Buying a captive-bred reptile is the best way to ensure that you will have minimal health problems during the lifetime of your pet – make sure to buy from a reputable breeder. Reptiles captured from their wild environments are shipped around the world and have to endure harsh conditions before they even get to a dealer – and may bring with them potentially fatal exotic illnesses & diseases.
One of the best ways to keep your reptile healthy & happy is to remember this simple rule – keep everything clean! That means their vivarium and all contents, and to wash your hands before & after handling.
Here are some common illnesses and how you can help:-
Loss of appetite: In an otherwise healthy reptile this is usually due to the shedding period, or temporary stress ie a move to a new home or a new addition to the vivarium. Too frequent rough handling can also cause stress and loss of appetite, as can the ambient temperature of the vivarium being too low, causing digestion to slow down or stop. This can leave food in the stomach which can rot and poison the animal, so raise the temperature straight away. If loss of appetite persists, consult your vet.
Skin shedding: Not strictly a sign of illness, more a sign of good health and growth! Although if you are a new keeper it can seem to be a sign of illness – their skin takes on a milky-white appearance, they can become grumpy and go off their food. This is all normal. Any patches of skin left after shedding should come off at the next shed, but it is important to remove any skin left around toes as this can restrict blood flow and cause toes to fall off. Gently soak in tepid water for about 15 minutes to soften the skin then remove carefully.
Tail shedding: Many lizards can shed their tails during times of stress, which can be due to fighting, feeling threatened by another lizard or predator, and rough handling. Although alarming to witness it is a defence mechanism and rarely has any ill-effect on the reptile. It shouldn’t need treatment, just keep an eye on it in case of infection. The tail will usually grow back, but will probably look stunted.
Skin grazes & cuts: Usually caused through fighting amongst themselves or possibly a sharp-edged object in the vivarium – so check everything just in case. Most small grazes & cuts can be treated with an iodine-based solution (available from vets and some pet stores) and it’s a good idea to keep some of this product in as it helps protect against infection. However if infection does set in – recognised by swelling, redness, and/or discharge at the site of injury – seek veterinary treatment immediately.
Colds: Symptoms include nasal discharge, mucous from the mouth and laboured breathing. Your reptile will probably be lethargic and off his food as well. Colds are normally caused after a reptile has become chilled, or if the ambient temperature of the vivarium is too low, and can usually be cured by raising the temperature a few degrees. If symptoms persist after this however, seek veterinary advice immediately, as your pet may need a course of antibiotics.
Mouth rot: Recognisable as a swelling in the mouth, sometimes so bad it stops the reptile from closing it’s mouth. There can also be bleeding from the gums, cheese-like deposits and understandably, lack of appetite. Most often mouth rot is caused by an injury to the mouth or from an infected, unshed tooth. Keep the area clean and remove any dead tissue with cotton buds and an antiseptic solution. Consult your vet as soon as possible, as mouth rot can be fatal if left untreated.
Mites, ticks and internal parasites: Mites are more common than ticks but so small they are very difficult to spot. Remove as many as possible by bathing the reptile in tepid water, and disinfect the vivarium and all contents. There are sprays available but they aren’t all that effective at killing mites and the eggs they lay in cracks & crevices. An insecticide strip can be purchased from your vet; place a small square (30mm) in a tub to prevent the animals accessing it, inside the vivarium, and leave for about 5 days.
Ticks are larger and easily removed either by gently twisting the body with tweezers until it lets go (don’t just pull it off as the head will be left behind and can infect), or cover the body of the tick with petroleum jelly. This will affect the ticks’ breathing and it will drop off.
Internal parasites won’t usually cause much of a problem in a healthy animal, but sometimes an infestation can flare up – symptoms being a general loss of condition ie lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss, as well as respiratory problems and blood in the faeces. Your vet will treat the reptile with a liquid wormer – DO NOT use a wormer meant for dogs or cats!
Impaction: This is where the digestive tract becomes blocked, most commonly by loose substrates ie sand, but can also be caused by large or inappropriate foodstuff. Symptoms include straining and constipation, lack of appetite, lethargy, respiratory problems, and regurgitation. In mild cases you can help the animal by changing the substrate in the vivarium, withholding solid foods, and getting as much fluid into the animal as possible. If left untreated impaction can be fatal, so seek veterinary help immediately if you suspect this.
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