Hypervitaminosis In Bearded Dragons
Few people realise that bearded dragons can be over-supplemented causing hypervitaminosis. This post goes over this complex subject.
Why It's a Problem And How To Avoid It
What Is Hypervitaminosis ( or Over Supplementing )
Dusting bearded dragons food with supplements is a well established practice for ensuring that they get enough Vitamin D and calcium. Some people also like to supplement the bearded dragon diet with extra multivitamins and pro-biotics.
So long as the diet is balanced and the bearded dragon’s environment is well kept they won’t really need multi-vitamins or pro-biotics unless they’re ill. If they are ill then the multi-vitamin regime is best carried out under the guidance of a vet following blood tests to ensure they actually need them.
Hypervitaminosis is the reason for this. Hypervitaminosis is the condition of having too many vitamins in the body, to a level where the vitamins are in fact harmful rather than beneficial. This is only a problem with the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Vitamin E and K aren’t likely to be much of a problem for a bearded dragon, but vitamin A and D are. The water soluble vitamins B and C are passed out of the body in the urate when they are in excess.
Vitamin D is of course a very common and necessary supplement for bearded dragons. But if you over supplement you can end up with problems. Vitamin A given as a supplement is rarely needed as a balanced diet will provide them with all the vitamin A they need.
Hypervitaminosis A Symptoms
Because vitamin A is used to keep epithelial (skin/scale) cells healthy, hypervitaminosis A usually shows itself in the skin first. A dragon with hypervitaminosis A will often present with dry, flaky skin that doesn’t look like a normal shed. The most affected areas are usually those that are loose, such as around their neck and beards and front legs.
They may develop skin ulcers – which can of course be confused with yellow fungus infection. They’ll probably also be lethargic, off their food and depressed – perhaps hiding in their cave most of the day.
Hypervitaminosis A Diagnosis
Diagnosis can only be definitely made from blood tests which the vet will need to perform. If your bearded dragon exhibits any of the signs above that can’t be explained by other illnesses, a trip to the vet is recommended.
Having said all that, Hypervitaminosis A is fairly unlikely unless you’re supplementing their diet with multivitamins or if they’re receiving vitamin A injections for some reason. In the latter case your vet should be keeping an eye on their blood serum levels of Vitamin A anyway.
Obviously the cure for hypervitaminosis is to reduce the intake of the vitamin itself, but in severe cases more significant supportive care will be needed. It’s definitely one for the vet.
This one is perhaps a little more likely because many people over supplement their bearded dragons diet. This isn’t all that surprising because there’s a huge and justified fear of bearded dragons developing Metabolic Bone Disease.
So, some supplementation of diet is recommended but not too much. The D3 supplement only needs to be the head of a cricket or locust dipped in the supplement and the excess tapped off. Only a small amount of supplemental D3 is needed.
There’s some evidence that Vitamin D3 supplementation provides little to no benefit at all as it’s not as well absorbed as the natural Vitamin D3 produced in the presence of UVB light. Having said that, the evidence isn’t yet conclusive and it’s probably best at this time to keep supplementing with D3 until the evidence is more available. Most captive bearded dragons don’t get enough UVB either… Just don’t overdo the VitD dusting.
CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTATION IS STILL VITAL – IT’S THE CALCIUM WITH VITAMIN D3 THAT MAY CAUSE PROBLEMS IN EXCESS.
Symptoms of Hypervitaminosis D
Vitamin D3 is essential for the absorption of calcium into bones, so it stands to reason that the most likely symptoms of vitamin D overdose will involve the bones. The effects of Vitamin D overdose will include calcium deposits in joints and bones that shouldn’t be there. This can lead to a reduction in movement of affected joints, along with pain for your bearded dragon as the deposited calcium is likely to be irregular in shape and sharp.
Calcium will also be laid down in arteries and the valves of the heart, causing impaired blood flow and heart problems. Calcium deposits in the kidneys will result in kidney disease and/or stones and reduce kidney function.
Ironically, bearded dragons may develop soft bones, with calcium deposits elsewhere causing them difficulty moving. This will therefore tend to look like MBD, potentially causing you, the keeper, to actually increase the Vitamin D3 supplement.
This is because the UVB light source is the best way to ensure the calcium uptake goes into the bones and if the UVB lights are up to scratch Vitamin D3 supplementation isn’t all that necessary.
If your dragon exhibits any signs of MBD it’s essential that you get a vet check for some blood tests to work out whether they are calcium deficient or vitamin D3 overdosed.
Avoiding Hypervitaminosis D
The best way to avoid hypervitaminosis D is to ensure you’re only supplementing D3 once a week and only a small amount. But it’s vital to ensure that your UVB lights are changed every 6 to 9 months as the UVB output from these lights degrades quickly and as we’ve said, insufficient UVB will lead to MBD.
It’s also vital to continue supplementing calcium in your bearded dragon’s diet and ensuring they are getting a good high calcium diet in the first place. Calcium is not the issue in hypervitaminosis D, it’s the excess Vitamin D3 that’s the problem.
This All Sounds Too Much! I Can’t Cope!
The incidence of Hypervitaminosis A or D is fairly rare. We include it here in case it happens so that you can recognise it and consider it as a possibility if your dragon exhibits the signs.
But a balanced diet, with supplementation as described and plenty of UVB will make sure you avoid this.
If your climate is reasonable ( which rules out most of the UK! ) then taking your bearded dragon outside for some proper summer sun will be extremely beneficial too. But do be aware of airborne predators and don’t leave them outside unattended. (Also note, the UK is actually suitable for taking your bearded dragon outside during the summer – so long as it’s reasonably warm and nice and sunny and sheltered from any wind).