Bearded dragons are some of the most popular pet lizards around, but they can become sick quickly. One of the most common, yet serious illnesses bearded dragons contract is a metabolic bone disease.
It’s a devastating illness that can lead to acute deformities and even be fatal if allowed to progress without treatment.
In this article, I’ll discuss what constitutes metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons, examine symptoms and treatments designed to reverse it, and give you an understanding of how and why this illness occurs.
What is Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons?
Metabolic bone disease (MBD), also referred to as hypocalcaemia or simply as calcium deficiency, is a serious nutritional disease where calcium in the bones is depleted in favour of increasing the calcium levels in the blood.
In some countries, including South Africa, MBD is the most frequently seen nutritional disorder in pet Bearded dragons.
Metabolic bone disease in Bearded dragons is medically defined as a syndrome, including a range of bone diseases associated with metabolic diseases, e.g. secondary hyperparathyroidism. It is generally a long term result of a combination of a dietary deficiency of calcium, a negative dietary calcium to phosphorus ratio (Ca:P) or the lack of exposure to proper ultra violet (UV) lighting.
Is Metabolic Bone Disease In Bearded Dragons Curable?
Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons is a condition that can be managed and reversed with proper care and diligence. While you cannot entirely get rid of MBD, you can make sure it doesn’t affect your pet in the long term if detected early on.
If you think that your bearded dragon may have MBD, don’t panic or lose hope! With the right amount of care, your beloved pet has a chance to lead a long and healthy life.
All you have to do is follow certain steps in order to fight against this condition and keep it from getting worse. There are treatments available to reverse its effects and return your bearded dragon to health, but remember that prevention is always better than cure!
How Long Does It Take to Reverse MBD?
Reversing MBD can be a long process, often taking months and even in advanced cases, longer than that. Some owners have reported it taking up to 6 months for their bearded dragons to get back to normal walking and moving patterns.
But don’t worry, there are also cases where just two weeks of the right UVB setup, medication, an adjusted calcium-rich diet, and supplement friendly food made a huge difference!
With proper care, management, and nutrition along with active sunbathing habits, your reptile can start feeling better in no time.
How do Bearded Dragons Get MBD?
Inadequate care is often the leading culprit behind Bearded Dragons getting MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease). Common causes of MBD include calcium deficiency, improper lighting, and inadequate temperatures.
Another factor to consider is the diet of your bearded dragon. In order for the reptile to stay healthy, they must be provided with plenty of food high in calcium such as crickets, leafy greens, and other insects like mealworms.
If these food items are not available or have been neglected in the diet plan it can lead to a lack of calcium intake which will result in the development of MBD.
Causes of bearded dragon MBD
Calcium deficiency is the root cause of metabolic bone diseases. However, there are several ways in which bearded dragons can suffer from calcium deprivation, such as:
Insufficient calcium in their diet:
Bearded dragons need calcium for healthy bones and muscles, and if their diet is inadequate, it can lead to a condition known as a metabolic bone disease (MBD). MBD occurs when bearded dragons lack sufficient quantities of calcium in their diet, causing softening of the skeleton and various musculoskeletal afflictions.
While MBD can be caused due to numerous factors – such as poor husbandry, lack of exposure to UVB rays, and/or genetic disorders – insufficient levels of dietary calcium is one of the most common causes of this condition in bearded dragons.
Too Much Calcium In Their Diet:
Bearded dragons are known for their incredible calcium needs. However, having too much dietary calcium in their diet can lead to a condition called “Metabolic Bone Disease” (MBD). In MBD, the mineral uptake from the intestines to the bloodstream is interfered with, causing calcium deficiency in the dragon’s body.
This condition can then lead to serious problems like deformations in bones, softening of shells, and weak muscles.
Insufficient Vitamin D3 In Their Diet:
Without enough Vitamin D3, these reptiles are at risk for developing MBD from calcium deficiencies which can lead to serious health problems such as decreased appetite, lethargy, fractures, and even death.
Therefore, it is important that bearded dragons receive an adequate intake of Vitamin D3 to prevent them from becoming ill and suffering from this condition.
Too Much Phosphorus In Their Diet:
Phosphorus prevents calcium from being absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream.
Too Many Oxalates In Their Diet:
Oxalates interfere with the absorption of calcium from the intestines.
Inadequate lighting is often one of the causes of bearded dragon MBD. Bearded dragons need UVB lighting in their habitat to make Vitamin D in their skin, a crucial element for absorbing dietary calcium.
If a beardie does not have enough calcium or something is stopping them from making use of the available calcium, then this can lead to signs of MBD.
Furthermore, it may be that they are overconsuming high-phosphorus foods like crickets and mealworms and not getting enough calcium from them instead. It’s important to feed your beardie a balanced diet with an optimal level of calcium/ phosphorus ratio in order to avoid MBD.
Symptoms of metabolic bone disease in Bearded dragons
- Softening of the legs and bones
- Inability to move legs
- Bending of the jaw
- Bending of the spine and tail (scoliosis & kyphosis)
- Hyperexcitement and uncontrolled movement of the legs
- Weakness & lethargy
- Unwillingness to eat
- Eating of sand
Diagnosing metabolic bone disease in Bearded dragons
Being tightly linked to poor husbandry practices, metabolic bone disease can occur in pet Bearded dragons of any age, but is most commonly seen in young growing dragons. Apart from any combination of the symptoms above, the history usually includes no or improper calcium supplementation and/or inadequate exposure to direct sunlight or incorrect UV lighting. Gravid adult females are also more at risk.
A suspect diagnosis of MBD can be made in moderate to severe cases by looking at the history and clinical signs alone. A definitive diagnosis however, especially in more subtle cases, can be made on radiographical evaluation by an experienced reptile friendly veterinarian.
Treatment of metabolic bone disease in Bearded dragons
After a diagnoses of metabolic bone disease is made treatment should start immediately. Treatment of MBD should be aimed at correcting the calcium imbalance, rectifying the cause and supporting the Bearded dragon until it can eat, defaecate and move around normally again.
It is important to know that the treatment of MBD is not always successful, especially in moderate to severe cases, and even if it was successful there might still be permanent consequences afterwards. For the best chances of recovery rather seek treatment advice from an experienced herpetologist or reptile friendly veterinarian.
Treatment advice might differ depending on the severity of the disease, experience and compliance of the owner and the resources and experience of the treating herpetologist/veterinarian. Veterinary patients are divided into those that can be treated at home and those that should be treated in hospital.
It is exciting to know that experimental calcium treatment is on the horison, but for now most veterinarians will use calcium either in the form of injections or oral medication. Additional symptomatic treatment might include drips, enemas and tube feeding.
Can Mbd Kill Bearded Dragons?
Yes, Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) can unfortunately be deadly for bearded dragons. MBD, if left untreated, can eventually lead to a very poor health state and in some cases be fatal.
As MBD progresses, it becomes harder for veterinarians to successfully treat the condition. In severe cases, the vet may consider euthanasia due to the cost of treatment being too high combined with our limited knowledge of managing pain in reptiles. Therefore sadly there are cases where this is the only course of action available.
Fortunately, however, there are those who have been able to make a full recovery from MBD even with its costly treatments and the accompanying risk of relapse after long periods of successful treatment.
Can A Bearded Dragon Recover From MBD?
Bearded dragons can recover from MBD if they are diagnosed and treated quickly. Though the disease is caused by a long-term lack of proper care, the symptoms of MBD can be reversed with an extended period of treatment, so owners must commit to that period.
Treatment will often involve a combination of dietary supplementation with correct calcium and vitamin D3 levels, enhancing their living environment, providing an improved diet, regular monitoring of weight and other health metrics, and treating any additional health complications as needed.
With dedication, patience, and proper care over time, a bearded dragon can recover from MBD!
Bearded Dragon MBD At Home Recovery Plan
If you suspect your bearded dragon is suffering from MBD, the best thing you can do for them is to ensure their at-home recovery plan is up to par. This includes keeping tabs on their diet, making sure their tank temperatures and light exposure are kept optimal, and that they have access to proper UVB lighting.
If you’re putting together a bearded dragon MBD at home recovery plan, diet is an important factor to consider. Although they are omnivores and enjoy eating edible insects, their primary source of nutrition should come from organic baby food in the form of pureed chicken, squash, or pumpkin.
To ensure optimal health levels and help in the treatment process, you’ll need to mix calcium powder with Vitamin D3 into their feedings.
In addition to diet, it is essential that your bearded dragon gets a regular dose of calcium before and during treatment. Consult with your veterinarian about supplemental calcium if they prescribe injections or oral medications as part of their treatment plan; make sure that your pet isn’t receiving too much calcium as this can be dangerous.
With a proper diet and supplemental calcium, your beloved pet will kick its MBD problem and make a full recovery!
When it comes to caring for a Beard Dragon that has MBD, being consistent and providing them with the right temperatures is essential. For adults, the hot side of their tank should measure between 100-105°F, and the cool side should measure around 80-85°F. Likewise, if you have a baby Bearded Dragon then its tank needs to be slightly hotter at 105-110°F.
At night, you can boost their immune system by providing them with slightly higher temperatures, aiming for 75-80°F in their tank. To help provide heat to your dragon’s tank and ensure its safety, a Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE) is highly recommended over an Under Tank Heater (UTH).
UTHs can short out and cause severe burns or even death to unsuspecting bearded dragons – so using a CHE will help keep your little one safe.
Bearded dragons can become susceptible to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) if they don’t get the correct amount of UVB light. To help prevent your dragon from developing MBD, it’s essential that you have the right kind of UVB bulb to cover its entire tank.
When compared to coil lights, long tube UVBS lights are typically more suitable for this task as they can spread UVB over a larger space. Coil lights only direct UVB to a very specific spot in their tank.
To make sure each dragon gets the ideal levels of exposure, try using reliable UVB bulbs like the Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0, and make sure the bulb is 6-8 inches away from their basking spot, without anything blocking it.
That way, you can ensure that they’re getting sufficient amounts of light and avoiding MBD as much as possible!
Prevention of metabolic bone disease in Bearded dragons
In order to prevent metabolic bone disease in pet Bearded dragons the most important factors are correct calcium supplementation and exposure to proper ultraviolet (UV) lighting. In both cases commercial lizard products should be used.
Calcium supplementation for Bearded dragons for should be done at least 2-3 times a week with a calcium/Vitamin D3 combination. It can be done as a powder or fluid, simply by spraying it on the food, or by dusting insects in powdered formulations.
In addition to artificial UV lighting, pet Bearded dragons should also spend as much as possible time outside in natural, unfiltered sunlight.
In conclusion, caring for a bearded dragon requires a great deal of knowledge and dedication. Metabolic bone disease can be prevented in these beloved pets with adequate nutrition and a balanced habitat.
Early diagnosis and intervention are key, since this condition can lead to serious medical complications. With the right care plan and nutrition, your bearded dragon will stay strong and healthy for years to come!