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Calcium: Why Herps Need It


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Calcium builds strong bones and teeth in humans--and it does so in reptiles, too. It’s essential to remind customers, especially new hobbyists, about the importance of calcium in their pets’ diets.

Just like humans and other mammals, reptiles soak in vitamin D3 from sunlight, or ultraviolet B light, to grow and maintain strong bones. In the wild, reptiles get plenty of sun, but indoor reptiles need an artificial source of UVB rays to maintain calcium in blood and bones.

Reptiles cannot absorb calcium from their diet without vitamin D3, which helps the intestines absorb calcium from food. UVB light absorbed through the skin helps animals convert inactive vitamin D to active vitamin D3. Without proper sun or UVB exposure, pet reptiles can be deficient in vitamin D3 and, therefore, deficient in calcium.

Calcium is vital for bone growth and maintenance, muscle function and metabolism. When blood calcium levels are low--a condition called hypocalcemia--an animal may suffer muscle twitches and lethargy. Low blood calcium can also lead to metabolic bone disease; to compensate for blood calcium deficiency, the body may utilize stored calcium from the bones to maintain blood levels. This can be serious problem for growing reptiles, causing poorly developed or soft bones that are prone to fractures.

To prevent hypocalcemia, your reptile-owning customers need to understand how to supply both proper UVB light and adequate dietary calcium to their reptiles.

  • Use a full-spectrum bulb: One common mistake owners make is using plant grow lamps to supply light for their reptiles. These lamps supply the UVA light needed by plants--but not UVB rays needed by reptiles. Point out this difference to your customers and recommend on that emits both UVA and UVB rays.
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  • Set up lamp properly: Many people put their reptiles near windows to get sunlight, unaware that plastic and glass block UVB rays. Advise customers to set up a lamp with UVB rays so that they reach the reptile without any obstructions. Placing a mesh screen between the lamp and the animal, for example, will allow UVB rays through.
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  • Supplement with calcium: Even if a reptile produces enough vitamin D3, plenty of dietary calcium must also be provided for a reptile to absorb what it needs. Recommend a dietary supplement, which the herp owners can add to their pet’s food or dust onto crickets. Too much phosphorus can interfere with calcium absorption, so maintaining a proper calcium/phosphorus balance in the diet is also important.

Encourage your customers to supply ample calcium in their pet’s diet, maintain a proper calcium/phosphorus ratio, and supply a good source of UVB light. If they have any questions regarding hypocalcemia, dietary calcium, or UVB light for your reptile, recommend they contact their local exotics veterinarian. <HOME>


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