As a bearded dragon owner, you’re responsible for your beardie’s quality of life and health. One key component to this is adequate nutrition and supplementation. Of all the essential vitamins and minerals, calcium is vital for your bearded dragon’s well-being to keep their bodies functioning well and their bones strong.
But, how much calcium do bearded dragons have to have to thrive?
Generally speaking, bearded dragons need high amounts of calcium for their bones to develop properly and grow strong. Calcium is required for healthy bones and prevents bone problems that bearded dragons are susceptible to, like metabolic bone disease. Moreover, it’s an essential nutrient in keeping females’ eggs healthy and strong.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about calcium for bearded dragon health – how much calcium they need, why it’s crucial, and the best calcium supplements available.
We’ll also cover calcium deficiency, overdose, and other vital nutrients bearded dragons require.
Why Bearded Dragons Need Calcium
The most crucial reason why bearded dragons need calcium is, like humans, for bone health. Calcium is an essential nutrient that bearded dragons require for strong bones.
A good calcium intake means health issues like metabolic bone disease, hypocalcemia, and nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism can be prevented.
However, bone health isn’t the only reason why calcium supplementation is needed. This mineral plays an essential role in other bodily functions too. This includes metabolism regulation, blood clotting, and muscle function.
But Wild Bearded Dragons Don’t Have a Calcium Supplement!
This is a common point that is raised, and it is true. But, unfortunately, wild bearded dragons don’t have calcium supplements or powders – and they don’t live as long as your captive bearded dragons do.
Wild bearded dragons suffer from calcium deficiency-related issues much more frequently than their captive relatives. As a result, they are more susceptible to poor muscle development and tone, stunted growth, and bone health problems.
These wild bearded dragon health problems are due to poor calcium supplementation and a lack of other valuable minerals and vitamins.
Thankfully, captive bearded dragons have a much better chance of living a long and healthy life. Thanks to a calcium supplement, bearded dragons can regulate their metabolism better, keep their muscles and bones in good condition, and live longer lives.
Dietary Calcium Isn’t Enough
Unfortunately, you can’t rely on a calcium-rich diet on its own when it comes to calcium for bearded dragons. For their calcium levels to be appropriate, they need more than fresh vegetables and dark greens each week. These do, of course, help.
Though there are issues with beardies having too much calcium, they should have more than they need than not have enough.
There are lots of ways you can incorporate additional calcium into your bearded dragon’s diet. This includes bearded dragon calcium powders, liquid supplements, and gut-loading feeder insects.
You can find lots of supplements out there. You can find many of them at local pet stores or online.
The Best Calcium Supplements for Bearded Dragons
There are two common forms of calcium supplement treatments – powder and liquid. Both are just as effective, depending on your and your beardie’s preferences.
The most significant difference between the two is how they are consumed and administered.
Liquid calcium supplements are typically added to a bearded dragon’s water. You can add it to their food, but it’s not as efficient and is messy. With bearded dragon calcium powder, you simply dust the bearded dragon’s food before you give your bearded dragon it.
Many prefer bearded dragon calcium powder because it’s easy to sprinkle it on vegetables, fruits, and feeder insects.
If you don’t completely cover the food in powder, your bearded dragon won’t taste anything. It makes this way of supplementing much easier compared to liquids.
However, calcium powder can be hard to measure precisely compared to liquids. With liquids, you can use a teaspoon or dropper to know precisely how much you’re giving to your beardie.
Both calcium supplements are great and will help keep your pet’s muscles and bones healthy; there is no clear winner between the two.
Should Calcium Supplements Contain Vitamin D3?
Suppose you’ve noticed that most bearded dragon calcium supplements contain vitamin D3. In that case, you might be wondering why and whether or not this is necessary.
Unless your bulb is a mercury vapor bulb, it’s important to provide vitamin D3 alongside calcium. Vitamin D3 is needed for a bearded dragon to absorb calcium.
In the wild, bearded dragons get vitamin D3 from natural sunlight. However, in captivity, UVB lighting mimics this natural sunlight.
When bearded dragons consume vitamin D3, their kidneys and liver use it to help absorb calcium from their diet and the calcium supplements they’ve eaten.
Mercury Vapor Bulbs
As mentioned above, the only time you don’t need to provide additional vitamin D3 to a bearded dragon is if you use a mercury vapor bulb in the enclosure.
This type of UVB lighting has a higher output of UVB light than standard UVB light bulbs. This means bearded dragons can absorb enough vitamin D without the need for additional vitamin D3 supplements.
A good thing to remember is that calcium and vitamin d3 go hand-in-hand. This is also true for humans – especially ones that live far from the equator!
As a bearded dragon owner, you should ignore bearded dragon calcium supplements that don’t have added vitamin D3. Those that don’t contain vitamin D are usually cheaper. Still, you’ll likely pay more in vet’s bills if your bearded dragon can’t absorb calcium due to a vitamin D3 deficiency.
How Calcium and Phosphorus Are Linked
Suppose you’ve never heard of the link between calcium and phosphorus. In that case, it’s just as important as the link between calcium and vitamin D3.
This time though, it’s all about balance. Understanding the calcium/phosphorus ratio is essential. Most bearded dragon foods will have a specific ratio you need to be aware of.
It is vital to understand this ratio because phosphorus will absorb calcium and turn it into waste. As a result, your bearded dragon won’t be able to absorb the calcium himself and use it.
Essentially, food could be really high in calcium. Still, even higher in its phosphorus ratio, the bearded dragon’s calcium intake won’t be high enough.
The ideal calcium to phosphorus ratio is 3:1. With this ratio, your dragon will take in twice as much calcium as they do phosphorus, so even if the phosphorus absorbs some calcium, your beardie will still be getting enough.
Some foods will have a ratio (Ca:P) of 2:1 – this should be the minimum amount and will mean your dragon is getting enough calcium to avoid calcium deficiency.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t include foods with a poor ratio in a bearded dragon’s diet.
You can give your bearded dragon many foods, including certain vegetables and fruits that contain other nutrients and vitamins.
It’s good to have a varied diet; calcium isn’t the only nutrient your bearded dragon needs for a healthy life.
How Should You Give Your Bearded Dragon Calcium?
How your bearded dragon’s calcium is administered will depend on whether you have calcium powder supplements or liquid supplements.
Liquid Calcium Supplement
With a liquid, it’s best to add the calcium to your bearded dragon’s water or in a fruit mix using a dropper or syringe. Of course, alternatively, you could squirt it directly into your bearded dragon’s mouth, but this should be a last resort.
Whether you have a baby bearded dragon or an adult, it’s best to give your dragon his calcium supplement two to three times a week or every other day.
Calcium Powder Supplements
Calcium powder or calcium dust is more convenient. You can put it directly onto your bearded dragon’s food.
Unlike a liquid supplement, you should never put calcium powder into the water as the water will taste awful and have an unpleasant texture.
Lightly dusting all of your bearded dragon’s food with calcium powder a few times each week is perfect.
Foods shouldn’t be overloaded with calcium powder as this will not be pleasant for your bearded dragon; a gentle sprinkle will be enough.
Gut Loading with Feeder Insects
Another fantastic way to give your bearded dragon calcium is gut-loading feeder insects.
This means you dust the insects’ food with a calcium powder before giving it to them. Then, once the insects have consumed the food, you can give them to your bearded dragon. If you dust the insects too, you’ll ensure they’ll have enough calcium.
Bone Meal Powder Supplements or Tablets
This is an unpopular way of giving bearded dragon calcium but it’s still worth a mention.
Bone meal tablets and powder supplements aren’t easy to find, but they are practical. In addition, they do have high calcium to phosphorus ratios.
Calcium Supplements for Extra Needs
For some bearded dragons, you might need to offer a calcium supplement once a day.
For example, if you have a gravid female, she will require extra calcium to grow and develop her clutch of eggs.
Similarly, when a vet has identified a bearded dragon with a calcium deficiency, they will require extra supplementation to increase their calcium levels.
In all other cases, two to three times a week is enough to help your bearded dragon’s health.
Foods that Are Calcium-Rich
As well as giving your bearded dragon a calcium supplement regularly, it is a good idea to feed them calcium-rich foods while paying attention to the calcium to phosphorus ratio.
There are lots of vegetables and greens that contain high levels of calcium.
Foods That Are Naturally High in Calcium
- Dandelion greens
- Carrot tops
- Mustard greens
A bearded dragon’s diet should be mostly made up of vegetables and dark, leafy greens. Opting for the foods mentioned above will ensure your bearded dragon has enough dietary calcium on top of its supplements.
As well as considering the calcium to phosphorus ratio, bearded dragon owners must be mindful of feeding their dragons too many high-oxalate foods.
Oxalates, also called oxalic acid, are substances that interfere with a bearded dragon’s ability to absorb calcium.
Most fruits are high in oxalates, making them unacceptable as everyday or staple food. They are, however, acceptable to be given as a treat.
Related: Can Bearded Dragons Eat Grapes?
Many vegetables are high in oxalates too, which means these should only be offered sparingly.
Foods High in Oxalic Acid
- Swiss chard
- Beet greens
- Collard greens
Foods like iceberg and romaine lettuce (or any other light lettuce) should be avoided because they’re mainly water and are not very nutritious.
Can Bearded Dragons Consume Too Much Calcium?
Yes. This is a possibility. As with everything, it is possible to have too much calcium. Whether that’s down to too much calcium powder or too many calcium-rich foods, it doesn’t matter.
As with a calcium deficiency, when bearded dragons have a calcium overdose, they can have significant health problems. Too much calcium is known as hypercalcemia and is the opposite of too little calcium, known as hypocalcemia.
The reason why hypercalcemia is a problem is that it causes muscle calcification. When muscles are calcified, they are weak and stiff, which causes pain. As well as this, other soft tissues can harden and mineralize.
The condition also affects how the body absorbs other essential vitamins and minerals that a bearded dragon needs for survival. This includes zinc, phosphorus, iron, and more.
Though hypercalcemia is much rarer compared to calcium deficiency, it is still vital to avoid this calcium overdose and be aware of its symptoms.
Signs of Too Much Calcium:
- Low energy
- Difficulty moving
- Weak muscles
- Severe constipation (and impaction as a result)
Acute Calcium Overdose
Very old bearded dragons and young ones are at risk of hypercalcemia. This is because their bodies are quickly overwhelmed by excess calcium.
It’s essential to seek advice from a specialist reptile vet as soon as you notice signs of a calcium overdose.
If the condition isn’t treated, it can become deadly quite quickly. Even when bearded dragons survive this, they can be left with bone issues or other permanent health problems.
Signs of An Acute Overdose
- A lack of response to external stimuli or behavior that is exceptionally lethargic
- Seizures, shaking or trembling when walking or moving
- Refusing drinks or foods
- Closing eyes constantly
- Avoiding lamps and heat sources
- No bowel movements (days or weeks)
- Blood in the stools
Calcium Deficiency – Hypocalcemia
When a bearded dragon doesn’t have a proper calcium intake, there are numerous health problems as a result. We’ve mentioned a few above, but there are many other serious conditions too.
Calcium deficiency is much more of a problem than calcium overdose. The majority of bearded dragons won’t have enough calcium to thrive properly. However, they might show troubling symptoms when they don’t get enough.
Signs of Hypocalcemia
- Excessive muscle twitching and seizures
- Brittle, soft bones that can result in metabolic bone disease without treatment
- Poor muscle tone and general weakness of the muscles
- Constipation and resulting impaction
- Cloacal prolapse (prolapse of the vent)
- Tait rot
All About Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic bone disease is the most severe and troubling problem caused by poor calcium intake. This common problem affects a bearded dragon’s muscle function, bodily processes and functions, and bone structure.
Without a proper calcium intake, bearded dragons’ bones become brittle, weak, and deformed.
Though you can treat metabolic bone disease to some extent, most afflicted bearded dragons have resulting health issues and bone deformities. They might have problems with muscle contraction and structure, too, for example.
As well as being unpleasant to look at, the disease is excruciating, especially in baby bearded dragons and older ones.
Noticing Signs of Mbd
Thankfully, noticing the signs and symptoms of metabolic bone disease make it easy to take prompt action. This means that a near-full recovery can be possible.
As soon as you notice this condition, start upping the calcium supplement for your beardie immediately.
If you haven’t noticed it early and you think your bearded dragon’s bones are brittle and deformed, you should seek help from a vet immediately.
Related: MBD in Bearded Dragons
Other Important Minerals and Vitamins that Bearded Dragons Should Have
Calcium is one of the most essential minerals for bearded dragons. However, they need many other substances for their overall health, critical processes, and functions like neurological function and immunity.
Here are some of the other nutrients your bearded dragon should have to be happy and healthy:
Beta Carotene – Vitamin A
Beta carotene – also known as vitamin A – is an essential nutrient for bearded dragons. This vitamin helps with reproductive health, immune function, and vision.
Like calcium, it is crucial not to give too much vitamin A to a bearded dragon. This is because they can retain the substance in their organs and body and become toxic when levels get too high.
Bearded dragons’ protein needs change as they age. Though baby bearded dragon’s diet should be 80% protein and 20% plants and adult bearded dragons require the opposite.
The protein in a beardie’s diet comes from feeder insects. It is vital for energy and growth.
For baby bearded dragons and juvenile bearded dragons to mature and grow properly, they need lots of protein.
Iron is needed most with baby bearded dragons. It is a supplement that otherwise might only be needed sporadically.
The best way to get iron into a bearded dragon is by providing dark, leafy greens like kale and collards. But, like vitamin A, too much iron can cause health issues.
Why Eating Sand Could Be a Sign of Insufficient Calcium
Many bearded dragon owners think sand makes a tremendous bearded dragon substrate, given that these creatures come from a hot climate. However, many bearded dragons end up eating sand, and it causes problems.
To be clear, most bearded dragons will only accidentally consume sand while eating other food. However, this is still a problem and can cause impaction.
However, some beardies will choose to eat sand when they are deficient in calcium. This is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with because the resulting impaction can be fatal.
Eating Sand for Calcium
In the wild, bearded dragons will eat different foods compared to captivity. This is because they will naturally choose foods high in calcium when they need them. In captivity, it’s up to owners to ensure there is adequate calcium.
If a bearded dragon doesn’t have enough calcium in his diet and has sand in his enclosure, he’ll likely choose to consume it in the hunt for more calcium.
In the wild, they might eat dirt instead. Eating soil from a wooden area will have some calcium in it and won’t cause impaction like sand. However, this instinct to consume what’s on the floor means they sometimes eat sand when looking for more calcium.
Problems Caused by Sand Consumption
When a bearded dragon consumes sand (or any other loose substrate), it can accumulate in the digestive tract and grow an impassable mass. This prevents them from having regular bowel movements – or any bowel movements at all. The resulting impaction left untreated is fatal.
Ideally, a bearded dragon won’t need to seek out extra calcium in his diet. Regardless, it’s a bad idea to have loose substrate anyway.
Related: Best substrates for bearded dragons.
Final Thoughts on Bearded Dragons and Calcium
As you’ve seen, bearded dragons need calcium for a healthy life. But unfortunately, their diet is often insufficient, and a calcium supplement is required.
Though baby bearded dragons need the most calcium (for skeleton formation), an adult bearded dragon should still have calcium provided a few times a week.
Calcium can be given in various forms. The most popular way of supplementing calcium is with a calcium powder.
Calcium powders can be dusted on bearded dragon food (insects and plant foods). They can also be dusted on feeder insects foods for gut loading purposes.
It’s not just as simple as providing extra calcium, though. Bearded dragons need enough vitamin D, specifically vitamin D3, for proper calcium absorption.
The only time vitamin D isn’t needed is for those with mercury UVB lighting, as this UVB light is stronger and gives off enough to not need a vitamin D3 supplement. This is because a bearded dragon’s skin will naturally produce vitamin D3 in this case.
Another thing to bear in mind is the ratio of calcium to phosphorus. If there is too much phosphorus in food, the bearded dragon won’t be able to absorb the calcium.
When there is too little calcium, a beardie will need to be treated with concentrated calcium.
Overall, ensuring you understand your bearded dragon’s calcium intake, the calcium-phosphorus ratio, and symptoms of deficiency and overdose will make for a happy and healthy reptile.