April 1, 2021

Can Bearded Dragons Eat Kale? Is It Safe or Not?

bearded dragons dreaming of kale

Vet Explains

Kale is a nutrient-dense yet low-calorie vegetable from the cabbage family. Yes, as surprising as it may sound, kale is a cruciferous vegetable just like broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

We have cultivated this leafy green ever since Roman times. However, it was not until recently that the kale craze began. Namely, because of its nutritional value, nowadays, we put kale in everything from salads and healthy snacks to soups and smoothies. And we do not just put it because of its benefits; we also love its taste.

But what about bearded dragons? Are bearded dragons affected by the kale craze? Can they safely enjoy this cruciferous vegetable?

This article is your definitive guide on kale and how it may be beneficial or a health risk for bearded dragons. This article will answer all your questions and debunk some popular kale myths; read on for more.

Can Bearded Dragons Eat Kale?

Yes, bearded dragons can eat kale. Bearded dragons fed healthy and balanced diets can benefit a lot from the occasional kale serving. Particularly rich in calcium and water while low in calories, kale promotes solid bones and healthy body weight. However, follow the feeding guidelines as the significant water content can upset the digestive system and cause stomach issues.

When it comes to plant-based foods, kale is the perfect veggie choice for bearded dragons – it is hydrating, calcium-rich, and calorie-low.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

The adult bearded dragon's diet should consist of 30% animal-based foods and 70% plant-based foods. The plant-based portion of the diet includes 80-90% veggies and flowers and only 10-20% fruits.

So yes, bearded dragons are allowed to eat kale 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 portion size and the size of the served leaves (more on that later).

Can baby bearded dragons eat kale?

Yes, kale is not harmful to baby bearded dragons. However, younger dragons need more animal-sourced foods than adults, which you should consider when building a balanced and complete diet.

Can bearded dragons eat the kale stalks? 

The stalks are too stringy and should not be fed to bearded dragons. Theoretically, you can soften the stalks' texture through cooking, but that would deplete most of the nutrients and defeat the purpose of feeding them in the first place.

However, just because kale is classified as a bearded dragon-friendly veggie, it does not mean that its implementation to the menu does not come with specific safety considerations.

When fed moderately, kale is a natural health booster with plenty of benefits. On the flip side, if provided in excessive amounts, kale is associated with several potential health risks. 

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

Health Benefits: Is Kale Good for Bearded Dragons?

As mentioned, when appropriately used, kale is a healthy veggie for bearded dragons. There are several benefits of adding kale to your bearded dragon's menu, but the following are the most important.

Good source of calcium

Not only is kale rich in calcium, but it also contains the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio (2.4:1). Namely, bearded dragons need high levels of calcium, especially during growth and intense bone formation. However, if their diet is rich in phosphorus, the phosphorus will inhibit calcium absorption, thus putting the bearded dragon at risk of developing Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).

Luckily, kale contains almost two and a half times more calcium than phosphorus, thus promoting strong and healthy bones.

kale

Nutrient-dense food packed with vitamins and minerals

Kale is filled with lots of vitamins and minerals. Each of them has its unique and vital function. For example:

  • Vitamin A is important for normal immune response, it promotes impeccable vision, ensures reproductive health and normal growth.
  • Vitamin C boosts the immune system and promotes wound healing. Vitamin C is crucial for tissue repair and cellular renewal.
  • Vitamin K is an essential part of the blood-clotting cascade, thus preventing bleeding and excessive blood loss.
  • Potassium promotes kidney health, decreases water retention, and improves overall muscle function.
  • Manganese has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, manganese ensures normal metabolic rate and nutrient utilization.
  • Magnesium is vital for normal brain functioning and muscle health.

Good for hydration 

As a water-rich leafy green, kale is excellent for keeping your bearded dragon's hydration on a satisfactory level. This is particularly good for bearded dragons that are not keen water drinkers and prefer obtaining their water through food.

Low sugar content  

Kale is a cruciferous vegetable which means its sugar content is relatively low. The low-sugar feature makes kale a dragon-friendly leafy green as too much sugar can be problematic.

In addition to the expected weight gain, sugar is troublesome for bearded dragons as it increases the risk of developing heart problems, liver issues, and tooth decay.

Yes, as unbelievable as it sounds, just like in humans, overeating sugar may lead to a trip to the vet's office because of dental problems. Also, other possible health issues related to too much sugar may require visits to the vet.

Health Risks: Is Kale Bad for Bearded Dragons?

Moderation is the key to kale's safety for bearded dragons. These are the things you need to consider before serving kale to your bearded dragon.

The oxalate conundrum 

Small amounts of oxalate or oxalic acid are perfectly okay, but more significant amounts can be troublesome, especially for bearded dragons. This is because oxalic acid binds with calcium, thus preventing its absorption into the bloodstream.

The notion that kale is rich in oxalates is a myth.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

What is more, over time, the oxalic acid can deplete the calcium that is already stored in the bones and cause Metabolic Bone Disease.

However, the notion that kale is rich in oxalates is a myth. Recent analyses show that kale contains 20 milligrams of oxalate per 100 grams. In 100 grams of spinach, there are around 970 milligrams of oxalic acid. This means spinach is 48 times richer in oxalic acid than kale.

This means that kale does not contain enough oxalic acid to impair calcium metabolism and cause MBD, mainly when fed moderately.

Contains goitrogens

Kale does contain its fair share of goitrogens. Goitrogens are naturally occurring chemical substances that have adverse effects on the thyroid gland.

To be more accurate, the goitrogens trigger thyroid enlargement. Once the thyroid is enlarged, it starts malfunctioning, leading to inadequate production of thyroid hormones.

However, for the kale's goitrogens to kick in and express their harmful effects, bearded dragons should eat significantly large amounts of kale. A little bit of kale now and then is not enough to impair the thyroid gland's function.

High in vitamin A

Kale is exceptionally rich in vitamin A. this may seem like a benefit at first but considering that most bearded dragons receive adequate amounts of vitamin A through their regular supplements, the added vitamin A from kale can pose a problem. This is because bearded dragons can develop vitamin A toxicity.

Vitamin A toxicity is a condition that manifests with weight loss, dehydration, swelling, and lethargy. The illness is severe and may have lethal consequences. If you notice any of these signs, contact a vet for assistance.

It should be noted that bearded dragons that do not receive vitamin A in supplement forms are not at risk of developing hypervitaminosis A due to eating kale.

Digestion problems 

Kale is a watery veggie. The water content is suitable for hydration, but if excessively consumed, the kale's water can cause gastrointestinal upset manifested with diarrhea.

Bearded dragons have a sensitive digestive system, and all upsets are likely to culminate in severe bouts of diarrhea.

Choking hazard 

The kale leaves are frilly and, therefore, likely to stick on the throat and cause choking. Although most bearded dragons will chew on the kale before swallowing, there is a slight chance that the un-chewed leaf can find its way on the throat walls. To prevent choking accidents, kale must always be served finely chopped or hand-ripped.

Feeding Guidelines: Kale for Bearded Dragons

How much kale can bearded dragons eat?

The safe serving size of kale for bearded dragons is one small handful of finely chopped kale leaves.

Feeding more than a handful of kale can have short-term (diarrhea) and long-term (vitamin A toxicity) consequences.

How often can bearded dragons eat kale?

In theory, bearded dragons can eat kale daily. However, bearded dragons have tiny tummies. For that reason, it is preferable to fill them with different foods containing different nutrients.

With versatility in mind, it is safe to say that bearded dragons can enjoy kale's taste and texture two to three times per week.

How to prepare kale for bearded dragons?

Luckily for you and your bearded dragon, kale is readily available in veggie sections in local grocery stores and at the farmer's market. However, that does not mean that you can just pick up the first kale that catches your eye.

1. The kale you choose should look fresh and healthy – generally, if it seems like something you would eat, then it is perfectly good for your bearded dragon too. On the other hand, if it is slimy, discolored, or with signs of decay, you should put it back and keep searching.

2. Kale is usually sold packed in a plastic bag, meaning it is pre-washed. However, it is advisable to rewash it yourself. Once thoroughly washed, you can put it in an airtight container and store it in the fridge.

3. Before serving, you need to remove the edible leaves from the stalk. It is important to chop the kale leaves into smaller pieces. Alternatively, you can rip them with your fingers. This is because the leaves are frilly and can get stuck into the dragon's throat unless torn into tiny pieces.

4. Once your bearded dragon has finished feasting on the kale leaves, remove the leftovers from the enclosure. By leaving the leftovers for longer than an hour, you risk your bearded dragon eating spoiled kale.

Should you prefer raw, cooked, or frozen kale?

Bearded dragons enjoy munching on crunchy leaves, which makes raw kale their number one choice. Plus, it goes without saying that raw kale is more nutrient-dense than cooked kale.

Just because cooked kale is a more deficient nutrient source, it does not mean it must not be offered to bearded dragons. When cooking kale for your bearded dragon, cook it plain. Salt, spices, sauces, and condiments are a no-go for bearded dragons as they are not part of their natural diet.

Another thing to consider is the moisture content; during cooking, kale absorbs water, and too much water will upset the stomach. Therefore, if feeding cooked kale, you need to decrease the portion size significantly.

Frozen kale is good for bearded dragons as long as it is completely thawed before serving. Serving it frozen poses a choking hazard even if the frozen piece is adequately sized. Plus, the ice can irritate the tummy and cause diarrhea.

fresh kale leaves

Nutrition Facts

Here are the nutrition facts for 100g of kale:

  • 89.63 g water
  • 35 calories
  • 1.5 g fat
  • 0.2 g saturated fat
  • 0 g cholesterol
  • 4.4 g carbs
  • 4.1 g dietary fiber
  • 1 g sugar
  • 2.9 g protein

Kale also contains the following helpful vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Potassium.

This nutritional analysis shows that kale is a low-calorie food packed with water and healthy dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

However, kale is also rich in protein and fats, meaning it should not be fed excessively. Kale is an occasional beneficial treat, but it is not a staple food for bearded dragons.

Bottom line – Can Bearded Dragons Have Kale?

Yes, bearded dragons are free to enjoy a few crunchy pieces of kale several times a week. Dark green veggies are an integral part of the bearded dragon's staple diet.

However, as with any other ingredient, moderation is the key. Bearded dragons cannot thrive on kale or any other vegetable on their own, no matter how nutrient-dense the veggie is.

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

Vet's Comment

Out of the eight bearded dragon species, the most common bearded dragon, known as Pogona Vitticeps, is the most popular. Originating from Australia's semi-arid to arid southeastern parts, this sought-after reptile is used to sparse food resources. As a result, the bearded dragon is a true omnivore.

The bearded dragon's daily food intake should contain about 30% of animal-sourced and 70% plant-sourced foods. When it comes to plant-based foods, kale is the perfect veggie choice for bearded dragons – it is hydrating, calcium-rich, and calorie-low.

To spoil your bearded dragon even more, mix its kale portion with a chunk of carrot, escarole, or bell pepper.

- 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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