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Lizard Seizures And Spinal Bumps

Why does my Mali uromastyx have bumps on his spine and shake?

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Dr. Wissman: I have pet Mali uromastyx named Yuri. He is a year and a half old, and lately has started showing some bumps down along his spine. He is not eating much. I cannot get him to eat. He will lay down most days and just bask there. He is shaking, and one time he suffered something that I can only describe as a seizure of some kind. He was shaking violently in his cage. Please, what is this and what can I do to get him better? I live in Connecticut and boy there are just no good herp vets around here. I want to help my little buddy. He is in the cage with another one and he's doing splendidly. Very robust, eating like crazy, very active. I thank you for your time and your assistance.

Well, the first thing you must do is talk to pet stores in the area that sell herps or any herp breeders that you know, in order to find out who they are using as their herp vet, as you most definitely are going to require the assistance of one!  Even if you need to drive (or take the train) into New York City to make an appointment at the Animal Medical Center, where they have an excellent herp veterinary service, you should be prepared to make the trip! (I grew up in Darien, Connecticut, so I know a bit about the mass transit system into the city!)


Okay, now that I have given you the pep talk about how important it is to find a herp vet to work with, let’s try and figure out what is going on with Yuri.  It sounds like he might be having problems with his uptake and utilization of calcium.  The bumpy spike (perhaps fractures?) and the seizure and the reluctance to walk all lead me to suspect that he is suffering from a form of metabolic bone disease (also called fibrous osteodystrophy, nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, rickets, osteoporosis, osteomalacia, hypocalcemia and chronic calcium deficiency.)  I wrote an extensive article for REPTILES magazine in the June 2002 issue; perhaps you could find that article somewhere.

While we usually think of MBD occurring in growing green iguanas, any herps can suffer from this malady, if they don’t have the proper diet and husbandry conditions.  You didn’t say if your lizards are eating gut-loaded or vitamin/mineral-dusted insects and other foods.  I also don’t know at what temperature range you are maintaining your uromastyx or whether you are using a full-spectrum light (with UV-A and UV-B spectra) and if you are changing it every six months or as recommended by the manufacturer.

Note to readers: An excellent idea for anyone wishing to send a question to me would be to please include specifics about your animal’s diet and your husbandry practices (temperature range your herp resides at [YOU DO have at least two thermometers/hygrometers in each habitat, right???], type of lighting you are using, etc.).  Also, a clear photo or two of the herp and habitat would be very helpful!  It seems that everyone has a cellular phone now with a digital camera in it.  Thanks!

Okay, back to Yuri.  I don’t know if you are feeding him and his conspecific properly and keeping these mainly desert creatures warm enough.  And just because your other uromastyx is still faring well, that doesn’t mean that it won’t become ill later on, as every herp has its own ability to cope for a period of time prior to decompensating and breaking down with an illness.  Mitigating conditions would be ambient temperature grade, any parasite problems, other stressors and diet preferences.

MBD occurs if the herp is not receiving enough calcium in the diet, or if it is consuming too much phosphorus in relation to calcium (ca: phos ratio, which should be 1.5-2.0 to 1.0), or if it is not exposed to the ultraviolet light (UV-B) that it needs to make vitamin D3, which is necessary for proper calcium absorption and utilization.


Signs of MBD can be seizures from low blood calcium, reluctance to walk, fine tremors (usually of the limbs or digits), swollen limbs, spinal deformities, inability to rise on the limbs to walk, developing underbite and other signs.  It sounds as if that might be what you are describing in Yuri.

Diagnosis and treatment require the expertise of a herp vet, so unfortunately, it is up to you to find a vet who can help you.  In other answers, I have described a free consultation service that your vet may utilize to discuss your herp’s case with a more experienced vet (there is no such thing as a herp specialist, as that title requires the taking of an extensive test to prove a level of expertise above the “average” veterinarian, and thus far, there is no such test in the U.S.)  So, even if you find a vet who is long on enthusiasm but short on practical experience, he or she can ask for advice from a consultant who can help with your case, offering information on where to draw blood, how to interpret the tests and what medications to administer.  If Yuri has MBD, he will need to receive injections of calcitonin salmon, a hormone that will help him properly utilize calcium, and he will need calcium injections prior to the hormone injection.  He may need a vitamin injection and other support care, as well.

You cannot and should not attempt to treat Yuri yourself, as you need someone who can accurately prescribe medications based on his precise weight in grams.

I hope I have made my case for why you need to find a herp vet you can work with!  I think this is MBD, but there are other diseases and conditions that can cause seizures and bumps along the spine. So, I hope you can find a vet whom you can work with to help you with Yuri!


Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.

Need a Herp Vet?
If you are looking for a herp-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area, a good place to start is by checking the list of members on the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarian (ARAV) web site at www.arav.com. Look for DVMs who appear to maintain actual veterinary offices that you could contact.