Caring for a crested gecko not only involves ensuring their needs are met but also preventing and treating many potential illnesses and health conditions.
One of the most common health issues affecting reptiles like crested geckos is metabolic bone disease, also known as MBD.
Metabolic bone disease is a health condition in reptiles caused by a severe calcium deficiency. It causes the reptile’s bones and muscles to become weak and deformed over time. Although incurable, metabolic bone disease is preventable and treatable with the help of calcium supplements and other medications.
Read on to learn more about this painful condition, its causes, and how to prevent it from affecting your crested gecko.
What Is Metabolic Bone Disease?
Metabolic bone disease affects reptiles who don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D3 in their diet. When a reptile isn’t getting enough calcium from their diet, their body will absorb calcium from their bones, causing them to become weaker over time.
This disease is one of the most common illnesses in pet reptiles, such as crested geckos.
MBD progresses fairly slowly at first, meaning many more advanced symptoms and complications don’t become visible until the animal’s bones are severely weakened.
Since reptiles with MBD have to deplete their natural calcium reserves to keep their bodies functioning, their skeletal structure becomes weak and deformed over time.
This is because their bone mass is being diminished, in turn making their bones smaller, weaker, and more prone to bending and breaking.
Metabolic bone disease is progressive, painful, and, if left untreated, will eventually become fatal.
This is why it is crucial to understand this illness, its causes, and prevent and treat it in reptiles.
What Causes MBD In Crested Geckos?
Metabolic bone disease is caused primarily by a lack of calcium in a reptile’s diet and, in most cases, an imbalance of other important nutrients like vitamin D3 and phosphorus. This imbalance causes the reptile to deplete its natural calcium reserves in its bones, weakening them over time.
The main cause of MBD is simply not offering a reptile (in this case, your crested gecko) enough calcium and vitamin D3 in their diet.
Reptiles need a significant amount of these nutrients to stay healthy, particularly calcium, as it is used throughout the body to keep their muscles, bones, and nerves functioning correctly.
However, it is important to note a calcium deficiency isn’t the only cause of MBD; it is also commonly caused or worsened by a significant imbalance of calcium to phosphorus in a reptile’s diet or by hindering the reptile’s ability to absorb calcium.
This is why maintaining proper calcium to phosphorus ratio is crucial whenever you feed your gecko.
If the amount of phosphorus relative to the amount of calcium in your gecko’s body becomes too high, their body will absorb calcium at an increased rate.
Oxalates, also known as oxalic acid, a compound found in most fruits and vegetables in large amounts, will also deplete calcium reserves because it binds to it as the reptile digests their food.
This is tricky with crested geckos in particular, as they need a fair amount of fruit in their diets to stay healthy, many of which are quite high in oxalates.
Ideally, reptile owners should aim for a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 1.5:1 at the very least for their geckos’ diets, with 2:1 or higher being even better.
Avoiding fruits high in oxalic acid and dusting all food with a calcium supplement is also recommended to improve the gecko’s overall calcium absorption.
Finally, having improper temperatures will also contribute to the development of MBD, as crested geckos and other reptiles require external heat sources to maintain their body temperature and properly digest their food.
Thankfully, crested geckos thrive in fairly low temperatures compared to most reptiles, so usually, a low-wattage basking bulb or a ceramic heat emitter is enough to keep their body temperature warm enough to facilitate proper digestion and calcium absorption.
We have a post on crested gecko calcium needs for more information.
Do Crested Geckos Need UVB To Prevent MBD?
While most diurnal reptiles need UVB lighting to survive and prevent metabolic bone disease, crested geckos are nocturnal, meaning their bodies have adapted to thriving in conditions with very little sunlight. However, a small amount of UVB is still beneficial to their bone and muscle health.
Although crested geckos don’t necessarily need UVB lighting to survive or prevent metabolic bone disease, many reptile experts still recommend using a low-output UVB bulb to provide them with a small amount of it to boost their appetite, growth, and energy levels.
For example, a UVB bulb with a 3% to 5% output such as Lucky Herp’s T8 5.0 UVB Light is ideal for a crested gecko, as it gives off a small enough amount of UVB rays to be beneficial to the reptile’s health without being too much for their bodies to process.
Whether or not crested geckos need UVB in captivity is controversial among many reptile enthusiast circles.
This is because the subject is still somewhat poorly understood regarding nocturnal and crepuscular reptiles who are more active at night.
Over time, though, the consensus has shifted to promoting a small amount of UVB exposure for crested geckos to help promote and encourage their natural behaviors and keep them active and growing normally.
How To Know If Your Gecko Has MBD
Crested geckos with metabolic bone disease typically display several of the following symptoms depending on the severity of their illness:
- Curved or bent spine
- Curved or bent tail
- A weak or swollen jaw
- Irregular jaw shape
- Shaking or trembling
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
The symptoms of MBD in crested geckos and how prominent they are will vary significantly depending on how far the illness has progressed.
The best way to confirm the presence of MBD and determine how severe the case has become is to contact a reptile vet.
By conducting X-rays and other tests, your vet will be able to tell you if your gecko has MBD and how severe their case has become.
From there, they will be able to come up with a detailed treatment plan tailored to your gecko’s symptoms moving forward.
For example, in mild cases, the gecko’s bones will likely display little to no deformation or irregularities, as the illness hasn’t become severe enough to fully deplete the calcium naturally present in their bones.
Many geckos will only display mild loss of appetite or lethargy at first, though upon closer inspection, usually mild bone deformations and other irregularities are already beginning to become visible.
In more severe cases, though, usually several of the afflicted gecko’s bones will be bent, weakened, or significantly deformed thanks to their body’s serious calcium and vitamin D3 imbalance.
It is important to note once the gecko’s bones have become severely altered by this illness, the symptoms are much more difficult to reverse and will quickly become fatal.
Since metabolic bone disease usually isn’t obvious until it has progressed significantly, prevention is essential to keeping your crested gecko’s bones and muscles healthy and strong.
Can Crested Geckos Recover From MBD?
How well a crested gecko with metabolic bone disease recovers depends on how far the illness has progressed and how well the reptile owner manages and mitigates their pet’s symptoms. A full recovery is possible for most mild cases, though more severe bone deformations are much harder to reverse.
All reptiles can recover to some extent from metabolic bone disease, even severe cases, provided treatment is handled promptly.
Keep in mind, though, many bone deformations caused by MBD are very difficult to reverse once they have become visible or are already affecting the animal’s mobility, energy, and appetite.
Geckos with MBD will require increased calcium supplements and will benefit from UVB exposure to further treat their calcium deficiency and boost their energy and appetite.
Additionally, veterinary care is highly recommended for any reptile with metabolic bone disease, even with mild cases.
A qualified reptile vet will prescribe medications and additional fluids to geckos ill with MBD and recommend further treatments to manage and possibly even eliminate the illness.
Overall, how well your gecko recovers from metabolic bone disease will vary based on how promptly it is treated, the treatment used, and how well the treatments are maintained moving forward once the reptile has been diagnosed.
Can MBD Kill A Crested Gecko?
Severe cases of metabolic bone disease in reptiles like crested geckos are often fatal if left untreated. Over time, metabolic bone disease causes reptiles to lose their energy and appetite due to their bodies lacking the nutrients needed to survive. Many reptiles with this become too weak to eat or move.
Fortunately, even the most severe cases of MBD are treatable long before they become fatal, though it will still diminish the afflicted reptile’s lifespan and overall quality of life.
Many reptiles with severe MBD will require more intensive care in additional calcium supplements, veterinary check-ups, and even assistance with eating and drinking.
Still, though, metabolic bone disease remains a common killer of reptiles, as many novice reptile owners don’t understand the illness or how to treat it very well.
In addition, finding a dedicated reptile vet is often tricky and expensive, depending on your area, so many owners will forego veterinary care entirely.
This is why understanding how MBD affects reptiles and how to prevent, manage, and treat the illness is essential for caring for crested geckos and reptiles in general.
How To Prevent MBD In Crested Geckos
The best way to prevent metabolic bone disease in crested geckos is to provide them with a calcium supplement at every meal and offering them a calcium-rich diet. Additionally, a small amount of UVB exposure facilitates bone and muscle health in crested geckos.
Like with any illness, preventing MBD is far easier than treating it, so prevention is crucial to ensuring your crested gecko lives a long, healthy, happy life.
Overall, preventing metabolic bone disease is fairly simple.
Adding a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement to your crested gecko’s diet is the primary method of preventing the illness since a calcium deficit causes it.
Offering naturally calcium-rich foods low in oxalates is also key to keeping your gecko’s calcium levels up.
Calcium and D3 supplements are inexpensive and readily available at most pet shops and online retailers.
They are available in many formulations, from liquids to powders and even sprays meant to be applied directly to the reptile’s food.
We recommend a supplement such as Zoo Med’s Repti Calcium.
This powdered supplement is easy to simply sprinkle onto your gecko’s insects and fruit and will significantly boost their calcium levels.
We also recommend a calcium-rich, balanced diet of foods formulated specifically for crested geckos, such as Repashy’s Grubs ‘N’ Fruit.
Commercial crested gecko food like Repashy’s meal replacement powders are easy to prepare, as you merely need to add water to them before offering them to your gecko.
Plus, they are designed to have plenty of calcium and other nutrients your gecko needs to thrive.
As we mentioned earlier, UVB exposure is also helpful in boosting your gecko’s appetite and energy levels and aiding indigestion.
Although they don’t necessarily require it to survive, your crestie will be a bit better off with a UVB bulb above their enclosure.
Aside from simply boosting your gecko’s calcium intake and UVB exposure, it is also a good idea to take them to a reptile vet for a check-up at least once or twice per year.
Your vet will be able to get a closer look at your gecko’s bone and muscle health and recommend any changes to their care if needed.
How Do You Fix MBD In Crested Geckos?
Treating metabolic bone disease requires administering additional calcium and fluids to afflicted reptiles. The intensiveness of the treatment will depend on the severity of your gecko’s disease. Most vets also recommend regular check-ups to assess the gecko’s bone health in response to treatments.
To be clear, not all cases of MBD are “fixable” entirely, though most are treatable to some extent.
Treatments will usually require additional calcium supplementation and potentially fluids as well as X-rays every few months to assess the animal’s bone health.
For more severe cases where the gecko’s bone structure has become significantly deformed or weakened, treatment will focus on extending the animal’s lifespan and making them as comfortable as possible.
Milder cases have a much better prognosis overall and are much easier to reverse.
Remember that fully reversing bone deformities becomes less and less likely as the disease becomes more severe, so prompt and consistent treatment is essential regardless of its initial severity.
Check out our post on other illnesses crested geckos can get for more pet health information.