Metabolic Bone Disease
Reptiles that mainly eat insects or plants are most at risk of developing metabolic bone disease or MBD, which is an imbalance in levels of calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D in their system.
Snakes and other carnivorous reptiles that eat whole prey such as mice or rats generally get enough calcium and vitamin D in their diets and so MBD is not often a big issue for these species.
Symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease
Common symptoms of metabolic bone disease include
-Flexible and soft jaw
-Bent or bowed legs
-Problems in raising the body off the ground
-Hard lumps felt along the jaw, legs or spinal column
When calcium levels in the blood stream become too low symptoms such as weakness of the back end, lethargy, twitching, tremors, depression, seizures and even death can occur.
The spinal column of snakes with MBD may feel very ridged and their general body shape can be quite obviously misshapen effecting the way they move themselves around their environment. MBD often shows itself in lizards such as Leopard Geckos in an inability to raise themselves from the ground properly and again with obvious deformities in their body shape and in some cases softening of the jaw bone.
In turtles, terrapins and tortoises, shells may become unusually soft and flare up at the edges or even point downwards towards the rear of the shell. Metabolic bone disease would certainly be suspected if the large scales of the shell, known as scutes, have a peculiar pyramid shape.
Causes of Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic bone disease generally occurs when dietary levels of vitamin D or calcium are too low or phosphorous levels are too high and/or when there is insufficient access to ultraviolet – B wavelengths (UVB). This lack of access to the correct amount of UVB hinders normal vitamin D production and the metabolism of calcium within the reptiles body leading ultimately to metabolic bone disease.
If you have any suspicion that your reptile or amphibian may be suffering from early stage or acute MBD then it is vital that you bring them to see a qualified and experienced exotics veterinarian.
The Vet will diagnose MBD based on the animals clinical signs, access to UVB, diet and body condition. They may also take x-rays and/or a blood sample, checking in particular the calcium levels.
Please contact the surgery if you have any concerns with regard to MBD in your reptile.
Written by Lee Biagi-Veterinary Care Assistant