Bearded dragons love eating treats, in the form of fruits and veggies especially. On YouTube, it is easy to click around and find videos of bearded dragons happily enjoying anything from blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and more.
What about spinach? After all, it is healthy, plentiful, and sold at just about every grocery store. It's low in calories. It seems like a no-brainer, right?
False. Spinach is actually a food that your bearded dragon should only eat in very small amounts. Some experts even say that spinach should not be a part of your beardie's diet at all. Let's find out why.
Can Bearded Dragons Eat Spinach?
Yes, bearded dragons can eat spinach. There is nothing toxic in spinach for pogonas. However, feeding spinach to your bearded dragon is not recommended. Check our vet-approved feeding guide for better options, as spinach contains oxalates that bind to calcium, causing calcium deficiency and metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons.
"Spinach, as with some other dark leafy veggies, contains oxalates, which hinders calcium absorption and metabolism, leading to nutritional deficiencies." says veterinarian surgeon Dr. Edele Grey. With bearded dragons, you need to be careful with foods that contain oxalic acids. Spinach is high in these oxalates, which are calcium-binding chemicals. Other greens that fall under this category include beet greens, kale, and swiss chard.
Oxalates bind to calcium and other helpful minerals preventing the bearded dragon from absorbing them into their bloodstream. This can lead to deficiencies despite supplementation.
More specifically, oxalates bind to calcium in the stomach and intestines and then exit the body via stool. Any oxalate that does not bind to calcium moves as a waste product from blood to kidneys and then exits the body via urine.
One or two leaves of these greens will not hurt, but there are many other (and far better) veggies for your dragon, so it's best not to feed spinach to your pet.
If you feed these to your bearded dragon often, they are likely to become nutrient deficient. Calcium is especially important for dragons; without enough of the mineral, they could fall victim to metabolic bone disease.
Health Benefits: Is Spinach Good for Bearded Dragons?
Spinach is sold everywhere and in a few different forms: frozen, fresh, or canned. It doesn't matter which form you prefer. They are all not good for beardies.
Spinach is not toxic or harmful in small quantities, but there are far better alternatives to be safe.
Depending on its age, a bearded dragon's diet should be about 60% plant material and 40% animal-based. When growing up, beardies tend to be more carnivorous, and later in life, they eat a more plant-based diet.
About 80-90% of the plant material should be vegetables and flowers with the remaining 10-20% fruit. A majority of the diet should consist of dark green, leafy plants.
Suitable Leafy Greens for Beaded Dragons
Spinach isn't recommended, but there are many great alternatives you can offer your pet. Some of them include:
- Dandelion Greens
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Tropical hibiscus
- Garden nasturtium
- Maple Leaves
- Mixed salad leaves
- Rose Petals
Commercially Made Treats
Online or in your favorite local pet shop, you can find pre-made bearded dragon treats. These are reasonably priced and are safe for your dragon as a weekly treat.
Dubia roaches make a nice treat. They are nutritious and high in protein. They are easy to buy online, and your dragon will love them.
Vitamin C and antioxidants are the main awesome things about blueberries. The second awesome thing is the fact that these fruits are bite-sized and easy to wash and serve to your beardie. You can offer a few small blueberries each week or biweekly as a refreshing treat for your dragon. They are fun for your pet to scoop up with their tongue and swallow whole.
Sweet potato is plentiful and available just about everywhere. And, you can serve them raw if you like, just make sure the skin is peeled off. This ensures your bearded dragon doesn't consume any pesticides or dirt that did not get washed off.
Make sure to cut the raw sweet potato into manageable chunks. Offer two or three small pieces every couple of weeks. If your dragon does not like raw sweet potato, they can try cooked or mashed pieces.
Mango makes for a good occasional treat. It is high in sugar, so like all treats make sure you cut it into small pieces and only feed about three or four small bits. It makes a delicious and refreshing way for your dragon to get some enrichment and enjoy a summer treat.
Health Risks: Is Spinach Bad for Bearded Dragons?
With all the great benefits we know spinach has for humans, it seems like it would be a good idea to let your bearded dragon eat some of this low-calorie, high-mineral content leafy green. But why should bearded dragon owners stay away? Let's figure it out now.
It's Harmful to Kidneys
Spinach contains oxalic acids. These oxalates, if consumed in excess, can lead to kidney stones. If there are too many oxalates, and too little liquid in the urine, these stones form. The end result is very uncomfortable for your pet. The process of stone formation is dangerous, too: it may lead to renal tissue damage and a decrease in renal function, even kidney failure.
These oxalates have the same effect on bearded dragons as they do on humans. Oxalates bind trace minerals and calcium and prevent them from being absorbed properly. The end result is a bearded dragon that is poorly nourished.
After all, bearded dragon owners know the importance of calcium. Part of owning a bearded dragon is dusting the insects with a calcium supplement.
Feeding your bearded dragon an excess of spinach, and using it as a staple food, would prevent them from using any of the calcium they are given in other areas of their diet.
Metabolic Bone Disease
Should a bearded dragon become deficient in calcium, it will develop a disorder known as metabolic bone disease.
Known medically as secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism, this is one of the most common health problems that pet bearded dragons face. More often than not, this happens in juveniles aged two years or less.
This disease comes about as a result of a poor diet, especially one that is low in calcium, high in phosphorus, and low in Vitamin D3.
You will notice a swelling in the lower jaw of your dragon, softening of the facial bones, and swelling in the back legs. The legs may tremor as the bearded dragon attempts to move around.
The dragon will not be able to walk around as normal, nor can they push their body up. They may end up lying on their stomachs or crouch low.
As the disease continues, the reptile will undergo effects such as loss of appetite, lethargic behavior, muscle twitches, and seizures.
The effects of metabolic bone disease are not curable. Effects can be reversed to a degree, but the dragon will not live a fully normal life. The best thing to do is avoid it altogether by staying away from high-oxalate foods like spinach and ensuring your dragon has plenty of calcium and UVB light.
Feeding Guidelines - Spinach for Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons should not be given spinach. One or two leaves will not harm the reptile, but given that there are far better options out there, consider serving one of these better and healthier options.
Spinach is a good and nutrient-dense leafy green for us humans. Just 100g of raw spinach contains 23 calories and 2.9g of protein. It is a food that is high in fiber and contains a healthy dose of manganese, Vitamin C, iron, and potassium.
If you cook spinach, it helps boost the Vitamin A concentration. It helps lower one's risk of cancer, supports the health of one's eyes, and helps the blood's ability to transport oxygen.
Another benefit is that the vitamin C helps your body absorb iron. Lastly, the high Vitamin K content of spinach aids in clotting the blood to help reduce bleeding after an injury takes place.
Spinach is not the ideal leafy green you should be giving to your bearded dragon. The oxalates are to blame for this; having too many of them can reduce the amount of calcium your bearded dragon absorbs.
This, in turn, could lead to a calcium deficiency, which could affect your bearded dragon with metabolic bone disease.
It drastically reduces the quality of life and health for your pet. It is best to avoid this green and opt for a better choice, such as dandelion greens, collard greens, or kale.
Why is spinach bad for bearded dragons?
Spinach is bad for bearded dragons because of the oxalates it contains. If spinach is fed too often, these oxalates bind to calcium, causing you beardie to become deficient in calcium and develop Metabolic bone disease (MBD)– even if you are supplementing calcium. Spinach is ok for bearded dragons, but only when fed in strict moderation along with other leafy greens that have low oxalate levels.
Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is also called secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism and is one of the most common health ailments seen in pet beardies. Younger dragons are more prone to developing the disease, and the most common cause is being fed a diet high in phosphorus and low in calcium or vitamin D3.
Vitamin D helps your beardie to absorb calcium, so you should ensure that they're receiving sufficient UV-B light in their enclosure alongside their dietary supplements.
Spinach contains oxalates which bind to calcium can form firm mineral deposits and cause your beardie to become deficient in calcium and possibly develop MBD despite your best attempts at supplementation.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
Edele Grey, BSc, MVB, PGCertESM, MRCVS was born and raised in Ireland on a farm, so she was destined for veterinary-related work from a young age. Dr. Grey attended the only veterinary university in Ireland, the University College Dublin, and graduated in 2013. Since graduation, Dr. Grey has worked with a range of exotic, companion, and production animal species.
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.