Arthritis, back problems, and UVB

A close friend of mine is a really bright exotics vet with experience researching and managing snake collections. We were catching up today, and he mentioned a growing body of research and discussion within the zoological community on the very high prevalence of back problems in older snakes. Apparently San Diego zoo is/was planning a large scale study across their collection, but I haven’t been able to find any recent results.

He’s seeing arthritis at such high rates among 15+ y/o snakes that he strongly suspects a knock-on effect from persistent vitamin D deficiency (in addition to other things like low mobility). Early research focused largely on the prevalence of bacterial infection (bacterial osteoarthritis), but he thinks correlation has been assumed as causation. He’s found 10x increases in blood vD concentrations by regularly exposing snakes to UVB, and thinks the benefits likely map very closely to the research on vD in lizards and mammals (broadly beneficial, very important for bone health, and exposure during youth having the largest long-term impact).

His opinion is more than enough to get me thinking. I’m considering ways to set up my tanks with cycled UVB so that I can use them instead of racks to house my babies and juveniles through at least their first year.


Some skink breeders use a hybred rack that has space for UVB. Check out
The racks take up more space then a regular snake rack but a lot less then tanks.


Thank you for sharing this. Does any of the info you have gathered/learned make you think that nocturnal snakes or snakes such as BP that dont get much UVB due to them being in burrows much of the time also mean they could get arthritis as well? I know you tagged this in the ball python category but I was just hoping you could maybe expand on which type of snakes were affected most if you were able to.


I believe this is aimed at most snake species kept in captivity.

UVB isn’t just light, it helps greatly with the production of vitamin D3, which is a game changer in the absorption rate of calcium from food.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to keep them without UVB as long as they have fit and healthy prey items, my BPs don’t have UVB but my boas do, however I think it a step forward in husbandry.


If you can snag your friend to hit the DVM resources to hunt down any peer-reviewed papers, I’d be psyched! Though this is definitely not an issue that’s only relevant to BPs- it’s a much bigger issue in diurnal snakes, though I’ve heard that there’s plenty of evidence to back up the importance of UVB lighting in nocturnal animals, especially those that don’t get some supplemental vitamin D.


I think that this a claim that is often not approached because of the vast number of keepers that do not provide UVB for their snakes. Where as personally I believe that most snakes should be given the option to have a UVB in their enclosures, I do not give my boa UVB because I actually take him out several times in the afternoons throughout the week.

With the affected absorption of calcium, would that cause osteoporosis like symptoms?

I have also heard it’s stated without the absorption of calcium at the right levels can actually make it harder to gain lean muscle. Therefore this might be why we see more obese snakes that low muscle mass. (Plus overfeeding, and lack of exercise.)

I wonder if spiking rats with calcium with d3 would help? Not sure how to spike a live rat but frozen thawed would be easy.

1 Like

I wonder if it is only vit d or that lack exercise is also a contributing factor. I saw a program last from a keeper who made a climbing wall for snakes, even ball pythons because he believed that by exercising they get stronger muscles and the bones also get more protected. He claimed that once he started doing this he also never had a snake that was egg bound. For humans they always promote exercise if you are prone to getting arthritis.
But of course snakes are not humans, but it might still work the same.

1 Like

Agreed, I was just wondering if some snakes were more prone to this than others. It is definitely a interesting thing to think about though.


So I think there are two things to note that complete the picture: pythons are more crepuscular than nocturnal, and small amounts of sunlight stimulate drastically higher vD production. Together these have two relevant implications:

  1. They’re probably getting enough UV in the wild to have significantly higher vD than in racks
  2. It’s pretty easy to expose them to enough UV to have meaningful impact :slight_smile:

I think exercise definitely a contributing factor - it’s hard to say which is more meaningful, but I think both sunlight and exercise make for a much healthier snek. Research on the benefits of both seem to generalize across most of the animal kingdom.

This is one of the reason’s I’ve been so focused on sociability - if they socialize well, then it’s much easier to build enrichment enclosures that scale for large collections. Just make a jungle gym and rotate a bunch through at a time!