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Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles

By: Dr. Jenni Bass

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Diagnostic Tests

A detailed history and description of the reptile's environment will usually be enough to suggest a diagnosis of MBD to your reptile veterinarian. Be prepared to give your veterinarian the following information:

  • What your pet actually eats (as opposed to what he is offered)
  • The brand name and quantity of any nutritional supplements you use
  • The frequency with which they are used
  • The type of lights (particularly the ultraviolet source) and heat sources and their positions within the cage
  • When the ultraviolet light was last replaced
  • The day and night-time temperature ranges within the cage, as measured by a thermometer

    A thorough physical examination can reveal a great deal to your reptile veterinarian. He will also use the animal's general appearance, attitude, posture and muscle tone to make an initial assessment.

    Radiographs (X-rays) help to assess bone density and are often necessary to diagnose broken bones. It is not unusual for affected animals to have multiple fractures. Radiographs also helpful in assessing the overall state of health.

    MBD is a relatively chronic or longstanding condition affecting multiple body systems. Blood tests measure calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood, as well as helping to assess kidney and liver function and electrolyte levels.

    Treatment

    Treatment depends on the way in which MBD manifests, but will always begin with a revision of the reptile's dietary and lighting and temperature requirements. Since the signs or problems associated with MBD may be only the tip of the iceberg, the animal may need to be stabilized before some concerns can be addressed.

    Reptiles suffering from seizures, paralysis and hypocalcemia (low blood calcium) may need to be hospitalised for correction of fluid and electrolyte imbalances. Calcium therapy may be given by injection, orally or through dietary modification, depending on the severity of disease. Vitamin D therapy is sometimes used, but with caution. In some cases, such therapies as antibiotics, probiotics (a source of "good" bacteria) and painkillers will be used.

    In the long and short term, sound nutritional support is vital to a reptile with MBD. Animals that are very weak, have not eaten for some time or that simply will not eat may need to be tube fed, force fed or otherwise assisted and encouraged to eat an appropriate diet. Initially, this might be an electrolyte solution or liquid diet until the animal is sufficiently recovered to take solid food.

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