Have you noticed your bearded dragon walking or moving in strange ways?
Has your beardie broken a bone or showing signs of a deformity?
Metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons is a relatively common but preventable illness.
Recognizing symptoms and treating diseases effectively are all part of being a good reptile owner.
As bearded dragon owners, detecting diseases as early as possible is an essential aspect of your pet’s recovery.
This is why we wrote this guide on metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons.
Metabolic bone disease is caused by an inability to absorb enough calcium. Recovery is possible with the right veterinary care, but it could become fatal if gone untreated.
Let’s learn more about this disease, the warning signs, how to treat it, and how to prevent it from affecting your bearded dragon.
Table of Contents
What Is Metabolic Bone Disease?
Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is an illness stemming from calcium disruptions, which weaken bones, muscles, and body tissues.
The disease is a scene most often in bearded dragons under 2 years old.
It is a severe and all-too-common illness usually brought on by inappropriate husbandry practices.
MBD is easy to prevent by providing your beardie with a good diet, good care, and appropriate habitat.
What Causes Metabolic Bone Disease In Bearded Dragons?
Several factors can lead to insufficient calcium absorption.
Not Enough Calcium In Diet
A bearded dragon requires calcium for healthy bones, teeth, muscles, and body tissues.
A diet lacking in calcium could easily bring on metabolic bone disease.
High Levels Of Phosphorus Or Oxalates
Both phosphorus and oxalates prevent the absorption of calcium.
A diet high in either of these could cause your beardie’s calcium levels to be too low.
Not Enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D3 allows calcium to be absorbed in the first place.
Without vitamin D3, your bearded dragon may be eating correct amounts of calcium, but its body may not be able to process its nutritional value.
UVB Lighting And Enclosure Temperatures
Since we can’t offer unfiltered sunlight, bearded dragons require appropriate tank temperatures and UVB light exposure to produce vitamin D in their bodies.
Natural sunlight would help, but the temperature instability of being exposed to the sun makes it undesirable.
These environmental factors directly relate to good calcium absorption, and therefore, to good bone and body health.
Improper UVB is one of the two leading causes of MBD and plays a significant role in developing this disease.
Metabolic bone disease may also be the byproduct of another health condition.
- Kidney and liver diseases may prevent vitamin D from becoming active in a beardie’s body.
- Small intestinal diseases may impair calcium absorption.
- Thyroid or parathyroid diseases may impair the rate of calcium absorption.
If your bearded dragon has any of these illnesses, its risk of developing MBD is higher.
What Are The Symptoms Of Metabolic Bone Disease In Bearded Dragons?
The signs of metabolic bone disease vary depending on the severity of the illness.
Keep an eye out for any of these symptoms.
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen legs
- Swollen lower jaw
- Soft jaw or facial bones (also called “rubber jaw”)
- Flexible bones which dent or bend
- Bumps along spine
- Crooked backs
- Toes curving upward
- Broken toes or limbs
- Jerking, shaky movements in toes and legs, especially when walking
- Tremors or seizures
- Crouching low to the ground or laying on stomach
- Difficulty walking and standing upright
Contact a veterinarian, even for the mildest of symptoms.
Early detection dramatically increases the chance your bearded dragon will be able to make a full recovery.
Health Issues Caused By Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic bone disease can cause several life-altering health issues in your pet.
- Brittle bones which break easily
- Deformities which could remain even after the disease has been treated
- Inability to eat
Recovery is possible.
However, a disease developed into later stages could leave a beardie with lifelong deformities or disabilities.
Recovery from MBD is painful and takes a long time.
How To Treat Metabolic Bone Disease
Online articles are not a replacement for veterinary care, especially when it comes to a health condition as serious as metabolic bone disease.
Take your bearded dragon to the vet as soon as you notice symptoms; don’t attempt to treat MBD at home without consultation.
What A Veterinarian Will Do
When you take your bearded dragon to its appointment, expect the vet to perform bloodwork and take x-rays to test for MBD.
If your beardie does have metabolic bone disease, the vet will discuss the next steps and a treatment plan.
In mild cases, a veterinarian may prescribe:
- Calcium or vitamin D supplements or injections
- Diet changes
- Special lighting requirements
- Habitat temperature adjustments
The goal is to reverse the nutritional deficiencies and prevent further stunted growth or bone fractures.
In more advanced cases, your pet may have other symptoms needing immediate treatment, like broken bones.
Broken Bones In Your Bearded Dragon
For larger broken limbs (like legs), veterinarians will sometimes use internal fixation, like rods, to ensure your bearded dragon’s bone heals correctly.
However, if your beardie has MBD, it may not be possible to use internal fixation methods because the bones are too soft.
In these cases, the vet will most likely use a splint for larger limbs or let small breaks (like toes) heal on their own.
Help Your Bearded Dragon Recover At Home
Always follow the veterinarian’s instructions.
Make any necessary adjustments to your beardie’s enclosure so it can easily get around while it’s recovering.
- Provide an extra-shallow water bowl, so there isn’t any danger of drowning
- Make sure the basking spot is easy to get on and off of.
- Ensure there are no places your beardie can get stuck or fall
Avoid handling your bearded dragon while it’s recovering from MBD unless it’s necessary to do so.
How To Prevent Metabolic Bone Disease In Bearded Dragons
The key to preventing MBD is to provide your beardie with an appropriate habitat, maintain good hygiene in its enclosure and feed it a well-balanced diet.
Bearded dragons need:
- UVB lighting
- Appropriate temperature ranges which change from daytime to nighttime
- A diet high in calcium and low in phosphorus
- Continuous access to shallow fresh water.
Let’s investigate these concepts in more detail.
UV Lighting for Bearded Dragons
High-ultraviolet lights like full-spectrum fluorescents and mercury vapor bulbs are the most popular choices for bearded dragon habitats.
UVB lighting requirements for bearded dragons are:
- 8% to 10% output of UVB rays
- 12 hours per day of UVB exposure
- Direct exposure to UV rays
- Place fluorescent bulbs no more than 10″ inches (25.4 cm) away from your pet
- Place mercury vapor bulbs between 12 and 24″ inches (67 cm) away from your pet
Make sure there is nothing between the bulbs and your beardie.
Plexiglass, glass, plastic, and metal mesh all block a significant number of light rays.
Here are a few pointers for choosing the right UVB light bulbs for your bearded dragon’s enclosure.
- Compact fluorescent bulbs have too high of a UV percentage output for bearded dragons. Only use full-spectrum fluorescents.
- Replace full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs every six months no matter what. They run out of UV rays before the bulb burns out.
- Mercury vapor bulbs cost more, but they also last longer and will heat the enclosure.
Make sure you have the right lighting fixture for the enclosure’s bulbs.
Fixtures should have reflection built-in, so the UV rays are directed back into the cage.
Fixtures must also be able to withstand the heat of the lighting unit.
This is especially important for mercury vapor bulbs, which require a ceramic socket.
Appropriate Temperatures For Bearded Dragon Enclosures
Baby beardies require a hotter enclosure than adults.
Babies should have regular temperatures of 90 to 110° degrees Fahrenheit (43° C), and adults should have 80 to 93° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
The basking area should be the hottest part of the cage, between 95 and 110° degrees Fahrenheit (43° C).
Provide shady and directly lit areas in the tank. One side of the cage should be cooler than the other.
There need to be various options so your bearded dragon can regulate its body temperature as it needs.
At night, the overall temperature should drop by at least 10° degrees Fahrenheit (6° C).
Well-Balanced Diets for Bearded Dragons
As bearded dragons get older, they require fewer insects and more vegetation. Review this table to see feeding proportions for different ages of beardies.
|Life Stage||Age Range||Insects in Diet||Vegetation in Diet|
|Baby||0 to 5 months||80%||20%|
|Juvenile||5 to 17 months||50%||50%|
|Adult||Over 17 months||20%||80%|
Beardies require a diet high in calcium and low in phosphorus.
Feeding them organic produce is best because there aren’t unwanted chemicals on the food.
Some good sources of calcium for beardies include:
- Dandelion leaves
- Mustard greens
- Cactus leaves
Ask your veterinarian about dietary supplements, as well.
Many bearded dragons benefit from a calcium vitamin supplement’s sprinkling on their food two to three times each week, and a vitamin D3 supplement a separate two to three times each week.
When using calcium supplements, don’t mix more than one together.
Metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons is a scary and severe health condition.
But the good news is, it’s preventable and treatable.
Create a healthy and appropriate habitat for your beardie.
Feed it the good stuff it needs.
Practicing good husbandry will keep your bearded dragon the spry and energetic creature it was meant to be!
The Bearded Dragon Handbook
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