Calcium is needed for a bearded dragon to develop properly. Unfortunately, it can be very problematic if they ingest an excessive amount of calcium.
Hypercalcemia happens when there is too much calcium in the blood. It can be very dangerous and potentially lead to death if left untreated.
Read on for more information on hypercalcemia, how to spot it, and how to prevent your dragon from getting it.
Symptoms of hypercalcemia
These symptoms alone aren’t always a sign of hypercalcemia. On the other hand, two or more symptoms are generally a sign that there is indeed a problem.
They may sleep more and become less active. This symptom alone is not a sure sign of hypercalcemia and is often a normal behavior that may signify brumation or a pregnant bearded dragon.
Bearded dragons don’t poop too often, to begin with, but as their owner, you’re likely aware of how often your beardie defecates on a regular basis.
Keeping them on a regular feeding schedule can help identify digestion issues.
- Swollen limbs
their bodies will also become stiff, making it difficult for them to move.
This is a very common sign of hypercalcemia and should be looked into by a vet right away.
- Loss of appetite
You may find that your dragon doesn’t enjoy their favorite foods as often anymore.
While this isn’t always a surefire sign that the problem is a calcium overdose, loss of appetite can be related to another issue.
- Swelling of lower jaw
This symptom isn’t always easy to notice and can be very subtle. Your dragon’s beard should normally be flat. A swollen beard will be slightly raised above the neck.
It may also be drooping down, and their beards may be black due to stress and discomfort.
This can also be a sign of a bacterial infection such as mouth rot, though the symptoms are very different.
You may find that your dragon isn’t moving around as much as it used to and/or climbing around a lot less.
They may also tire easily and need to rest more often than usual.
They may even walk strangely and significantly less. Other symptoms of weakness are being shaky and unwilling to move.
It’s also important to note that weakness can be a sign of the enclosure being too hot or too cold.
What causes hypercalcemia?
Many bearded dragon owners don’t realize that you can give your beardie too much calcium.
While hypercalcemia is super rare, it’s better to know the symptoms to watch out for in case you accidentally give them too much.
- Too much Vitamin D3.
Your dragon could obtain too much D3 from food and sunlight. Make sure that what you feed them doesn’t contain more calcium than they need.
You may need to rearrange parts of their diet so that they aren’t receiving too much D3
Too much D3 leads to toxicity in the blood, which can be problematic for bone development and other body functions.
- Excess calcium supplements.
Sometimes bearded dragon owners unintentionally give their pets too much calcium. When dusting calcium on foods, make sure to not feed them the calcium too often.
2-3 times a week is the number of times you should sprinkle calcium powder on their food. Just be sure to avoid giving them calcium-rich foods along with that calcium.
A mistake people often make is not taking the time to research how much their beardie needs depending on their age and size. It’s also best to check with a vet who will be able to determine the right amount.
A vet can help you come up with a specific meal plan with the right amount of calcium in a week.
- Overexposure to UV light
In addition to the other two reasons a bearded dragon may experience hypercalcemia, having the incorrect temperature in the enclosure can also be a problem.
You’ll want the enclosure to be at 75-85 degrees fahrenheit during the day (24-29 celcius) with the basking spot between 88-100 degrees fahrenheit (31-38 celcius).
At night, keep the enclosure at around 70-75 degrees fahrenheit (21-24 celcius).
Avoid putting their enclosure in direct sunlight, and remember to check the temperature in the enclosure often.
It’s also a good idea to ensure that the temperature of the room they are being kept in isn’t affected by the weather outside.
How do I prevent a calcium overdose?
- Balanced diet.
Avoid feeding them calcium-rich foods along with any calcium powder supplements. You’ll also want to make sure they’re getting enough protein in addition to the right amount of calcium.
Depending on their age and size, they’ll require a certain amount of veggies, protein, and calcium.
If you’re unsure about the amounts you should be feeding them, consult with your vet, and they will help with a meal plan.
- Proper UVB lighting in the enclosure.
Refer to this post on how much light they need. You’ll want to ensure your beardie has a good basking spot and a place to get away and cool down.
They should have enough space in the enclosure to move around and also something to climb onto to bask.
Just make sure to avoid using rocks as they can overheat and burn your bearded dragon’s belly without them realizing it.
They know how to regulate their internal temperature and aren’t always capable of doing so if the temperature is too hot or cold for them.
- Balanced supplements added to diet.
This isn’t limited to just calcium; your beardie may also need other nutrients to stay healthy such as vitamin D and multivitamins.
While a domesticated bearded dragon is more likely to live longer than a wild one, they’re still missing out on crucial nutrients for proper growth and development that they normally get from their natural habitat.
Food alone isn’t going to provide them with everything they need.
Is calcium absolutely necessary?
Yes, you must provide calcium for your bearded dragon. Some bearded dragon owners unintentionally give their beardies too much calcium, but others don’t realize that they need to provide calcium at all.
Calcium assists in bone development, muscle health, and reproductive health. Otherwise, your bearded dragon could end up with a bone disease that could be painful for them for the rest of their lives.
Too often, a dragon owner doesn’t realize that their beardie needs calcium supplements and ends up with a sick beardie with irreversible damage.
The most common result of a calcium deficiency is called Metabolic Bone Disease. The rest of the body has to absorb calcium from the bones and muscles, leading to muscle and bone problems in early development and even later in life.
The symptoms are very similar to hypercalcemia, but the physical alterations are often more noticeable and permanent.
It can lead to many health problems and, in severe cases, death. The disease may also drastically shorten their lifespan and quality of life.
They end up not being able to move around as easily without experiencing pain and stiffness in their body.
Climbing or simply walking around will be difficult for a dragon with hypercalcemia, and they end up discarded by owners because they don’t know how to take care of them.
Best way to provide calcium for your bearded dragon
The best way to give your dragon calcium is by dusting their food with calcium powder 3-5 times per week. There are other methods as well that come in a liquid form.
Adding calcium-rich foods and providing fewer supplements is also possible, but more challenging to measure the amount of calcium your dragon is getting.
Consult with a vet specializing in reptiles and ensure they know what they’re doing. A regular vet isn’t going to be as knowledgeable. Therefore even if you must drive a long distance for a proper vet, it’ll be worth it in the end.
Decide what foods and times you want to feed your dragon supplements. In addition, learn your dragon’s eating behaviors so that you can notice any changes that could lead to an underlying problem such as hypercalcemia.
Calcium is essential for bearded dragons but must only be used in moderation. Depending on the age of a beardie, they may require more or less for growth purposes.
Proper lighting and a balanced diet is the best way to prevent hypercalcemia. You should also be measuring the amount of calcium in supplements they are getting in addition to foods that contain calcium.
If your dragon displays symptoms of hypercalcemia, it must be taken to a vet immediately. It can be very dangerous and even lead to death if not properly cared for.
Being able to identify unusual behavior is essential for noticing hypercalcemia. The symptoms can often be subtle that may appear to not be an issue, but in these rare cases, hypercalcemia can be very serious and lead to death.