It has become quite a popular option in recent years to feed bearded dragons pellets instead of live food.
Many owners are now asking if bearded dragons can realistically only eat pellets with no other forms of food?
Let’s take a look at the facts and both the benefits and concerns of only feeding pellets to your bearded dragon.
So can bearded dragons only eat pellets? It’s not recommended that you only feed your bearded dragon on pellets and nothing else. There are many reasons for this including the lack of stimulation feeding only pellets provides as opposed to live insects as well as certain areas of nutrition that lead to illness.
Read on to learn…
- The 4 reasons why it’s not recommended to feed your bearded dragon only pellets!
- If you can feed your bearded dragon only pellets and greens?
- If you can feed your bearded dragon only pellets for a short period of time?
- If pellets have a place in your bearded dragons regular balanced diet?
Can Bearded Dragons Only Eat Pellets (A Deeper Look)
Even though bearded dragons can eat pellets with what appears to be no short term problems or side-effects this isn’t always the case over the long term.
The reptile experts and vets that wrote the best selling ‘Bearded Dragon Manual’ that’s available on Amazon did an experiment with pellets.
One of the experts and authors reported feeding their bearded dragons on only pellets for a whole year.
The results were interesting as they reported difficulty in getting their dragons to eat the pellets even after a year.
They also said their dragons gained too much weight which is both interesting and surprising.
The final thing they noted was that feeding only pellets slowed down the breeding process.
Taking these things into consideration by renowned experts I think it’s safe to say you should think twice before feeding a diet consisting of only pellets.
What also needs noting is that only eating pellets isn’t natural for bearded dragons.
The US National Library Of Medicine did a study where they examined the stomach contents of 14 wild bearded dragons and found that their stomachs contained 61% insects and 16% plant matter and the remaining 23% consisting of various substances.
Even though the percentages of food are different from what they would consume in captivity, they still have a desire to hunt and consume nutrition from plants.
Now let’s look at 4 other potential concerns of feeding only pellets to your bearded dragon.
Feeding Pellets Isn’t Good For Mental Stimulation
Bearded dragons are used to hunting and catching live insects in the wild.
This is a natural behaviour for them and one that keeps them mentally active.
If you only feed your bearded dragon pellets then you essentially take away a huge part of who they are and this can lead them to become bored and lacking mental stimulation that’s so important.
Keeping your beardie mentally stimulated is vital to keep them both happy and healthy.
We have written a post here that shares the 17 best ways to keep your bearded dragons active and happy.
Have you ever noticed how alive they look whenever they hear or see crickets? this gives them a purpose and it’s a shame to take that away for the sake of convenience.
One other thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that in the wild a bearded dragon would have to be constantly keeping an eye out for predators.
While it’s great that they don’t have to worry about this in captivity, it’s yet another reason why they don’t have any mental stimulation and why offering live foods is key to an active and stimulated beardie.
We’ve also recently written a post here that explains the reasons why bearded dragon can get bored.
Pellets Usually Contain Dyes & Spray-On Odours
Even though the manufacturers of pellets probably do the best they can to provide a wide variety of nutrients in their products, the bottom line is they just aren’t natural.
All though we can’t speak for all pellets here, most commercially manufactured foods such as pellets have dyes and spray on odours to make them more appealing.
Although scientists still don’t fully understand the long term effects of consuming these chemicals, it’s obvious that they aren’t as healthy as eating organic and natural food.
It’s not always easy to see which products contain these kinds of chemicals too, as some are simply marked as ‘flavours’.
In our opinion, high-quality natural food is better than highly processed food substitutes.
Pellets Are Low In Water
Another cause for concern with feeding your bearded dragon only pellets is that they often consist of a very low amount of water.
Water is crucial to bearded dragons just like it is to all living creatures.
Although bearded dragons have a water bowl to drink from, they get a lot of their daily recommended water intake from the foods they eat.
This included both insects, greens and vegetables that believe it or not help them to stay hydrated and have healthy skin.
We recommend you check out this post that talks about how often bearded dragons need water.
The post is complete with a table that shares the recommended daily intake of water for bearded dragons.
Pellets generally don’t offer nearly as much water as insects and greens.
Take a look at the table below that shows the approximate amount of water pellets, insects and greens hold as a percentage.
Average % Of Water In Bearded Dragon Food
As you can see, pellets contain significantly less water than live insects and greens.
This means you would have to try and increase your beardies water intake on a daily basis to compensate for the absence of water they would normally receive from greens and insects in a regular diet if you only fed them pellets.
This can be difficult, and you will have to consistently soak the pellets in water, mist your beardie and bath them in order to increase their water intake and keep them hydrated.
If you’re not sure how to mist your beardie or you just want more information, check out our step-by-step guide to misting your bearded dragon here.
Failure to increase their water levels can result in some serious illnesses such as…
- Kidney disease
- Chronic dehydration
- Impaction (constipation)
Pellets Are low In Fat
Pellets are very low in fat and while at first, this may seem like a good thing, a certain level of dietary fat is needed to keep them healthy.
Fat and the calories they provide are especially important for growth, brain function and overall health.
A young bearded dragon would find it hard to grow on a low fat and low-calorie diet.
Again the experts that wrote the ‘Bearded Dragon Manual’ estimate that the average pellet has around 12% fat while the average invertebrate has around 30-60% fat.
We researched this and found that D-Magazine interviewed Mr Fluker from the well known ‘Fluker Farms’ cricket breeding company and he says that his crickets contain 35% fat.
Although there isn’t an actual study to back this up, these numbers are in line with the views of industry experts and vets.
If you are interested in purchasing live insects online then we have researched the best places to gets them and listed them right here.
We also checked the nutritional data for two popular brands of pellets and found that they both actually had less than the 12% fat quoted by the experts at the Bearded Dragon Manual.
We found that the products we checked had 4% fat and the other had 2.5% fat.
It would be extremely difficult to substitute the loss of fat elsewhere in their diet.
Salad foods such as greens and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories too so providing insects that are naturally high in fat is really the only way to provide those much-needed calories.
Here’s a table that shows the estimated amount of fat for an average pellet and invertebrates. We have used the data we found from both pellets products and the interview with Fluker Farms.
Average % Of Fat In Bearded Dragon Food
|Pellet Product 1||2.5%|
|Pellets Product 2||4%|
|Fluker Farm Crickets||35%|
Can Bearded Dragons Only Eat Pellets & Greens?
Ok, so after reading the paragraphs above you may now be asking if it’s ok to feed your bearded dragon just pellets with not live food if you also feed them greens and veggies too.
This will, in fact, be slightly better than feeding your beardie only pellets but it’s still not an ideal situation for the long term
To give some credit to pellets, they are actually loaded with vitamins and they do have a certain amount of calcium in them.
Adding high-quality greens as well would certainly give your dragon a good platform of nutrients in that respect.
Having said this, experts such as VCA-Hospitals recommend that you supplement with calcium around 2-3 times per week regardless of how much calcium they receive in their diet.
We would always recommend using a high-quality supplement such as Rep-Cal’ as calcium intake is so important to a bearded dragon.
You can see the exact supplements we recommend here as well as the best places to get them from.
Adding greens and calcium supplements with pellets still won’t be considered enough to replace the need for natural insects long term.
You have to remember that even though you are adding greens, you are still running the risk of feeding your beardie the dyes and spray on odours associated with a lot of the commercially manufactured foods.
You are also still stuck with the problem of a vastly reduced amount of fat in their diet, and as we mentioned, this is vital for many functions and especially to support the needs of young, growing bearded dragons.
Can Bearded Dragons Just Eat Pellets Over a Short Period?
Some owners may want to know if it’s ok for them to feed their beardie just pellets and nothing else for a short period of time.
While this may not be ideal, this should be perfectly fine and in some cases could actually be necessary.
Even though we don’t recommend feeding only pellets to your beardie long term, having an emergency supply of pellets in your home could be a wise choice.
Imagine if you order insects online and for some reason aren’t delivered or if you live in a part of the world that is hit by weather conditions such as heavy snow.
Having emergency stores of food such as pellets in your home gives you great peace of mind that you can always feed your dragon no matter what happens.
The bottom line is that even though it makes sense to feed your dragon on a diet consisting of high-quality gut fed insects and fresh calcium-rich greens there’s also a time and a place for pellets if the alternative is letting them starve.
Can Your Bearded Dragon Eat Only Pellets? – Summary
From the information we have gathered, we believe it’s not the best option to feed your bearded dragon solely on pellets and nothing else.
We also believe it’s not the best option to feed your beardie on only pellets and greens as opposed to live insects and greens.
This is for the most part due to the concerns with added chemicals in some pellets, lack of water, lack of fat and calories as well as the fact that bearded dragons get stimulation from hunting live insects.
With this being said, we believe that pellets and other manufactured foods so have a place in your dragon’s diet from time to time.
Pellets and other forms of pre-packaged foods can come in very handy in emergencies when no other food is available and we actually recommend you have them in the cupboard for that rainy day.
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