Simplifying Calcium for Bearded Dragons and Vitamin D3

Getting calcium for bearded dragons right is crucial for good health but can get a little confusing, especially when adding vitamin D3 into the equation.

Dr Amna Ahmad is a Doctor of Veterinary Science graduated from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Guide to calcium for bearded dragons. Sources of calcium, how much calcium, how often to give calcium. Liquid or powder calcium.

Calcium for Bearded Dragons: Do they need it?

Bearded dragons need calcium. Calcium is like the superhero nutrient for bearded dragons. Bearded dragons need calcium for:

  • Strong bones
  • Muscle function
  • Blood clotting
  • Heart health
  • Nervous system

The effectiveness of calcium absorption in bearded dragons heavily relies on Vitamin D3, serving as a crucial facilitator or ‘unlocking’ mechanism for calcium’s entry into their system. This highlights the importance of proper supplementation with calcium for bearded dragons to ensure their health and well-being.

A lack of basic knowledge regarding the supplementation of calcium and Vitamin D3 has led to numerous preventable ailments among these reptiles, emphasizing the need for awareness and education on calcium for bearded dragons.

A significant study by Schmidt et al. in 2017, which examined 529 bearded dragons across three exotic animal clinics in Central Europe, revealed some concerning statistics. The findings indicated that more than half of the dragons tested had an imbalance in their calcium-phosphorus ratio, with a majority displaying signs of hypocalcemia. Moreover, nearly one-fifth of the examined dragons suffered from musculoskeletal issues, notably osteodystrophy and limb fractures, underscoring the critical need for proper nutritional management and the vital role of calcium for bearded dragons.

Managing Calcium for Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons do not need calcium every day. As a generalisation, the recommendation of numerous veterinarians, researchers and herpetologists, suggest you should give calcium for bearded dragons (and vitamin D3 if needed) supplement as follows:

StageSupplementation Frequency
HatchlingsDaily
Juvenile3-4 times a week
AdultAt least once per week
Reproductively active females3-4 times a week
Adult receiving sunlightOnce every 2 weeks
UV light vs calcium for bearded dragons d3 s
Supplementation of calcium for bearded dragons given access to unfiltered sunlight will be less than those receiving artificial UVB light. Take your bearded dragon outdoors in the sunlight often!

How much calcium do bearded dragons need? The amount of calcium you give your bearded dragon can be a bit of guesswork as there are so many variables involved. It is best to follow the supplement manufacturers guidelines.

A dose of calcium is likely to be as little as an 1/8 of a teaspoon or a pinch such as with Vetark who have brought their measures down to ‘pinches’ to make it easy. However keep in mind some of the variables that influence how much calcium supplementation is required:

  • Biological stage of the animal.
  • The amount of calcium that sticks to the food.
  • How well insects were gut loaded.
  • The quality of calcium supplement being used.

However, if you are feeding your bearded dragon 50% or more of the total diet with commercially prepared diets, supplementation should not be required (Stahl and Donoghue 2010). Check the ingredients of the food before supplementing.

Getting the calcium for bearded dragons just right isn’t only about how much they get, but also about the balance with phosphorus in their diet. Think of it like a see-saw: you want to keep it balanced for your dragon to grow strong and healthy.

Why the Balance Matters:

  • For Growing Dragons: They need more calcium, so aim for a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2:1. This helps them build strong bones.
  • Adult Dragons: Their needs are a bit less, with a good balance being around 1.5:1.
  • Egg-Laying Females: They need a lot more calcium, so their ratio can go all the way up to 10:1 during these times to support egg development.

Here’s a simple breakdown of what that looks like in their diet:

Calcium and Phosphorus Needs:

Life StageCalcium (% of dry matter)Phosphorus (% of dry matter)Calcium:Phosphorus Ratio
Growing Bearded Dragons1-1.5%0.5-0.9%2:1
Adult Bearded Dragons1-1.5%0.5-0.9%1.5:1
Gravid (Egg-Laying)1-1.5%0.5-0.9%Up to 10:1

By keeping an eye on this balance, you’re helping ensure your bearded dragon gets the right mix for their bones and overall health, especially when it comes to calcium for bearded dragons.

What is the Best Calcium for Bearded Dragons?

When it comes to ensuring your bearded dragon gets the right amount of calcium, the choice between type of supplement and whether it is in liquid and powdered form can make a big difference. Each form has its benefits and considerations that can help you decide which is best for your pet.

A pinch of bone meal powder can be a great source of calcium. Just make sure it’s safe for reptiles. The bone meal can be spread over insects and veges and used in gut-loading.

Pros:

  • Bone meal is an excellent source of calcium.
  • It can easily be sprinkled over insects and vegetables, making it a convenient way to add calcium to your bearded dragon’s diet.
  • Being derived from bones, it is a natural source of calcium, potentially offering other micronutrients beneficial for reptiles.

Cons:

  • Not all bone meal products are created equally or with reptiles in mind.Make sure the product is free from harmful additives and is safe for reptile consumption.
  • Bone meal also contains phosphorus. An improper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio can hinder calcium absorption, so the balance must be monitored.
  • Some bearded dragons might find bone meal-dusted food less appealing, which could affect their willingness to eat.

Simple and cheap powdered calcium carbonate is one of the best forms of calcium for bearded dragons.

Calcium Carbonate without cholecalciferol
Bearded dragons can be provided Calcium Carbonate without cholecalciferol intended for human consumption.

Powdered calcium is the most common form of supplement for bearded dragons and is widely recommended by veterinarians and reptile enthusiasts. It’s typically dusted over insects or vegetables, ensuring your bearded dragon receives calcium with their regular meals.

Pros:

  • Easy to control dosage by adjusting the amount of powder used.
  • Long shelf life and does not require refrigeration.
  • Ensures that calcium is directly ingested with food.

Cons:

  • Some bearded dragons may refuse food dusted with too much powder.
  • It can be messy and may not coat live food evenly.

For bearded dragons kept indoors, buy calcium powders with cholecalciferol, also known as vitamin D3.

For bearded dragons kept outdoors or have outdoor time without glass or other barriers to block UVB, it is likely that lower levels of vitamin D3 will be needed.

Buying calcium powder both with and without vitamin D3 will provide options for alternate dusting. Avoid any calcium powder that has phosphorus in it. Calcium supplement meant for humans can also be used.

Liquid calcium supplements can be easy to administer, especially for bearded dragons that might be picky eaters. You can directly mix it into their water supply or lightly coat their food with it. However, mixing in water has its challenages. It is best to give liquid calcium to bearded dragons by a small eye dropper.

Pros:

  • Easy to mix with water or food, ensuring even distribution.
  • Can be more easily ingested by bearded dragons, especially those with feeding difficulties.

Cons:

  • It may be challenging to measure precise dosages.
  • Liquid supplements can spoil or degrade faster than powdered forms if not stored properly. To maintain their potency, liquid calcium supplements should be stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions, typically in a cool, dark place and used within the recommended timeframe after opening. It’s also important to ensure the cap is tightly sealed after each use to minimize exposure to air and potential contaminants.
  • The Necessity of D3: Providing D3 with calcium supplements may assist in the absorption and utilization of calcium in your bearded dragon’s body. Be mindful of the potential for Vitamin D3 overdose, which can harm your bearded dragon’s health.
  • Sunlight: Regular exposure to sunlight is the safest way to enable your bearded dragon to look after its own Vitamin D3 needs.

Optimizing Calcium for Bearded Dragons Through Their Diet

Here’s how you can adjust their diet to improve calcium intake:

  • Gut Loading and Dusting: Increase the calcium content of feeder insects by gut loading them with calcium-rich foods and dusting them with calcium powder. Soldier fly larvae are especially beneficial due to their naturally higher calcium to phosphorus (Ca:P) ratio (Divers, 2018).
  • Hydration: Keep your bearded dragon well-hydrated. Adequate water intake supports nutrient absorption, digestion, and waste elimination.

Foods high in oxalates and phytates can inhibit the uptake of calcium and caution must be used.

Oxalic and phytic acids bind to calcium making it unavailable. These foods can be added in small portions occasionally to a healthy bearded dragons diet (Stahl and Donoghue 2010). If they are fed, feed in small portions alternating with other foods.

Broccoli, Kale and Bok Choy are examples of foods rich in calcium but also have high oxalate and goitrogen content that negatively affect their nutritional importance.

Adding a range of foods high in calcium to your bearded dragon’s diet is key for keeping the calcium to phosphorus (Ca:P) ratio balanced. Below are some recommended options, but it’s important to remember that focusing on one nutrient might impact the balance of others. For a more detailed explanation, refer to the dietary guidelines post.

Vegetables and GreensFruits
Turnip GreensBlackberries
Collard GreensFigs
Mustard Greens
Endive/Chicory
Escarole
Dandelion Greens
Parsley
Romaine Lettuce
Cilantro
Mulberry Leaves
Watercress
Alfalfa

While certain foods are rich in phosphorus or contain compounds that may hinder calcium absorption, this doesn’t mean they should be entirely excluded from the diet. These foods might offer other nutritional benefits. See the dietary guide for further information.

High Phosphorus FoodsHigh Oxalate Foods
Day-old chicksBroccoli
Pinkie miceKale
Muscle meatBok Choy
Squash and pumpkin seedsSpinach
Pea sproutsPeas
CeleryBeans
PeasBeetroot
Bananas

Key Takeaways for Calcium for Bearded Dragons:

  1. Balance the Ca:P Ratio: Aim for a diet that supports a healthy balance, with a focus on calcium-rich foods and proper hydration.
  2. Diversify the Diet: Incorporate a variety of vegetables, greens, and occasional fruits to ensure a broad spectrum of nutrients.
  3. Moderation and Caution: Be mindful of foods that may inhibit calcium absorption and use them sparingly.

By making these adjustments, you can enhance the effectiveness of calcium for bearded dragons in their diet, promoting their overall health and well-being.

What is the Best Way to Give a Bearded Dragon Calcium?

Sprinkle some calcium powder or bone meal on their insects and veggies. Just a light coating will do.
Dusting only needs to occur as per the calcium supplementation schedule, not necessarily every day. Excessive calcium can be unpalatable. Foods dusted with too much calcium will probably be refused.

Some vegetation is higher than others in calcium and can be added to the diet.

Feed the insects a nutritious meal before giving them to your dragon including calcium powder or bone meal. This process enhances the nutritional value of the insects. However, the nutrients in gut-loading is not healthy for the insects so the diet can only be fed within 24 hours before feeding them to your reptile.

Some invertebrates, such as crickets, cannot be kept alive on calcium gut loading diet for over 3 days as it causes impaction in the cricket and subsequently it dies (Thompson, 2016).

Yes you can put calcium for bearded dragons in their water. While it’s technically possible to put calcium powder in bearded dragons’ water, it’s not the most effective way to ensure they receive calcium.

Calcium powder doesn’t dissolve well in water, which can lead to inconsistent dosages and potentially inadequate calcium intake​​​​. Instead, direct supplementation by dusting their food with calcium powder is recommended to ensure that your bearded dragon receives the proper amount of calcium​​.

dusting feeder insects with calcium and vitamin d3 for bearded dragon
Dusting feeder insects with vitamin d3 and calcium ready for bearded dragons dinner. These insects are heavily dusted and likely to be refused by the reptile. Lighter dusting will be more suitable and be more palatable to your bearded dragon.

Vitamin D3: The Sunshine Vitamin

Your bearded dragon needs Vitamin D3 to metabolise and absorb calcium. The body cannot use calcium unless it has vitamin D3.

The best source of vitamin D3? Good old sunshine. UVB rays from the sun or a UVB bulb help your dragon produce Vitamin D3 naturally. If your dragon is basking in natural sunlight (no glass or plastic in between), they’re getting a good dose of D3. But if they’re indoors, you’ll need to make sure their UVB lighting is up to par.

vitamin d3 sources bearded dragons
Sources of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplementation in bearded dragons and synthesis.
  • Vitamin D3’s Role: It’s vital for the metabolism and absorption of calcium and phosphorus in bearded dragons. Without Vitamin D3, the calcium you provide is almost useless.
  • Health Benefits: Vitamin D3 supports the immune system, bone development, cardiovascular health, nerve and muscle function, and reproductive health.
  • Calcium Deficiencys & Vitamin D3: Calcium deficiency is often accompanied by vitamin D3 deficiency. Vitamin D3 given as a supplement orally is not as effective as it is from giving access to sunlight without any barriers between the UVB and the bearded dragon.
  • Sunlight Exposure: The skin of bearded dragons naturally produces Vitamin D when exposed to UVB rays from sunlight.
  • Dietary Sources: Vitamin D3 can also be obtained through diet and supplements. Bearded dragons may be fed calcium with or without vitamin D3. However, where sunlight is provided on a regular basis (i.e. multiple hours per week), oral D3 supplementation should be reduced or not fed at all.
    Research on juvenile bearded dragons found that supplementing with vitamin D3 in doses as high as 4 times the average dietary recommendation was ineffective whereas UVB exposure to the skin was significantly beneficial (Oonincx 2010).
  • Storage in the Body: Once absorbed, Vitamin D can be stored in fat tissue, the liver, and kidneys.
SourceBenefit
UVB SunlightNatural production of Vitamin D3 in the skin
Dietary SupplementsProvides Vitamin D3 directly, but less effective than sunlight

Vitamin D3 Key Summary

  1. Ensure UVB Exposure: UVB lighting or natural sunlight is essential for your bearded dragon to produce Vitamin D3 and absorb calcium effectively.
  2. Vitamin D3 Supplementation: Vitamin D3 can be ineffective and dangerous if overdosed. Be cautious with Vitamin D3 supplements to avoid overdose, which can lead to health issues. Overdosing can result in mineralisation of tissues, including the kidneys, which can lead to renal disease.
  3. Calcium Supplementation: Always provide calcium for bearded dragons.

Why Your Bearded Dragon Needs Enough Calcium

Not getting enough calcium can lead to some serious health problems for your bearded dragon.

  • Not Enough UVB Light: They need UVB light to help their bodies use calcium.
  • Not Enough Calcium in Their Diet: It’s important to feed them calcium-rich foods.
  • Too Much Vitamin A: It can mess with how vitamin D3 works, which is crucial for calcium use.
  • Too Much Phosphorus: A high phosphorus diet or the wrong balance with calcium can lead to problems.
  • Too Much Protein: A diet too high in protein can also affect calcium levels.
  • Muscle Issues: Like shaking, twitching, or even seizures.
  • Weird Movements: They might move strangely or seem off balance.
  • Bone Problems: Weak bones, deformities, or even fractures.
  • General Weakness: They might seem less active or have trouble moving.
  • Digestive Issues: Like constipation or, in severe cases, prolapse.
  • In Extreme Cases: It can even be fatal.

Special Cases to Watch Out For:

Hypocalcaemia is low levels calcium in the blood. It is mainly due to insufficient calcium especially at times of great need:

  • Young Dragons: They’re growing fast and need plenty of calcium.
  • Egg-Laying Females: They need extra calcium to lay healthy eggs.

Ensuring your bearded dragon gets enough calcium is key to preventing metabolic bone disease, a serious condition similar to osteoporosis in humans. It’s totally preventable with the right care.

A balanced diet and proper UVB lighting are essential for your bearded dragon’s health.

bearded dragon in late stages of mbd
Bearded dragon suffering from nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism’ (NSHP) or metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons, an avoidable disease.

Can you give a Bearded Dragon too much Calcium?

Yes you can give a bearded dragon too much calcium. Overdosing on calcium, particularly when combined with high levels of vitamin D3, can lead to health issues.

  • The Right Amount: Calcium is essential for your bearded dragon’s health, but balance is key.
  • Vitamin D3 Role: It helps in the absorption of calcium but needs to be in harmony with calcium levels.

If a bearded dragon has too much calcium it could result in hypercalceia and interfere with nutrient uptake.

  • Hypercalcemia: An excess of calcium in the bloodstream, potentially harmful or even fatal.
  • Nutrient Interference: Too much calcium can disrupt the absorption of other vital nutrients.
  • Physical Symptoms: Including changes in bone density, muscle issues, and overall discomfort.
  • Excessive Supplements: Both UVB exposure and oral supplements of vitamin D3 need to be regulated.
  • Improper Lighting: Artificial UVB lighting must be carefully managed to prevent overexposure.
SignWhat It Means
LethargyYour dragon is less active than usual.
Muscle WeaknessMoving seems harder for them.
ConstipationTheir digestion is off.
  • Monitor Vitamin D3 Levels: Ensure a balanced intake to aid calcium absorption without excess.
  • Optimize UVB Lighting: Set up their habitat to mimic natural conditions, providing areas to bask and hide.
  • Dietary Management: Keep their diet in check to meet, not exceed, their calcium needs.

Key Points: Can you give a Bearded Dragon too much Calcium?

  1. Balance Is Crucial: Too much calcium can be just as problematic as too little.
  2. Watch for Symptoms: Recognizing signs of overdose can help in taking timely action.
  3. Environment Matters: A well-set habitat allows your bearded dragon to regulate its own UVB exposure, aiding in calcium absorption.

By being mindful of these guidelines, you can ensure your bearded dragon receives the necessary calcium for optimal health without the risk of overdose.

Why Do We Dust Calcium When They Don’t Get it in the Wild?

Why do we dust calcium? Bearded dragons don’t get calcium dusting in the wild but they are very good at converting UVB radiation (sunlight) into vitamin D3. In the wild, this aids them in being able to use calcium efficiently.

Why Dusting is Necessary in Captivity:

  • Limited Sun Exposure: Indoor bearded dragons have less access to natural sunlight, affecting their Vitamin D3 production and calcium absorption.
  • Artificial Lighting Limitations: While helpful, artificial UVB lights don’t fully replicate the sun’s benefits, possibly leading to calcium deficiencies without supplementation.

Table: Calcium Absorption in the Wild vs. Captivity

AspectIn the WildIn Captivity
UVB ExposureDirect sunlight converts to D3Limited; relies on artificial UVB
Natural DietDegraded bone, snail shellsRequires supplemented calcium
Vitamin D3 ProductionHigh due to ample sunlightReduced; needs supplementation

Correcting Imbalances:

  • Supplementation: To offset the lack of natural UVB and dietary calcium, we supplement captive bearded dragons with calcium powder and Vitamin D3.
  • Dusting Technique: Lightly coating their food with calcium powder ensures they get the necessary nutrients for bone health and metabolic functions.

Natural Calcium Sources for Wild Bearded Dragons

A study by Oonincx et al. (2015) analyzed the stomach contents of ten wild Pogona vitticeps, revealing a small amount (2.3%) of indigestible material, including bits of degraded bone. It was suggested that these fragments could contribute to the bearded dragons’ calcium intake in their natural habitat.

Further investigations, such as those noted by Baines (2017), indicate that bearded dragons might also derive calcium from other natural elements like dried bones, snail shells, and possibly even chalky rock dust. These findings shed light on the diverse ways bearded dragons can fulfill their calcium needs in the wild.

Do Bearded Dragons Need Sunlight?

Bearded dragons will do best with sunlight. There should be nothing blocking the sun light which includes any glass, plastic or otherwise. Being transparent (such as glass) does not mean it allows UVB rays to pass through it.

Mesh screens reduce the amount of UVB that transmits through it. The tighter the mesh, the less UVB it will allow through. Use aviary wire mesh or similar on outdoor housing. Second is, provide UVB bulbs in your bearded dragons housing.

mesh cover on bearded dragon house outdoor
The amount of UVB light that will penetrate wire mesh is proportionate to the spaces in the mesh. The smaller the space, the more wire there is to block the UVB.

Bearded dragons need full spectrum or high UVB reptile bulbs provided overhead. UVB radiations of only 280-320 nm wavelengths are useful for bearded dragons for vitamin D production in their skin. Lamps below 290 nm are of no use for bearded dragons.

Changing UVB lamps is expected to be between 6 to 12 months. Be diligent in changing out your UVB lamps as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Alternatively, you can buy a UV meter to the UVB output of the lamp. Check your lighting and heating setup against the post on setting up lighting and heating.

Lack of exposure to UVB source can lead to calcium deficiency in bearded dragons. This condition is more pronounced in baby dragons as need more amount of calcium to build their developing and growing skeleton.

Observations show that bearded dragons experience improved appetite, better growth, remain healthier and more active in provision of sunlight and/or UVB generating bulbs or fluorescent type tubes.

Remember, nothing beats natural exposure to sunlight even if only for a few hours a week.

FAQs

References

  1. Frances Baines (MRCVS). 2017. Your First Bearded Dragon Care Information.
  2. Bruce, H.M.; Parkes, A.S. 1950. Rickets and osteoporosis in Xenopus laevis. Journal of Endocrinology: 64-81.
  3. Cusack, L., Rivera, S., Lock, B., Benboe, D., Brothers, D., & Divers, S. (2017). Effects of a light-emitting diode on the production of cholecalciferol and associated blood parameters in the bearded dragon (pogona vitticeps). Journal of zoo and wildlife medicine. 48(4), 1120-1126.
  4. De Vosjoil, P., Sommella, T. M., Mailloux, R., Donoghue, S., & Klingenberg, R. J. (2016). The Bearded Dragon Manual: Expert Advice for Keeping and Caring For a Healthy Bearded Dragon. Lumina Media.
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  9. Girling, S. (2003). Veterinary nursing of exotic pets. Oxford, United Kingdom: Blackwell.
  10. Klaphake, E. (2010). A fresh look at metabolic bone diseases in reptiles and amphibians. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice. 13(3), 375-392.
  11. Oonincx, D.G.A.B., Stevens, Y., Borne J.J.G.C. van den., Leeuwen J.P.T.M. van., Hendriks W.H. (2010) Effects of vitamin D3 supplementation and UVb exposure on the growth and plasma concentration of vitamin D3 metabolites in juvenile bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part B156: 122–128
  12. Oonincx, D. G. A. B., Van De Wal, M. D., Bosch, G., Stumpel, J. B. G., Heijboer, A. C., van Leeuwen, J. P. T. M., Hendriks, J. P. & Kik, M. (2013). Blood vitamin D3 metabolite concentrations of adult female bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) remain stable after ceasing UVb exposure. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology165(3): 196-200.
  13. Oonincx, D. G. A. B., Leeuwen, J. P. van., Hendriks, W. H., Poel, A. F. B. van der. (2015) The Diet of Free-Roaming Australian Central Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps). Zoo Biology 34:271-277. Wiley Periodicals Inc.
  14. Schmidt-Ukaj S., Hochleithner M., Richter B., Hochleithner C., Brandstetter D., Knotek Z. A survey of diseases in captive bearded dragons: a retrospective study of 529 patients. Veterinarni Medicina, 62, 2017 (09): 508–515.
  15. Stahl, S., and Donoghue, S. Nutrition of Reptiles. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, et al, editors. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition. Topeka (KS): Mark Morris Institute; 2010.
  16. Thompson, K. S. 2016. Applied Nutritional Studies with Zoological Reptiles. (Doctoral Dissertation) Oklahoma State University
  17. Watson, M. K., & Mitchell, M. A. (2014). Vitamin D and ultraviolet B radiation considerations for exotic pets. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 23(4), 369-379.
  18. Yeates, J. (Ed.). (2019). Companion animal care and welfare: The UFAW companion animal handbook. John Wiley & Sons.

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