As a bearded dragon owner, it can be difficult to work out how to feed your dragon a balanced diet that is also varied, tasty, and appealing.
It is recommended that bearded dragons consume a lot of green vegetables in addition to their daily protein requirements from insects. However, not all greens are beneficial for these reptiles, which complicates things.
One green vegetable type that many owners are unsure about as a food source for their dragon is Brussels sprouts.
There are some benefits to feeding your bearded dragon Brussels sprouts, but there are also some drawbacks, so many owners are confused about whether to incorporate this vegetable into their pet’s diet or not.
In this article, we will be discussing the nutritional value of Brussels sprouts and how much (if at all) this vegetable should feature in the average bearded dragon’s meal plan.
Brussels Sprouts Nutritional Profile
Before we break down the benefits and risks of feeding your bearded dragon Brussels sprouts, let’s get the full picture concerning what nutrients sprouts provide.
The nutritional profile for Brussels sprouts per 100 grams looks like this:
- Energy (Kcal): 43
- Water: 86 g
- Fiber: 3.8 g
- Protein: 3.38 g
- Fat: 0.3 g
- Sugars: 2.2 g
- Carbohydrates: 8.95 g
- Calcium: 42 mg
- Phosphorous: 69 mg
- Sodium: 25 mg
- Iron: 1.4 mg
- Vitamin C: 85 mg
- Vitamin E: 0.88 mg
- Vitamin A: 38 µg
- Vitamin B6: 0.219 mg
- Vitamin K: 1.77 µg
- Vitamin D: 0 µg
Benefits of Brussels Sprouts for Bearded Dragons
The first thing to make clear is that Brussels sprouts are safe for bearded dragons to eat. This fact has been confirmed by several experts in reptile nutrition.
Eating Brussels sprouts won’t harm your bearded dragon, so you don’t have to worry about poisoning or toxicity.
In fact, bearded dragons can benefit from eating Brussels sprouts for several reasons, the main one being:
High Vitamin Content
Bearded dragons need vitamins in their diets to help them grow healthy and strong. The high levels of certain vitamins found in Brussels sprouts mean they are, in some ways, a good choice for bearded dragons.
Brussels sprouts are particularly high in vitamin C, with 85 milligrams for every 100-gram serving. That’s nearly a milligram of vitamin C for every gram of sprouts, which is impressive and very beneficial.
Bearded dragons, like humans, need plenty of vitamin C in order to maintain a strong immune system.
This vitamin is also essential for the ocular and reproductive health of bearded dragons, as well as their ability to grow to their full adult capacity.
In addition to containing a lot of vitamin C, Brussels sprouts are high in vitamin K, with 100 grams of sprouts containing 1.77 µg of this nutrient.
Plenty of Fiber
Bearded dragons need fiber in their diets to facilitate digestion.
When fiber is digested by a bearded dragon, it is converted into healthy fatty acids, which is especially important for female bearded dragons who need lots of healthy fats to keep their reproductive systems healthy.
Risks of Brussels Sprouts for Bearded Dragons
Unfortunately, as much as Brussels sprouts are a good source of vitamins and fiber for bearded dragons, they also lack some key nutrients that these reptiles need to stay healthy.
And it’s not just about what Brussels sprouts are lacking – they also contain some substances that can negatively impact bearded dragons if they are ingested too often.
Low Calcium Levels
Anyone who has researched bearded dragon nutrition knows that these reptiles need a lot of calcium.
Low levels of calcium in a bearded dragon’s diet is the leading cause of metabolic bone disease in these animals, so the stakes are pretty high when it comes to ensuring that your beardy is getting enough of this essential nutrient.
Unfortunately, Brussels sprouts are pretty low in calcium, with just 42 milligrams of the nutrient for every 100 grams of sprouts. Therefore, they are not the best choice for your bearded dragon.
If you make Brussels sprouts a staple food in your dragon’s diet, they may miss out on the calcium they need to keep their bones healthy, causing health and mobility issues for them in the future.
For this reason, bearded dragon experts specializing in nutrition recommend giving Brussels sprouts to dragons sparingly.
The low calcium content itself doesn’t rule out Brussels sprouts as a secondary food source for bearded dragons, but you shouldn’t let your dragon fill up on sprouts without prioritizing other high-calcium foods.
Brussels sprouts are also high in a substance called goitrogen.
Not many people who own bearded dragons know to look out for this in their dragon’s food because it isn’t talked about very much and even experts in bearded dragon nutrition recommend foods that contain goitrogen.
Essentially, goitrogen prevents iodine from being used correctly by the thyroid, which can damage your bearded dragon’s metabolism and cause health issues such as obesity.
The thing is, most of the staple foods recommended by experts for bearded dragons are also high in goitrogen, including mustard greens, kale, and bok choy.
Additionally, since it’s not recommended to feed your bearded dragon Brussels sprouts on a regular basis, the goitrogen in sprouts isn’t the biggest thing you need to worry about.
Feeding your bearded dragon Brussels sprouts in the quantities recommended by experts will not significantly increase their goitrogen consumption and shouldn’t cause an elevated risk of related health issues.
Too Much Phosphorus
Phosphorus is another element that can be found in Brussels sprouts. This mineral is necessary for growing healthy teeth and bones, but it’s also something that needs to be monitored carefully in bearded dragons’ diets.
Too much phosphorus in a bearded dragon’s system can lead to serious health problems like kidney stones.
Specifically, when it comes to bearded dragons, the phosphorus-to-calcium ratio is an important dietary factor to consider.
Phosphorus interferes with the absorption of calcium, so if a food has higher levels of phosphorus than calcium, it prevents the calcium from being absorbed effectively.
With Brussels sprouts being so low in calcium already, the elevated phosphorus levels make it an even worse choice as a primary food source for your dragon.
Oxalic Acid Content
Another issue with bearded dragons eating Brussels sprouts is that they’re extremely high in oxalic acid.
Oxalic acid is a naturally occurring compound that occurs in plants, and it helps prevent plant tissue from drying out.
However, like phosphorus, oxalic acid stops calcium from being fully-absorbed, so your bearded dragon won’t be able to benefit from what little calcium there is in Brussels sprouts.
For context, Brussels sprouts control 360 milligrams of oxalic acid per 100 grams, which is many times the amount of calcium in this vegetable.
This is comparatively quite a lot when measured against other vegetables you might feed your bearded dragon.
For example, the same quantity of mustard greens contains 128.7 milligrams of oxalic acid, while both turnip greens and okra contain just 50 milligrams. Broccoli has 190 milligrams and cabbage has 100 milligrams.
Sprouts don’t contain as much oxalic acid as some other popular bearded dragon foods though, with collard greens and spinach containing 450 and 970 milligrams respectively.
How Regularly Should Bearded Dragons Have Sprouts?
We have now established that Brussels sprouts should not be fed to a bearded dragon too regularly because they don’t contain much calcium, and the small quantity of calcium in 100 grams of sprouts won’t be absorbed properly due to the phosphorus-calcium ratio and the oxalic acid.
Plus, sprouts are high in goitrogen, which isn’t healthy for bearded dragons.
So, how regularly should you give sprouts to your bearded dragon, exactly?
Assuming that your bearded dragon consumes a healthy, high-calcium diet that meets all of their nutritional needs, it should be fine to give them sprouts as an occasional treat. By ‘occasional’, we mean roughly once a month.
Portion size is also important when feeding your dragon Brussels sprouts. You definitely don’t want to feed your dragon the same portion size as you would serve yourself.
Each Brussels sprout weighs about 5 grams, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but bearded dragons have much lower calorie needs than we do, and you need to be extra careful with foods like sprouts because they are not meant to be primary food sources. Therefore, just 1/4 of a Brussels sprout on a monthly basis is enough.
Your bearded dragon’s small, monthly Brussels sprout treat should be served alongside other foods that are more nutritious for them, including other leafy greens like kale, dandelion greens, and mustard greens and, of course, your dragon’s daily allowance of insect-based protein.
Please bear in mind that while it’s safe to give an adult bearded dragon a piece of a Brussels sprout occasionally, you should probably avoid giving baby bearded dragons sprouts at all until they have finished growing.
This is because baby dragons need even more nutrition than your average adult to help them to grow.
If baby bearded dragons don’t get the nutrients that they need, their growth may be stunted, and they will have a higher likelihood of metabolic bone disease in the future.
This will be down due to the fact that their bones have not developed naturally. Therefore, you should focus on feeding your baby dragon only nutritious greens that are high in calcium.
Preparing Brussels Sprouts for a Bearded Dragon
Preparing Brussels sprouts for your bearded dragon can make all the difference when it comes to keeping them healthy, so before you feed sprouts to your dragon, make sure that you understand how to safely prepare these vegetables for your reptile.
The first thing you’ll need to know is whether you’re going to use fresh or frozen sprouts.
Fresh sprouts are best if you plan to cook them yourself, since frozen sprouts tend to lose moisture over time, making them less hydrating – although you should also make sure not to give your bearded dragon too much water in the form of vegetables because they are accustomed to hot and dry climates, meaning that they don’t have particularly high hydration needs.
It’s best to choose organic sprouts over other types of sprouts because with organic vegetables, you know that no harmful chemicals, including pesticides, have been sprayed onto the greens.
Bearded dragons have small, sensitive stomachs, so even small amounts of chemicals can be quite harmful to their health.
You should also wash your sprouts thoroughly before serving them to your bearded dragon.
It’s very easy to accidentally introduce bacteria into your bearded dragon’s system through food, especially if you aren’t paying attention to hygiene practices.
For this reason, not only should you rinse and drain your sprouts (even organic ones!) before giving them to your dragon, but you should also make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you begin the preparation process.
Don’t fall into the habit of just quickly running your hands under the water, either – you need to wash your hands properly with plenty of gentle soap and hot water.
Many bearded dragon owners cook sprouts before giving them to their dragons because this is how we would prepare them for human consumption.
However, it is actually more beneficial to give your dragon raw sprouts because cooking decreases the nutritional value of these vegetables.
It’s worth noting that some bearded dragons seem to prefer cooked sprouts, though. We recommend trying the raw sprouts first, and if your dragon isn’t enthusiastic, you can try again with cooked sprouts next time.
Since you should only give your beardy about 1/4 of a sprout on a monthly basis, you will also need to think about how you will cut your sprouts before serving them to your reptile.
Don’t just cut a sprout into 4 pieces and give a piece to your dragon, though.
It’s better to cut the sprout into many small pieces so that they are manageable and bite-sized. This will not only make the sprout easier to chew, but easier to digest.
Brussels Sprouts Alternatives for Bearded Dragons
There are several alternatives to Brussels sprouts that you can offer to your bearded dragon instead of sprouts. Here are some suggestions:
Turnips actually contain less calcium than Brussels sprouts, but your bearded dragon may absorb more calcium from turnips than sprouts because turnips contain less phosphorus than calcium, so there is less interference with calcium absorption.
Sweet potato makes a great tasty treat for your bearded dragon, and while it’s not the most nutritionally beneficial (it has a high phosphorus-calcium ratio), it’s good for an occasional treat if your dragon gets sick of sprouts.
Green beans have slightly more phosphorus than calcium (the difference is just 1 milligram) so we wouldn’t advise giving this food to your dragon regularly. However, that’s why it’s listed as a secondary food.
Green beans are high in fiber, with 2.7 grams per 100 grams, so they may help with your dragon’s digestive health.
They are also high in protein compared to the other secondary foods on this list, with 1.83 grams of this nutrient for every 100-gram portion.
Bell peppers are fairly low in calcium (just 7 milligrams per 100 grams) and relatively high in phosphorus, so this definitely isn’t a snack you want to feature too often in your dragon’s diet.
However, bell peppers have a good amount of fiber, so it’s safe to give some bell pepper to your reptile now and again.
Butternut squash is a great choice for your bearded dragon when it comes to secondary foods.
This squash contains much more calcium than phosphorus, with 48 milligrams of calcium compared to 33 milligrams of phosphorus, so your dragon will be able to absorb calcium from this vegetable without too much difficulty.
Still, it’s not as high in calcium as most leafy green vegetables, which is why it’s a secondary food rather than a primary food source.
Bearded dragons can eat Brussels sprouts safely, but they should only be given occasionally and in small quantities because your dragon won’t get much calcium from this vegetable, whereas they may absorb harmful substances like oxalic acid and goitrogen.
Only give your bearded dragon 1/4 of a raw Brussels sprout every month. You should cut the sprout into small, bite-sized pieces.
You can also cook the sprout, but it’s more nutritious when eaten raw. Make sure to choose organic sprouts for your bearded dragon and wash them thoroughly before serving.