MBD bearded dragon has become a menace in the care of beardies.
Although bearded dragons are loyal and friendly creatures, they are at risk of MBD due to their poor diet.
You notice your beardie shriveled, hunched over, and rubbing his head and limbs on objects, could he be suffering from MBD?
Stay tuned for the signs of MBD and the treatment plan needed to take care of your beardie.
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What is MBD in Bearded Dragons?
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), also known as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, is a complex disorder that affects the skeletal structure of captive reptiles like bearded dragons.
MBD is the most common disease among domesticated bearded dragons. It’s more prone among juvenile beardies below 2 years old. (1)
Learn more facts about the bearded dragon.
What Causes MBD in Bearded Dragons?
There are several causes of MBD, which I’ll cover more closely here. It is important to keep an eye on the nutrients you feed to avoid these problems.
1. Deficiency of Vitamin D3 or Calcium
Nutritional deficiencies are a significant cause of MBD.
Your pet bearded dragon needs sufficient calcium and vitamin D3 for its growth. (2) Beardies need vitamin D3 to use phosphorus and calcium in their bodies to reinforce bone health.
A lack of either one of them will put your beardie at risk of MBD. Without vitamin D3, calcium and phosphorus in a beardie’s body will cause serious issues.
Low intake of calcium leads to weak bones, a culprit for MBD.
2. Excess Phosphorus in the Diet
An adult bearded dragon’s diet should contain less phosphorus than calcium levels. Phosphorus binds with calcium and prevents it from being absorbed into the dragon’s bloodstream.
With less absorption of calcium into your beardie’s bloodstream, he is at the risk of MBD.
3. A Diet High in Oxalates
Oxalates exist in some vegetables and fruits. Like phosphorus, oxalates bind with calcium, making them unavailable for absorption into your bearded dragon’s bloodstream.
Calcium deficiency sets up an environment for MBD to develop.
Most pet owners feed their beardies with improper diets containing oxalates unknowingly.
Some of the foods that are high in oxalates are:
- Sweet potatoes
4. Inadequate UV-B Exposure
UV-B is an essential spectrum of ultraviolet light for beardies. (3) Proper UVB lighting enables bearded dragons to synthesize vitamin D needed to sustain their skeletal structure.
Insufficient UV-B leads to vitamin D deficiency which is a recipe for weak skeletal structure in beardies.
5. Incorrect Lighting and Temperature
Apart from the UV-B spectrum, bearded dragons need correct lighting and temperature. The optimum body temperature for beardies is between 24-29°C (75- 84°F) during the day and 21-24°C (69-75°F) at night. (4)
Beardies need full-spectrum lighting and basking under a heat lamp to produce vitamin D in their bodies. Without proper temperature, your beardie won’t be able to generate vitamin D, which he needs for calcium absorption.
When calcium is low in a dragon’s bloodstream, the body pulls it from the bones. The impact is the devastating metabolic bone disease that leaves the bones weak and disoriented.
How Do I Know if My Bearded Dragon Has MBD? 10 Signs to Watch For
If you know MBD bearded dragon symptoms, you’ll be able to alert your veterinarian once you notice them and save your beardie.
The following are the common signs of MBD in bearded dragons and how to diagnose them.
#1 Softening or thinning of bones
Checking for kinks in your beardie’s tail is the best way to diagnose thinning and softening of bones. If you see any, take him to the vet right away.
#2 Jaw deformities
An easy way to check for jaw deformities is by looking at your beardie’s feeding habits. If he has a hard time opening his mouth or chewing food, it’s a sign of deformed oral tissues.
#3 Lethargy and inactivity
A healthy beardie is an active one. If you notice your usually lively and playful pet becoming lethargic, it’s a sign that something is wrong.
#4 Lack of appetite
A loss of appetite in your bearded dragon is a sign that he’s not feeling well. If you notice him having challenges eating even his favorite meal, it’s a sign that he’s unwell.
#5 Muscle tremors and seizures
Observe your beardie’s body language and movement. If you notice him having muscle tremors or seizures, it indicates that something is wrong with his health.
#6 Swollen limbs
If you notice any swelling in your bearded dragon’s legs, take him to the vet. It can be a sign of broken bones.
You can diagnose this by observing your beardie’s stool. If you notice his stool is dry and hard, it’s a sign of constipation.
You’ll know if your beardie is stressed by his behaviors. If he’s usually calm and relaxed but is now anxious and aggressive, it’s a sign that he’s under stress.
#9 Bumps along the bones and spine
By gently touching your beardie along his spine, you’ll be able to feel any bumps or deformities. If you notice any, it’s a sign of MBD.
It’s one of the late-stage symptoms of MBD. If you notice your bearded dragon becoming paralyzed with stunted growth, it’s a sign that the disease has progressed.
On identifying MBD signs, John Makaryshyn says, “The first thing that I notice is a crooked tail, or weakness or tremors.” (5)
The video below shows some of the signs of MBD:
How will you differentiate between MBD and gout?
MBD? Gout? Something Else??
MBD and gout in bearded dragons are confusing since they have similar symptoms. However, gout results from a build-up of uric acid in the bloodstream.
Uric acid in beardies is a result of protein metabolism. (6) Kidneys filter the uric acid formed from the circulating blood.
Gout results when kidneys fail to filter uric acid from the blood effectively. Excessive uric acid is deposited in tissues and organs like joints in the form of urate crystals.
The most confusing symptom common between MBD and gout in bearded dragons is swollen limbs. The best way to differentiate between the two is by examining the structure of the swollen limbs.
The swollen limbs contain crystals shaped like needles with raised cream-colored masses on oral tissues in gout. On the other hand, MBD causes smooth and firm swellings.
Alternatively, look at your beardie’s diet and environment. If you see that he’s not getting enough vitamin D and dietary calcium, it’s most likely MBD. If he’s on a diet high in protein, then it could be gout.
Suspecting MBD, What Should You Do?
If you suspect your beardie with MBD due to clinical signs, do the following:
Contact Your Vet
The first step is to contact your vet and inform them of your concerns. Be as detailed as possible when explaining the symptoms to the vet so he can understand the situation.
The reptile vet will give you professional advice. You’ll have to take your pet for MBD diagnosis in most cases.
The vet will diagnose MBD by conducting a physical examination and order blood tests, x-rays, and ultrasounds.
If MBD is confirmed, the veterinarian will put your bearded dragon on a treatment plan. If MBD is negative, the reptile vet will advise on the next course of action.
Sometimes, it might take a long time before the vet has a definitive diagnosis. In such a scenario, you’ll be worried about your beardie’s health; what can you do?
Post in Specific Groups to Ask for Support
Other reptile owners have gone through the same situation. You can ask for their opinion and experiences in specific groups.
These people will share how they handled their bearded dragons in a similar situation.
You can also get healthy diet recommendations from such groups based on veterinarian guidelines.
Some of these groups are:
- Reptile rehabilitation and emergency care.
- Exotic vet corners educational group-vets/ approved contributors comment.
Posting in these groups will give you many insights that might help you understand your pet’s condition.
What to Do as You Wait for the Diagnosis
It’s your responsibility to make sure your bearded dragon is as comfortable as possible while waiting for the diagnosis.
As you wait for the definitive diagnosis, do the following:
- Start incorporating calcium foods into his diet. Lack of calcium is a significant contributor to MBD.
- Give your dragon more access to UVB light. An adequate supply of the UVB helps with calcium absorption.
- Stop giving him food rich in phosphorus and oxalates. These two minerals interfere with calcium metabolism.
- Give your little guy multivitamins in liquid form for vitamin D3.
Apart from ensuring a balance of calcium, your pet needs a balanced diet for proper body functioning.
It’s essential to seek professional help as soon as possible. Do not self-medicate your pet since it might make the situation worse. Await the vet’s diagnosis and follow their guidelines.
Now That Your Beardie Was Diagnosed With MBD: What Can You Expect?
Your vet has confirmed your suspicions, so what next? The following will help you manage your pet and help with its recovery.
Can Bearded Dragons Recover From Metabolic Bone Disease?
Yes, bearded dragons can recover from metabolic bone disease. However, the recovery process is long and requires patience from you and your pet.
Bearded Dragon MBD Treatment Plan
At this point, you’re wondering how to treat MBD in bearded dragons.
Your vet will prescribe a treatment plan based on the diagnosis. However, the goal of all MBD treatment plans is to get enough calcium in the beardie’s body.
If your beardie is diagnosed with mild MBD, the treatment plan will involve adjusting his diet to incorporate plenty of calcium-rich foods. Dietary calcium is needed for strong bones.
Some calcium foods for your beardie include:
- Green beans
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Prickly pear
- Cactus leaves
Your vet will help you choose the right foods for your beardie based on MBD severity. Give your sick pet lots of fruits and veggies rich in dietary calcium as a rule of thumb.
Avoid foods high in phosphorus and oxalates like spinach and almonds. Prioritize certified organic veggies and fruits as they are low in toxic chemicals that can worsen the situation.
If the MBD is moderate or severe, your beardie will need one or more of the following in addition to a calcium-rich diet:
- Calcium supplement injections
- Hospitalization for rehydration
- Vitamin D3 injections
- Proper UVB exposure
- Calcitonin injections
- Calcium injections
In some cases, force-feeding may be necessary to help your beardie’s body weight. Another problem that afflicts beardies is being overweight. Learn more about obese bearded dragons
Give your beardie enough water. Water is essential as it ensures the dragon’s body absorbs calcium and vitamin D3. Consult your vet on the amount of water to give the pet.
This video shows you more about MBD treatments and prevention.
Provide a Safe Environment
Part of the treatment plan is ensuring your pet is safe.
The beardie should be in a safe cage, free of hazards. MBD makes the bones weak and can easily fracture or break by hazards like sticks and stones.
How Long Does It Take To Reverse MBD?
Is metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons curable?
Yes, with proper care, it takes at least six months to a year to reverse MBD in beardies.
You must take extra care of your pet and ensure you follow their treatment plan during this time.
With that in mind, prevention is better than cure, how can you prevent MBD in your bearded dragon pet?
How to Prevent Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons
Do bearded dragons have bones? Yes, bones are the major organs in beardies affected by MBD.
Use the following tips to keep MBD at bay:
- Give your beardie a calcium-rich diet from an early age. You can also add a calcium supplement to the diet.
- Ensure the pet has enough UVB exposure. Apart from direct sunlight into his cage, use a fluorescent strip light with 10-12% of UVB output. (2)
- Avoid feeding your beardie food rich in phosphorus and oxalates like almonds and spinach.
- Provide sufficient heat for your bearded dragon to absorb calcium from his diet. You can use an infrared lamp to keep your beardie warm.
- Vet-recommended calcium powder is also necessary.
It’s also essential to be aware of bearded dragon mouth rot. Although not common, the disease is also risky when it strikes.
Related: Tail rot bearded dragon – another serious condition to avoid.
Can MBD kill bearded dragons?
Yes, MBD can kill bearded dragons because it causes the deterioration of bones, tissues, and muscles.
Is MBD painful for bearded dragons?
Yes, MBD is a painful affliction for bearded dragons. The deterioration of bones and tissues is a painful experience. (7)
MBD bearded dragon is a severe problem that requires immediate veterinary attention.
The good news is that MBD is treatable, and your beloved pet can live a long and happy life. With a proper diet, supplements, and environment, your beardie will regain his health.
- 1. Axelson R. Bearded Dragons – Diseases [Internet]. vca_corporate. 2009. Available from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/bearded-dragons-diseases
- 2. BBC Two – Trust Me, I’m a Vet, Series 1, Episode 1 – How to prevent metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons [Internet]. BBC. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/N9CkM0GVW83bWlFMQcjlnD/how-to-prevent-metabolic-bone-disease-in-bearded-dragons
- 3. Holdaway S. The Best Guide To Bearded Dragon Nutrition – Reptiles Magazine [Internet]. 2018. Available from: https://reptilesmagazine.com/the-best-guide-to-bearded-dragon-nutrition/
- 4. Caring for your Bearded Dragon [Internet]. Available from: https://www.avonvets.co.uk/images/2017_april/caring_for_your_beardeddragon.pdf
- 5. Caring for Your Pet Bearded Dragon [Internet]. Available from: https://cvm.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Caring-for-your-Bearded-Dragon.pdf#:~:text=Temperature%3A%20Daytime%20maintain%20between%2075
- 6. Caring for Your Pet Bearded Dragon [Internet]. Available from: https://cvm.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Caring-for-your-Bearded-Dragon.pdf#:~:text=Temperature%3A%20Daytime%20maintain%20between%2075
- 7. Reptiles – Gout [Internet]. vca_corporate. Available from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/reptiles—gout
Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS is a locum veterinary surgeon who has worked in London for the past 8 years. She graduated top of her class in small animal medicine from UCD, Dublin. She is currently a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
Linda is the resident vet for Woman magazine and a frequent contributor to People’s Friend Magazine, the Dogzone website, Vet Help Direct and Wag! Linda also writes content for the CVS veterinary group, Vetwriter and a number of other establishments.
As well as working in clinic, Linda is an online vet for www. JustAnswer.com where she has been providing online advice for thousands of owners since 2018.
In her spare time, Linda enjoys baking, yoga and running around after her young son!
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