April 8, 2021

Can Bearded Dragons Eat Lettuce? Benefits, Risks and Serving Size Explained

lettuce for bearded dragon

Vet Explains

With a history going back as far as 2700 B.C., lettuce is an ancient green. It was first cultivated in the Middle East, where it was considered a sacred food. Today, it is hard to imagine a salad that does not include at least one type of lettuce – iceberg, romaine, leaf, or butter lettuce, and some salads have all lettuce types.

Considering how much we love lettuce, it is natural to wonder can bearded dragons eat lettuce. And, more importantly, should bearded dragons eat lettuce?

If you want to find out the answers, keep reading as we will thoroughly explain everything you need to know about adding lettuce to your bearded dragon's menu – the benefits, the risks, and some serving tips.

Can Bearded Dragons Eat Lettuce?

Yes, bearded dragons can eat lettuce. There are many varieties of lettuce, some having more vitamins and minerals than others. Bearded dragons can have lettuce, but you should follow our feeding guidelines as lettuce has very little nutritional value, and overfeeding may lead to nutrient deficiencies, diarrhea, and other health problems.

Although lettuce is classified as a bearded dragon-friendly food, there are far better and nutrient-dense snack options.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

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

Keep in mind that because of its low nutritional value, lettuce alone should not account for 80-90% of the bearded dragon's daily intake of leafy greens. Your bearded dragon needs other greener and more nutrient-dense veggies for a nutritious diet.

So yes, bearded dragons can eat lettuce as a part of a balanced and complete diet. It is not toxic and can actually be a light, calorie-free snack. You just need to be careful about portion size and the size of the leaves you serve (more on that later).

Can baby bearded dragons eat lettuce? Yes, lettuce is not harmful to baby bearded dragons. However, younger dragons need 70% animal-based foods and are more likely to develop diarrhea if they overeat on lettuce.

What Kind Of Lettuce Can Bearded Dragons Eat?

It must be mentioned that there are different lettuce varieties – for example, romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce, and butter lettuce. These types differ in terms of nutrient composition and consequently in terms of bearded dragon-friendliness.

In general, bearded dragons benefit from lettuce types that are dark green and extra leafy. Therefore, romaine lettuce is the best variety for dragons.

On the flip side, iceberg lettuce (probably the most popular lettuce type) should be avoided when it comes to bearded dragons. This is because iceberg lettuce is a fiber-rich, nutrient-poor, and vitamin deficient light green and extra-watery veggie.

Butter lettuce is similar to iceberg salad and practically has no nutritional benefits. Finally, green leaf lettuce is packed with vitamin A while lacking other nutrients, thus posing a risk for vitamin A toxicity.

Health Benefits: Is Lettuce Good for Bearded Dragons?

Generally speaking, lettuce can be good for bearded dragons when served occasionally, as a small treat, and as a part of a complete and balanced diet. However, the health benefits and risks of lettuce vary based on the type you choose.

The health benefits and risks of lettuce vary based on the type you choose.

With that being said, in this section, we will discuss lettuce's overall benefits and why it is good for bearded dragons.

Excellent weight-loss snack 

Lettuce is the perfect snack option for bearded dragons that need to lose some weight or maintain a normal body weight. It is a low-calorie, cholesterol-free veggie that has minimal amounts of sugar and sodium.

All in all, lettuce is a good friend for bearded dragons on weight loss journeys. Therefore, lettuce can be a perfect choice if you want to offer your bearded dragon variety and prevent boredom with an exciting yet light snack.

Fresh lettuce

Promotes hydration 

With over 96% water content, lettuce is an excellent hydration source for bearded dragons. To describe the water content, it is enough to state that out of the 24 grams that one lettuce leaf weighs, 23 grams is water.

Considering bearded dragons do not like to drink from pooled water, it is essential to offer foods that will satisfy their water needs.

Adequate Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio

Lettuce, especially romaine lettuce, contains more calcium than phosphorus which is particularly important for bearded dragons. Suppose the phosphorus levels are higher than the calcium levels. In that case, phosphorus will inhibit the absorption and utilization of calcium, thus putting the bearded dragon at risk of developing metabolic bone disease (MBD). MBD is a severe condition in bearded dragons that manifests with bone deformities.

Signs of metabolic bone disease include:

  • swelling of the jaw or limbs
  • lack of appetite
  • lethargy
  • bumps along the spine
  • softening of the jaw

If you notice your beardie having any of these symptoms, contact a vet to ask for advice on how to correct your pet's diet. In severe cases, your beardie may also need immediate oral calcium supplementation, rehydration, and other treatment.

Contains several vitamins and minerals

The high water content in lettuce does not leave much room for other nutrients. However, lettuce can offer the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin C – gives the immune system a boost and promotes healing processes and cellular renewal
  • Vitamin A – promotes strong vision, immune response, normal growth, and reproductive health
  • Vitamin K is an essential part of the blood-clotting cascade
  • Folate – regulates the production of DNA and genetic material
  • Calcium – maintains and promotes strong bones, healthy nerves and helps the blood clotting processes
  • Potassium – promotes kidney health, decreases water retention, regulates blood pressure, improves overall muscle and nerve function.

Health Risks: Is Lettuce Bad for Bearded Dragons?

Now that we've learned about the health benefits eating lettuce can offer your bearded dragon, it is time to find out the risks you need to consider.

The type of lettuce is of paramount importance as not all lettuce types are equally beneficial and risk-free.

Tummy troubles

The lettuce's high water content is good for hydration, but it may cause gastrointestinal upset manifested with diarrhea. Bearded dragons, especially youngsters, have sensitive digestive systems, and all upsets are likely to culminate in severe bouts of diarrhea.

High in vitamin A

Vitamin A is essential for healthy reproduction, vision, immune system, and growth. Therefore, the vitamin A presence in lettuce may seem like a benefit at first. However, most bearded dragons receive adequate amounts of vitamin A through their regular supplements. Therefore, the extra vitamin A from the lettuce can cause vitamin A toxicity.

Yes, just like vitamin deficits are bad, so are vitamins in excess. Vitamin A toxicity in bearded dragons is a severe and life-threatening condition that manifests with weight loss, dehydration, swelling, and lethargy. If you suspect your beardie may be suffering from this condition, contact a vet as soon as possible for more advice.

Bearded dragons that do not receive vitamin A through their supplements are not at risk of developing hypervitaminosis A because of eating lettuce.

Low calcium levels

As mentioned, lettuce has the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio, but its calcium content is not nearly enough to satisfy the bearded dragon's calcium needs. Calcium is an essential nutrient for bearded dragons. The lack of calcium is directly associated with Metabolic Bone Disease and other serious health issues.

A varied diet of different leafy greens and veggies plus insects and worms dusted with calcium supplements is what your beardie needs.

Lack of nutrients and a sense of fullness 

Lettuce is a bulky type of food that quickly fills the stomach and gives the feeling of satiation. Since bearded dragons have tiny tummies, they fill really quickly.

Therefore, you need to be mindful about what your bearded dragon's tummy fills with. All foods your bearded dragon eats should be nutrient-dense and beneficial. If your bearded dragon fills its tummy with lettuce, it will not feel the need to eat other foods.

All in all, lettuce can displace other nutritious foods in the bearded dragon's diet and lead to malnutrition and dietary deficiencies in the long run.

Pesticides risk

Even if you buy lettuce at a local market or organic shop, pesticides and chemicals are still health risks worth considering because these leafy greens are heavily treated. To minimize the risk as much as possible, wash all fresh lettuce thoroughly before serving it to your bearded dragon or at least rinse it if using a bagged and pre-washed variety.

Choking hazard 

The lettuce leaves are quite frilly and very likely to stick on the dragon's throat and cause choking. Although most bearded dragons are thorough chewers, there is a slight chance that an un-chewed leaf can find its way on the throat walls. To prevent choking accidents, lettuce should always be served finely chopped or hand ripped.

Feeding Guidelines: Lettuce for Bearded Dragons

As mentioned, when adding lettuce to your bearded dragon's menu, you need to consider several safety points, such as portion size, serving frequency, and preparation methods.

How Much Lettuce Can Bearded Dragons Eat?

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

Feeding more than a handful of lettuce can cause short-term issues such as digestive troubles and long-term problems, including vitamin A toxicity and nutritional deficiencies.

How Often Can Bearded Dragons Eat Lettuce?

In theory, bearded dragons can eat lettuce a few times a week. However, bearded dragons have tiny tummies that need to be filled with various foods offering an array of nutrients.

Considering lettuce is mostly water and with versatility in mind, it is safe to assume that you should not feed lettuce more than once a week. It would be wise to give lettuce once a week and, in the meantime, serve your bearded dragon other more nutritious greens like arugula, escarole, dandelion, or kale.

How to prepare and serve lettuce to my bearded dragon?    

Luckily lettuce is easily found – just go through the veggie section in your local grocery store or at the farmer's market. However, try not to pick up the first lettuce that comes to hand. Inspect the lettuce you choose carefully for signs of spoilage.

1.  The right lettuce should look fresh, green, and healthy. Discoloration, sliminess, and decay are signs of spoilage. Basically, if the lettuce looks like something you would eat, it is perfectly good for your bearded dragon.

2. If you use the fresh version, you need to thoroughly wash it as soon as you bring it home. Once washed, unless it is treat time, storing it in the refrigerator in an airtight container is advisable.

Lettuce is also available fresh and bagged in plastic. The bagged version is more practical – just open the bag and select a leaf. There is no need for thorough washing as bagged varieties are washed before being packed. Nonetheless, it would not hurt to rinse the lettuce again.

3. It is important to chop the lettuce leaves into smaller pieces. Alternatively, you can hand rip them. Unless chopped or torn, your bearded dragon can choke on lettuce as lettuce leaves are frilly.

4. Always serve the lettuce in a food bowl or plate. Because of its high water content, lettuce can make a mess within the enclosure.

5. Once your bearded dragon has finished snacking on lettuce leaves, remove the leftovers from the enclosure. By leaving the leftovers for longer than an hour, you risk your bearded dragon eating spoiled lettuce and bacteria spreading to other foods.

different types of lettuce

Nutrition Facts

These the nutrients found in 100 grams of green leaf lettuce offer:

  • 15 calories
  • 94.98 g water
  • 0.2 g fat
  • 0 g cholesterol
  • 0.1 g polyunsaturated fat
  • 1.4 g protein
  • 2.9 g carbohydrates
  • 0.8 g sugar
  • 1.3 g fiber

Green leaf lettuce also contains the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Calcium.

From the nutritional analysis, it can be concluded that lettuce is extremely low in calories, fats, and sugars, which makes it an ideal healthy snack choice.

Although lettuce contains several vitamins and minerals, their content compared to the water content makes the lettuce's nutritional value practically negligible.

Bottom line – Can Bearded Dragons Have Lettuce?

Yes, on occasions, bearded dragons can eat lettuce. However, it is best when kept in moderation and offered no more than once a week. Lettuce is not a staple food for bearded dragons and should be perceived exclusively as a treat.

When it comes to the lettuce's safety for bearded dragons, portion size and serving frequency are not the only essential factors – the type of lettuce is of paramount importance as not all lettuce types are equally beneficial and risk-free.

Remember, the best thing you can do for your bearded dragon is to offer high-quality and nutrient-rich foods. As for lettuce, it makes good light and occasional treat option.

Vet's Comment

Young bearded dragons start as carnivores, and then their nutritional needs change, and they grow into omnivores who need 70% plant-based foods and 30% meat-based foods. The plant-based portion of their diet is made mainly of veggies and leafy greens.

In those terms, lettuce is a good choice for bearded dragons that like to occasionally snack on light and crunchy leafy greens. Although lettuce is classified as a bearded dragon-friendly food, there are far better and nutrient-dense snack options, including kale, dandelion, mustard greens, bok choy, and Swiss chard.

- 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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