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Leopard Gecko Bone Disease: Everything You Need To Know

Do you want to make learning more about the common health concerns of leopard geckos?

Are you noticing your leo behaving strangely or walking gingerly?

It’s true; pet reptiles require some special care which differs from other animals. 

Reptile owners must be cautious about providing them with proper husbandry and diet. 

If leopard geckos lack proper nutrition, health issues, such as metabolic bone disease (MBD), can occur. 

This article will discuss typical symptoms and causes of MBD, as well as how to prevent the disease.

leopard gecko bone disease

What Is Leopard Gecko Bone Disease (Metabolic Bone Disease)?

MBD is a frequently occurring but preventable illness which affects the bones, metabolism, locomotion, reproduction, and essential everyday functions of reptiles, especially those requiring UV lighting for vitamin D3 production. It is dangerous if gone untreated, wearing away bones, bending and breaking limbs, and even paralyzing or killing the animal.

Calcium intake is a vital aspect of health across many reptile species, including leos. 

When there is not enough calcium present, the gecko’s body will utilize calcium “in reserve” in its bones, teeth, and jaw, leading to MBD.

Symptoms Of Metabolic Bone Disease

The signs of MBD vary depending on the severity of the illness. 

Most commonly, the disease becomes gradually more severe, and it may be a challenge to observe symptoms.

Keep an eye out for any of these warning signs:

  • Stress.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Constipation or impaction.
  • Swollen limbs.
  • Can’t lift chest off of the ground.
  • Soft jaw and facial bones (also called “rubber jaw”).
  • Flexible bones with dents
  • Bumps along the bones or spine.
  • Crooked backs.
  • Deformed or easily broken limbs.
  • Paralysis.
  • Gaping.
  • Jerking, shaky movements, especially when walking.
  • Difficulty with coordination or standing upright.

Contact a veterinarian, even for the mildest of symptoms. 

Early detection dramatically increases the chance of your leo making a full recovery.

Common Causes of Metabolic Bone Disease In Leopard Geckos

There are a number of contributing factors which can play a role in a leopard gecko developing MBD. 

MBD has to do with calcium disruption. 

However, as we’ll see below, prevention isn’t always merely a matter of feeding your leo more of the mineral. 

Leos’ bodies require a number of variables working together in order to absorb and utilize the nutrients they ingest.

Improper Calcium Levels In Diet

Calcium is required for healthy bones, teeth, muscles, and body tissue. 

It is an essential mineral, and leos raised in captivity can’t always easily attain proper levels in their bodies. 

MBD can quickly develop if there isn’t enough of it in your leo’s diet.

Too Little Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is what allows calcium to be absorbed in the first place. 

It doesn’t matter how much your leo ingests; if vitamin D3 intake isn’t enough, calcium absorption will not happen.

There are two main factors which allow leopard geckos to naturally produce vitamin D in their bodies:

  • Appropriate tank temperatures.
  • UVB lighting.

Both are required for leos to maintain vitamin D levels.

Improper Calcium-To-Phosphorus Ratio

Opposite of vitamin D3’s function, phosphorous prohibits calcium absorption. 

As a result, leos need to consume three times as much calcium compared to phosphorus, at an average ratio of 3:1.

Phosphorus acts as an oxalate, binding to calcium and rendering it inactive. 

A 3:1 calcium-to-phosphorus diet will increase the chances of your leo having an appropriate amount of calcium in its body.

Reproductive Cycles

Breeding females are at higher risk for MBD. 

Because her eggs depend on her body to provide them with essential vitamins and minerals, like calcium, an ovulating female must ingest more nutrients. 

Other Diseases

 Other health conditions may also cause metabolic bone disease.

  • Sometimes kidney or liver diseases block the absorption of vitamin D.
  • Small-intestinal conditions may impair calcium absorption.
  • Parathyroid diseases impair the rate of calcium absorption.

There is a higher risk of developing MBD if your leo also has one of these diseases.

How To Prevent Metabolic Bone Disease in Leopard Geckos

Maintaining the proper habitat, hygiene, and diet are crucial to preventing MBD. 

Bearded dragons need:

  • A diet high in calcium and multivitamins but low in phosphorus
  • UVB lighting
  • Appropriate temperature ranges

Dietary Requirements

Leos are carnivores, and they only eat insects like crickets, worms, and roaches. 

Because feeder insects are not a good source of calcium, it’s essential to gut-load them and dust them with supplements before feeding them to your pet.

UV Lighting For Leopard Geckos

Your Leo doesn’t need an intense source of UV light. 

However, it does require some exposure to light, despite it being a nocturnal animal. 

Without UV lighting, leos have a hard time producing their own vitamin D.

UVB lighting requirements for leopard geckos are:

  • 2% to 7% output of UVB rays.
  • 12 to 14 hours per day of light exposure.
  • Indirect exposure to UVB: direct the light at a small portion of your leo’s tank, or create a gradient so your gecko can choose how much UV lighting to expose itself to.

Make sure there is are no materials between the UV lights and your Leo. 

Plexiglass, glass, plastic, and metal mesh all block UV rays.

Here’s an in-depth post from us on the leopard gecko lighting setup that covers the complete topic.

Appropriate Temperatures

A tank between 70-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C), with different areas at different temperatures, will allow your leo to warm up and cool down as needed. 

Good Overall Husbandry

It’s just generally a good idea to take care of your leo.

  • Keep its cage clean.
  • Give it access to clean and fresh water.
  • Take it to the vet for checkups.
  • Allow it to experience its natural nocturnal routine.

A proper and caring environment does wonders for a healthy pet!

Final Thoughts

Metabolic bone disease is a severe and detrimental health issue, but it is avoidable and curable. 

If you notice symptoms of MBD in your pet, take it to the vet to get a diagnosis and a plan of action.

Creating a healthy and appropriate habitat, providing a well-balanced and healthful diet, and practicing good husbandry will help prevent MBD and allow your leopard gecko to live a happy, healthy life.

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