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Reptiles/uvb deficiency in beardies

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Question
I just picked up a branded dragon and seems to be suffering from lack of uvb. He tries to eat but has a hard time keeping insects in mouth. He ate a super worm beetle and a super worm. And I gave him water with calcium in it with a dropper. I have a coil uvb light is that bad?

Answer
Hi Kim,

Have you tried feeding him any other types of insects and is he having difficulty with all of them?

Superworm beetles are quite thick and tough. They also emit a strong chemical smell when threatened. You can often smell it on your hands after handling them and it would certainly encourage a predator to drop them! The worms also have a thick exoskeleton compared to crickets and can take a  bit more effort for a reptile to subdue and chew. Try some softer bodied insects like waxworms and sub-adult crickets and see how he manages.

UVB works in concert with dietary calcium. One is not useful without the other. Exposure to UVB helps synthesize vitamin D3 which in turn aids in the absorption of calcium from the gut The calcium must be present in the diet in sufficient amounts and also balanced against the level of phosphorous. Ideally the calcium levels should be in a ratio of 2 to 1 over phosphorous. That is the reason you see the calcium to phosphorous ratios listed in diet guides for beardeds.

Insects are naturally high in phosphorous and low in calcium so dusting them with a calcium supplement like Rep Cal ( the type with no phosphorous) can help to correct that ratio.

It is also recommended to use a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D3 in case the UVB exposure is not sufficient for creating sufficient amounts naturally.

Calcium deficiencies often become apparent when the jaw bone starts to soften as you know and also the long bones of the legs which severely affects climbing and the ability to walk in a raised position.

The coil lights are not the best choice. They have caused eye problems in the past and tend to perform poorly in terms of UVB production. A better choice would be a long tube 10.0 ZooMed ReptiSun or any of the Mercury Vapour bulbs sold for use with reptiles.

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Expertise

I can answer questions on the proper husbandry and diet of Iguanas, bearded dragons, geckoes, skinks, chameleons, tortoises, box turtles, treefrogs, non-venomous snakes and tarantulas. Also the breeding of some species of feeder insects. I have no experience with venonmous snakes and only limited experience with aquatic turtles.

Experience

I have been keeping and breeding reptiles for over 30 years. In addition to my regular job in the medical field I also worked for several years in a pet store that specialized only in exotics. The job entailed both caring for and answering questions on innumerable species. It required constant, extensive research into a wide range of reptiles. I have been called to appear on televised national media (CBC, CTV and Life Channel) as well as CBC radio to discuss the proper care of reptiles and other exotics in captivity. I currently own one or more species of those listed under my expertise with the exception of chameleons. I owned chameleons for years but keep none currently. I keep over 20 snakes comprising 5 species, both Colubridae and Boidae. I bred corn snakes for several years. I have a particular interest in treefrogs and currently have 5 different species. I've raised redfoot tortoises for 10 years and have two iguanas, one for 12 years.

Publications
A small and now defunct local magazine called "Pet Vue"

Education/Credentials
Diagnostic medical microbiology with some parasitology experience.

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