Reptile & Amphibian Center

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) & Disorders in Reptiles



A reptile that is only mildly affected by metabolic bone disease will usually completely recover with dietary improvements, calcium and vitamin D supplements, and greater access to full-spectrum ultraviolet light. More severe cases require calcium and vitamin D injections, oral supplements, fluid therapy, and nutritional support. Injections of the hormone calcitonin can also be helpful after calcium supplementation has begun. If a reptile is suffering from broken bones as a result of metabolic bone disease, splints or other forms of stabilization may be necessary.


Living and Management


Reptile owners must pay close attention to their pets’ diet and environmental conditions if metabolic bone disease is to be avoided. Calcium-rich foods for herbivores include cabbage, kale, okra, sprouts, bok choy, alfalfa, squash, berries, and cantaloupe. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are also necessary for reptiles that eat primarily plant material or insects. Feeder insects should be raised on a nutritious diet, gut-loaded with healthy food prior to being fed to reptiles, and dusted with an appropriate vitamin and mineral supplement. Be careful not to overuse calcium and vitamin D supplements, as it may result in other medical issues that can be just as serious as those associated with metabolic bone disease.


Turtles, tortoises, and lizard species that are primarily active during the day all need access to ultraviolet-B light. Full-spectrum UVB-producing bulbs should be used within the terrarium. Depending on the pet, natural sunlight can sometimes be used, as it is the best source of these wavelengths.


Keep in mind, however, that reptiles should never be placed in direct sunlight when they are housed within a glass or plastic enclosure. Not only do these materials filter out the beneficial wavelengths, but the animals also can quickly overheat and die.