Metabolic Bone Disease In Turtles

Turtles with MBD often have slow growth rates and may experience deformations of their body proportions.

Although turtles can get this disease at any age, it usually occurs in older turtles who have been under-nourished in the past. It can also occur in a turtle that recently experience in injury that prevents them from eating properly.

Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent metabolic bone disorder in turtles. This blog will explain the causes and signs of metabolic bone disease in turtles, and how to prevent it.

What Is Metabolic Bone Disease In Turtles?

Metabolic bone disease (MBD), also known as secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism in turtles is a condition that occurs when their bones don’t get enough calcium.

The lack of calcium leads to poor shell development and growth, which can lead to death if untreated.

Metabolic bone disease, is quite common in turtles. Your turtle can develop metabolic bone disease at any point in its life. The three most common causes are too much phosphorus, insufficient vitamin D3, and lack of calcium minerals.

How to prevent Metabolic Bone Disease in Turtles

You can prevent Metabolic Bone Disease in turtles by providing your turtle with a balanced diet and the appropriate temperature and lighting.

One of the best ways to prevent metabolic bone disease in turtles is to ensure they are basking enough. If you notice that your turtle isn’t basking, you should watch my video below.

You should feed your turtle a balanced diet of protein and vegetables. The best vegetables for turtles and tortoises are collard greens, bok choy, okra, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, cantaloupe, berries, squash, and kale. A great stimulating way to feed your turtles vegetables is with this feeder ball.

turtle feeder ball

I also suggest a high quality turtle food. I feed my turtles these nutri sticks.

turtle food healthy

Metabolic bone disease can also be cause if you regularly feed your turtle fish food.

You can also prevent metabolic bone disease by providing your turtle with a suitable environment. If they live in an appropriate setting, then the likelihood of developing this condition is slim to none. That being said, you must monitor any changes or odd growths on their body and take action if something doesn’t seem right.

UV light is essential for both turtles and tortoises in order to produce vitamin D, which helps them maintain an adequate calcium intake. Humidity is not the cause of MBD, but it can worsen the situation. So always maintain the humidity around 80%. Temperature is also important, so you should check out my article on what temperature should a turtle tank be?

How to treat Metabolic Bone Disease in Turtles

The best way to treat Metabolic Bone Disease in turtles is to add calcium to your turtles diet. I suggest that you either feed them a calcium block, or drop a slow release calcium stick into their water.

You can also treat Metabolic Bone Disease in turtles by increasing your turtles exposure to UVB light. You can do this many ways, including giving your turtle exposure to the sun, increasing the amount of time you leave your UVB light on, or replacing your UVB light with a stronger one.

If your turtle’s condition does not improve over the next couple of weeks, you should consult a vet.

What Causes Metabolic Bone Disease?

Diet is the main reason behind metabolic bone disease in turtles. If the diet you are feeding to your turtle is low in calcium, they might suffer from this problem. Similarly, Vitamin D3 deficiency can also cause MBD, but this can be avoided by exposure to the sun or a UVB light.

Lastly, an imbalanced ratio of calcium and phosphorus can cause this problem. Too much phosphorous is usually the cause of this problem. When the phosphorus level increases, it forms calcium phosphate in the gut, which is then absorbed as an insoluble salt. 

The ideal ratio of calcium and phosphorus is 2:1. If the values drop below this ratio, it will result in phosphate ions, causing hyperphosphatemia, which stimulates the parathyroid gland that gives the message that the body needs more calcium. Other causes of MBD are

  • Intestinal disease
  • Low enclosure temperatures
  • Liver/Kidney disease
  • Thyroid and parathyroid disorders

Symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease in Turtles

If you want to cure this disease, it is important that you quickly identify the symptoms. Most signs are related to bone, muscle, and shell development. Symptoms can vary depending on the disease’s length of time and severity.

Shell pyramiding is common in tortoises, but the occurrence of softshells is most common in both tortoises and turtles.

The main symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease in Turtles are:

  • Soft/deformed shell
  • Weak limbs (turtles will drag their limb when walking)
  • Swollen legs
  • Deformed jaws
  • Paralysis or lethargy
  • Splayed out legs
  • Beak deformity
  • Poor shell growth
  • Shell points up along the edges

It’s essential to keep a close eye on your turtle’s health. A little knowledge can go a long way in caring for these adorable creatures, so here are some tips from those who know them best!

If you suspect your turtle might have another illness, you should check out my article on pet turtle diseases.


The article has shown us many ways to help turtles with metabolic bone disease. It’s important that people know about the symptoms so they can take necessary precautions before it becomes too late.

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