What is Metabolic Bone Disease? How to Treat Your Bearded Dragon?


If you see your bearded dragon crawling, with disfigured limbs and generally frail, it could be suffering from MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease). It is the most common disease in bearded dragons, and its seriousness ranges from mild to severe symptoms that can lead to death.

Metabolic bone disease is a disorder that affects the bones and muscles of your dragon due to calcium deficiency. It is treated by giving your beardie a diet rich in calcium, less in phosphorus and oxalates, as well as supplying proper UVB lighting.

When the calcium content is low, the dragon’s body draws calcium from the bones and muscles. That weakens the bones and muscles, demobilizing the pet. You will observe symptoms such as lack of appetite, general weakness, seizures, and in severe cases, deformed skeletal structure.

This article will examine everything you need to know about the metabolic bone disease and how to treat it.

What Causes Metabolic Bone Disease?

There is no one particular cause of MBD, and it is a condition resulting from the absence of certain minerals.

Diet poor in calcium, high in phosphorus and oxalates, as well as poor UVB lighting, can cause MBD in your bearded dragon.

The diet you supply to your pet should have not only enough calcium but also enough vitamin D3 as well as low amounts of phosphorus and oxalates. 

Here is how each of these elements complements each other:

  • Vitamin D3 facilitates adequate absorption of calcium. You should ensure your pet’s diet has a sufficient amount of vitamins.
  • Phosphorus and oxalates strain proper absorption of calcium. Check that there are no high amounts of the two minerals in the diet.
  • UVB light facilitates smooth digestion and absorption of nutrients. Poor supply of UVB light will strain the effectiveness of calcium and vitamin D3 absorption.

Early Symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease

It is better to diagnose MBD early enough, as it will be easier to reverse before it becomes fatal. The following symptoms are the early warning signs:

Why constipation occurs?

Constipation will occur due to the following reasons:

  • Lack of appetite for food reduces intake of vegetables. Vegetables are a good source of fibers that aid in digestion, decreasing constipation.
  • Due to the weakness of the pet, it may consume little water far below the average intake. Sufficient water is necessary for facilitating digestion and absorption of nutrients in the body.
  • The inability to move due to pain will deny the much-needed exercises. Physical activity is necessary for aiding digestion hence preventing constipation.
  • The pain, inability to move and hunger causes your pet to be stressed. Stress causes an imbalance in the release of hormones that aid in digestion, resulting in constipation.

Body Weakness

The following changes are the cause of weakness:

  • Since calcium is the primary builder of bones, its shortage weakens the bones.
  • The muscle sinews are strengthened by calcium. Its absence results in poor muscle contractions.
  • Due to calcium loss, the body pulls the tissues towards the bones to support them. That causes wearing out of tissues hence the weakness.

What causes them stress?

The following are the causes of stress:

  • The pain that the pet goes through.
  • The hunger is due to the inability to eat.
  • The failure to engage in regular physical routines such as head bobbing.

Lack of Appetite

Lack of appetite will happen due to the following reasons:

  • Weak jaw bones will give your dragon chewing difficulties.
  • The stress that your pet goes through can cause loss of appetite.
  • Your dragon may lose appetite due to the regular constipation.
  • Generally, your dragon is sick. Sickness reduces appetite.

Severe Symptoms at an Advanced stage of Metabolic Bone Disease

If you cannot diagnose the early symptoms on time, MBD will become unbearable and threaten the life of your pet. The following late signs will be more pronounced than the early signs.

  • Paralysis and Immobilization: The wearing out of muscles and bones will weaken your pet to the extreme. It may be completely unable to walk and remain to lie by the belly.
  • Seizures: The worn out tissues and muscles may cause convulsions due to sudden pain and emotions. Seizures may also be caused by starvation since your pet is not eating.
  • Twitching and trembling limbs: The weakened skeletal structure will lead to twitching of your pet’s limbs. The worn-out tissues and muscles also cause it.

The weakened bones may result in the following symptoms:

  • Bent or folded bones
  • Broken bones
  • Bowed or Arched Spine and limbs
  • Soft Facial bones
  •  A deformed lower jaw that may seem receded
  • Swollen jaw and limbs.

You can diagnose MBD at home if you have enough experience or consult the services of a veterinarian. Whether you analyze it at home or with the help of a vet, treatment is home-based. 

How to Diagnose MBD

It would be best if you start by observing your pet’s behavior. If you suspect a case of MBD, you should consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. The veterinarian will conduct the following medical routine to confirm if it is MBD:

  •  X-Ray: If your pet has MBD, its bones will have an irregular shape and abnormal size in diameter. The cortical bone (the bone surrounding the bone marrow) will appear reduced in density.
  • Blood Testing: A blood test is used to check the amount of phosphorus and calcium in the blood. If the calcium levels are low with phosphorus levels high, that signifies the presence of MBD.

The disadvantage of this test is that juvenile beardies may not show an abnormal ratio even if they have MBD. The blood test should only be used to confirm the results and not tell whether MBD is present.

Once MBD is confirmed, you should start the treatment immediately. However, before you embark on treatment, it is essential you know foods rich in calcium since they are crucial to the treatment of your pet.

How to Treat Metabolic Bone Disease in Your Bearded Dragon

Treatment of metabolic bone disease will depend on the stage it has reached. It is easier to reverse it at an early stage than at a late stage, so it is vital if you diagnose it early enough.

Since MBD is a calcium deficiency disease, it is treated by ensuring your pet is constantly supplied with enough calcium. That ranges from feeding them a properly balanced calcium diet to calcium supplements.

Foods Rich in Calcium for Beardies

The principal constitutes of bearded dragons’ diet are fruits, vegetables, and insects. The following are the most recommended foods:

Fruits and vegetables Rich in Calcium

  • Squash
  • Papaya
  • Mustard greens
  • Figs
  • Escarole
  • Endive
  • Dandelion leaves
  • Chicory
  • Cactus leaves

Insects Rich in Calcium

  • Silkworms
  •  Hornworms
  • Phoenix worms

Avoid foods rich in oxalates and phosphorus since they hinder calcium absorption.

Begin the Treatment of Your Bearded Dragon

The recovery period of your pet will depend on how severe the case is. However, you have to be patient and strictly adhere to treatment guidelines since the process may take you an extended period.

The treatment will include supplying a well-balanced diet and properly regulated UVB light and giving medication as per the vet’s prescription.

If you follow the following treatment guidelines, your pet will eventually recover.

Ensure You Feed Your Dragon with a Well Balanced Diet

  •  Feed your pet with fruits rich in calcium, such as papaya or quash.
  •  See that your pets are getting enough calcium-rich vegetables such as cactus leaves.
  •  Supply sufficient insects rich in calcium, such as hornworms.
  •  Reduce the intake of phosphorus and oxalate-rich food to facilitate calcium absorption.
  •  Give vitamin D3 supplement as per the vet’s prescription.
  •  Supply enough water to ensure your pet is not dehydrated.
  • Since calcium is the most crucial ingredient, you should consider supplying calcium powder mixed with vitamin D3 to boost the intake.

Ensure Temperature in the Enclosure Is Well Regulated

  • Proper temperature facilitates effective digestion and absorption of nutrients. In adults, the hot temperatures should range between 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with the cool ones ranging between 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • At night, since the pet is sick, increase the temperatures a little higher than usual to boost immunity. It is recommended you target a range of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Consider using a Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE) to heat the enclosure since it is more recommended than the Under the Tank Heaters (UHT). You may also consider using a Self-Ballasted Mercury Vapor UVB lamp. It emits both UVB rays and heat.

Ensure You Supply Proper UVB Lighting in the Enclosure

UVB rays facilitate the absorption of calcium and its utilization in the body. 

  •  Use a UVB bulb that can cover the entire enclosure, such as those with long tubes because they broadcast the light over a larger area.
  •  Position your UVB light where there is no obstruction to block the rays.
  •  Locate the bulb 6 to 7 inches above the pet’s basking area.
  •  Consider using the better-recommended Self Ballasted Mercury Vapor UVB since it emits heat and UVB rays.
  •  Expose your dragon to UVB rays for at least 12 hours a day.

Medical Treatment for Your Bearded Dragon

After the diagnosis, the vet may prescribe medication for your pet, depending on how advanced MBD is. The vet may recommend the following treatment:

  •  Calcium supplements for oral consumption.
  •  Injections with Vitamin D3.
  •  Calcitonin injections to increase calcium.
  •  Recommendation to use special UVB rays.

Regardless of the stage at which the MBD has reached, it is reversible with proper management and treatment. It will need your patience since it may take longer, which may be tedious to you.

Dragons recovering from severe MBD may retain permanent deformities such as scars and bent bones.

Precautions You Should Observe During the Recovery of Your Bearded Dragon

  •  Ensure the enclosure is free of any hazards, such as sticks that may make your pet stumble. During recovery, the beardies bones are weak, and obstacles may easily cause further injuries.
  •  Check that the components in the enclosure, such as basking rock to ensure they don’t challenge the dragon’s movement.
  •  Don’t use a deep dish to provide water. The pet is too weak to balance or swim out if it accidentally stumbles in.
  •  Handle the dragon only when it is necessary because it is in pain.
  •  You should avoid any acts or moves that may stress the pet since they may derail the recovery process.

FAQ’s about Bearded Dragons

Conclusion on What is Metabolic Bone Disease? How to Treat Your Bearded Dragon?

Bearded dragons under captivity are highly vulnerable to metabolic bone disease due to their makeshift habitat. They are dependent on your efficiency or expertise in balancing all the elements that keep them healthy such as diet and light.

Any imbalance of these elements is disastrous since it makes the probability of your dragon suffering MBD very high.

The disease is fatal, and it counts for the highest number of deaths in bearded dragons. Even if the pet manages to recover from the severe MBD, it may retain permanent deformation, and that calls for your keen continued attention to prevent MBD.

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