Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
  Issue 3 Vol 7 May 2011
Nutritional Metabolic Bone in Reptiles (part 4) In this Issue

By Roberta A. Avila-Guevara CVT

NMBD results from dietary and husbandry mismanagement. In order to prevent and treat the disease, the captive habitat must mimic the pet's natural environment. The final section of this article will address general husbandry and dietary management. Reptile keepers are encouraged to research the individual needs of their pets.

Husbandry Management

Tropical and semi-tropical species

Reptiles in this group include anoles, Chinese water dragons, green iguanas, and chameleons, among others.

Enclosures: In general, the larger the enclosure, the better the reptile will do. Most tropical reptiles are tree climbers and require horizontal enclosures with vertical tree branches (1). Terrariums made of mesh material are available for chameleons and other smaller species. Air circulation is important for these reptiles due to the higher levels of humidity.

Humidity: Requirements for humidity levels mimic the environment where the reptile originates. Misting the enclosure several times a day as well as creating a water dripping system can facilitate the levels needed.

Temperature and temperature gradients: To control daily fluctuations in body temperatures, most reptiles seek cool and warm areas. They use a thermal gradient to facilitate digestion; therefore, the enclosure should provide a thermal gradient within the preferred optimal temperature range for each species. Most day time temperatures fall between 80 and 95F with a basking area of 120F-130F (2).


Lighting and heat: Most tropical reptiles require UVB radiation in order to synthesize vitamin D3 for calcium absorption. Bulbs necessary for these habitats must contain UVA and UVB rays, heat, and light. These bulbs need to be replaced at least every 6 months in order to maintain appropriate levels for the pet. Heat can be provided through basking bulbs placed above the reptile in conjunction with the full spectrum bulb.

Desert and grassland species

Desert dwelling reptiles include leopard geckos, bearded dragons, skinks, and some monitor lizards. Grassland reptiles include king snakes, corn snakes, and garter snakes.

Enclosures: Glass aquariums that are longer than they are wide with heights that are appropriate for the species are required. It must provide plenty of floor space with hiding places such as boxes, tree trunks, rocks, or other objects, since the animals spend a majority of their time on the ground.

Humidity: Most habitats are arid with some humidity needed to promote proper shedding and hydration. This can be provided through misting as well as providing access to clean water.

Temperatures and gradients: Nocturnal reptiles or those that come from cool areas do well with daytime temperatures between 70F-80F. Nighttime temperatures shouldn't fall below 70F during the reptile's active season (2).

Lighting and heat: All reptiles benefit from full spectrum bulbs that emit UVA and UVB radiation. Therefore, selecting full spectrum or fluorescent bulbs is an important husbandry practice that promotes appropriate feeding behaviors, normal activities and reproduction. Bulbs that emit UVB radiation need to be replaced before the bulb burns out. The intensity of the UVB rays decrease overtime, resulting in little to no exposure, therefore they need to be replaced regularly. Substrate heaters, heat strips, and heat tapes should be used for ground dwelling reptiles in order to provide heat through the ground (3).

Dietary Management

Herbivores: A wide variety of good quality vegetables should make up 80-90% of the diet. This should come from dark-green leafy vegetables with the last 10-15% of vegetables provided through frozen mixed, green beans, peas, corn, mushrooms, and sweet potato. Fruit such as banana, melon, apple, peach, pear, strawberry, apricots, and dates can be added in small amounts. A phosphorus free calcium supplement should be sprinkled on the food daily for juveniles and one or two times a week for adults.

Insectivores: A variety of insects such as worms, moths, flies, and crickets can be fed to these reptiles. Dust or gut load the insects before feeding with a calcium supplement.

Carnivores: These reptiles should be fed a high quality protein source such as adult mice or rats. If the reptile is a juvenile, calcium supplementation may be necessary due to the lack of calcified bones in pinky prey.

Omnivores: Reptiles such as box turtles and Bearded Dragons eat a mixture of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Some species, like the Bearded Dragon will switch from a diet high in proteins and fats during growth, to a diet high in plant based carbohydrates in adulthood. Therefore it is recommended to feed a meat based diet during the juvenile stage and then gradually change to a plant based diet once they hit the adult stage (4). Calcium and vitamin D3 supplements are also appropriate in limited amounts.


The information provided in this article is an overview of general reptile keeping. Proper research is necessary in order to maintain a healthy pet and reverse the affects of NMBD. This disease is a preventable disorder. If a pet should contract it, depending on the severity, it can be treated through owner compliance and husbandry changes.



1. Mader, D., DVM. General Husbandry and Management. In: Rossi, V., John. Reptile Medicine and Surgery. St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders; 2006: 32.

2. Mader, D., DVM. General Husbandry and Management. In: Rossi, V., John. Reptile Medicine and Surgery. St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders; 2006: 29.

3. Wissman, A., Margaret, DVM. "Metabolic Bone Disease." Exotic Pet Vet.Net. April
2011, < >.

4. Mader, D., DVM. Nutrition. In: Donoghue, Susan. Reptile Surgery and Medicine. St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders; 2006: 254.


Roberta A. Avila-Guevara CVT is a practising Certified Veterinary Technician and has been published in several veterinary technician journals. 

  1. Nutritional Metabolic Bone in Reptiles (part 4)
  2. Take the Leap: The Right Plan for Making a Lizard Your Pet
  3. Get Paid to write an article
  4. Tell Us What You Think
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Other Issues

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ReptiTemp 500R

Take the Leap: The Right Plan for Making a Lizard Your Pet

If you are considering adding a lizard into your life, it is important to understand what is involved in the proper care of the reptile as well as what types of lizard are best for beginners. Get started on the right foot by doing the research first before you purchase the lizard. This will ensure you are setting your lizard-owner relationship up for success.
Keep in mind when you are thinking about buying a lizard, that it is likely a long-term commitment. Some lizard species have a lifespan of 50 years, so it is important to be certain you are in it for the long haul.

Also be prepared to spend money for the right equipment for your lizard. The lizard itself is relatively cheap, but you will need to purchase a tank and other equipment, such as a thermal gradient, shelters or hiding spots and branches to replicate the lizard's natural habitat.

Best Lizards for Beginning Owners

If lizard ownership is uncharted territory for you, there are certain species of lizards that are better for beginners, including:

  • Leopard geckos—small, easily handled, these lizards only require a small tank and do not require UV lighting
  • Green anoles—small and easy-to-find, these lizards do not need a large tank, but will require UV lighting
  • Bearded dragons—easy-going and easily handled, these are friendly lizards that do best in a large tank with UV lighting.
Care and Feeding of Lizards

Once you have the right-sized tank and lighting, if necessary, you will want to take steps to create a realistic environment as close as possible to the lizard's natural environment. You can find branches or create "lizard hides" to give the lizard places to move closer and further away from the heat to keep it's temperature regulated.

Many lizards eat insects, and you can raise your own crickets and mealworms to make feeding your lizard more affordable and convenient. It isn't always safe to feed insects that have been in the wild to your lizards, because they have pesticides, which are unhealthy for all reptiles and animals. You can also find the right items to feed your lizard at the local pet store.

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