An extremely common disease amongst bearded dragons is Metabolic Bone Disease or MBD.
Due to a lack of Calcium, which can often result from a lack of UVB (explained further below), dragons can become so weak that their very bones deteriorate, leaving them fragile, weak, and headed for death. BUT MBD doesn’t have to be mean an untimely death!
Read below to discover all that you need to know about preventing and curing Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons!
What is Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons?
Used as a relative umbrella term for a wide array of nutritional deficiencies, Metabolic Bone Disease is actually a very common disease associated with domesticated bearded dragons.
Resulting most frequently from a lack of calcium and/or Vitamin D3, MBD can be life threatening if left unattended.
Scientifically, the reason MBD is so detrimental to a bearded dragon’s health is because it results in the bearded dragon’s body pulling calcium out of the bones, leaving them brittle and prone to fractures.
Metabolic Bone Disease can even leave bearded dragons deformed, with limbs that curl up or drag along as they move. Naturally, this leaves the bearded dragon in state of discomfort and pain, making even getting across their tank from side to side a chore.
Is Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons Curable?
You can’t exactly cure or get rid of MBD altogether, but you can certainly reverse its affects if caught early and give you bearded dragon a happy, long life!
Realizing your bearded dragon may have MBD doesn’t have to be the end, just keep reading to discover how you can win the fight against MBD!
How Long Does It Take to Reverse MBD?
Unfortunately, it can many months to reverse MBD and in some advanced cases even longer!
Some owners have reported it taking up to 6 months to get their bearded dragons walking and moving regularly in advanced cases of Metabolic Bone Disease.
However, don’t be alarmed and worried thinking that your dragon will be miserable for up to 6 months.
Simply getting the right UVB setup and administering medication along with an adjusted calcium-rich and offering a supplement friendly diet can make a huge difference in as little as just two weeks.
How do Bearded Dragons Get MBD?
There is no one singular culprit responsible for giving bearded dragons MBD, although typically it is safe to assume that the cause is simply inadequate care. The most common culprits behind MBD include, but are not limited to…
Bearded dragons need calcium (just as practically all living organisms do) to keep their bones healthy and strong.
By eating a calcium-rich diet, bearded dragons are able to produce Vitamin D3 which is responsible for not only bone health, but muscle health, and much more.
With plenty of phosphorus in their diet, it is also crucial to balance it with calcium.
One of the easiest ways to ensure your bearded dragon is receiving enough calcium, is to dust their feeders with it.
Insufficient UVB Exposure
Without UVB, bearded dragons can’t actually absorb and use calcium properly.
So, you could be feeding your beardie plenty of calcium with their feeders but it could all be in vain without the right UVB setup!
Being Fed Foods High in Phosphorous (Like Bananas)
If a bearded dragon’s phosphorous to calcium ratio is off, then MBD is definitely a potential risk.
Dragons typically receive all the phosphorus they need from the vegetables in their diet and as such, definitely do not need any more!
In fact, it’s typically a good rule of thumb to purchase calcium powder WITHOUT phosphorous as this will only throw the ratio off even more.
Being Fed Foods High in Oxalates (Like Spinach or Kale)
Oxalates are a naturally occurring substance found in many foods comprised of two carboxylic acids. Oxalates are rather notorious for playing a role in disrupting the body’s ability to fully absorb and use its intake of calcium.
Because of this, it is advisable that you try and avoid giving your bearded dragon foods rich in oxalates, such as kale and spinach, because they can significantly disrupt your beardies calcium intake.
Bearded dragons rely on heat to help them fully digest their food and absorb minerals and vitamins… like calcium. If your bearded dragon’s tank is too cool then chances are they won’t be able to benefit much from the calcium in their diet and as such, can develop MBD.
Click HERE to Read More About the Proper Temps for Both Adult & Juvenile Bearded Dragons
Metabolic Bone Disease Symptoms
Fortunately, there are some major tell-tale signs that can alert owners to the possibility of their bearded dragon having MBD. If you believe your dragon is displaying any of the symptoms below, take them a reptile vet ASAP and inquire about testing for MBD.
- Tremors and/or Twitching
- Weak & Lethargic
- Loss of Appetite
- Rubber Jaw/Softening of Facial Structure
- Stunted Growth
- Swelling in the Lower Jaw
- Bone Fractures
What Does Severe MBD in Bearded Dragons Look Like?
The radiograph above depicts both a healthy bearded dragon (top) and a bearded dragon with Metabolic Bone Disease (bottom).
Dragons that have a severe case of MBD will very clearly look deformed. Often times, limbs will appear frail and limp, being drug along as the dragon walks, unable to support the weight.
Also, limbs can appear irregularly curved as well due to Green-stick fractures, which involves the bending of soft bones rather than outright fracturing.
In addition to these obvious physical deformities, severe MBD will oftentimes lead to muscle twitching and spasms giving bearded dragons the appearance of constant trembling.
In severe cases, bearded dragons may even begin to have regular seizures. Bearded dragons suffering from advanced MBD will also likely lose their appetite and as such, refuse to eat and need to be syringe fed.
Naturally, with their body shutting down and a total lack of an appetite, you will also notice your bearded dragons become extremely lethargic.
Bearded Dragon MBD At Home Recovery Plan
If you suspect your bearded dragons have MBD you should make an appointment for them to see a reptile vet as soon as possible.
In the meantime, while you wait to take them in, the best thing you can do for them is to make sure their diet, tank temperatures, and exposure to UVB are on point.
For diet, feed your bearded dragon organic baby food in the form of pureed chicken, squash, or pumpkin. You should also mix in a little calcium powder with Vitamin D3 to boost their levels.
You’ll want to make sure that your bearded dragon is getting an adequate supply of calcium before and during any treatments, but consult your veterinarian about supplements if they prescribe calcium injections or oral medication to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.
As discussed in greater detail in other posts, your bearded dragon needs a consistent source of heat to properly digest their food, with a hot side (where they bask) and a cool side in their tank.
For adult bearded dragons, the hot side should measure between 100 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with the cool side measuring around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
For baby bearded dragons, they’ll need a little more heat so aim for 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
At night, it is advisable to keep your bearded dragon’s tank a little bit warmer while they are unwell to try and boost their immune system.
Try to aim for a tank temperature of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit until you have the MBD more under control. To heat their tank, you can purchase a Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE) like this one here to help keep their tank warm.
CHE’s are better alternatives to under the tank heaters (UTH) because UTH’s have a notorious history of shorting out and burning/frying bearded dragons, sometimes resulting in severe burns or even death!
Don’t risk hurting your dragon, especially since they aren’t able to tell they’re burning… just purchase a CHE to be safe.
Without proper UVB exposure, your dragon can’t utilize any of the calcium he or she takes in!
So, make sure that you have the right kind of UVB bulb to offer enough UVB to cover their entire tank.
Typically, long tube UVBS lights are going to do a better job of offering UVB over that of coil lights, because they disperse UVB over a larger area.
Coil UVB lights only direct UVB to a very specific small area in the bearded dragon’s tank.
Because lighting can be a bit of a difficult situation to figure out and also because pet stores can oftentimes be misleading in what they recommend/advertise… it is probably best that you simply default to a UVB bulb that is tried and true amongst the bearded dragon community.
Some examples of these reliable UVB bulbs include the Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0 UVB.
Now, if you need a fixture for the UVB bulb mentioned above, see the recommendation below…
Keep your UVB bulbs directly overhead of your beardie with nothing in between them, like a screen lid.
Also, try to make sure the bulb is only about 6 to 8 inches away from your bearded dragon when they’re on the highest part of their basking spot/rock/shelf/whatever you use.
Bearded Dragon MBD Treatment
Once the vet does some blood work, takes the X-rays, and can positively diagnose your bearded dragon with MBD, they’ll prescribe your medication to give them.
It is likely that you will either have to administer their medication via a shot or orally 1-2 times a day for a few weeks or months.
The treatment plan will depend entirely on how advanced their MBD is.
The best thing you can do to reverse MDB is to follow the vet’s orders about when to administer medication to a T AND make the necessary changed to diet, tank temps, and UVB outlined above.
Metabolic Bone Disease is a tough and terrible disease, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of your bearded dragon’s life.
Prevention and early detection are key, meaning all owners should be fully aware of good husbandry practices and feeding their bearded dragon a diet that creates a good ratio of phosphorous to calcium.
By ensuring your bearded dragon’s tank has both the right temperatures and enough UVB exposure, along with giving your bearded dragon calcium and vitamins, you’ll be giving your bearded dragon a strong fighting chance at staving off Metabolic Bone Disease!