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Metabolic Bone Disease

Written by a previous editor: Christina Borders

MBD has become an all too common mantra in the reptile world. Here's a look at the whys and hows.

What is it? :
Metabolic bone disease, or MBD, is a term used to describe several different issues related to an imbalance or absence of vitamin D3, calcium, and phosphorus. These three elements work together to provide bone development and regeneration and are essential for proper muscle contraction and the clotting of blood.

What are the symptoms? :
You may notice hard lumps in the legs and lumps and bumps along the back and tail as well. Another indicative sign is softening or swelling of the lower jaw. The preceding symptoms are more often felt before they are visually caught, so careful physical exams are important. Other more obvious signs are an off balance and jerky movement when the animal is moving, shaking when it’s held, and tremors and twitches of the legs and toes when at rest.

In a more progressed case of MBD, constipation, lethargy, and an inability to climb (in arboreal herps), broken bones, and severe weight loss are found. Eventually the animal will get to the point where it is only able to drag itself around.

Reptiles Commonly Affected:
Unfortunately, due to ignorance and availability, the green Iguana (iguana iguana) is most commonly affected with MBD. MBD is also seen in other lizards and chameleons and can affect any reptile, especially when the owner is ill educated on proper care and diet.

Treatment :
In the early stages to a moderate case of MBD, you should seek veterinary assistance. An improved diet, correct temperatures and light exposure, as well as ‘high powered’ doses of calcium (not available in stores) are required. In extremely mild cases, where symptoms are barely noticeable, all that may be required is a proper diet and change of environment.

Preventive Medicine:
Metabolic Bone Diseases are very easy to prevent. Be sure to educate yourself fully on all the dietary and lighting needs of your reptile pet. Knowledge is power. Feeding a proper diet, suited to the needs of your pet is most important. For example, for many iguanas, cat food and iceberg lettuce make up their meals- this is completely unacceptable and will most assuredly allow MBD to lay claim to another victim. Iguanas are herbivores(plant eaters) and should be fed a varied diet that includes leafy greens (NOT iceberg lettuce), squash, green beans, and fruits and melons such as cantaloupe and berries. These foods should be supplemented with a calcium and vitamin supplement like Rep-Cal, made specifically for reptiles. Omnivorous and carnivorous herps, such as snakes, geckos, and monitors should be fed ONLY captive bred prey and insects should be gut loaded for several days before feeding to your pet. You can even dust crickets, mealworms, etc with a cal/vitamin supplement prior to feeding.
While it is possible to provide TOO much calcium, this is rarely seen. Use common sense and follow package directions and the advice of professionals and you and your reptile should be just fine.

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