Whenever anyone thinks about bearded dragon health problems, the first condition on everyone’s lips is metabolic bone disease or MBD. So, what is metabolic bone disease?
The short answer is MBD is a common disease in captive bearded dragons that damages their bones. It is often a result of low UVB rays and insufficient calcium or vitamin D3. It can be fatal if it isn’t caught early.
Continue reading to find out more about MBD in bearded dragons.
What Is Metabolic Bone Disease?
MBD in bearded dragons is a complicated condition. It might also be referred to as secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism. The main problem with this disease is a disruption of calcium metabolism, which causes many calcium-related problems.
As in humans, calcium is vital for bones and muscle function. Thus, most of the symptoms of MBD in bearded dragons are related to this.
There is no one cause of metabolic bone disease, and it isn’t as easily described as saying the bearded dragon has a calcium deficiency.
Which Animals Are at Risk of Developing Mbd?
Besides bearded dragons, any reptile that eats plants or insects as their primary source of nutrition is at risk of developing MBD. This is caused by imbalances in the calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus levels.
Other carnivorous reptiles like snakes who eat whole prey will generally get enough vitamin D and calcium through their diet. As a result, MBD is rare in these creatures.
In bearded dragons, this complex disease is most often seen in juvenile bearded dragons, i.e., one that is under two years of age.
Why Is Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons so Problematic?
In a scientific sense, metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons is hugely detrimental to their health because it means the bearded dragon’s body pulls calcium from the bones.
This means they end up brittle and can easily break.
Due to MBD affecting the bones, it can leave beardies with deformities. For example, their limbs might curl or drag when they move.
As you can imagine, this will be uncomfortable and painful. This also makes it more difficult for them to get about.
Is Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons Curable?
Unfortunately, you can’t cure metabolic bone disease altogether. However, there are things you can do to try and reverse the disease effects if you can catch the early signs.
Finding out that your bearded dragon has MBD doesn’t mean the end; many beardies diagnosed with this condition live a happy and healthy life.
How Long Does It Take Before Metabolic Bone Disease Improves?
It can take a long time to reverse the effects of MBD. For example, it can take six months or more until a bearded dragon starts walking or moving regularly if the disease is advanced.
However, this doesn’t mean that your bearded dragon will feel terrible the whole time.
On the contrary, you can start noticing improvements in a couple of weeks as soon as you’ve ensured the proper diet, medication, and UVB rays.
Ultimately, the recovery time depends on how advanced the condition is, to begin with. For example, severe cases of metabolic bone disease will take longer to improve.
What Causes Mbd in Bearded Dragons?
Though there is no singular culprit for bearded dragon MBD, the primary reason that bearded dragons develop this is inadequate care. Here are the most common reasons why bearded dragons get metabolic bone disease.
Like humans and other living organisms, bearded dragons need calcium for bone health.
By eating a calcium-rich diet, bearded dragons can produce vitamin D3. This is essential for bone health, muscle health, and other things.
One of the best ways of ensuring your bearded dragon has enough calcium is to dust their feeder insects with calcium powder.
It’s also essential to get the calcium and phosphorus ratio right.
Insufficient Uvb Exposure
Another reason why MBD develops is down to insufficient exposure to UVB light.
Bearded dragons need UVB lighting for proper calcium absorption. Without this, they cannot absorb calcium or use it.
So, even if your bearded dragon has enough calcium in his diet, calcium absorption will be hindered without the proper UVB light exposure. It might be as simple as changing the UVB bulb.
Eating Foods with A High Phosphorus Content (like Bananas)
We mentioned above about getting the calcium to phosphorus ratio right. If this is off and there is too much phosphorus in the diet, MBD is more likely.
Bearded dragons usually get all the phosphorus they need from the plant material they consume. So they don’t need any extra!
In fact, you should ensure you only buy calcium supplements and calcium powder that don’t contain phosphorus.
Eating Foods that Contain a Lot of Oxalates (like Kale or Spinach)
Oxalates occur naturally in foods. They’re made up of two carboxylic acids. Which are known to disrupt calcium absorption. For this reason, you are advised to avoid giving too many foods with high oxalate content, e.g., spinach and kale.
Bearded dragons need adequate heat to digest food fully and absorb the much-needed vitamins and minerals – like calcium.
Suppose a beardie’s tank is cooler than it should be. In that case, it might be that they can’t benefit from the calcium in their diets. Therefore, even a calcium supplement won’t be effective. As a result, MBD can occur.
Mbd in Bearded Dragons – Early Signs
All bearded dragon owners should know the signs to look out for to spot metabolic bone disease early. By spotting it early, bearded dragons have a better chance of recovering. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of metabolic bone disease.
There are many reasons why a bearded dragon might be lethargic. One of the causes is metabolic bone disease. This is because MBD is painful and uncomfortable. As such, beardies choose not to walk.
Lethargy alone is not enough to diagnose MBD, and it is essential to rule out other reasons for this symptom. Then, a vet can run tests to determine the cause.
Constipation is something else that keepers should keep an eye on. When bearded dragons struggle to digest their food, constipation occurs. Over time, this can cause impaction, which, believe it or not, can be fatal.
If bearded dragons appear stressed, you know something isn’t quite right. MBD can cause stress. It’s important to rule out other causes of stress as there are many reasons why beardies get stressed.
If you believe the stress is caused by MBD, you need to contact a vet.
Loss of Appetite
Another symptom of metabolic bone disease is a lack of appetite. So if there is no other reason your bearded dragon might have lost his appetite, look for other signs of MDB to see if that could be the reason.
As always, if in doubt, contact a vet.
As metabolic bone disease progresses, bearded dragons get weaker. This is mainly due to their inability to eat properly if their mobility is reduced. With inadequate nutrition and intake of water, they lose energy and appear weak.
Beardies with metabolic bone disease often spend most of their time lying down due to feeling weak.
Metabolic Bone Disease Symptoms
Fortunately, as well as the early signs, there will also be some tell-tale symptoms of MBD. If any of these symptoms appear, it’s worth taking your pet to be checked out by a specialist reptile vet and inquire about tests for MBD.
Symptoms of MBD in bearded dragons:
- Twitching and/or tremors
- Stunted growth
- Facial bones softening / rubber jaw
- Lower jaw swelling
- Bone fractures
- Bone deformities
Severe Cases of Mbd in Bearded Dragons
Severe cases of MBD in bearded dragons will be present in apparent bone deformities. Often, limbs will be limp and frail. Beardies will drag them along as they attempt to walk and won’t be able to support their own weight.
In addition, a beardie’s limbs will appear curved because of green-stick fractures. This means bending softer bones instead of outright fractures.
As well as physical deformities, and severe MBD, there will be muscle spasms and twitching. This might look like constant trembling. A bearded dragon with MBD could have regular seizures in the most severe cases.
As you might imagine, a beardie’s body will naturally begin to shut down. Coupled with a lack of appetite and nutrition, your bearded dragon will be extremely lethargic.
How Is Metabolic Bone Disease Diagnosed in Bearded Dragons?
Vets are quickly able to diagnose metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons. First, they look for visible signs and then take blood tests to calculate their calcium levels.
Typically, a vet will analyze the balance of calcium and phosphorous too.
Bearded Dragon Mbd Recovery at Home
If metabolic bone disease is confirmed, there are things you will need to do to ensure their recovery and improvement. You’ll need to ensure their tank temperatures, proper UVB lighting, and diet are perfect.
In terms of diet, you should feed your bearded dragon organic baby food. This is something like pureed chicken or pumpkin and squash. Mixing a little calcium supplement powder with vitamin D is also essential.
It is vital to ensure that bearded dragons have enough calcium before treatment and while being treated for MBD. Consult a vet if you’re unsure about calcium supplements or powder.
It might be possible to have calcium injections or oral calcium supplementation if things are very severe.
As all responsible bearded dragon owners know, bearded dragons need a consistent heat source for proper digestion.
The enclosure needs a hot side (a basking spot) and a cool side.
Adult bearded dragons need a hot side that measures 100 to 105 °F. The cooler side should be between 80 and 85 °F.
Baby beardies need slightly warmer temperatures; you should aim for the hot side to measure between 105 °F and 110 °F.
At nighttime, it is advised that you keep the tank warmer when a bearded dragon is unwell, as it helps to boost the immune system.
Even if you’re giving your bearded dragon enough calcium, they won’t be able to use it if they’re not getting enough UVB exposure.
It’s essential to choose the correct UVB bulb for your tank. It should provide complete coverage of the tank. Typically, long, tube UVB lights are better than coil lights because they disperse the UVB light further.
Unfortunately, coil lights only direct the UVB to a specific tank area. This means that your bearded dragon will need to go under this area of its own accord.
Unless you have an exotic pet store that deals with all things pet reptiles, you might struggle to get proper advice from your local store. Non-specialist pet stores just don’t know enough about UVB lighting.
Look at community forums online if you don’t have a specialist reptile vet or retailer nearby. You’ll find everything you need to know about UVB bulbs and lighting.
Remember, the UVB bulb should be directly overhead and shouldn’t have anything in its way like a screen or enclosure lid. UVB bulbs directly overhead mean that the UVB is more concentrated.
The distance between the bulb and your bearded dragon’s basking spot should be between six and eight inches from the highest part.
Bearded Dragon Mbd Treatment
Once the diagnosis of metabolic bone disease has been confirmed by tests and x-rays, the specialist reptile vet will prescribe medication.
Usually, this will be an oral medication that has to be administered between one and two times a day for weeks or months. This could also be given as an injection.
The proposed treatment plan will be dependent upon the advancement of the disease.
One of the best things you can do to attempt to reverse metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons is to follow your vet’s orders about medication to the letter – as well as ensure a proper diet with proper supplementation of calcium and correct UVB lights and tank temperatures.
How to Prevent Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons?
As with any illness and medical condition, preventing metabolic bone disease is much better than trying to cure it.
You can prevent metabolic bone disease by regularly checking temperature, UVB lighting, and diet. Proper husbandry and adequate nutrition are the two things that can make all the difference to your bearded dragon’s health.
Remember to ensure an adequate ratio of plant matter to feeder insects and dust feeder insects with a calcium supplement.
Plant matter should be calcium-rich foods like edamame, mustard greens, turnips, and arugula. Remember to ensure a low phosphorus intake too.
Can Bearded Dragons Have Too Much Calcium?
Just like it is possible to have too little calcium, it is also possible to have too much. Too much calcium lowers the use of protein and fat, and minerals like manganese, zinc, iodine, phosphorus, and iron. In addition, it reduces soft tissue’s mineralization and causes muscles to harden.
However, hypercalcemia (too much calcium) is only seen in bearded dragons with excessive UVB exposure and excessive supplementation of vitamin D3 and calcium. A bearded dragon can get vitamin D3 through food, supplementation, and ultraviolet light.
In environments with artificial lighting (like a bearded dragon’s tank), it is essential not to overdo it.
In the best tank setups, the UVB light is the correct length, so it doesn’t cover the whole tank length.
Calcium Overdose Signs
The signs of an overdose of calcium intake include muscle weakness, constipation, and lethargy.
The Wrong Type of Calcium Supplement?
Believe it or not, not all calcium supplements are equal. Calcium powder is extremely popular with bearded dragon owners (as well as other reptile owners). Still, they don’t always provide the best supplementation. This is because powdered calcium is difficult for bearded dragons to absorb.
Owners can either supplement with powdered calcium with bearded dragons are fed, i.e., by dusting feeder insects and even salads with powder, or by using a more digestible calcium supplement like calcium gluconate.
Calcium gluconate is an oral supplement in a gel form that is administered with a syringe. If you choose this method, you’ll need to consult a vet to determine the right frequency and dosage.
Final Thoughts on Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons
MBD is an awful disease that can be life-threatening to captive reptiles, including bearded dragons. However, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for an affected bearded dragon.
Like with all illnesses, if you can prevent metabolic bone disease, you will save yourself a lot of trouble for your beloved bearded dragon. This means knowing about the correct bearded dragon foods, proper husbandry, and proper temperatures.
An improper diet might mean insufficient minerals and vitamins (of which calcium is the most important). This can easily be resolved by a bit of calcium powder on feeder insects.
All owners should familiarize themselves with some tell-tale signs of MBD in bearded dragons. Things like muscle twitching, lethargy, and limb problems are all significant symptoms that you can’t ignore.
Unfortunately, most cases are down to poor husbandry practices.
Inadequate temperatures mean that bearded dragons can’t properly digest their food nor absorb minerals as they should. They need to be able to regulate their body temperature for these processes to happen.
You should seek professional medical advice if you’re ever in doubt about your pet lizard and its health.
A vet can diagnose MBD in bearded dragons by doing a physical examination and taking x-rays to look at their bones.
Bearded Dragon MBD: FAQs
Can a Bearded Dragon Recover from Metabolic Bone Disease?
If the disease is caught early, it can often be corrected and reversed. This can be done by improving diet and husbandry.
What Does Metabolic Bone Disease Look Like?
You might notice swelling, weakness, unusual positioning of limbs, and deformities.
How Long Does It Take for Bearded Dragons to Get Mbd?
This condition is primarily seen in juvenile bearded dragons (so, those under two). It doesn’t take long for a bearded dragon to develop the disease.
Can Bearded Dragons Die from Metabolic Bone Disease?
Yes. A bearded dragon will undoubtedly die from this disease if the condition is left untreated.