Adequate nutrition is vital to your bearded dragon’s health, happiness, and overall quality of life.
As perhaps one of the essential minerals to your pet’s wellbeing, calcium helps to keep their bones strong, and their bodies are functioning correctly.
But how do you supply your dragon with enough calcium to thrive?
As a general rule, bearded dragons require high amounts of calcium to facilitate bone development and growth. Calcium helps to prevent bone health issues bearded dragons are uniquely susceptible to, such as metabolic bone disease. It also helps to keep female dragons’ eggs strong and healthy.
Read on to learn more about giving your lizard calcium, how much they need, the best calcium supplements to use, and why it’s so crucial in the first place.
We’ll also discuss how to address a calcium overdose or deficiency and what other nutrients your scaly friend needs.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Need Calcium?
The main reason why your dragon needs calcium as part of a proper diet is similar to why humans and other animals need it:
However, it is essential to note increased bone health is far from the only benefit of added calcium in a beardie’s diet.
It also is crucial for muscle health and function, blood clotting, and it even helps to regulate your lizard’s metabolism to keep them within a healthy weight range.
Calcium also assists with heart, nervous system, and even brain function!
Overall, it is a vital nutrient with many uses your dragon needs to survive.
You might at first be thinking, “but beardies in the wild don’t get calcium supplements!”
This is true, but wild dragons also don’t live nearly as long as those in captivity because of this.
Wild beardies are far more susceptible to bone health issues, poor muscle tone and development, and stunted growth in general due to the lack of calcium supplementation and other helpful vitamins and minerals in their diet.
To help maximize your dragon’s lifespan, regulate their metabolism, and keep their bones and muscles in the best condition possible, they will need a regular calcium supplement in captivity in addition to the calcium they derive from the foods making up their diet.
Unfortunately, a varied diet of calcium-rich foods isn’t nearly enough when it comes to keeping your pet healthy and extending their lifespan as much as possible.
To get the appropriate amount of calcium needed, they will need more than the occasional plate of dark greens and other fresh vegetables.
Of course, calcium-rich foods still help.
While issues are still possible if your dragon consumes too much calcium, it is better for your lizard to be getting too much rather than too little.
This is where the wide range of liquid and powder supplements on the market come in to help boost the amount of the mineral in your dragon’s diet.
There are many great supplements on the market, many of which are commonly found at pet stores, to help you supply your beardie with the extra bit of calcium they need.
Is D3 Necessary In a Calcium Supplement?
You’ve probably noticed many calcium supplements also have a nutrient known as vitamin D3 in them.
This is because, in most cases, unless you’re using a mercury vapor bulb, your dragon is going to need the vitamin to help its intestines absorb the calcium they are consuming.
It is also vital to mention while dragons in the wild usually get a fair amount of D3 from the sunlight they absorb.
In captivity, they need UVB lighting to mimic natural sunlight and allow their bodies to convert vitamin D to D3 so they can properly utilize it and the calcium they get both from their diet and regular supplement.
Basically, if you’re going to purchase a calcium supplement, look for one with added D3.
As mentioned briefly above, the only case in which you wouldn’t need a D3 supplement is if you’re using a mercury vapor bulb.
These types of bulbs have a far higher UVB output than most other standard UVB bulbs and allow beardies to process D3 naturally without an added source as a result.
D3 and calcium go hand-in-hand when it comes to calcium intake and supplementation.
Ignore any supplements without D3; while they are generally less expensive than supplements with added D3, in the long term, they end up being more costly to your bearded dragon’s health.
Calcium Supplements And Calcium-rich Foods For Bearded Dragons
The most common types of calcium supplements come in two primary forms: liquid and powder.
Both are equally effective, so which one you use will likely come down to your and your dragon’s personal preferences.
The main difference between a liquid and a powder supplement is the means of administration and consumption.
While liquid calcium supplements are generally added to your dragon’s freshwater source (it is also possible to add them to your lizard’s food, but it’s a bit messier and less efficient), supplemental calcium powders are usually used to “dust” your dragon’s foods.
Many reptile owners prefer powder supplements because it is straightforward to sprinkle a bit of the powdered calcium on top of their dragon’s food, whether they’re eating feeder insects, vegetables, greens, or even fruits.
Your dragon won’t mind the taste as long as you don’t absolutely saturate their food in the powder, and these supplements are usually more accessible and easy to find than liquid supplements.
On the other hand, though, powder calcium supplements are messy and sometimes inconvenient if they are accidentally spilled.
Cleaning up powdered calcium is a hassle, so use extra care when dusting any foods with it.
Additionally, they are a bit more challenging to measure precise amounts, though you don’t necessarily need to be exact in your measurements anyway.
Liquid supplements, while a bit harder to find in stores, are also quite convenient as you are able to use a dropper or even a teaspoon to accurately measure and add the supplement to your lizard’s water or food with ease.
Both types of supplements are great ways to ensure proper calcium intake and keep your dragon’s bones and muscles healthy, so use whichever type you and your lizard prefer.
Are Liquid or Powder Supplements Best?
There’s no clear winner when it comes to comparing liquid to powder calcium supplements.
Just be sure the supplement has D3, and you’re giving your dragon enough of it every week.
Liquid supplements are somewhat harder to find and are sometimes more expensive, but they are also far less messy and easier to handle and measure correctly.
The choice between liquid versus powder supplements really just comes down to you and your lizard’s personal preferences; go with what works best for you and your pet.
Check out our post on the best bearded dragon calcium supplements for our review of popular well known brands we recommend.
Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio Explained
Another critical factor in understanding when providing your beardie with calcium supplements is something most reptile experts refer to as the calcium to phosphorus ratio.
Most foods you will give to your dragon will have a specific ratio of calcium to phosphorus.
It is essential to be aware of this ratio in any food you provide to your lizard.
Because of this, it is vital to always strive to give your dragon foods with the ideal calcium to phosphorus rate of 2:1.
With this ratio, your dragon will get twice as much calcium as phosphorus, so even if some of the calcium is absorbed by the phosphorus and excreted in their waste, they’ll still have enough left over for their body to absorb.
Strive to feed your beardie foods with a calcium to phosphorus ratio (sometimes abbreviated as Ca:P) of at least 2:1.
A ratio of 3:1 or higher is even better, but 2:1 is plenty, as in this case, your beardie is getting twice as much calcium than phosphorus.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should never feed your beardie foods with insufficient calcium to phosphorus ratio.
There are plenty of great occasional foods like certain fruits and vegetables with average to poor calcium to phosphorus ratios, but they have other vitamins and nutrients to make them worth feeding to your beardie.
Variety is vital, and calcium is far from the only thing your dragon needs to thrive.
How And When To Give Your Bearded Dragon Calcium
How you administer your beardie’s calcium supplement and how often you do so will primarily depend on the type of supplement you’ve purchased for them.
If you have decided on a liquid supplement, it is best to add the supplement to your dragon’s water or blend a fruit slurry and add the supplement with a syringe or dropper.
It is even possible to squirt it directly in your beardie’s mouth, but this is only recommended in dire circumstances where they are significantly calcium deficient or refusing to consume it in other formulations.
Powder supplements, on the other hand, are great and a bit more convenient because you are able to add them directly on top of your dragon’s foods.
Another great way to increase calcium intake is known as “gut loading” your beardie’s feeder insects.
By dusting your insects’ food with calcium, you’ll be able to ensure your dragon gets calcium both from the dusting on top of their food as well as inside the insects they consume.
Never put calcium powder directly in water, however, as this will create a mess and nasty-tasting water with a strange, unpleasant texture your beardie won’t want to drink.
A light dusting of calcium powder on your lizard’s feeder insects, greens, or other foods a few times per week is ideal.
Don’t thoroughly saturate the foods with the powder, as this will also create an awful texture and taste your dragon won’t enjoy.
A gentle sprinkling of the powder is sufficient for dragons of all ages and sizes.
Another far less popular means of calcium supplementation is via bone meal tablets or powder which contain high amounts of calcium.
These bone meal powders are much harder to find at your local pet shop than more readily available calcium supplements, but they are pretty effective and have very high calcium to phosphorus ratios.
In some cases, it is helpful to offer your beardie calcium up to once per day.
If your lizard happens to be a gravid female, she will need more calcium than usual to help with the growth and development of the clutch of eggs inside her.
Similarly, if your reptile veterinarian has identified a calcium deficiency in your beardie, they will need a little extra to help supplement their low levels.
Otherwise, 2-3 times per week is plenty to assist with your dragon’s bone and muscle health.
Calcium-Rich Foods to Supplement Calcium Intake
In addition to giving your beardie a regular calcium supplement, it helps to feed them foods high in calcium with good calcium to phosphorus ratios.
There are many great greens and vegetables high in this essential nutrient your beardie will love, including the following, just to name a few:
- Dandelion greens
- Carrot tops
- Mustard greens
Your beardie’s diet should be primarily made up of dark, leafy greens and vegetables, so opt for the above foods whenever possible to ensure they are getting an adequate amount of calcium not just from their supplement but also from their diet in general.
Avoid foods high in oxalates, also known as oxalic acid, as the substance interferes with calcium absorption.
Most fruits are pretty high in oxalic acid, rendering them unacceptable staple foods, but they are still acceptable if given as a treat on occasion.
There are also many vegetables fairly high in oxalic acid you should only feed sparingly, such as:
- Swiss chard
- Beet greens
- Collard greens
Avoid light varieties of lettuce such as romaine and iceberg at all costs, as they are primarily made up of water and are nutritionally deficient otherwise.
How Much Calcium Is Too Much?
Unfortunately, while your beardie does need plenty of calcium to thrive, it is also entirely possible to give them too much of a good thing.
There are many significant health concerns and issues associated with giving your dragon too much calcium, primarily known as hypercalcemia.
The main reason why too much calcium intake is problematic is it causes muscle calcification.
Calcified muscles will become hard and weak, which is extremely painful for your beardie.
In addition to hardened muscles, soft tissues will also mineralize and harden.
Hypercalcemia also affects the absorption of lots of other vital nutrients and minerals your dragon needs to survive, like iron, phosphorus, zinc, and more.
Although hypercalcemia is far rarer than hypocalcemia, also known as calcium deficiency, it is still essential to keep an eye out for symptoms of calcium overdose.
These symptoms include the following:
- Low energy or unusually lethargic behavior
- Weak muscles and difficulty moving
- Severe constipation and eventual impaction
Signs of Calcium Overdose
In rare cases, hypocalcemia becomes so severe it results in an acute overdose of calcium.
Very young and very old dragons are particularly at risk, as excess amounts of calcium will overwhelm their bodies much faster than it would for an otherwise healthy adult bearded dragon.
If you notice any of the following symptoms and are worried your bearded dragon has recently consumed too much calcium, get them to a qualified, reputable reptile veterinarian immediately.
If left untreated, calcium overdose will quickly become deadly or, at the very least, result in permanent health defects and even bone issues.
- Extremely lethargic behavior, not responding to external stimuli
- Shaking, seizing, or wobbling when attempting to move or walk
- Refusing to eat or drink
- Keeping eyes closed
- Avoiding heat sources or lamps
- Lack of bowel movements for several days or weeks
- Bloody stools
Shaking is a very common symptom that we’ve covered in more detail in another post on shaking in bearded dragons so make sure to check it out if your pet is experiencing this.
What If Your Bearded Dragon Doesn’t Get Enough Calcium?
While calcium overdose is possible, the main issue associated with improper calcium intake is a calcium deficiency, also known as hypocalcemia.
Most bearded dragons don’t get enough calcium to truly thrive, and in dire cases, your dragon will develop serious health issues and troubling symptoms, including:
- Seizures and excessive muscle twitching
- Soft, brittle bones, usually resulting in metabolic bone disease is left untreated
- General muscle weakness and lack of muscle tone
- Constipation and impaction
- Cloacal prolapse
- Tail rot
- Death, in severe cases
What Is Metabolic Bone Disease?
By far, the most severe side effect of hypocalcemia is metabolic bone disease, a common affliction of a dragon’s bone structure, muscle function, and other critical bodily functions and processes.
Without enough calcium to support their bones, they will become weak, brittle, and even deformed over time.
Metabolic bone disease is somewhat treatable, but most afflicted reptiles will end up with permanent bone deformities and health issues with bone and muscle function and structure.
In addition to being visually unpleasant, the illness is excruciating for reptiles affected by it, especially baby and senior bearded dragons.
Thankfully, the initial symptoms are immediately noticeable, and with prompt action and treatment, a near full recovery is possible.
If you notice any of the following symptoms mentioned, begin upping your dragon’s calcium intake as soon as possible.
If the symptoms have already become so severe your beardie’s bones appear deformed or feel brittle or weak to the touch, take them to a reptile vet immediately.
Here’s our dedicated guide on metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons for those seeking additional information.
Other Important Vitamins and Minerals Your Bearded Dragon Needs
While calcium is among the most essential minerals your bearded dragon needs to thrive and live as long as possible, there are plenty of other vitamins and minerals they need for other critical biological processes like immune health, neurological function, and more.
Let’s briefly cover the nutrients you’ll need to supply your beardie with in addition to calcium in order for them to stay healthy and happy.
Protein is primarily found in animal matter your beardie consumes, which mostly comes from the variety of feeder insects you will feed them.
This vital nutrient helps boost energy and keep them growing at a healthy rate.
It is crucial for baby and juvenile dragons while they grow and mature into their adult size.
Also known as beta carotene, vitamin A is essential for your beardie’s diet as it helps boost vision health, immune function, and reproductive health.
In addition to these, vitamin A also helps ensure your beardie’s organs function correctly, including their kidneys and liver.
Iron is another nutrient essential to babies and juvenile dragons, as it aids significantly with overall growth and development.
Supplementing your bearded dragon with enough iron is quite simple, as they will get most of their iron intake from the insects they consume.
Crickets are exceptionally high in iron, and dark greens are also excellent sources of the mineral.
Usually, an additional iron supplement is not necessary.
Although too much phosphorus is quite dangerous and will interfere with calcium absorption, a fair amount of this nutrient is essential for bone development.
If you stick to a nutritious diet for your dragon, an additional supplement will not be necessary, as they will get all the phosphorus they need from their diet.