Feeding your Bearded Dragon the correct food is essential for them to grow both happy and healthy but do Bearded Dragons actually need live food?

As a Bearded Dragon enthusiast, I understand how important diet is to your Dragons so I decided to do some research and find out if they actually need live food or if they can be equally healthy without it.

So do Bearded Dragons need live food? Bearded Dragons should be fed a diet containing live food for many reasons. The protein and overall nutritional content of live foods are generally better than canned food. Eating live food also mimics what a Bearded Dragon would experience in the wild and helps to provide mental stimulation.

Read on to learn more about why feeding live food is important, when feeding canned food to your Bearded Dragon could be a great idea, What live food to feed your Bearded Dragon and which ones to avoid and much more!

Do Bearded Dragons Need Live Food? (A Closer Look)

Feeding live food to your Bearded Dragon is essential if you want them to grow up as healthy and happy as they possibly can.

There are a number of reasons why feeding live food is better for your Bearded Dragon as opposed to offering canned food or pellets.

Below we will take a look at each of those reasons so you can gain a better understanding of why live food is better for your Bearded Dragon.

The Nutritional Value Of Live Food

One of the benefits of feeding live insects as opposed to canned ones is that the nutritional value of each meal will be much higher.

Bearded Dragons only have a small stomach so making the most of each mouth full is important as they will get full easily.

The last thing you want to do is feed your Dragon with food that has little nutritional value.

One main advantage of feeding live insects is that you can ‘gut load’ the insects before feeding them to your Bearded Dragon.

Gut loading is a process where you feed the insects for a couple of days before feeding them to your Dragon so they have the highest nutritional value possible.

This is a process that is obviously not possible with canned insects or pellets.

It’s probably possible to feed your Bearded Dragon on canned insects their whole life but they won’t be getting the nutrition they would from live food especially the levels of protein.

This has the possibility to result in a shorter and unhealthy life and I’m sure that’s not what any of us want for our Dragons.

Bearded Dragons need a high proportion of their diet to come from insect proteins to be considered healthy.

If you’re looking to purchase live insects such as crickets online then I’ve recently listed my favourite and most trusted online sellers. You can check them out right here

Below is a guide to what is considered a healthy balance of proteins and vegetation in a Bearded Dragons diet.

Baby Bearded Dragons Need Live Food For Growth

A Bearded Dragon grows to around 90% of its full size in the first 12 months of its life.

This means that the food that you feed your Dragons in this period is vital to the rest of their life.

If you feed them just canned foods or pellets in this period then you aren’t really allowing your Dragon to maximize their growth potential.

As we mentioned earlier in this post, gut loading live insects will far out weight the nutritional benefit your Dragon will receive from canned insects.

Here’s a chart that shows the average growth cycle of a Bearded Dragon in the first 2 years of their life.

Live Food Helps to Mimic Natural Behaviour

Another reason why feeding live food is a great idea is that you should always aim to mimic your Bearded Dragons natural behaviour in the wild as much as possible.

Hunting and feeding on live food is something that Bearded Dragons have to do on a daily basis in the wild and they love to do this in captivity too.

Allowing your Dragon to hunt their food in a tank that also looks and feels like their natural surroundings is something I strongly recommend.

If you’re unsure of how to create a tank habitat that looks and feels like natural to your Dragon then check out this post right here that shares the best rocks, plants, hides and more.

Pellets and canned insects just don’t provide that authentic hunting experience that they get from hunting crickets and other insects in their tank.

Feeding Live Food Is Great For Stimulation

An often-overlooked reason why feeding live food is better than canned food is that it’s actually great for mental stimulation.

It’s easy for Bearded Dragons to get bored in captivity. In the wild, they would be constantly hunting or trying to evade predators and this allows them to be mentally stimulated at all times.

In captivity, while Bearded Dragons are both safe and well-fed, this can also make life a little uneventful at times.

Giving your Dragon the option to hunt live food is a great way to keep them mentally stimulated and have some fun.

I’ve actually written a great post here that shares 17 ways that you can keep your Bearded Dragon active with easy and fun toys and activities.

Is Canned Food Ever Recommended?

Even though you should always aim to provide live food for your Bearded Dragon for the reasons we have mentioned previously, there are actually some situations where having canned foods or pellets in your home could be wise.

I would actually recommend that you always have a can of insects or pellets handy for emergencies.

Imagine if you run out of live food and you simply don’t have any insects to feed to your Dragon, in this situation having a can of grasshoppers could actually be a lifesaver.

I’ve heard of owners that have been snowed in their homes for a few days and didn’t have any live food to feed to their Dragon. Depending on the area you live in, this could be a reality for you too.

Even if not, the bottom line is that you should always be prepared and having an emergency food store is something you should consider.

Probably the best canned foods for such emergencies are “Can O’ Crickets” or “Can O’ Grasshoppers”. 

Remember that the nutritional value of these canned foods is considerably less than their live equivalent but they are generally loved by Bearded Dragons and get you through some sticky situations.

What Live Foods Should You Feed your Bearded Dragon?

Now we’ve established that live food is far better for your Bearded Dragon than canned food or pellets, now let’s take a look at the different live food that you should be giving them.

This will differ depending on age and it will often depend on the personal preferences of your Dragon so don’t force-feed them live food that they just don’t like.

Below you will find a guide that shares the different live feeders that you should consider feeding your Bearded Dragon throughout the different stages of their life from baby right through to senior adult.

First, here’s a chart that details at what age we consider a Bearded Dragon to be a baby or adult (for the feeding guide only)

Bearded Dragon | Age Category

TypeAge
Baby0-2/m
Juvenile2-4/m
Sub Adult4/m-1.5/y
Adult1.5/y-6/y
Senior6/y+

Baby Bearded Dragon

You will often find that Baby Bearded Dragons won’t eat for the first couple of days as they still have stores of nutrients that they use.

After this, they will usually enjoy crickets as a staple live food that will stay with them all through their life.

Here are the common live foods that baby Dragons eat in captivity.

  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Black soldier fly larvae

Juvenile Bearded Dragon

By the time your Bearded Dragon has reached a couple of months old (and for the purpose of this guide will be called a juvenile), you can expect them to have grown significantly. 

If you want to know exactly how fast Bearded Dragons grow and at what age then check out this post right here that explains everything you need to know as an owner with charts and tables.

You will notice a greater variety of live food available here for juveniles.

  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Black soldier fly larvae
  • Silkworms
  • Small hornworms

Sub Adult Bearded Dragon

By the time your Dragon has reached the age of a sub-adult then they can eat a large variety of live food.

Having said this, the main live food for most Bearded Dragons is crickets. This is largely due to price, availability and ease of breeding.

  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Black soldier fly larvae
  • Super worms
  • Silkworms
  • Butterworms
  • Hornworms

Adult Bearded Dragon

By the time your Bearded Dragon reaches full adulthood they can enjoy many nutritious live feeders.

By this time they will probably have their favourite foods and you will also have foods that you prefer to feed them.

At this point it’s worth mentioning at although your Bearded Dragon can eat waxworms, they can actually develop such a taste for them that they are known to refuse other live food.

  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Black soldier fly larvae
  • Super worms
  • Silkworms
  • Butterworms
  • Hornworms
  • Waxworms

Senior Bearded Dragon

By this age (6 years plus) Bearded Dragons are often far less active than in the first few years of their life.

You can feed them almost all the same live food that they had as an adult but they will usually need fewer calories so you may need to adjust the amounts of insects offered per meal to compensate for this.

  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Black soldier fly larvae
  • Super worms
  • Silkworms
  • Butterworms
  • Hornworms

What Live Foods & Insects Should You Avoid?

Now that we’ve looked at the live foods that are nutritious and healthy for your Bearded Dragon let’s look at some of the ones that you should be looking to avoid at all costs.

You should try and avoid feeding your Bearded Dragon grasshoppers (unless canned), moths and caterpillars.

Spiders should definitely be off the menu as they can often be toxic to reptiles in general.

One insect you should never feed to your Dragon is the firefly or lightning bug as it’s sometimes called. This is because it’s actually poisonous to Bearded Dragon so as you can imagine should be avoided at all costs.

Something else that’s worth mentioning is that you shouldn’t feed your Dragon ‘beetles’ or anything with a really hard shell. These kinds of insects can cause impaction due to the fact that the shell is difficult to digest.

If you’re not sure what impaction is then it’s basically a form of constipation that Bearded Dragons suffer from when they struggle to digest certain foods or substances.

Lastly, it’s important to mention that as a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t feed your Bearded Dragon insect that is bigger than the width of their eyes.

This is important mostly in baby Dragons and will ensure that they can digest their food properly and without any complications.

Should You Ever Feed Live Food Caught in the Garden?

No matter if you purchase live insects or canned ones, this is going to provide an extra cost of caring for your Bearded Dragon.

This extra cost can make it tempting to feed them garden caught insects that you have found at no cost.

My answer to that is simple, just don’t do it!

Insects that are round in the garden often have a number of problems that you can’t see with your naked eye.

The first problem is that such insects are laced with pesticides from farms and other peoples gardens.

If your Dragon eats insects that are covered in pesticides then they can get very sick.

The second reason is that it’s highly common for insects that aren’t purpose farmed to be riddled with parasites.

You can’t see the parasites but they are easily transferred to your Bearded Dragon and they can cause a lot of problems.

If you feed insects found in the garden to your Dragon and they have either of these problems then it’s a lot of discomfort for your Dragon and certainly an expensive trip to the vets.

Any money that you saved on farmed insects would be instantly swallowed up by those vet bills.

I understand that paying large vet bills isn’t always the preferred option for some Bearded Dragon owners, that’s why I’ve done a lot of research to find alternatives. 

This includes reptile insurance and other methods that most owners haven’t even heard of that help to spread the cost of those large bills.

You can see the results of my research in this post and see if there is a better option here for you Check out the post here – Alternatives to vet bills

Related Questions

How often should Bearded Dragon be fed live food? Even though Bearded Dragons can actually go more than a day without eating live food and survive, you should feed them every day to ensure that they are both happy and healthy.

Here’s a post that shares in detail exactly how long Bearded Dragons can go without food.

Why would a bearded dragon not eat? There are many reasons why a Bearded Dragon might not want to eat. The most common reasons are due to brumation, stress and shedding.

If your Bearded Dragon is refusing food then you may want to take a look at this post that covers the 10 reasons why Bearded Dragon won’t eat.

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