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J Zoo Wildl Med. 2012 Sep;43(3):549-65.

Fluorosis as a probable factor in metabolic bone disease in captive New Zealand native frogs (Leiopelma species).

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Amphibian Disease Ecology Group, Anton Breinl Centre, School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences, James Cook University, Angus Smith Drive, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.


This report describes the investigations into the cause and treatment of metabolic bone disease (MBD) in captive native New Zealand frogs (Leiopelma spp.) and the role of fluoride in the disease. MBD was diagnosed in Leiopelma archeyi and Leiopelma hochstetteri in 2008 at three institutions: Auckland Zoo, Hamilton Zoo, and the University of Otago. Most of these frogs had originally been held at the University of Canterbury for several years (2000-2004) but some were collected directly from the wild. Radiographs on archived and live frogs showed that MBD had been present at Canterbury, but at a lower rate (3%) than in the current institutions (38-67%). Microcomputed tomography showed that the femoral diaphyses of the captive frogs at Auckland Zoo had greater bone volume, bone surface, cross-sectional thickness, and mean total cross-sectional bone perimeter, which is consistent with osteofluorosis. On histology of the same femurs, there was hyperplasia, periosteal growth, and thickening of trabeculae, which are also consistent with skeletal fluorosis. An increase in fluoride levels in the water supply preceded the rise in the incidence of the above pathology, further supporting the diagnosis of osteofluorosis. Analysis of long-standing husbandry practices showed that ultraviolet B (UVB) exposure and the dietary calcium:phosphorus ratio were deficient when compared with wild conditions-likely causing chronic underlying MBD. To prevent multifactorial MBD in captive Leiopelma, the authors recommend increasing dietary calcium by incorporating into the captive diet inherently calcium-rich invertebrates; increasing exposure to natural or artificial (UVB) light; and using defluoridated water. Addressing these three factors at Auckland Zoo reduced morbidity, bone fractures, and mortality rates.

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