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D3 in Reptile Health: What You Should Know

Like any living creature, your reptile requires some basic things to stay healthy. These include a safe living environment with optimal temperatures, plus clean water and a nutritious diet. Reptiles are omnivores, and depending on what type of reptile you have they might eat insects or other small animals, fruits and vegetables. However varied your specific reptile’s diet might be, though, they all need vitamin D3. Here’s what you need to know about D3 to ensure your pet is getting the proper nutrition for optimal health.

Why D3 is important for reptiles

Different vitamins play different roles in maintaining overall reptile health, and D3 is an essential one. Your reptile needs D3 for bone growth and maintenance, since it helps their blood and bones  absorb and maintain calcium. Vitamin D3 also aids nervous system functionality and egg formation in females. Without the proper amount of vitamin D3 in their system, reptiles can become deficient in calcium, which in turn can cause a number of health problems. Soft bones caused by insufficient  calcium can fracture easily, while a long-term lack of calcium can lead to hormonal issues and other complications such as metabolic bone disease.

How your indoor reptile can get enough D3

In the wild, your reptile would receive plenty of D3 through one primary source—the sun. Reptiles who live outdoors absorb ultraviolet rays from the sun and then synthesize vitamin D3 from it. Reptiles who live in the wild may also be able to get higher doses of vitamin D3 in the course of their regular diet by eating vertebrates, which contain D3 in their kidneys and livers.

Indoor reptiles without as much access to the sun or live animals in their diet need to get their vitamin D3 in other ways. Two of the more popular ways to ensure your reptile is getting enough D3  include:

  1. UVB light: Without the sun as a primary source, providing UVB-emitting bulbs in your reptile’s habitat is the easiest way to replicate the type of light your pet needs to produce their own skin-manufactured vitamin D3.
  2. D3 Supplements: Supplements containing D3 are readily available over the counter and may provide your reptile with a source of this important vitamin when it’s not otherwise available. Be cautious when using supplements, however, since over-supplementation of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D can lead to toxicity. Always consult your veterinarian for the proper dosage.

It’s important to note that the best way to ensure your reptile is getting the proper amount of vitamin D3 is to use both of these options—full-spectrum lighting with a UVB bulb, as well as a calcium supplement with vitamin D. “This is especially important for diurnal reptiles who tend to spend a majority of their day basking in the sun, as opposed to nocturnal species who do not have the exact same lighting spectrum needs to synthesize vitamin D3 and get the little UVB that they need during the early morning or late evening sun, as well as through their diet,” says Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM and director of veterinary medicine at Petco.
 
Although it can be a complicated topic, your veterinarian can help point you toward the proper combination of products to keep your reptile strong and healthy.