Supplement. That word can evoke strong reactions among some people. For humans, the supplement industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar behemoth full of hucksters and charlatans.
That is one of the many possible reasons that some bearded dragon owners dismiss the importance of buying supplements for their beardies. Whether it’s a complete lack of supplementation or an inattention to the quality of those supplements, not supplementing correctly can lead to a wide range of health problems for bearded dragons kept as pets.
Bearded dragons should be given 3 basic supplements in addition to a healthy diet. They should receive a multivitamin 3-5 times per week, calcium 4-7 times per week, and vitamin D no more than 3 times per week. Since they cannot get these in the correct amounts from their food, supplements are necessary.
Bearded dragons in captivity
Bearded dragons in the wild don’t need supplementation. Their varied diets, room to roam, and plentiful sunlight give them everything they need to be strong and healthy (as long as they don’t end up as another animal’s lunch!)
Beardies in captivity don’t enjoy the same benefits. Their diet is more restricted and less variable, they don’t have a lot of room to move and exercise, and even the best lighting setup can’t come close to regular day-long sunshine.
For these reasons, captive bearded dragons need our help in filling the holes created by living in captivity. The things they would naturally get in the wild simply aren’t there in their cozy vivarium. It’s up to us as responsible beardie owners to fill that gap with regular supplementation.
What supplements do bearded dragons need?
Luckily this is a simple and rather short answer.
There are 3 basic supplements that any bearded dragon in captivity needs: calcium, vitamin D, and a good multivitamin.
While some of this can come from a proper diet (see our complete nutrition guide here!), the remaining balance should be given in the form of supplements.s
These three things are easy to give, inexpensive, and simple to keep track of.
Why do bearded dragons need these supplements?
Calcium, a necessary component of bone growth and strength, is critical to raising a healthy bearded dragon. The first step is to feed your beardie a diet full of calcium-rich foods (for a complete list, see our food guide).
The next step is to give your beardie supplemental calcium a few times a week. We’ll cover how much and how often in a minute.
Without proper calcium intake, your beardie is at risk of developing metabolic bone disease. We wrote an entire article on it that you can read here, but in short, it’s not a pleasant problem to deal with. Luckily, it is easily avoided with proper calcium intake and supplementation.
Vitamin D is needed because it allows the dietary and supplemental calcium taken in by your bearded dragon to be absorbed by their body. Without vitamin D, calcium is not bioavailable and, therefore, can’t do its job.
A good multivitamin is needed to avoid a host of other possible health issues. As with humans, a good multivitamin provides a solid base. It is a catch-all insurance policy, and every beardie needs its benefits.
Can’t bearded dragons get everything in their diets?
To see all the foods you can and can’t feed a bearded dragon, make sure and check out our complete bearded dragon food list with 237 different foods listed. We’ll show you what’s safe, what’s not, and what the healthiest food choices are for your beardie!!!
The real-world answer to this question is “yes, but they won’t”. Not only would your food selection have to be impeccable, but your beardie would need to eat the right amounts in the right proportions every day.
Anyone who owns a bearded dragon can tell you that your beardie will most likely not cooperate with you on the food you want them to eat. They are notoriously picky eaters.
For this reason, it’s much easier and a whole lot better to simply supplement a multivitamin regularly.
Which types of Calcium, Vitamin D, and multivitamins are best?
There is some debate about whether or not bearded dragons can get enough calcium from their diets. In the end, it’s very hard for them to get too much (although it is, technically, possible). So it makes sense to err on the side of regular supplementation.
There is also debate as to what type of calcium is best to use. Most bearded dragon owners and breeders use powdered calcium. Others will insist that powdered calcium is not bioavailable and is totally ineffective.
Our vet is in the second camp. He recommends liquid calcium gluconate instead. He said that this liquid form of calcium is almost completely absorbed and is a much better form to give to bearded dragons.
After a ton of research and talking to other vets, breeders, and owners, we’re not sure this is needed. While it might be more bioavailable, anecdotal evidence points towards the powdered variety working just fine for most beardies.
In other words, thousands of bearded dragon owners around the world use the powdered form, and their beardies grow up healthy and free of metabolic bone disease.
While liquid calcium gluconate might truly be a better form, we don’t know that it’s enough better to warrant its use. Especially for those of us that don’t want to administer it orally on a regular basis.
We use and highly recommend RepCal Calcium with D3. You can pick that up here. We also include a non-D3 Calcium that you can pick up quickly and easily here.
Surprise, surprise, there is a debate here too. Many breeders and owners supplement with calcium that has vitamin D3 mixed in. It kind of makes sense to do this since it’s vitamin D3 that’s needed to make the calcium bioavailable.
Quite a few others state that orally administered vitamin D3 is not absorbed at all by bearded dragons. They argue that almost 100% of a bearded dragon’s vitamin D3 is produced naturally in their skin when exposed to proper levels of UVB light.
In the wild, this is absolutely the case. The UVB provided by direct sunlight 12 hours a day is more than enough to keep wild bearded dragons well-stocked in vitamin D.
The question is whether or not the beardies in captivity are getting enough to provide the same levels.
We think both sides make a good case, and there really aren’t any reliable scientific studies to point us firmly in the right direction. For that reason, we recommend an answer somewhere in the middle.
First and foremost, regardless of the vitamin D issue, your beardie needs a good, strong source of UVB (This Repti Sun T5 is the most highly recommended UVB on the market). We use a combination of both a dedicated UVB bulb along with a mercury vapor basking lamp (Click here to see the only brand of MVB we would buy). To see full details on the best lighting setup for your bearded dragon, check out our complete guide to lighting here.
With lighting taken care of, it can’t hurt to lightly supplement, either. Supplemental vitamin D shouldn’t be a daily thing (see our recommendations below), but it probably should be in place as a just-in-case.
If you decide to forgo vitamin D3 as a supplement, it is highly recommended that you use a mercury vapor bulb combined with a UVB light like the Reptisun T5 10.0. If you are going to expect your beardie to manufacture 100% of its own D3 needs via UVB light, it only makes sense to provide a lot of it.
Since getting the right levels of UVB can be tricky (too much strength too close to your beardie can cause health issues like cataracts), make sure to reference our complete lighting guide for everything you’ll need to know!
Reptiles have a specific need for a certain array of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. This need can be well met by a solid multivitamin. But beware, not all multivitamins are created equal. In fact, some can actually be dangerous to your bearded dragon!
We learned this lesson the hard way. Our beardie was sick for months and racked up hundreds of dollars in vet bills before we finally realized what was causing her to feel so bad.
She would eat and then throw up her food. She then wouldn’t eat for days until she seemed a little better and would eat again, only to have the cycle repeat. Vomiting is an extremely bad sign in bearded dragons, and they almost never do this when healthy.
Two vet visits later and we were then giving her twice-daily injections along with an oral medication. This lasted for a month. She didn’t get better, and we couldn’t figure out why.
So we took a look at what we were feeding her. In an effort to get her more healthy, we were dusting her feeders every time with a multivitamin. Each time she seemed to be getting better and would then eat, she just got worse again.
With a lot of research, we came across some information online indicating that a particular brand of multivitamin shouldn’t be given to bearded dragons due to a high concentration of vitamin A.
The culprit, it turned out, was indeed way too much vitamin A via this particular brand of multivitamin.
We immediately switched to a multivitamin with no vitamin A, and Bacardi quickly got better. She hasn’t had an issue since.
A good multi shouldn’t have any vitamin A at all! Instead, it should have beta carotene. This is a dietary precursor to vitamin A. In other words, your beardie will convert beta-carotene to vitamin A naturally.
This is how they get vitamin A from veggies like carrots. When ingested through their diets as vitamin A precursors like beta carotene, bearded dragons simply cannot overdose on vitamin A. When ingested as vitamin A through supplementations, they can quickly build up toxic levels in their systems.
In an effort to not get sued, we won’t tell you the name of the multivitamin that made our little Bacardi so sick. But we will tell you that the first item on the ingredient list on the back was a ton of vitamin A. We even include a picture of their back label below. Check your label. If you see this, stop using it immediately!!!
We highly recommend using Herptivite by RepCal instead (we always buy ours here). It’s the only reptile multivitamin that doesn’t use vitamin A and instead uses beta-carotene. Once we switched, we saw an almost immediate improvement in Bacardi’s health. She hasn’t been sick or vomited her food since!
How to give supplements to your bearded dragon
There are basically two ways that we, as beardie parents, can administer these 3 key supplements.
The most common way is by dusting their food with the powdered form of the supplements. You can dust both your feeder insects as well as your salads and greens.
This is easy on the salad. Crickets are a different story. While it’s not pointed out in our article comparing crickets and dubia roaches to determine which is the best feeder, we’ll point it out here. It’s a ton easier to dust roaches with supplements than it is with crickets.
We also feel like roaches retain more of the supplement on their bodies as they don’t jump around at all. This is just one more reason we use dubia roaches and various worms as our feeders of choice!
To dust the roaches, just keep a small container of each supplement handy. Drop the roaches in, swirl them around, and voila! It really couldn’t be easier.
Supplement schedule for bearded dragons
Now that we have a good handle on why our beardies need supplements, along with what types of supplements they actually need, let’s address how often each should be given.
This will be different for different aged dragons, so we’ll break them down into three groups. Youth (less than one year), Juvenile (1-2 years), and adult (2+ years).
Beardies less than a year old should receive calcium 7 days a week and a multivitamin 4-5 days a week.
Beardies who are 1-2 years old should get calcium 5-6 days a week and a multivitamin 3-4 days a week.
Beardies over 2 years old should get calcium 4-5 days a week and a multivitamin 2-3 days a week.
|Beardie Age||Calcium||Multivitamin||Vitamin D|
|< 1 year old||Daily||4-5 days/week||3 days/wk MAX|
|1-2 years old||5-6 days/week||3-4 days/week||3 days/wk MAX|
|2+ years old||4-5 days/week||2-3 days/week||3 days/wk MAX|
Vitamin D3, if you choose to use it, should be given 3 times a week to any age beardie, but no more than that. See the above section on vitamin D for the reasons you may or may not choose to administer it to your beardie.
Assuming you are playing it safe and adding vitamin D to the mix, that means should have 3 supplements on hand:
- Calcium with no vitamin D. We love the calcium from RepCal for this. It’s easy to find and typically less expensive when purchased on Amazon. Check its current price here.
- Calcium with vitamin D. RepCal is your best option here. You can see the current pricing on this by clicking here.
- A multivitamin powder. We only recommend you use HerptiVite by RepCal for this. As mentioned above, it’s the only reptile vitamin made with beta carotene instead of vitamin A. Please, stay away from ALL other multivitamins for this very reason! Do yourself a favor and pick some of this up today.
Making it easy
First, get yourself a few open-mouthed containers to put your supplement doses in. Too many people try to sprinkle the supplements on their feeders, and that just doesn’t work well at all.
When you are ready to feed, put your feeders (roaches work best this way) in the containers and put the lid on. Give the container a shake, and you have perfectly dusted feeders.
Use a pen or another utensil to pick out the feeders and put them in your feeding bin. Using a dedicated bin to feed in will keep more of the supplements on the bugs vs. just letting them loose in the enclosure.
Pro tip: label each container with not only what’s in it but what days of the week your beardie gets each one. That way, you’ll always know what they should get each day.
Doing this eliminates mistakes and makes your life really easy!
It might sound silly, but before I did this, I couldn’t tell you how much of anything Bacardi had gotten when she was sick. Creating these containers has made life much better for both of us!
Using the guidelines above for your beardie based on age, take a minute to set up a system like this for yourself, and you’ll be sure to get your beardie the supplements they need when they need them!
Sources and Further Reading
Can I give calcium daily?
Yes. Because of the low bioavailability of supplemental calcium, there is little chance of harm in giving it daily. That said, unless directed by your vet, we would stick to the schedule above. Hypercalcemia is rare, but it can happen. Best to avoid the possibility.
Can I give a multivitamin daily?
Yes. In fact, our vet recommends this. When using the proper vitamins (again, NOTHING with vitamin A in it!), there is little risk of overdoing things. But as we noted in the calcium question, anything can be overdone, so sticking to the recommended schedule is a good idea.
Can I use any type of calcium, D, or multi, or does it have to be specific to reptiles?
We have recommended our preferred supplement types in the article above. It is not recommended to use supplements not specifically intended for reptiles.