Whether you are an experienced reptile owner or just getting started with your very first bearded dragon, you will most likely have done some extensive research to ensure they receive a well-balanced diet to keep them in top form. While doing research on the proper diet for your bearded, one of the most important focal points you will come across is their need for appropriate calcium consumption.
Calcium is a key mineral in the health of any animal, even humans, but for your bearded dragon, their consumption of calcium is of upmost importance to their livelihood. This could have you wondering, why do bearded dragons need calcium and why is it so important?
Calcium, along with vitamin D3, is an essential mineral necessary for bearded dragons to grow and develop bones and allow female bearded dragons to properly form their eggs. If a bearded dragon is not receiving the appropriate amount of calcium they could experience serious health conditions like metabolic bone disease, which in turn will shorten their life expectancy.
Without vitamin D3, your bearded dragon will be unable to metabolize calcium, so we will be discussing both throughout this article. The importance of vitamin D3 in your bearded dragon’s diet is also why it is imperative to provide them with a heat source.
Heat and light promote proper digestion and activates vitamin D3, which allows the dragon to absorb calcium.
If you are the new, proud owner of your very first bearded dragon, this could all seem stressful and scary, but don’t worry, we will be discussing the importance of calcium for bearded dragons, signs that your bearded dragon is calcium deficient, how much calcium is the appropriate amount, and which calcium supplements are the best for your bearded dragon. If at any point you are unsure of the health of your bearded dragon or have any questions on how to properly feed or care for your bearded, please, contact your local herp vet for assistance.
Now, let’s dive into the importance of calcium for your bearded dragon and how you can assure that your dragon is receiving all of the vitamins and minerals they need.
Reason 1: Growth And Development
Just like with any other animal, calcium is the key component in the growth and development of a bearded dragon. When a bearded dragon experiences low calcium levels, or hypocalcemia, the dragon may suffer from an array of painful symptoms, including twitching muscles, fatigue, fragile bones, and swelling in the limbs.
Long term hypocalcemia can eventually result in permanent malformations in their limbs, spine, jaw, or tail. In the event that your bearded dragon experiences calcium deficiency, their body will begin to recycle the calcium in their bones, causing metabolic bone disease.
Metabolic bone disease can cause a lot of pain for your bearded dragon causing them to perform simple tasks they would otherwise be able to do with ease such as standing, walking, or climbing. Bearded dragons with severe metabolic bone disease could also end up spending most of their time lying down because their legs are too weak to properly support their body and could break under their own weight.
Reason 2: Laying Healthy Eggs
Female bearded dragons with regular and normal reproductive activity are at higher risk of developing calcium deficiency. Reproduction requires high amounts of calcium and can take a toll on the body’s calcium storage.
Females require calcium rich diets and a warm habitat to be able to successfully lay her eggs with little to no difficulty. Hypocalcemia can prove fatal to a female bearded dragon if not rectified as quickly as it is noticed and can cause a condition known as egg binding.
It is quite common for a pregnant bearded dragon to have what appears to be a swollen belly and not eat as much, but they will continue to be active and stay alert. Bearded dragons that are experiencing egg binding will undergo depression, experience fatigue, and become inactive.
The female bearded dragon may also try to push with her tail raised and will not produce any eggs; this is very serious and could ultimately end in death without medical intervention. If at any time you believe your reproducing female bearded dragon to be experiencing calcium deficiency or worse, egg binding, contact your local vet to have her check out.
Method 1: Powder And Supplements
One of the most effective methods to ensure your bearded dragon is receiving the proper amount of calcium is by supplementing. The easiest and most efficient way to provide a calcium supplement is calcium powder.
Calcium powder is made up of concentrated calcium and even vitamin D3, depending on which type of powder you purchase, and it used by sprinkling on the bearded dragon’s insects or vegetation. Owners of bearded dragons usually refer to this method as “dusting”.
Dusting is the practice of coating your bearded dragon’s food with a powder supplement before consumption. Dusting can be achieved by sprinkling the supplement powder over insects and vegetables, or just by simply shaking it all together in a plastic bag or container to achieve a more even coating.
If your bearded dragon does not seem interested in their food after a dusting, try easing back on the amount that you use. Bearded dragons will refuse food with too much powder, and excessive calcium can lead to an overdose for your beardie.
A gentle and light dusting a few times a week for an adult bearded dragon should be plenty.
Method 2: Lighting
Providing the proper amount and type of lighting is important for maintaining your bearded dragon’s health for many reasons, including the activation of vitamin D3 which will in turn aid in the absorption of calcium. The importance of providing the best possible UVB light for your bearded dragon is immeasurable.
In the wild, bearded dragons rely heavily on UVB rays to activate any dormant vitamin D3 to aid in calcium absorption. Since your bearded dragon is more than likely spending most of their time indoors, it is extremely necessary to provide the best lighting for their habitat.
It would also be important to note that not only is the correct lighting absolutely necessary, but setting it up properly will also ensure that your bearded dragon is receiving the appropriate amounts as well as not being too close to the lamp which can cause burns and overheating.
Method 3: Proper Diet
Providing your bearded dragon with a proper diet that is rich in calcium is another, maybe even obvious, way to ensure your beardie is consuming and receiving the appropriate amount calcium. There are plenty of amazing options when it comes to calcium rich food that your bearded dragon would not only love, but heavily benefit from as well.
Leafy greens such as collard greens, turnip greens, escarole, and chicory are a delicious way for your bearded dragon to receive more calcium. You can also give your bearded dragon a little snack on occasion consisting of berries which contain healthy amounts of calcium as well.
There is also a practice known as “gut loading” which pertains to feeding insects a highly calcium rich diet and then feeding those insects to your bearded dragon. This is a practice more used among bearded dragon owners who have their own personal insect farms.
Properly caring for your bearded dragon is so rewarding and there is always room for improvement. Try asking yourself a few questions.
Could I be giving my beardie more calcium rich foods? Has my bearded dragon been receiving enough light and warmth?
Has my bearded dragon’s behavior been trying to tell me something? As the owner of an exotic reptile like a bearded dragon, it is your job to take the initiative to research and ensure a happy and healthy habitat for your pet.
If you have done the proper research and your bearded dragon seems to be thriving and has not exhibited any abnormal behavior or symptoms, then there’s no rush to completely change up everything you are doing. If you worry that you should be doing something different or that you haven’t been supplying your bearded dragon with enough calcium, then introduce the increase, whatever it may be, gradually.
You don’t want to increase or improve upon something that didn’t need improving or increasing. If you are ever unsure of the health of your bearded dragon or worry you could be doing something more, then, please, give your local herp vet a call and discuss what you could change and where you could improve.
A little tip, if you worry that the lighting arrangement you have set up for your bearded dragon is not doing the job you think it should, if your enclosure is by a window, raise the blinds or open the curtains. Bearded dragons absolutely love natural lighting and will gladly accept the increase in daylight within their enclosure.