DECEMBER 10, 2013


As many of you may know, keeping reptiles and amphibians as pets is becoming more and more common in today’s society. Snakes, lizards, frogs, turtles, etc. can be easily found in local pet stores across the country. Although interested buyers often think this will make for a low maintenance pet, this is not always the case. These critters often do make really neat pets, but it is important to realize their daily needs to maintain a long and healthy life.

The two most important factors pertaining to these exotic creatures are nutrition and habitat. It is important to research each particular species prior to bringing them into your household. One of the most common ailments found in reptiles is Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). MBD is not a single disease entity, but rather a collection of disorders affecting overall bone function. Most all MBD’s are associated with a calcium/phosphorous imbalance. Nutritional causes most often result from a lack of dietary calcium or UV light.

Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism is the most common form of MBD. NSHP is most often a result of inadequate dietary calcium, low Vitamin D3 levels, excess phosphorous or inappropriate UVB radiation exposure. Signs of MBD include swollen and very firm bones, often giving the animal a bow legged/muscular appearance. This condition often leads to bone fractures. NSHP is more common in young, rapidly growing animals. Iguanas, Bearded Dragons, Chameleons, geckoes, and aquatic turtles seem to be affected more frequently than others.

MBD is prevented by maintaining a proper Calcium: Phosphorous ratio. It is important to monitor daily nutritional intake. Meat, organs, invertebrates, and produce contain low calcium levels.  It is often necessary to provide an additional calcium supplement to the diet. As far as lighting is concerned, several hours per day of natural sunlight exposure is best. If this is not possible, artificial UV lighting will suffice if properly installed and monitored closely. It is important to replace light bulbs frequently (even before they quit working) due to loss of sufficient UV quality over time.

As far as tropical reptiles are concerned, they require a high humidity habitat. It is crucial to provide them with regular baths/soaks to keep them healthy. It is also a good idea to moisten food to encourage water intake in the diet. This aids in maintaining healthy kidneys in hopes of preventing renal associated MBD.

In conclusion, if you or someone you know is considering jumping into the wonderful world of reptiles, do your homework first! They can be a lot of fun, but have very important needs in order to maintain a happy healthy lifestyle. It is important to schedule routine vet visits to keep your pets as healthy as possible!

Dr. Matte Haley