Welcome to our detailed guide on understanding MBD bearded dragons. We will discuss what MBD is, how it affects bearded dragons, how to prevent it and whether it is treatable.
MBD stands for Metabolic Bone Disease, which is one of the most common health problems among pet bearded dragons. MBD results from inadequacy in their environment or diet. When detected early, it can be treated, but preventing its occurrence in the first place is even better!
The first thing to know is that MBD isn’t one unique condition but rather a term used to describe various bone diseases that are similar in nature. We’ll explain more about this below.
What is MBD in Bearded Dragons?
MBD stands for Metabolic Bone Disease. It comprises a group of disorders, including:
- Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism (NSHPT) – the most typical metabolic bone disease which is a range of symptoms caused by calcium deficiency.
- Renal Secondary Hyperparathyroidism (RSHPT) – calcium deficiency triggered by kidney failure.
- Osteomalacia and Rickets – inability of bones to calcify typically in adult and juvenile bearded dragons, respectively.
- Fibrous Osteodystrophy – absorption of bone replaced with fibrous tissue.
- Osteoporosis – loss of bone density.
- Hypocalcemia – low calcium levels in the bloodstream.
MBD usually affects bearded dragons before their second birthday. However, calcium deficiency is so prevalent that veterinarians advise owners to assume that all bearded dragons are affected by it until proven otherwise.
What Causes MBD in Bearded Dragons?
All metabolic bone diseases result from calcium deficiency. Bearded dragons can acquire calcium deficiency in several ways, including:
- Insufficient calcium in their diet. Since calcium is an element, it can’t be produced within the body from other substances. Therefore, it must be consumed as part of the dragon’s diet.
- Excess calcium in their diet. Even though it is crucial for their health, excess calcium in their diet may interfere with mineral uptake from the intestines to the bloodstream, causing calcium deficiency.
- Inadequate vitamin D3 in their diet. Bearded dragons require vitamin D3 to create a hormone called calcitriol, which boosts calcium absorption from the intestines into the bloodstream.
- Excess phosphorus in their diet. Phosphorus obstructs calcium absorption from the intestines to the bloodstream.
- Excess oxalates in their diet. Oxalates also impede calcium absorption from the intestines.
- Inadequate lighting. Bearded dragons require UVB lighting in their habitat to generate vitamin D in their skin, which is crucial for absorbing dietary calcium.
Thus, MBD in most bearded dragons stems either from not having the right amount of calcium in their diet or from something preventing them from utilizing the calcium that is available. A common cause of calcium deficiency is loading up on too many crickets and mealworms, which are low in calcium and high in phosphorus.
Early Indicators of Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons
Calcium plays a variety of vital roles in bearded dragons’ health, and as a result, the early signs of calcium deficiency are diverse and frequently mistaken for other issues. The first signs of MBD include:
- Stunted growth
- A rounded skull, particularly when viewed from the side
- Lack of appetite
- General weakness and fatigue
Although some of these symptoms relate to bone development, calcium is also vital for muscle function, including the muscles that push food along the gut. As a result, some symptoms relate to movement and digestion as well. Blood tests expose hypocalcemia (low calcium levels in the bloodstream) even before clinical symptoms appear, indicating that this disease can accumulate for some time before it becomes noticeable.
Advanced Symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons
MBD progresses relatively slowly because it takes time for the consequences of calcium deficiency to accumulate. Furthermore, reptiles typically conceal any signs of illness or pain to prevent becoming easy prey. Advanced indications of bearded dragons with MBD include:
- An upper jaw protruding beyond the lower jaw. This occurs when the bone in the lower jaw is pulled backward because it is weaker than the muscles that control it.
- Hard, swollen limbs. Often referred to
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