Now that the first official day of summer has come and gone our red bellied cooters are enjoying the heat. Four of the cooters currently in our hospital are suffering from metabolic bone disease, which causes malformation of the skeleton and shell as well as metabolic irregularities. I was not familiar with metabolic bone disease before arriving at the NMLC , but thanks to instruction from our vet Dr. Sea Rogers Williams I’m beginning to get a handle on this complex disease.
Just like humans turtles require vitamin D to properly utilize calcium. MBD turtles typically have an improper calcium to phosphorus ratio and, as we know, vitamin D is required to properly absorb calcium. When calcium levels are low the body will compensate for this by extracting calcium from other sources, like bone. This imbalance can cause soft bones and shells and make the turtle prone to fractures. MBD is a problem for turtles raised in captivity because, if not housed properly, these turtles can be vitamin D deficient.
In terms of treatment our cooters are given oral calcium supplements and have a mercury vapor light bulb above their tanks emitting UVB. In addition to these treatments, our turtles are given basking time out in the sun to soak up as much vitamin D as they possibly can. Allowing these cooters time in the sun to bask, as they would normally in the wild, increases their chance of making a full recovery and being returned to their wild population. Hopefully an hour a day will keep the doctor away.