Do you think your bearded dragon may have metabolic bone disease?
How do you help prevent and cure it?
You’ve heard about MBD, but you might not be sure what it means.
It’s a scary and potentially life-threatening disease, but it’s possible to help.
We’re here to walk you through this disease and what you may want to do.
Is Bearded Dragon MBD Curable?
While there is no complete cure for MBD, and it may recur throughout your pet’s life, it is not necessarily a death sentence. If you address MBD symptoms early, you will have a much better chance of bringing your pet relief and completely reversing symptoms.
A complete reversal of MBD will take time.
Some owners have reported it taking up to six months before their pet is feeling and acting normal again.
However, addressing symptoms with vet care right away can provide some relief for your pet in as little as two weeks!
Using medication, providing proper UVA and UVB radiation, and increasing calcium in the supplements and diet are the best and most thorough treatments for bearded dragons with MBD.
Keep up with them and have patience: your pet is counting on you.
What Is Bearded Dragon MBD?
Metabolic bone disease is an extreme calcium and possibly also a vitamin D3 deficiency.
MBD is common in pet reptiles, especially those not receiving complete nutrition or adequate UVB radiation.
These deficiencies lead to the breaking down of a lizard’s bones.
In severe cases, these deficiencies lead to paralysis, a lot of discomfort and pain, permanent disfigurement, and even death.
The seriousness of MBD means you should address it with your vet as soon as possible.
If caught early, your pet has a much better chance of symptom reversal and survival.
How Does MBD Develop?
Metabolic bone disease is usually the result of improper husbandry and diet.
Several factors may lead to a calcium or vitamin D3 deficiency.
Even if you don’t think your bearded dragon has MBD, please make sure all elements of your husbandry are in working order.
The best cure for MBD is prevention.
Not Enough Or Too Much Calcium
MBD is often a result of insufficient or inappropriate amounts of calcium in a lizard’s diet.
Many vegetables, which bearded dragons should be eating a variety of, are calcium-rich.
Prickly pear cactus, collard greens, and dandelion leaves are high in calcium and are great staples for a beardie.
Speaking of the prickly pear cactus, here is our post on the benefits of feeding prickly pear cactus to bearded dragons if you want to learn more.
You should also be adding a powdered calcium supplement to feeder insects and greens 2-3 times a week.
If your beardie’s MBD results from too much calcium, cut out some of the excesses.
However, MBD is more often the result of insufficient calcium intake.
Pro Tip: Completely sanitized and ground eggshells make a great additional calcium source for a pet lizard.
Boiling is sufficient to sterilize an eggshell.
Some owners keep a calcium pot in their enclosure setup so their reptiles can lick it and get calcium whenever they might need it.
No UVB Or UVA Radiation
A bearded dragon in the wild would ordinarily get its required UVA and UVB radiation from sunlight.
Since putting a tank in direct sunlight is not an option, you will need to provide the necessary radiation through special lighting.
We recommend UVA and UVB tubes, as their radiation will spread over more of the enclosure, instead of a coiled bulb, which concentrates it in one area in the tank.
Make sure you set up lighting, so your beardie gets the required hours of UVA and UVB light a day.
These lights may be set on an automatic timer, meaning you don’t have to keep track yourself if you don’t want to.
Make sure you replace lighting tubes and bulbs every six months or so since they wear out over time.
UVA and UVB radiation help with metabolism as well as vitamin D3 production.
Without enough of this radiation, calcium and D3 are not absorbed into a reptile’s bones.
The Wrong Type Of Calcium Supplement
Though powdered calcium is the most widely available supplement on the market, it may be difficult for a bearded dragon to absorb it properly.
Calcium gluconate is an oral-syringe administered gel supplement.
Make sure to consult your veterinarian if you decide to change over from a powdered calcium supplement.
Too Much Phosphorus And Oxalates
While a variety of plant life is essential for your bearded dragon’s nutrition, some fruits and veggies should be fed sparingly, if at all.
Ideally, you want any food to have a higher ratio of calcium to phosphorus.
If the ratio is reversed, the high amount of phosphorus will interfere with the absorption of calcium.
This is why experts recommend feeding a bearded dragon bananas only once a month or so.
Oxalates are also compounds which interfere with calcium absorption.
Feed spinach and kale to your bearded dragon only occasionally, as these are high in oxalates.
Many other plants provide the same nutritional benefits of spinach, kale, and bananas without the high amounts of phosphorous and calcium.
The Enclosure Is Too Cold
Your bearded dragon needs heat to digest its food.
Without proper temperatures, your dragon cannot metabolize and absorb nutrients properly.
Make sure you have a thermometer and hygrometer installed in the enclosure to monitor temperatures and humidity.
Change up your heating setup if the basking side is too cold.
A bearded dragon enclosure should have a hot side and a cool side.
After eating and digesting, a bearded dragon will go to its cool side to thermoregulate.
If your pet is a juvenile or a baby, they will need slightly higher temperatures than adults.
An adult bearded dragon needs a basking spot at 100-105° degrees Fahrenheit (38-40° C) and a cool side between 80 and 90° degrees Fahrenheit (27-32° C).
A gradient between hot and cool sides is optimal.
Pro Tip: A temperature drop at night to 70-75° degrees Fahrenheit (21-24° C) is normal and encouraged.
Darkness and cooler temperature mimic real situations your pet would encounter in the wild and promote natural circadian rhythms.
However, if your beardie is ill, we recommend keeping nighttime temperatures warmer, around 75-80° degrees Fahrenheit (24-27° C), until issues are resolved.
Because of the dangers of using heat mats under a tank, we recommend purchasing and using a ceramic heat emitter.
This will provide the necessary heat without producing light.
Not Enough Room
Even with proper nutrition, lighting, and supplementation, studies have shown bearded dragons may develop MBD if they are kept in an enclosure which is too small and does not give them enough room to move.
Bearded dragons are largely terrestrial lizards, so stick with a terrarium with a lot of floor space.
Hammocks and climbing branches may provide great sources of mental stimulation.
Symptoms of Bearded Dragon MBD
Symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease include:
- tremors and twitching
- weakness, lethargy
- lack of appetite
- “rubber jaw,” softening of facial structure, swelling of jaw
- in severe cases, inability to close mouth
- stunted growth (especially true of juveniles and babies with MBD)
- paralysis and difficulty walking
- bone fractures, some bending without breaking, aka “greenstick” fractures
- seizures in severe enough cases
Severe cases of MBD are usually easier to see visually.
There will be deformities in a severe case of MBD, where early presentation may be more difficult to see.
Even if the symptoms seem minor if you suspect MBD, contact your vet right away.
The earlier you catch symptoms, the better the chance of recovery for your bearded dragon.
What Will Happen At The Vet?
Though your vet will receive a lot of important information from a description of your husbandry and diet, they may need to confirm an MBD diagnosis through x-rays, looking for deterioration and fractures.
A lab analysis of blood calcium and phosphorous levels may contribute to the confirmation.
Once your vet has confirmed the diagnosis of MBD, they will recommend and administer injectable or oral calcium supplementation.
They may also prescribe medication and should show you how to administer it.
Most importantly, they will discuss your husbandry setup and tell you how to improve it.
If you need to change anything about lighting, heat, or diet, they will let you know.
From there, stick to recommended changes and observe your pet closely.
Yes, metabolic bone disease in a bearded dragon is curable if caught and addressed early enough.
Since it is such a severe condition, the earlier, the better to call your vet if you suspect MBD.
MBD develops for multiple husbandry and diet-related reasons.
It is prevalent in pet reptiles, which need extra lighting and supplementation to provide nutrients they would ordinarily receive through sunlight and a regular diet in the wild.
Make sure you are following all dietary and husbandry rules for caring for a bearded dragon, and you are well on your way to preventing MBD and other serious conditions.