.2% carbohydrate, 2.7% protein with negligible fat again. They contain less water than collard greens. They’re also a fantastic calcium source although their calcium to phosphorus ratio isn’t quite as good as collard greens.
Dandelions are easy to grow from seed and seeds are available from various places, including Amazon.
Turnip Greens are the top leafy part of the turnip and are often sold separately in stores. They’re often called Turnip Tops in the UK. They have an excellent calcium content with a small phosphorus content.
They’re quite high in Vitamin A but a smaller amount of Vitamin C compared to many of the other leafy greens.
They consist of approx. 4% carbohydrate, 1% protein and negligible fat.
Endive / Escarole / Chicory
Endive is a form of salad leaf in the same group as chicory. It’s a bitter leafy green.
Endive contains approx. 3% carbohydrate, 1% protein and negligible fat. It contains a reasonable amount of calcium and has a good calcium to phosphorus ratio.
Escarole and Chicory are from the same family and have similar nutritional qualities.
Spring Greens appear to be found primarily in Northern European and British areas. Our investigations suggest most Americans have never heard of them. They’re very similar in nature to Collard Greens with a similar nutritional profile. They are slightly higher in calcium content than Collard Greens but appear to be lower in Vitamin A and Vitamin C content. They’re well liked vegetables for our bearded dragons.
Spring greens contain 6% carbohydrate, 3% protein and around 1% fat. Unfortunately at the time of writing I’ve been unable to find their phosphorus content for comparison – however many British bearded dragon keepers swear by Spring Greens as a staple and given the family of greens they belong to there’s no reason to suspect they’re too high in phosphates.
Watercress is a plant which grows largely in water and grows very quickly. It has a peppery flavour and perhaps a little oddly is a relative of the radish. It’s very easy to grow yourself if you have the space.
Watercress contains approx. 1% carbohydrates, 2.5% protein and minimal fat. It’s got a reasonable calcium concentration (though it’s easily dusted with supplement if necessary). It’s also high in Vitamin C.
As vegetables for bearded dragons go, these are one of the best as well.
Mustard Greens are a large group of different leafy greens all of which have a strong peppery flavour. They’re relatively difficult to get hold of in the UK and not something we’ve used with our bearded dragons.
Mustard greens contain approx. 4.5% carbohydrates, 2.5% protein with a significant amount of Vitamin A and good levels of calcium and potassium with a reasonably small amount of phosphorous.
Acorn Squash is a winter squash with a green exterior and yellow-orange flesh. It’s in the same family as butternut squash. This one also seems to be more popular in the USA than the UK. Some acorn squashes have a splash of orange on the outside skin. It gets its name since it is acorn shaped.
These vegetables all contain higher carbohydrate levels than the leafy greens listed above. Acorn squash contains approx 11% carbohydrate, 1% protein and negligible fat content. It’s high in Vitamin A but relatively low in vitamin C compared to the leafy greens. Its ratio of Calcium to Phosphorus is pretty much 1:1. Nonetheless, it’s good mixed in with leafy vegetables to provide a variety in colour and taste.
Butternut Squash is another squash, though this one is more readily available in the UK. As you can see from the picture it’s a pear shaped squash, with an orange-yellow outer skin and more vivid orange yellow flesh. It tastes similar to pumpkin and is used as a pumpkin alternative in many places. Butternut squash is technically a fruit, but generally used as a vegetable and so is included here.
Butternut squash contains 12% carbohydrate, 1% protein and negligible fat. It has a better calcium content than Acorn Squash and less phosphorus. It’s therefore slightly better as a staple than Acorn squash but there’s not much in it. Butternut squash has considerably more Vitamin A in it than Acorn squash and nearly twice as much Vitamin C.
We’ve seen advice that Butternut Squash and Acorn Squash should be cooked before serving to bearded dragons. We’ve only seen it on one site in our research and aren’t sure why this would be. Cooking does reduce the amount of goitrogens in most food, but unfortunately also reduces the levels of Vitamins and can release some of the minerals into the water in which they’re cooked. We feed our bearded dragons raw squash thinly sliced. They definitely enjoy it, but it does need to be cut quite small.
Green Beans are readily available around the world and can be eaten at various stages of their growth. For bearded dragons we tend to recommend younger variations as the beans themselves tend to be smaller and more manageable. Fresh green beans are best, the nutritional value of canned or frozen beans may vary.
Green beans contain 7% carbohydrate, 2% protein and a small amount (0.25%) fat. They’ve a good calcium content with less potassium than the squashes and markedly less Vitamin A. They do contain moderate levels of phosphorus, but not a drastic amount. They’re not very high in Vitamin C content though, despite what many people might think.
Snap Peas are also known as sugar snap peas. Technically these are fruits too – a pod fruit. They’re from the same family as beans so the only difference appears to be one of taste.
Nutritionally, snap peas contain around 8% carbohydrate, 3% protein and around 0.4% fat. They contain more calcium than green beans, more Vitamin A and markedly more Vitamin C than them too. They contain a lot more phosphorus though.
Our bearded dragons do enjoy a good munch on their snap peas though and they’re definitely a good staple to mix in with the leafy greens to mix things up.
Dandelion is a yellow flower that is common in both America and the UK. It’s generally found as a weed growing in fields and meadows and is plentiful during the spring. It’s not advised to feed wild flowers to bearded dragons though as you don’t know what herbicides or pesticides it may contain.
If you’re satisfied that your garden is herbicide and pesticide free then you can pick dandelions when they’re flowering to feed to your bearded dragon. You can also of course grow your own from seed in a greenhouse or on the windowsill.
I’ve been unable to find any actual nutritional data for dandelion flowers. I imagine they’re similar to dandelion leaves, but the colouring leads to me suspect there may be some differences.
Rose Petals obviously come from the flowering portion of the garden rose. The same things apply to feeding these as they do dandelion flowers, although you’ll be unlikely to find many roses flowering in the wild. If you’re sure there’s no risk of pesticide or herbicide from your garden you can feed rose petals to your bearded dragon.
Unfortunately, similar to dandelion flowers, I’ve been unable to find any nutritional data at all regarding rose petals. I’ve never fed them to my bearded dragon either, but some people do.
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The following vegetables and leaves are OK to feed a bearded dragon occasionally. Most of these would be good as staples except they contain high levels of goitrogens or oxalates and so they tend to interfere with the calcium binding. Some just aren’t that nutritious but have other benefits such as hydration.
Bok Choy / Pak Choi
Bok Choy is also known as Pak Choi in the UK. It’s a leafy green vegetable in the Chinese cabbage family. Whilst these are a green leafy vegetable and high in calcium, they’re also allegedly quite high in Goitrogens, so they’re good as an occasional food for variety but don’t overdo them.
Interestingly, cooking Goitrogenic foods reduces the amount of goitrogens present by breaking down the enzymes responsible for the creation of goitrogens. I’m just not sure that bearded dragons would enjoy cooked leafy vegetables. Some bearded dragon related research would be good.
Nutritionally, Bok Choy contains around 2% carbohydrates, 1.5% protein and minimal fat. It contains a reasonable amount of calcium, relatively low Phosphorous a reasonable amount of potassium. It has reasonable levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. But, despite the lack of verifiable specific numbers when it comes to Goitrogens it is cited by various sources to be high.
Celery Leaves are a leafy green that until recently were believed to have no nutritional value whatsoever. In fact, many people still believe that it costs more energy to digest celery than is released from the digestive process. This has however now been debunked by researchers at the University of Alabama. The researchers even chose to use a bearded dragon for their project. The results are available for review by clicking this link.
Nevertheless, celery, although not a negative calorie food, doesn’t have a great deal of nutritional value at all. It contains about 3% carbohydrate, 0.5% protein and no fat. It’s calcium level is minimal with a reasonable phosphorus level negating whatever calcium is ingested. It has almost no Vitamin A potential and a tiny amount of Vitamin C. It can be used to bulk out a salad dish for your bearded dragon but shouldn’t be given too often.
Kale is a member of the Collard Green family. It contains large levels of calcium and as such would seem to be a good choice. Unfortunately it’s high in oxalates and goitrogens so it’s got potential to be quite nasty for your bearded dragon if you give it too often.
Because of its high calcium content we include it in the Occasionals group as it can be mixed in with other vegetables and greens to help boost calcium. Kale contains around 9% carbohydrate, 4% protein and 1% fat. It’s high in calcium and potassium but also quite high in Phosphorus. The level of phosphorus means that some of that great calcium content is not going to be metabolised. Coupled with the goitrogenic effects of Kale, this relegates it to the occasional pile. It’s also high in Vitamin A and Vitamin C.
Spinach is another of the leafy green vegetables for bearded dragons that many would think should be a staple option. It has a peppery taste and has a great calcium content with plenty of nutritional value. Unfortunately it has a massive oxalate concentration which means it’s not good for calcium uptake and not especially good for bearded dragon kidneys.
Spinach has around 300 times the amount of oxalate content compared to kale. It has approx. 3.6% carbohydrate, 2.9% protein and minimal fat content. It does have a good calcium amount and plenty of potassium with a reasonable phosphorus content. But, sadly, those oxalates ruin it for spinach making it one of the least suitable vegetables for bearded dragon. It should only be given very very occasionally, if at all. We’ve included it as an occasional because it won’t poison your bearded dragon if they have some by accident but we don’t recommend it.
Brussels Sprouts are a leafy green in the cabbage group of leafy greens. They are around 4cm in diameter and resemble their larger cabbage cousin. They’re not great as vegetables for bearded dragons as they do allegedly contain high amounts of goitrogens and some oxalates.
Sprouts are popular throughout Europe with the Netherlands growing the largest amount. They’re also popular throughout the USA.
Nutritionally they provide around 9% carbohydrates, 3.5% protein and minimal fat. Their calcium levels aren’t too bad, but this is outweighed by the level of phosphorus making calcium absorption problematic. They are however quite high in Vitamin C though not much in the way of Vitamin A.
Parsley is an herb readily grown in the garden. It is a good source of calcium, but very high in potassium. Unfortunately parsley is also high in Flavonoids which are a goitrogenic chemical, which is why parsley finds it way into the Occasional group.
It contains approx. 6% carbohydrate, 3% protein and minimal fat. It’s high in calcium and very high in potassium with a moderate level of phosphorus. It has a considerable amount of Vitamin A and Vitamin C both of which are important for bearded dragons. But those pesky goitrogens make it only useful as an occasional food.
Cucumber is a long, green vegetable from the Gourd family. It’s similar to the squashes but contains a significantly higher water content These are a great source of water but don’t have a great deal of any other nutrients.
Cucumber contains approx 4% carbohydrate, 0.6% protein, negligible calcium and even this is offset by the amount of phosphorus it contains. The ratio of 2:3 calcium to phosphorus means cucumber will bind calcium, preventing it from being utilised in metabolism. Cucumber has minimal Vitamin A or C. In general, it’s pretty useless nutritionally. It is however good for helping with hydrating your bearded dragon.
In general we recommend using cucumber to hydrate your insects rather than feeding it directly to your bearded dragon. But if you have a dehydrated bearded dragon that will eat cucumber it can be a good way to get some water in.
Zucchini / Courgette
Courgette / Zucchini is another member of the squash family and looks similar to a cucumber, although tastes somewhat different. It’s known as Zucchini in the US and Australia but known as the courgette in the UK and Europe. It is nutritionally similar to the cucumber being composed largely of water with little other useful properties. The phosphorus levels in Zucchini are even greater than cucumber.
Zucchini consists of approx. 3% carbohydrates, 3% protein and minimal fat. It has a small amount of calcium and a huge amount of phosphorus. The calcium to phosphorus ratio is approx 1:4 meaning that any calcium benefit is overridden. Zucchini also has high levels of potassium. Minimal Vitamin A and C mean that the only thing Zucchini is really any use for is rehydration therapy.
Bell Peppers are a colourful bell shaped vegetable. They’re also known as Sweet Pepper or Capsicum. They originate from Mexico and Central and northern South America. Bell peppers have a slightly tangy taste and look like rounded chilli peppers. They’re not generally as spicy hot as chilli peppers though.
Peppers contain approx. 5% carbohydrates, 1% protein and minimal fat. They contain very little calcium and twice as much phosphorus as calcium. Peppers have a moderate amount of potassium and minimal Vitamin A. They are high in Vitamin C though. Our bearded dragons do like a spot of pepper in their salad now and then. Bearded dragons do seem attracted to the more peppery bitter tastes.
Peppers aren’t overly bad in general and can be good to add a bit of colour to a salad which may entice a bearded dragon to eat salad. But they’re not overly nutritious, hence their position in the Occasional group.
Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family. It is one of the highest calcium containing vegetables around. Its calcium levels are less than the majority of the leafy greens though. Unfortunately it’s also high in oxalates and goitrogens so it’s got potential to cause MBD and Hyperthyroidism.
Broccoli contains approx. 7% carbohydrates, 3% protein and minimal fat. It’s got a good calcium content but a moderately high phosphorus content. It’s also very high in oxalates and goitrogens making it unsuitable as a staple. Bearded dragons don’t mind a bit of broccoli now and then though and as an occasional it is fine.
Pumpkin is an orange winter squash made famous by the Halloween festival in the US. Pumpkin is used in many countries as a winter vegetable and is quite sweet when cooked. It is similar in taste and texture to butternut squash. Pumpkin would probably make it onto the staple list if it didn’t contain so much phosphorus compared to calcium.
Pumpkins contain approx. 7% carbohydrate, 1% protein and minimal fat. Pumpkin contains a small amount of calcium and roughly twice as much phosphorus. It has a good amount of potassium and lots of Vitamin A. It has minimal Vitamin C.
Given the relatively low amount of calcium and the much larger amount of phosphorus compared to the butternut squash, pumpkin only makes the Occasional list.
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Avoid – Avoid – Avoid
Avocado is actually a berry which contains a very large single seed in the middle. This means that avocado is technically a fruit, but is included here because most people tend to think of it as a vegetable.
Avocados offer bearded dragons very little nutritionally and are quite high in oxalates as well as containing enormous amounts of fats comparatively.
Avocado contains approx. 8.5% carbohydrates, 2% protein and nearly a whopping 15% fat. They contain minimal calcium and a fairly high level of phosphorus. They do contain a high level of potassium. There’s almost no Vitamin A or Vitamin C in Avocado.
Citrus Fruits should be avoided as they are all too high in sugar and contain too much acid.
Lettuce (especially Iceberg lettuce) has no nutritional value to the bearded dragon whatsoever and just upsets their intestines and causes diarrhoea. Ironically even though lettuce has a fairly high water content, the fact that it causes diarrhoea means that your bearded dragon will end up dehydrated.
To be fair, iceberg lettuce even upsets my tummy. Do yourself and your bearded dragon a favour and avoid it 🙂
Rhubarb is a herbaceous perennial plant which is often used in desserts. It has a very strong tart taste, which can be one of those tastes you either love or hate. It is very often sweetened with sugar when used in cooking. Rhubarb leaves contain significant quantities of oxalic acid and other nephrotoxins which are poisonous to most animals. The stalks contain less toxic compounds and can be safely consumed by humans.
All parts of the rhubarb are extremely toxic to bearded dragons. Rhubarb should not be given to a bearded dragon. If your bearded dragon accidentally eats rhubarb you should consult a specialist reptile vet immediately as it is likely to be fatal.
If possible and under veterinary advice administering some activated charcoal to your bearded dragon at home before you can get to the vet may be advisable. Again, contact your vet immediately if your bearded dragon has eaten rhubarb.
Tomatoes are a red fruit that may have originated in Mexico. They’re very acidic though and should be avoided for this reason.
Bearded Dragon Vegetable Nutrition Table
In our research for this article we’ve looked into the various nutritional elements to confirm which are suitable vegetables for bearded dragons to be given daily or only occasionally. Some other factors have come into the decision making process. For example, rhubarb must be avoided because it is poisonous. Citrus fruits and tomatoes should be avoided as they’re too acidic.
This section goes into some fairly heavy biological processes and isn’t necessary for the average bearded dragon keeper. I’ve posted it here so you can verify the accuracy of the information given.
Below is a table showing the various levels of some of the more important nutritional constituents of particular vegetables so you can compare for yourself. Goitrogens are notably absent from the data and we’ve had to rely on anecdotal evidence relating to the amounts.
Data is sourced from the US Department of Agriculture website (USDA) so you can verify the data for yourself should you so choose. Where an oxalate content is shown, it has been sourced from St Joseph’s Healthcare in Canada. These figures are given in good faith but not otherwise verified from other sources.
Vitamin A is given as the Retinol Activity Amount (RAE) as none of the vegetables contain Vitamin A directly, but the human body synthesises it from beta or alpha-carotene. It’s unclear whether bearded dragons synthesise Vitamin A to the same extent that humans do, but the numbers are given for comparison purposes. It should be noted that if sufficient Vitamin A is already in the body, no more will be synthesised, thus it’s very difficult to overdose Vitamin A from vegetables. But beware of supplements containing Vitamin A as these are likely to be preformed Vitamin A and not as easily regulated.
Percentages are derived based on weight using 100g portions as a reference.
Staple Leafy Greens Data
|Vit A. |
|Vit C. |
Staple Vegetable Data
Occasional Leafy Greens Data
Occasional Vegetables Data
The oxalate data is based on mg/cup – this isn’t particularly accurate and many of the items cannot be found in the chart I’ve used for the source. Items with ?x have been extrapolated and may be even less accurate than the rest. ? on its own indicates no data in my source.
Hopefully you find this article useful. If you discover a leafy green or vegetable that is missing that you would like data on please leave a comment, or join the Facebook group using the blue button at the top and ask us.
Quick Reference Table
|STAPLE (EVERY DAY)||OCCASIONAL||AVOID – AVOID|
|Collard Greens||Bok Choy||Spinach|
|Dandelion Leaves||Celery Leaves||Rhubarb (inc. the leaves)|
|STAPLE (EVERY DAY)||OCCASIONAL||AVOID – AVOID|
|Butternut Squash||Zucchini / Courgette||Rhubarb|
|Green Beans||Bell Peppers||Citrus Fruits|