Metabolic Bone Disease In Reptiles (Symptoms & Treatments)

Do you suspect your reptile is suffering from a metabolic bone disease?

Then you’ll find out in this article what the symptoms of MBD are and how to treat it.

Key Takeaway:

Metabolic bone disease softens and causes pathologic fractures in a reptile’s bones. It can result in anorexia, constipation, and lethargy. Dietary improvements, vitamin D and calcium supplementation, and UVB light therapy can all treat MBD.

Treatments of MBD vary depending on the severity of the disease. To find out more about how to treat your reptile take a look at the following section.

reptile skeleton

Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles

Metabolic bone disease is a disease that affects a reptile’s bones. It can soften and damage them thus causing a whole host of problems for the animal.

A reptile with this condition likely has an improper balance of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. His phosphorus ratio is too high and he has negative calcium and vitamin D levels (especially vitamin D3).

This disease can make a reptile suffer in some of the following ways.

  • Bone abnormalities such as bowing, bone thickening, swelling, the formation of bumps, arching, and fracturing
  • Jaw weakness, swelling, and softening
  • Shell weakening and disfiguration
  • Muscle tremors and seizures
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss, and anorexia
  • Constipation
  • General lethargy and paralysis

MBD is a common disease and there are mild cases and more severe cases. The treatment your reptile will need will depend on the gravity of the disease.

Getting a veterinarian diagnosis is essential for the animal to improve and save its life. After the diagnosis, the vet may recommend the following treatment.

  • Dietary improvements
  • Vitamin D and calcium supplementation
  • Ultraviolet light exposure to improve his calcium metabolism
  • Bone stabilization

Symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease

Any reptile can suffer from a metabolic bone disease MBD but it is most common in growing animals.

But, how can you detect it in your pet reptiles?

Coming up next, you’ll find a list of some of the most common symptoms of the disease. This list will help you recognize MBD and get your reptile the treatment it needs as soon as possible.

Bone Abnormalities

Metabolic bone disease can cause bone abnormalities and fractures. The following are some of the bone abnormalities a reptile might experience due to MBD.

  • Bowing or swollen legs. Bumps may develop on the long bones of the animal. The bumps are the body’s attempt to strengthen the bones. The long bones in their front or rear legs may also thicken.
  • Arched spine. Bumps may develop in the spinal column. The bumps are the body’s attempt to strengthen the bones.
  • Bumps on other long bones in the body and other abnormalities in their bone formation are also common.

Bone fractures occur because they are so weak they can no longer support the animal’s weight. The reptiles’ calcium deficiency makes their bones fragile and prone to fracturing.

This might make an animal begin to limp and their tail may go crooked.

Jaw Swelling

Metabolic bone disease MBD can affect a reptile’s jaw. Because of low calcium levels in the reptile’s body, the bones in its jaw can go soft.

The reptile may then feel a generalized weakness in his jaw which will affect his ability to eat. His jaw may also begin to swell.

It is also common for hard lumps to grow on the animal’s jaw. These lumps are the body’s attempt to strengthen the bones and fibrous tissue.

The lower jaw is usually the most affected.

Shell Weakening

Metabolic bone disease can demonstrate itself in a unique way in turtles. A lack of calcium absorption can make their shells soft.

The disease also manifests itself in the following ways.

  • Flared edges on the shell
  • The shell points down at the rear
  • The large scutes become pyramid-shaped

Muscle Tremors

A reptile that suffers from a metabolic bone disease might experience muscle shakes or twitching, kicking, or involuntary jolting of the limbs. Some animals will even suffer from seizures.

Weight Loss

A reptile might become anorexic if it suffers from a metabolic bone disease. This is because the disease weakens the animal’s jaw and tongue, making it difficult for him to eat.

In more severe cases, your pet reptile’s jaw might become completely soft as a result of low calcium levels. This will make it impossible for the animal to chew his food.

mbd gecko


Metabolic bone disease is a complex disease and can make a reptile suffer from constipation. It is often the cause of a cloacal prolapse.


A reptile with a metabolic bone disease will feel extremely lethargic. The weakness in its bones will make it reluctant to move around.

The animal might even struggle to lift its limbs and in advanced cases, paralysis might set in.

Treatment of Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

MBS is often a sign of poor husbandry in reptiles. Adult reptiles of the lizard species like the green iguana and bearded dragons do not live as long in captivity as they do in the wild.

This is often because people do not know how to look after them properly. Keeping adult and juvenile reptiles in inappropriate environmental conditions and giving them the wrong diet can cause them to suffer from this chronic disease.

It is possible to treat animals with metabolic bone diseases. You must begin administering the treatments as soon as you notice symptoms of the disease.

Here is a list of treatments for metabolic bone diseases.

Dietary Improvements

If your reptile has a bone disease, you need to improve his diet. If he is a herbivore, he needs to have enough calcium-rich food in his diet that will help him regulate his phosphorus ratio.

Here is a list of foods that are high in calcium:

  • Leafy and cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, and bok choy
  • Green flowering plants like okra
  • Vegetable sprouts
  • Squash
  • Fruits like berries and cantaloupe

Some captive reptiles eat insects. You must feed these insects a nutritious diet of healthy food before feeding them to the reptiles.

Vitamin D and Calcium Supplementation

Many reptiles with bone diseases have a calcium deficiency and or a vitamin D deficiency. Treat these in the following ways.

  • Calcium supplements (like calcium glubionate via injection or oral consumption and then injections of the hormone calcitonin)
  • Vitamin supplementation (vitamin D) via injection or oral consumption
  • Fluid therapy
  • Nutritional support

One way of introducing more vitamin D and calcium into your reptile’s diet is via feeder insects.

Some feeder insects have a high phosphorus ratio but are low in calcium. To make insect meals more nutritious, dust them in calcium and vitamin D powder.

Do not feed your reptile too many animals at once. The longer the crickets or fruit flies are in the enclosure, the more time they have to groom the calcium and vitamin D powder off of themselves.

Feeding your reptiles with just a few live treats at once will ensure he gets more of the calcium and vitamin D powder he needs.

Your reptile needs to absorb vitamin D and calcium but be careful not to introduce too much of it into his diet as this could cause problems with his phosphorus balance and lead to even more health issues. These include kidney damage and toxicosis.

Your reptile’s veterinarian may recommend fluid therapy for more nutritional support.

metabolic bone disease

UVB Light Treatment

Your reptile needs access to natural sunlight or UVB light to begin to recover from a metabolic bone disease. When you expose him to enough UV lighting, he will begin to absorb more calcium from his diet.

Here are some of the key factors about UVB lighting treatment and your reptile.

  • Make sure he gets enough natural sunlight each day. A good way to mimic this natural light is using UVB light globes. This will improve his calcium metabolism.
  • You must note that an ultraviolet light globe will degrade over time. Replace yours at least once every 6 months.
  • UVB light will not reach your reptiles through glass and plastic. If you have a lamp, make sure it is inside your reptiles’ enclosure.
  • If your reptile is extremely poorly, an exotic veterinarian may expose him to high-intensity ultraviolet light.

Bone Stabilization

Reptiles with vitamin D deficiency and bone disease may suffer from broken bones. Your vet may stabilize them via casting or splinting.

Metabolic Bone Diseases

Metabolic bone disease in reptiles is not one single disease as many people believe it to be. Rather, it is a combination of medical disorders that affect the animal’s bones.

Here is a list of some of the different medical disorders that make up a metabolic bone disease.

Secondary Nutritional Hyperparathyroidism

Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism is the most commonly seen in captive iguanas. Getting an early diagnosis and the right treatment of nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism increase your chances of curing your iguana.

Nutritional Metabolic Bone Disease

This type of bone disease is common in reptiles. This is usually a result of the following types of poor husbandry.

  • Bad diet
  • Lack of exposure to sunlight
  • Bad balance of calcium and phosphorus

Chronic Renal Disease

Renal failure is often the result of dehydration, low humidity, or a diet that is too high in vitamin D.

What You Need to Know About Reptiles Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease in reptiles affects their bone density and causes them a lot of problems like pathological fractures. Reptiles also experience weakening in their jaws, shell, and entire body.

Has your reptile had an MBD diagnosis?

Then you need to make sure he gets the right treatment as soon as possible. Thankfully though, this article has helped us see a lot of practical things you can do to help your reptile right now.

These include improving his diet and making sure he gets enough sunlight. Under the supervision of a vet, he may also receive UVB light treatment and calcium and vitamin supplements.

Did you find the information in this article helpful?

At Oddly Cute Pets, we are always striving to provide you with the best guides to look after your reptiles and other pets. For more information on how to best take care of your reptile, check out our website.

Thanks for reading!

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