Metabolic Bone Disease 101: Keep Your Bearded Dragon Healthy and Strong

Till now, we have heard a lot about metabolic bone disease, or MBD, and its severity for bearded dragons. Metabolic disease caused by calcium deficiency, to learn about how to give your bearded dragon calcium, click here.

When we talk about MBD, several questions come to mind. Let’s discuss it and find the answer to each one by one. Following are some common questions and you will find the answer in this article.

If your dragon is acting lethargic, can barely move, can’t eat, or eat with great difficulty, can’t have the energy to chomp food, hunched, disfigured, or shriveled, he is suffering from a metabolic bone disease which is due to calcium deficiency.

Its severity can break bones or even kill your beloved pet. It’s bad for your dragon and you don’t want to see your dragon in this condition.

Metabolic Bone Disease has several severity levels and can be prevented with proper care, diet, and housing, it can also be prevented from happening to bearded dragons. With little help, knowledge, and information, you can protect your dragon from this deadly disease. But if you find your dragon suffering from a high severity of metabolic disease, you need to get in touch with a veterinarian and provide medical treatment to your pet.

Metabolic bone disease or MBD is the name of several disorders that affect a bearded dragon’s skeletal or bone structure, caused by deficiency of calcium, poor diet, and housing. It is also known as fibrous osteodystrophy or nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. Common causes of MBD are as under:

  • Calcium deficiency due to poor diet or lack of calcium supplements
  • Vitamin D3 deficiency as it’s essential for calcium absorption in bearded dragon
  • A diet too high in phosphorus or oxalates as they stop calcium absorption
  • Improper UVB lighting as UVB light along with heat is necessary for digestion and absorption of nutrients

Whatever the cause is, metabolic disease is characterized by a lack of calcium in the bearded dragon’s body. It’s easy to understand that if calcium is low in the body, the body will look for another calcium source which is bones, so the body will take the calcium from bone & and other places and weaken them. This pull of calcium can cause bone damage, muscle damage, tissue damage, and limb paralysis.

Read: Bearded Dragons, Calcium, and Vitamin D3: Everything You Need to Know and How Do I Give My Bearded Dragon Calcium?

As we all already know calcium is necessary for strong bones and deficiency of calcium causes bones to become soft and easily breakable. Lack of calcium also affects muscles and they start to lose their ability to contract. This is the reason, MBD often results in total or partial limb paralysis of bearded dragons.

If the bones are weak, the body pulls tissue to supplement weak bones. This causes tissue damage. So, lack of calcium causes tissue damage as well.

Due to MBD, bones, skeleton, muscles, and tissue get damaged and your dragon becomes deformed with broken limbs, if this is left untreated can cause a bearded dragon’s death.

Knowing the signs of metabolic disease is too important for dragon keepers. Identifying the signs in time and knowing that your dragon is suffering from metabolic bone disease will cause less damage to your dragon as you will provide medical treatment to your dragon in time. At different stages, signs are different. Following are the signs of metabolic disease.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Stress
  • Constipation

Above mentioned signs are common in other medical conditions are well. Like your dragon is suffering from gut impaction, etc. So, there are chances that you may observe these signs and it may not be the metabolic bone disease. Anyway, it’s better to act on these signs and get in touch with your contact. Maybe it’s a false alarm but care is more important. If it’s not a false alarm, then you have caught the disease in its early stages and saved your dragon from upcoming dangerous damage.

  • Receded lower jaw 
  • Swollen limbs and jaw
  • Bumps along the spine or bones
  • Soft jaw and facial bones
  • Bowed limbs and arched spine
  • Fractures and broken bones 
  • Greenstick fractures (folded or bent bones)
  • Trembling and twitching limbs
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Paralysis or difficulty moving

Remember that Metabolic Bone Disease or MBD is Recoverable but if you take it lite, it will leave unrecoverable scars in your dragon’s health, i.e. permanent deformed, etc. Also, the longer the suffering period, more longer and painful the recovery period. So, the best is to catch the metabolic bone disease in time, in the early stage, and get it treated.

If you suspect that your dragon is suffering from metabolic disease, the following are the things you should do on priority:

Call your vet ASAP and share the symptoms that you have noticed and if the symptoms are severe, take your dragon to your vet for necessary medical care.

MBD can be dangerous for your dragon and we recommend you to get help from the vet. Although material available online can be helpful, taking a chance in this critical situation is not recommended. You can take support from articles and online material along with medical support from the vet.

Your vet will discuss the symptoms and conduct multiple tests i.e. x-rays, blood work, etc. He will also discuss the bearded dragon’s diet, his tank heat level, and his housing to determine the cause and severity of the disease. You need to explain everything in detail and let him do his diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is done, you need to follow the instructions and provide proper medical treatment to your bearded dragon.

There are several ways of treatment for this disease, depending upon its severity. But all the treatments are focused on getting calcium back into your dragon’s body.

In mild cases of MBD, you can cure your dragon by adjusting his diet and calcium supplement intake.

  • Oral calcium supplements.
  • Vitamin D3 injections.
  • Calcitonin injections (a drug that increases calcium).
  • Diet changes to include more calcium.
  • Special UVB lighting.

In MBD cases, the best approach is to provide a lot of greens that are rich in calcium and low in oxalates and phosphorus.

Some foods that are good sources of calcium and can fight your dragon against metabolic bone disease are as under:

  • Chicory
  • Cactus leaves and prickly pear
  • Dandelion leaves (ensure they are pesticide-free)
  • Mustard greens
  • Endive 
  • Papaya
  • Escarole
  • Figs (although they have moderate oxalates, they are high in calcium) 
  • Squash

These insects are also good for your dragon and help you to supplement his diet:

  • Hornworms
  • Silkworms
  • Phoenix worms

Keep your dragon hydrated by providing him with enough water. Water is important in this situation as it helps your dragon to absorb calcium, vitamin D3, and other important nutrients that are important in fighting MBD.

But don’t let him over hydrated as it will worsen the situation. Over hydrated bearded dragon will suffer from diarrhea. For that, make sure you use a shallow dish for water and keep track of the dragon’s water intake.

MBD has made your dragon fragile and his bones are prone to get fractured or broken. You need to take care of him in this situation and remove all the extra material from his terrarium which causes him difficulty in moving or can become harmful or dangerous for him. The following is recommended:

  • Remove all materials that inhibit your dragon’s movement or cause him to stuck or fall, i.e. sticks, bones, rocks, décor, or other materials.
  • Make sure his tank is easy to room around and he can move freely. Material left in the tank should also be easy to climb like basking rock, etc.
  • As your dragon can’t move fast, there are many chances of him falling into the water dish and drowning. You need to take care of that by providing a small, shallow water dish.

Bearded dragons, suffering from metabolic bone disease become too sensitive and fragile. You shouldn’t touch him or pick him. If there is a need to pick him, then you should do it with a very soft hand and with a lot of care. Your little harsh movement can cause fractures or even broken bones.

UVB lighting and heat help your dragon to absorb calcium and other important nutrients. It also helps your dragon to maintain its body heat as they are cold-blooded and can’t produce their heat. Heating and lighting play an important role in a dragon’s recovery from metabolic bone disease.

Many vets recommend UVB lights that produce their heat, i.e. self-ballasted mercury vapor UVB lamp. They help your dragon to recover speedily by providing naturally demanded exposure to UVB and by providing him heat.

For details, read: Bearded Dragon Complete Lighting, Heating and Humidity Guide

For that, you may ensure the following:

  • A 12-hour-a-day exposure is recommended for your dragon.
  • The basking spot of your terrarium should be between 95 degrees Fahrenheit and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Other parts of the tank should be colder so that your dragon has space to regulate his body heat.
  • At night, the temperature of the complete tank should be 65 degrees Fahrenheit
  • For best results, change your UVB blub every six months.

MBD is dangerous for your dragon. It takes time to be cured. In this critical situation, you need to support your dragon, take care of him, provide him best environment for his recovery, and follow the vet’s instructions. Your Dragon will recover soon.

Also Read: Bearded Dragon Prolapse – Causes, Treatment, and Prevention and “The Risk of Overfeeding Your Bearded Dragon” for better care of your bearded dragon.

If you have questions or would like to give feedback, please contact us.  

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