April 9, 2021

Can Bearded Dragons Eat Cabbage? Benefits, potential problems, and how much to feed safely

bearded dragon dreaming of cabbage

Vet Explains

Cabbage is an ancient vegetable. It became very popular when it was discovered it is high vitamin C, which made it vital ammunition in the battle against scurvy.

Today, we use cabbage in salads and meals, raw and wilted, cooked and preserved in brine. As a versatile veggie with health benefits and good taste, cabbage definitely deserves its place in our kitchens.

But what about bearded dragons? Does cabbage deserve to be on the bearded dragon's menu? Can bearded dragons eat cabbage?

If you want to find the answers, keep reading, as this article will tell you everything you need to know about cabbage and its benefits and risks when it comes to bearded dragons.

Can Bearded Dragons Eat Cabbage?

Yes, bearded dragons can eat cabbage. Cabbage is rich in vitamins, calcium, and water while low in calories, so it promotes strong bones and healthy body weight. However, not all cabbage types offer the same benefits for your bearded dragon. Also, follow feeding guidelines as cabbage contains goitrogens and may cause stomach upsets for beardies.

All types are safe when used correctly and following the general feeding guidelines. 
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

That said, bearded dragons that are fed healthy and balanced diets can benefit a lot from the occasional cabbage servings.

The concept of healthy nutrition for bearded dragons rests on meals that are 70% animal-sourced and 30% plant-sourced. The diet's plant-based portion includes 80-90% veggies and flowers and only 10-20% fruits.

So yes, bearded dragons can eat cabbage as a part of a balanced and complete diet. It is not toxic and can actually be a healthy crunchy snack. You just need to be careful about the cabbage type, portion size, and size of the leaves pieces you serve (more about that later).

Can bearded dragons eat the cabbage leaves and stalks? The leaves are generally safe and suitable for bearded dragons. On the flip side, the stalks are stringy and virtually non-digestible, which is why you should never feed them to bearded dragons.

Well, what about young beardies. Can baby bearded dragons eat cabbage? Yes, cabbage is not harmful to baby dragons. However, younger beardies prefer meats over veggies. Young bearded dragons should be fed a diet that consists of 70% insects and worms and only 30% of veggies. Therefore, be sure to keep the serving of cabbage very limited for baby and juvenile beardies to support normal growth.

Just because cabbage is suitable for bearded dragons, it does not mean it should be fed carelessly. Moderate cabbage amounts are linked with health benefits, but excess amounts can be devastating for your bearded dragon's health at all ages.

After all, the cabbage's safety is not just a matter of simple yes or no – cabbage type, serving size, frequency of feeding, sourcing (organic, pesticide-free, or regular) are all important contributing factors.

Last but not least, it should be noted that just like people, different bearded dragons have different taste preferences. In those terms, some bearded dragons may adore cabbage, and others hate it.

Which Type of Cabbage Is Best For Your Bearded Dragon?

There are several different cabbage varieties. Each variety is different, nutrition-wise, and consequently, each is associated with different benefits and risks for bearded dragons.

The six main cabbage types include – green cabbage, red or purple cabbage, white cabbage, savoy cabbage, Chinese cabbage (also known as napa cabbage), and bok choy.

  • The overall best cabbage choice for bearded dragons is the red/purple variety because it is more nutrient-dense while low in goitrogens.
  • In terms of calcium content, the best choice is white cabbage or bock choy, as they are loaded with this healthy bone-promoting mineral.
  • Finally, the worst cabbage choice for bearded dragons is savoy since it is goitrogenic, acidic, has more phosphorus than calcium, and is substantially rich in vitamin A. In just a minute, we'll tell you everything you need to know about these risks.

But first, let's see what kind of benefits feeding cabbage to your beardie can have.

Health Benefits: Is Cabbage Good for Bearded Dragons?

Eating cabbage is associated with plenty of health benefits. Although the exact health boosts depend on the type of cabbage, here are some general pros of giving your bearded dragon cabbage.

A boost of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants

  • Vitamin C – promotes strong immune and reproductive systems and supports normal growth and healthy vision.
  • Vitamin K – an important blood clotting factor.
  • B-complex vitamins – give energy boosts and ensure a healthy nervous system.
  • Manganese – regulates metabolic processes.
  • Magnesium – ensures healthy blood sugar levels.
  • Potassium – regulates blood pressure, supports normal nerve and muscle functioning.
  • Antioxidants – prevent inflammation, protect from free radicals, and prevent oxidative stress.
Different types of cabbage

Ideal calcium to phosphorus ratio  

Cabbage is not just a good source of calcium but also features the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio. This concept applies to all cabbage varieties, except savoy cabbage which contains slightly more phosphorus than calcium.

The correct calcium to phosphorus ratio in bearded dragon-friendly foods is 1:1 to 2:1. In cabbage, the ratio is 1.5:1 on average.

Bearded dragons need high calcium levels to sustain normal growth and bone development. In those terms, excess phosphorus is an issue because it inhibits calcium absorption and utilization.

So, even your bearded dragon receives enough calcium from his food; if the phosphorus levels are high, the calcium will not be utilized.

Bearded dragons that do not receive enough calcium are at risk of developing Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), a potentially life-threatening condition that manifests with lethargy, anorexia, and brittle, fracture-prone bones.

If you suspect your pet may be suffering from MBD or getting too little calcium, contact a vet to discuss how to ensure your beardie's diet is balanced and it's getting enough calcium.

Smooth digestion

Cabbage contains decent amounts of dietary fiber. The dietary fibers are vital as they promote healthy digestion and regular bowel movements.

In addition to promoting digestive health, fibers promote heart health, maintain normal blood pressure, and keep cholesterol levels low.

However, not all cabbage types are equally rich in fiber. Although savoy cabbage is particularly rich in dietary fiber, this cabbage type has the least other benefits for bearded dragons.

A healthy treat 

Cabbage is the ideal example of a healthy treat – it is cholesterol-free, low in fats, sugars, sodium, and almost calorie-free. All cabbage types fit this profile perfectly, which means they all make healthy snack options.

Feeding your bearded dragon snacks and foods low in fats and sugar is imperative because these nutrients are linked with several severe health problems, including diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

A well-hydrating and cooling treat

Cabbage is mostly water and will keep your bearded dragons well-hydrated. This is great, considering that bearded dragons are reluctant to drink from pooled waters. Consequently, you need to be mindful about offering wet foods that will satisfy your bearded dragon's need for water.

Health Risks: Is Cabbage Bad for Bearded Dragons?

In theory, there are no significant cabbage-related health risks for bearded dragons. That is as long as the cabbage is served in the recommended amounts. However, if over-feeding your bearded dragon on cabbage, these are the risks you need to be aware of.

Pay extra attention to the washing process as pesticide contamination is an increasingly present issue.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

The goitrogens danger

Cabbage is packed with goitrogens. Goitrogens are a group of chemical compounds that occur naturally in many vegetable plants. They are potentially dangerous because of their ability to cause thyroid gland enlargement. Once the thyroid is enlarged, it cannot synthesize adequate amounts of thyroid hormones.

All cabbage types contain goitrogens. However, red cabbage is the least goitrogenic cabbage variety. This means, in terms of thyroid health, red cabbage is the safest option for your bearded dragon.

Tummy troubles

Cabbage is notorious for its ability to cause tummy troubles in both pets and humans. Considering that bearded dragons have sensitive digestive systems, it is easy to understand how a tummy-troubling veggie can easily wreak havoc.

The reason why cabbage can upset your bearded dragon's tummy is its rich water and fiber content. Savoy cabbage has exceptionally high fiber content – almost double that of other cabbage varieties. Plus, savoy cabbage is rich in acids which contribute to the upset.

More often than not, serving the right amount of cabbage will prevent this problem. However, super-sensitive bearded dragons may develop diarrhea even if eating cabbage in amounts lesser than the recommended portion size.

Pesticide residues 

Because of its widespread popularity, most supermarket-available cabbage is grown commercially. While growing, cabbage attracts many pests, including slugs and snails. As a result, the commercial production of cabbage is companied with some heavy-duty pesticide spraying.

If those pesticides stay on the cabbage, they can be toxic to bearded dragons. To prevent pesticide and chemical residues, you can either buy organic or wash the cabbage thoroughly before serving.

Choking hazard

Cabbage leaves pose some serious choking risk. Their sticky and frilly features combined with your bearded dragon tendency to gulp down on treats equals a choking hazard.

You can prevent this issue simply by chopping the cabbage leaf and serving it finely shredded in manageable pieces.

Feeding Guidelines: Cabbage for Bearded Dragons

As mentioned, the cabbage's safety comes with certain considerations. To maximize this veggie's benefits and prevent the risks, it is important to be familiar with the general feeding guidelines.

Red cabbage is by far the healthiest and nutritious cabbage variety for bearded dragons.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

How Much Cabbage Can Bearded Dragons Eat?

The safe serving size of cabbage for bearded dragons is one small handful of finely shredded cabbage. The portion size is the same for all cabbage types – the only difference is the feeding frequency.

Feeding more than a handful can have both short-term and long-term consequences. The type of consequences and their severity depend on the cabbage variety.

How Often Can Bearded Dragons Eat Cabbage?

The answer depends on the cabbage type. Bearded dragons can safely eat red and white cabbage up to few times a week; green cabbage either once a week or every other week (based on the amount of other goitrogenic foods on the menu); savoy cabbage twice a month; and napa cabbage once a week.

How to Prepare and Serve Cabbage For Bearded Dragons?

Feeding your bearded dragon cabbage starts with grocery shopping. You can find cabbage for sale in your local grocery store's salad section or at the farmer's market. If an option, it is advisable to buy organic cabbage.

1. You should look for cabbage that looks healthy and safe to eat. The presence of decay signs, molds, sliminess, and discolorations indicate the cabbage is not edible, neither for you nor your bearded dragon.

Sometimes cabbage is sold already chopped and packed in a bag. In this case, the cabbage is washed, and you can safely store it in the refrigerator until it is feeding time.

2. However, if bought as a whole, you must thoroughly clean the cabbage before being refrigerator-stored in an airtight container. Commercially grown cabbages are treated with pesticides numerous times, and removing those pesticides requires careful washing.

3. When it is feeding time, if using the shredded version, just give your bearded dragon a handful of cabbage pieces. Alternatively, to prevent choking, you will have to chop the cabbage into manageable pieces.

4. It goes without saying that you must remove any uneaten cabbage pieces from the enclosure after an hour. That way, you can keep your bearded dragon from eating cabbage that has gone bad and prevent bacteria from spreading throughout the enclosure.

Should you prefer raw, wilted, cooked, or pickled cabbage?

Raw cabbage is the best alternative for bearded dragons – it is crunchy, watery, and loaded with healthy nutrients.

Wilted cabbage is similar to raw, nutrition-wise, with only one exception – the fiber content. Namely, wilting decreases the fiber amounts in cabbage. Wilting also increases the amount of sodium if you use salted water, which is why it's better avoided.

Cooking depletes most nutrients making the cabbage worthless for bearded dragons. Its texture, some bearded dragons may find interesting, but in terms of nutrition, it offers no benefits.

Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) is a delicacy, particularly popular in some countries and regions. However, sauerkraut is a big no-no for bearded dragons. With salt used as a leading conservative, sauerkraut can wreak havoc on the bearded dragon's sensitive stomach.

red cabbage

Nutrition Facts

These are the nutrients in 100 grams of cabbage on average:

  • 25 kcal energy
  • 92.1 g water
  • 1.28 g protein
  • 0.1 g total fat
  • 5.8 g carbohydrates
  • 2.5 g fiber
  • 3.2 g sugars
  • 40 mg calcium
  • 36.6 mg vitamin C
  • 76 µg vitamin K.

Cabbage also contains the following helpful vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin A
  • B-complex vitamins
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium.

This short insight into the cabbage's nutritional analysis shows that this veggie is a low-calorie food packed with water and healthy dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, cabbage is not a staple food for bearded dragons and should be treated as a healthy, crunchy snack.

Bottom line – Can Bearded Dragons Have Cabbage?

Yes, bearded dragons are free to enjoy a handful of finely chopped cabbage pieces, depending on the exact cabbage type, up to several times per week.

However, as with any other ingredient, moderation is the key. Bearded dragons cannot thrive on cabbage or any one food on itself, no matter how nutrient-dense.

Bearded dragons need a balanced yet versatile diet consisting of both animal and plant-sourced foods. So, cabbage is beneficial and healthy veggie as long as it is used moderately and in combination with other nutritious foods.

Vet's Comment

The cabbage's beneficiary effect on bearded dragons is non-disputable. Although there are different considerations regarding different cabbage types, all types are safe when used correctly and following the general feeding guidelines.

When it comes to nutritional density in veggies, there is an unwritten rule that the more vivid the color of the veggie, the more health benefits it offers. Cabbage definitely fits this profile. Namely, red cabbage is by far the healthiest and nutritious cabbage variety for bearded dragons.

Just pay extra attention to the washing process as pesticide contamination is an increasingly present issue.

- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

Ivana Crnec doctor of veterinary medicine

Vet-Approved by
Dr. Ivana Crnec

DVM

Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.

NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your bearded dragon's specific dietary needs (based on his weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.

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