One of the most commonly seen nutritional problems among reptiles is a metabolic bone disease. Due to lack of calcium, the bones of bearded dragons become so weak that they start deteriorating.
This leads to a weakening of their skeletal structures and may result in tremors, severe weakness, and bone fractures. However, this disease is easily curable with the proper diet, housing, and care for your dragon.
What causes metabolic bone disease among bearded dragons?
Metabolic bone disease is caused by the following:
- Calcium deficiency or vitamin D3 deficiency from a poor diet (vitamin D3 is essential for the absorption of calcium).
- A diet high in phosphorus or oxalates stops the absorption of calcium in the body.
- Not getting enough ultraviolet light (which is necessary for the digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as in the production of vitamin D.
Symptoms of metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons
It is important to know the signs of metabolic bone disease so that you can identify them on time and go to the vet immediately for proper treatment:
- Lack of appetite
- Lethargy /weakness
- Swollen limbs and jaws
- Soft jaw and facial bones swelling
- Trembling and twitching of limbs
- Paralysis or difficulty in moving
- Thin, brittle, or bones that break easily without external force
- Stunted growth
How long does it take to get rid of severe MBD in bearded dragons?
It depends upon the severity of MBD in bearded dragons. In most cases, it may take up to 6 months to get the bearded dragons walking and moving regularly. However, if the case is not that severe then with proper medication paired up with a diet that is rich in calcium, your bearded dragon will get back to walking in just two weeks.
What does severe MBD in bearded dragons look like?
This may easily be seen with the help of the following radiograph that shows a healthy bearded dragon on the top and a bearded dragon with the metabolic bone disease on the bottom.
According to the image above, the dragon is unable to support his weight as the limbs are looking frail and shamble. These irregularly curved limbs clearly give you an idea of your dragon’s soft bones fracturing or bending due to the disease.
Precautionary measures at home for bearded dragon suffering MBD?
If your dragon has a metabolic bone disease, and the vet is not available, you can take care of your bearded dragon in the meantime by taking some precautionary measures at home:
- Taking care of their diet
- Checking the tank’s temperature
- Exposure to UVB rays
- Remove hazards from the cage
- Make sure your dragon gets enough hydration
You have to make sure that your bearded dragon’s diet is rich in calcium to boost their energy levels. You can give them pureed foods like chicken, squash, or pumpkins. It is always a good idea to add vitamin d3 and calcium powders to the food as well.
Other good sources of calcium for your dragon are figs, mustard greens, dandelion leaves, or insects like hornworms and silkworms.
Bearded dragons being cold-blooded animals that need a consistent source of heat as their bodies cannot generate their own. Proper temperature and UVB lighting that is similar to the one they experience in the wild helps them in digesting their food and to absorb nutrients.
Their enclosure should include both; a hot side (101 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit) and a cool side (80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit) to regulate their body heat as needed. To boost up the immunity of a dragon with metabolic bone disease, it is recommended to keep the tank a little warmer.
Try to maintain a temperature of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit until the MBD is under control.
Exposure to UVB:
Try to give proper UVB lighting to your bearded dragon because, without proper UVB, your dragon can’t utilize any calcium. Make sure to use the right kind of UVB bulb to ensure the right amount of UVB light covers the entire tank.
Try long tube UVBS lights rather than coil lights as they will help to disperse the lights over a large area. Your dragon should get 12 hours a day of UVB ray exposure.
Remove hazards from the cage:
When a bearded dragon gets metabolic bone disease, his bone becomes frail and can get easily broken or fractured. It is very difficult for a bearded dragon to move in such a condition therefore try to remove any sticks, rocks, or other items that may cause hindrance in your dragon’s movement.
Make sure bearded dragon gets enough amount of water:
Keeping the bearded dragon properly hydrated helps its body absorb calcium, Vitamin D3, and other important nutrients. You have to ask the vet how much water intake is recommended for your dragon in such a situation.
Diagnosis of metabolic bone disease
It can be diagnosed by your veterinarian based on physical examination, and on your dragon’s symptoms and diet. Ultraviolet-B light, x-rays as well as conducting blood work can help in determining the severity of MBD. Fractures or spasms in the bones are other clearer symptoms to choose the right kind of treatment.
Treatment of metabolic bone disease
The different treatments and actions to be taken depend on the severity, extent, and other particulars regarding each case of MBD.
Have a look at these cases:
- If a reptile is mildly affected and the case is detected early then you have a chance to improve the husbandry of your pet by ensuring proper diet and providing the correct levels of UVB lighting and heating, proper supplementation, and other nutrients.
- If the case is severe, and the damage caused by MBD is permanent and irreversible, then your veterinarian may prescribe oral or injectable calcium supplementation such as calcium lactate, calcium gluconate, etc. This shall help in healing the fractured bones and allow them to heal over time as well.
What happens if MBD not treated in due time?
If proper treatment is not given on time, there are chances that this disease will get worse. There are chances that bones and other organs will continue to be affected and can also prove to be fatal.
Many animals suffering from mild cases are expected to see recovery after getting proper treatment. In most severe cases, permanent damage can also heal with time but with proper care and treatment.
Metabolic bone disease is a terrible disease and you have to take the necessary steps to control it. Talk to the vet immediately if you notice any signs of weakness, paralysis, or difficulty in moving. Try to adopt good husbandry practices and feed your dragon a diet that is rich in calcium and vitamin D3.
Otherwise, the results will be devastating because lower calcium levels in the body will start pulling calcium from the bones and it will cause bone and muscle damage.