Which Pets Need UV Light for Good Bone Health?
The use of UV light is beneficial to the overall health of a wide variety of exotic pet species – some you may be surprised by! Learn more about what pets can benefit from UV light by reading Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital of Louisiana’s article below.
Several reptiles and mammals benefit from exposure to UV light, including:
- Guinea Pigs
Although snakes get enough vitamin D and calcium from their diets, other reptiles, like turtles, tortoises, and lizards do not. Reptiles need the help of UV-B lighting to manufacture vitamin D3 in their skin in order to absorb calcium from their food—which directly attributes to the strength of their bones. And if they are not provided the needed exposure, they can develop nutritional metabolic bone disease, which may be fatal if left untreated.
However, even those reptiles that do not require UV lighting still benefit from low levels of exposure. For example, studies have shown that leopard geckos can live perfectly healthy lives without being exposed to UV lighting, but they seem to flourish if they are given the opportunity to get low levels of exposure for a 15 – 60 minutes each day. Most other reptiles seem to benefit from 2-4 hours of UV light per day.
Additionally, reptiles have special scales on top of their heads called the “parietal eye.” And the retina in this “eye” connects to the area of the brain that produces melatonin and serotonin. So, appropriate lighting is important when maintaining a reptile’s mood. This lighting also stimulates their appetite, maintains their immune function, and regulates their body temperature.
A UV light source should emit light in the UV-B range, which is 290-320 nanometers. Most lights can emit both UV-B and UV-A lights, but UV-A light (320 to 400 nanometers) does not manufacture vitamin D3 in the skin like UV-B lighting does (although UV-A exposure may still be important for a reptile’s behavior).
The following UV lights have been researched to emit proven UV levels:
- Flukers Sun Flo
Keep in mind that lights dull with age and will likely need to be replaced around every 6 months (or as directed by the manufacturer). The UV lighting is only effective if it is within 12 inches (30 centimeters) from your pet. UV light is blocked by glass, plexiglass, or any other filtering material, so your pet must have direct exposure to the light.
Different species require different UV light settings or wattage, so if you are unsure what lights and amounts of exposure (known as the “photoperiod”) are best for your pet, please consult an exotic veterinarian.
It has been discovered that the bones of indoor birds are not as strong as those who remain outdoors. So, exposure to the right level of UV lighting can also be a benefit to them. In fact, UV lights have been specifically designed to help reverse extreme cases of injury, arthritis, and weakness. However, owners should take caution to monitor levels of UV lighting because if it becomes too high, it can cause burns and cancers to your bird.
When setting up the lights, you should provide a “gradient,” so that there is room in the cage away from the light, and your bird can go there if they wish to. High output lights should be no closer than six inches (15 centimeters) and low input lights should be no further than 12 inches (30 centimeters) from the top of the bird’s head at the highest perching point.
Rabbits, Guinea Pigs and Chinchillas
Similar to birds, indoor guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas do not have bones as strong as those that are kept outdoors. So, UV lights may be beneficial to them as well. For instance, animals with fractures in their limbs have experienced an increase in bone density after being exposed to UV light.
You will want to keep the lighting at least nine inches (about 23 centimeters) away from your pet’s enclosure. UV exposure for 2-4 hours per day is recommended.
The Sun is Superior
It’s clear that animals benefit from exposure to UV lighting, but even the best bulbs are nowhere as great as natural sunlight. As such, providing supervised and safe outdoor space for your pets will also improve the health of their bones and overall well-being.
***If you decide to allow for outdoor time, make sure you place your pet in a sturdy with cage to prevent your pet from escaping or from a hawk, cat, or dog from being able to attack your beloved pet***.
Ask Our Exotic Vet If You Have Additional Questions About UV Lights and Your Pet
Reptiles require UV lighting in order to survive (without it, they will develop severe, life-threatening illnesses). And some mammals have been found to benefit from it as well. However, the particular lights and exposure times should be discussed at length with an exotic veterinarian.
Moreover, time in the natural sun is better than any artificial light (or light filtered through a window), so you should organize for regular, supervised time outside. Of course, ensure that you are taking the necessary safety precautions.
If you have any additional questions, please be sure to let us know during your exotic pet’s next vet visit with us. To schedule your exotic pet’s exam, give Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital of Louisiana a call at (504) 455-6386.
About Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital of Louisiana
Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital of Louisiana, formally West Esplanade Veterinary Clinic, is Louisiana’s only veterinarian that provides care exclusively to avian and exotic pets. From parrots to rabbits and ferrets to a wide variety of reptiles, as well as a multitude of small mammal exotic pets, we welcome them all to our practice!