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Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles

Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles or MBD is one health issue which a reptile pet owner may, unfortunately, have to deal with. Indeed, lizards, turtles, and other pet reptiles have great potential for living long lives. These amazing creatures can be a lifelong pet for your family.

Medical conditions like MBD, however, if untreated, may prevent them from enjoying healthy, long lives; even causing premature death. Here, we will help you learn more about metabolic bone disease so you can recognize a potential medical problem right away or better yet, prevent your beloved pet reptile from falling ill to this condition. So, read on to know more.

Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles

What is Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles?

Metabolic Bone Disease includes different medical conditions that affect the skeletal system. Reptiles that suffer from MBD experience weakening and deterioration of the bones.

Are There Different Types of Metabolic Bone Diseases?

Yes, there are. Some of the more common types found in reptiles are:

1. Nutritional Metabolic Bone Disease

It is caused by either a low intake of calcium or an imbalance between calcium and phosphorus intake.

2. Hypertrophic Osteopathy (HO)

This type is less common with reptiles. It is associated with lung problems or cancer in herps. New bone formation, overgrowth of connective tissues, and increased flow of blood to the legs are observed in reptiles with this condition. Some theories suppose that poor appetite and toxins may cause Hypertrophic Osteopathy in the species.

3. Renal Hyperparathyroidism (Renal MBD)

This is more common with adult reptiles. It is linked with renal disease. Reptiles with this condition have elevated phosphorus levels (hyperphosphatemia).

Do All Reptiles Suffer from Metabolic Bone Disease?

According to Joanna Hedley, an Exotic Animal and Wildlife Clinician, MBD is more often observed among captive reptiles. It’s because many aren’t capable of absorbing dietary Vitamin D. Instead, they must rely on its biosynthesis through UVB lighting and other remedies.

What Are the Symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles?

MBD may affect a reptile’s ribs, legs, lower jaw, vertebrae, or the flat bones of the skull. Sick captive reptile pets may develop thickened front or rear legs, a swollen jaw, or spinal fractures.

Consult a specialist if you see any of the following in your pet reptile:

  • bowed legs
  • limping
  • lumps in the spine, jaw or legs
  • lethargy or difficulty propping or standing above ground
  • decreased appetite or weight loss

How Do You Prevent or Treat MBD in Reptiles?

1. UVB light

The use of UVB in preventing or treating MBD in herps is a continuing debate. With more studies coming out and reporting on the beneficial effects of exposing reptiles to UVB lighting, you may want to invest in UVB light for your pet reptile.

Exo Terra Repti-Glo 2.0 Compact Fluorescent Full Spectrum Terrarium Lamp, 13-Watt (Natural Light)

Exo-Terra Compact Fluorescent Lamp. It supplies 150UVB at 13 or 26 watts.

Zoo Med Desert UVB & Heat Lighting Dual Kit, 100 Watt

Zoo Med UVB and Heat Lighting Kit for dual purposes.

Zilla Reptile Pet Habitat Lighting UVB Fluorescent Desert T8 Light Bulb, 15 Watt

Zilla Full Spectrum Lighting. This is ideal for central lighting and placement. It maintains uniform UVB exposure on either side of the tank or cage.

One study on corn snakes outlines some benefits that were also observed in other studies, which are:

  1. Reptiles are drawn to UVB lights. They will instinctively expose themselves to UVB lighting if you provide it.
  2. UVB exposure had a positive effect on activity levels.
  3. Reptiles exposed to UVB are able to synthesis Vitamin D3.

It is interesting to note that certain types of reptiles have significantly benefited from UVB provision while other types have shown little improvement or benefit, possibly due to UVB resistance.

2. Suitable temperature

Providing the right temperature for captive reptiles is crucial to their overall health. Exposing them to very low or high temperatures for an extended period of time may lead to dehydration, renal disease, bladder diseases, and shedding problems.  If the temperatures in the reptile enclosure remain uncorrected, serious medical problems like Metabolic Bone Disease may likely occur.

If you are caring for a captive reptile, consider installing heating equipment. Some options are:

  1. iPower Reptile a heating pad. The material provides optimum heating and insulation for uniform and steady temperatures.
  2. Zoo Med thermometer and humidity gauge. It helps you monitor both temperature and humidity levels inside the enclosure.
  3.  Fluker’s Repta-clamp lamp. Install an accompanying Fluker’s basking bulb and you’re good to go. The clamp feature keeps your basking light steady and secure.

3. Dietary calcium, Vitamin D3, and Phosphorus (as needed)

When Captive reptiles do not get, absorb, or synthesize enough dietary calcium, Vitamin D3, and phosphorus, diseases like Metabolic Bone Disease may develop. Give your pet reptile a boost of these vitamins and minerals by adding supplements that contain these components.

Dosage and frequency may depend on the brand and type of supplements you choose. Some of your choices are:

  1. Rep-Cal Reptile Calcium Powder with D3. This is a phosphorus-free dusting powder, made from oyster shells. Sprinkle on insects before feeding.
  2. Zoo Med Repti Calcium Powder with D3. This is made from precipitated calcium carbonate, not oyster shells. Feed your pet reptile with up to 12 dusted crickets per week.
  3. Repashy Calcium Plus Vitamins and Minerals. This is sourced from the Mohave Desert in California. Dust insect before each feeding.

MBD Overview Video


Metabolic Bone Disease in reptiles is a serious problem. It is highly recommended that you take preventive measures so that your beloved pet reptile won’t have to contract this disease.

Make sure that the enclosure provides natural conditions that your pet naturally experiences in its native surroundings. Supplement diet with vitamins and minerals to ensure adequate intake.

Consider UVB lighting especially if your pet will mostly stay indoors. Know and try your best to properly care for your pet reptile.

In unfortunate cases, promptly consult with your local vet or specialist when you suspect MBD in your pet. Expect X-rays, some blood work, and measurement of calcium, phosphorus, and D3 levels.

Different species may possibly show symptoms differently as well. So, be sensitive to physical changes in your pet lizard, snake, iguana, turtle, or whatever reptile species you own.

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