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    Signs of metabolic bone disease

    I think my Leopard gecko has MBD. What should I do?

    There are very few words or letters that fill reptile keepers with as much fear as MBD. Most of us have seen the condition and some of us have had to deal with this illness. It is widespread and still largely incurable. In addition, the problem with MBD is that the symptoms are so varied, ranging from just a slight kink in the tail to twirling and seizures. This means that it can be hard to recognise in its initial stages. Reptiles are especially good at hiding indicators of sickness, and by the time that symptoms appear in some species, it can be almost be too late to do anything.

    MBD is not reported to occur in the wild, so its presence in vivarium stock confi rms that we still have much to learn from nature. Leopard geckos have taken millions of years to perfect their complex relationship with the sun. We simply cannot expect to have discovered everything that we need to know about them in a few short decades of large scale keeping.

    As indicated, MBD cannot be accurately diagnosed from clinical signs, but depends on blood tests, with an x-ray examination revealing the state of bone density. It is worth remembering that many of the symptoms of MBD are the same as for other conditions. In fact, it is not widely realised that the symptoms of Vitamin D3 and calcium toxicity through over-supplementation are almost identical to the signs of a critical undersupply, which results in MBD. Furthermore, an infection of the jaws can be linked with a vitamin A defi ciency or it could be an indication of MBD. There are just too many variables for anyone to say an animal is suff ering from this illness until blood tests have been carried out.

    What happens

    MBD in short is the end result of a period during which the reptile was not being able to obtain or assimilate sufficient calcium into its body. This could be through the winter when brumation and even hibernation typically occur. These natural events take place for short periods in the wild though, and during this period, a hormone is released back into the blood stream that leads to the breakdown of calcium from the bones.

    This is then passes into the bloodstream, where it can be used for the correct functioning of the muscles and to maintain brain function. In the wild, this short-term shortfall is strictly seasonal, and causes no permanent harm. The deficiencies will be made up rapidly, once the reptile is feeding normally again, and has emerged from its hiding place to bask in the sun.

    In vivarium surroundings however, a downward spiral can rapidly develop. An absent or underpowered UV system along with a poor diet prevents the absorption of sufficient calcium into the bloodstream, and its subsequent uptake by the skeletal system.

    What happens is that the reptile is forced to continue sacrificing calcium back into the bloodstream to stay alive, but at the long term expense of its skeletal structure. Unless the husbandry system improves, this depletion continues and the animal starts to display an ever more serious range of calcium deficiency symptoms.

    So what should you do, suspecting that your leopard gecko could be affected? Firstly, seek the advice of a specialist reptile vet, and be prepared to pay for blood tests and X-rays if your lizard is not insured. This is important in ascertaining the severity of the problem.

    What to do

    There are a number of treatment options, depending partly on the severity of the condition. High-powered UV basking lights, calcium injections and suitable supplements can all be valuable. The key to prevention, however, is to re-create the UV index that your reptile would encounter in the wild, as closely as possible. High output UV sources including the Arcadia Reptile T5s do now make it much easier to obtain and maintain a suitable photogradient (or range of lighting conditions) inside a vivarium. It is then a matter of addressing the very significant area of diets and supplements

    Carry out your research, and choose a brand of supplement that can accurately tell you how to get the best out of the system. If we can balance Vitamin D3 provision, we can increase the gecko’s natural calcium intake and uptake. If this can be used alongside an effective diet that is potent and carefully formulated, then MBD should become a thing of the past.

    Finally, It is imperative that no animal either male or female is bred from, if you suspect or know that it is suffering from a calcium deficiency. Producing eggs or young will simply worsen the situation significantly, and the off spring themselves in turn could start life being at risk from MBD.

    © John Courteney-Smith
    Taken from “Practical Reptile Keeping” magazine

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