If you’re a new bearded dragon owner, or even an old hand at looking after these incredible creatures, you’re probably eager to ensure that your dragon gets the best of everything – including nutrition.
It’s common knowledge that bearded dragons need a lot of green vegetables in their diet.
In fact, 80% of the average bearded dragon’s diet should consist of these healthy foods.
However, not all leafy greens are equal when it comes to nourishing your beardy.
When preparing a salad bowl for their bearded dragons, well-intentioned owners often load up the bowl with iceberg lettuce or another type of green lettuce.
After all, that’s what we humans often use as the base of our salads. However, research has shown that lettuce is not as beneficial for bearded dragons as it is for us.
While lettuce certainly won’t do your dragon any harm, there are better leafy greens you can incorporate into its diet for maximum nutritional value.
In today’s guide to feeding your bearded dragon, we will be explaining why lettuce isn’t the best mealtime option for these reptiles, whether lettuce is good for baby bearded dragons, and whether certain varieties of lettuce are better than others, and what you should be feeding your pet instead!
The Nutritional Value Of Lettuce
Everyone says you should eat your greens, and they’re right, but that doesn’t mean that every leafy green vegetable has astoundingly high nutritional value.
One example of this is lettuce.
For now, we’re going to break down the value of lettuce according to each key nutrient, just so you can see what you’re working with when you feed your bearded dragon lettuce.
Later on, we’ll be explaining in more depth why the lack of certain nutrients makes lettuce a poor choice for your reptilian friend.
100 grams of lettuce contains the following:
Energy (Kcal): 14
Water: 95.64 g
Carbohydrate: 2.97 g
Protein: 0.9 g
Fiber: 1.2 g
Sugars: 1.97 g
Vitamin C: 2.8 mg
Vitamin E: 0.18 mg
Vitamin A: 25 µg
Vitamin K: 24.1 µg
Vitamin D: 0 µg
Vitamin B6: 0.042 mg
Calcium: 18 mg
Sodium: 10 mg
Phosphorous: 10 mg
Iron: 0.41 mg
Is Lettuce Safe For Bearded Dragons?
In terms of safety, there is nothing wrong with giving lettuce to your bearded dragon.
Obviously, you will want to make sure that the lettuce has been thoroughly rinsed beforehand to minimize the risk of any parasitic transmission.
It’s also best to choose organic lettuce if you do decide to feed your bearded dragon lettuce because you can then be sure that it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides, which aren’t healthy for your pet.
Again, safety is not the problem when it comes to lettuce in a bearded dragon’s diet.
Rather, lettuce is nutritionally poor and takes up calories in your beardy’s diet that could be better used on more nutrient-rich greens.
You want your bearded dragon to get all of its essential nutritional needs met, after all, so it’s important to focus on nutritious vegetables.
What About Baby Bearded Dragons?
We and bearded dragon health experts do not recommend feeding lettuce to a bearded dragon of any age because of its low nutritional content.
However, if your bearded dragon is a juvenile, the importance of avoiding foods with low nutritional value, such as lettuce, is even greater.
The reason for this is that baby bearded dragons rely on proper nutrition in order to grow.
If these babies don’t get all of their nutrients early on in their lives, they may not be able to sustain the exponential growth rate expected of them, and this can result in health issues due to underdevelopment.
Why Is Lettuce Nutritionally Lacking?
You’ve seen the nutritional breakdown of 100 grams of lettuce earlier in the article, but if you’re not familiar with a bearded dragon’s nutritional requirements or with nutrition as a whole, you may still be wondering what’s so bad about lettuce.
The first thing to note is that 100 grams of lettuce only contains 18 milligrams of calcium.
Calcium is a huge part of a bearded dragon’s diet because they need it for bone, muscle, and egg development.
An adult bearded dragon needs to consume 1,500 milligrams of calcium every day.
Even tiny hatchlings need 650 milligrams of this nutrient in order to grow healthy and strong.
So, based on that information, it’s clear that lettuce is unlikely to meet a bearded dragon’s need for calcium.
From the list of nutrients provided above, you can see that lettuce is actually mostly water.
This does have the benefit of ensuring that your bearded dragon remains hydrated, which is important given that these animals spend most of their lives under heat lamps.
However, the problem is that bearded dragons only have small stomachs, so food that is high in water can fill them up very quickly.
In the case of lettuce, this is not good because it means your beardy might not have room left for other nutritionally-dense foods.
Instead of relying on lettuce to make sure your bearded dragon is hydrated, you should make sure to leave plenty of water out in its enclosure at all times.
Some owners struggle to find fruits and vegetables to feed their bearded dragons because they worry about sugar.
It’s true that sugar can have some detrimental health effects for bearded dragons, including elevating their risk of obesity, tooth decay, and gastrointestinal issues.
Lettuce is, admittedly, very low in sugar, so it’s understandable why so many owners automatically think of it as a good choice.
Again, lettuce simply doesn’t have enough of the key nutrients that bearded dragons need to prevent things like calcium deficiency and resulting metabolic bone disease.
There are other leafy greens that are low in sugar but high in other important nutrients, and we’ll be recommending some of these later.
What Type Of Lettuce Is Best For Bearded Dragons?
It’s worth noting that there are many varieties of lettuce, and some are more nutritionally suitable for bearded dragons than others.
That’s not to say that lettuce of any kind is the best dietary choice for your beardy (it’s not!), but if you absolutely must give your dragon some lettuce for whatever reason, it’s a good idea to know which varieties are superior.
Iceberg lettuce is the lettuce variety you’re most likely to find in your local grocery store.
It’s the most widely available, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best for your bearded dragon.
This kind of lettuce is particularly low in nutrients and has especially high water content, so you should avoid feeding it to your bearded dragon at all ages, but especially when it is a baby.
Romaine Lettuce (Cos Lettuce)
Romaine lettuce is a slightly better nutritional choice for your bearded dragon.
You may also hear this type of lettuce referred to as cos lettuce. They are the same thing.
Compared to iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce is higher in protein and, crucially, calcium.
It’s still not the best green food you can give your bearded dragon, but they will be getting more of their nutritional needs met if you choose romaine lettuce over iceberg lettuce.
Green Leaf Lettuce
Green leaf lettuce is an umbrella term for many kinds of (you guessed it) green lettuce.
Some of these are slightly higher in certain nutrients than others, but ultimately, they are not the best choice for your bearded dragon.
Instead of feeding your dragon green lettuce, you should choose a leafy green from the list we have provided below.
They are more nutritionally beneficial.
Red Leaf Lettuce
Red leaf lettuce is another option, although again, it isn’t particularly nutritious.
Moreover, red leaf lettuce is low in vitamin A, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and many other essential nutrients, so we don’t recommend choosing this type of lettuce as food for your bearded dragon.
What To Give Your Bearded Dragon Instead Of Lettuce
We’ve established that lettuce isn’t a good choice when it comes to ensuring that your bearded dragon gets all the nutrients it needs.
If you’re scratching your head and wondering what to feed your dragon instead, don’t worry – there is plenty of research showing which green leafy vegetables are the most beneficial for bearded dragons.
The best alternatives to lettuce for bearded dragons are:
Kale is one of the highest-nutrient greens on the planet. It contains lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
Kale is also rich in fiber, making it a great source of both nutrition and bulk. In fact, kale is known as a superfood because it has so many nutritional benefits.
Kale has a fairly high water content, but not as high as lettuce. Importantly, it is packed with calcium, with a massive 254 milligrams per 100 grams of kale.
If you feed your bearded dragon kale, they are likely to grow strong bones and muscles, and female bearded dragons will probably pass healthier eggs if they are fed kale throughout their lives.
Just make sure not to overdo it because bearded dragons actually can have too much calcium in their diets.
Additionally, kale has less than a gram of sugar per 100 grams and contains nearly 3 grams of protein in the same amount.
Mustard greens are another excellent choice when it comes to feeding your bearded dragon.
They contain a lot of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, manganese, copper, and iron.
Mustard greens are also high in dietary fiber, containing 3.2 grams per 100 grams. Additionally, they are very low in calories.
The real benefit of mustard greens for bearded dragons, however, is calcium.
With 115 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams, you can trust that your bearded dragon’s muscle and bone health will be optimal with this green food as part of its diet.
Plus, there are 58 milligrams of phosphorus in every portion.
Bok choy doesn’t contain quite as much water per 100 grams as lettuce, but it’s still pretty high with 95.32 grams for every 100 grams.
However, unlike lettuce, bok choy is nutritionally rich, so even if your dragon gets full quickly when eating bok choy, it will still take in many important nutrients.
For every 100 grams of bok choy, your bearded dragon will get 105 milligrams of calcium and 1.5 grams of protein, both of which are extremely beneficial.
Swiss chard is the lowest in calcium on this list, but with 51 milligrams of this nutrient for each 100-gram portion, your bearded dragon’s muscles and bones will definitely thank you for introducing Swiss chard into its diet.
Swiss chard also contains 1.8 grams of protein and 46 milligrams of phosphorus.
Dandelion greens are undoubtedly one of the most beneficial foods you can give to a bearded dragon.
With 85.6 grams of water per 100 grams, this food is hydrating but won’t fill your dragon’s stomach as quickly as other greens on this list, so they can eat plenty of it.
A 100-gram portion of dandelion greens contains 3.5 grams of fiber, 2.7 grams of protein, 187 milligrams of calcium, and 66 milligrams of phosphorus.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Bearded Dragons Eat Cucumbers?
Cucumbers are often thought of as green vegetables (although they are technically fruits), so you might be wondering if you can feed cucumbers to your bearded dragon.
You can do so occasionally, but cucumber should not be a staple food in your dragon’s diet.
Cucumber does contain many important nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, Magnesium, and more.
However, cucumbers are mostly water, and feeding them to your bearded dragon too often can have some health consequences linked to excess water.
What Lettuce Is Best For Bearded Dragons?
If you are going to choose a type of lettuce to give your bearded dragon, you should choose romaine lettuce because it has the highest nutritional value.
However, there are better leafy greens to give your dragons, such as kale and dandelion greens.
Can Bearded Dragons Eat Fruit?
Some fruit may be appropriate for a bearded dragon’s diet as long as it is low in sugar. Apples and apricots, however, can be given sparingly.
Just make sure to monitor how often your dragon is eating fruit as too much sugar in any form can lead to obesity, stomach upsets, and dental issues in these reptiles.
It is best to avoid feeding your bearded dragon lettuce of any variety because it does not contain many nutrients and is mostly made up of water.
Instead, you should give your bearded dragon nutrient-rich leafy greens like kale, bok choy, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and swiss chard.