By: David Balderrama, DVM
Imagine for a moment that you and your pet reptile switched places for a day. You are now a lizard (or turtle or snake) living in the world's smallest artificial rain forest (or desert perhaps).
Unfortunately, you are now "cold-blooded," meaning your body temperature now depends on your environment. If it's freezing outside, so are you. Equally unfortunate is the fact that the temperatures in your artificial jungle are not quite what you would find in your natural home.
The food that is offered is usually different from what you would hunt or eat in the wild. And to make things worse, practically everyday you are lifted up out of your home by a giant "predator" and for some mysterious reason decides not to eat you and places you back in your home.
Gradually, month by month, all these daily stressors take a toll on your primitive immune system. You try to fight it off but every ounce of natural instinct inside is telling you that "if I hide my weakness and look strong and healthy, maybe the giant won't eat me!"
Humans-Welcome to the life of your pet reptile!
Unlike a dog or a cat, your pet reptile will not be able to wimper, whine, or vocalize when they are in pain, in distress, or simply not feeling well. Just because your pet reptile is alert, eating and defecating does not necessarily mean it is healthy.
Reptiles are under constant stress by nature. By the time the owner notices that something is wrong your pet reptile may be seriously ill.
Remember, reptiles are the masters of hiding signs of weakness and disease. Fortunately, you do not need to wait until your reptile is ill to consult with a qualified reptile veterinarian.
Reptiles do not have a "one size fits all" mentality when it comes to behavior. For example, a nocturnal Leopard Gecko is different from a Bearded Dragon who prefers to bask in the sunlight during the day. The best thing you can do for your pet reptile (ideally before you purchase your pet) is to research it's needs while in captivity as well as it's natural behavior. If you don't know the natural behavior of your reptile, then you may miss the early signs of stress or disease and you may not realize it until it is too late.
Once you have a proper understanding of how your pet reptile is supposed to act when it's healthy, you will hopefully be able to detect problems early and alert your veterinarian. Use the following list as a general guideline to know if it is time to take your reptile to the vet.
- Changes in eating or drinking habits - Increased? Decreased? Not eating or drinking at all? Any vomiting or regurgitation? excessive water soaking?
- Shedding problems - incomplete,prolonged or lack of shedding? retained eyecaps present? not shedding in one piece (snakes)?
- Changes in stool or urine production - any straining? increased waste production? decreased waste production? changes in stool appearance?
- Lumps or bumps present - or blisters? scabs? bruises? inflammation or redness?
- Changes in general appearance - weight loss or gain? skin color changes? any swelling of the limbs, jaw, tail or digits? lesions or soft spots on the shell (turtles)?
- Activity level changes - acting more lethargic? more active than usual? hiding a lot lately? staying in only one corner of the cage? generalized weakness?
- Limping or lameness - any paralysis? less climbing activity than usual? signs of trauma?
- Behavioral changes - acting more aggressive? more lethargic? tremors or seizures? excessive digging?
- Changes in posture - acting disoriented? unable to assume normal posture? excessive vertical positioning (snakes)?
- Breathing problems - open mouth breathing? wheezing or squeaking sounds? excessive saliva? bubbles coming from nostrils?
Remember, as your veterinarians we are skilled and proficient in reptile medicine, and are an invaluable source of information.
At All Creatures Animal Hospital we recommend annual exams and annual stool samples (to check for internal parasites) for all pet reptiles. During the annual exam, we will conduct a husbandry review for your reptile as well. Often we will also recommend annual blood tests to screen for any diseases or illnesses.
Remember, your pet reptile cannot tell you when it is feeling ill and may be hiding it from you until it is too late. Feel free to contact any of the veterinarians at All Creatures Animal Hospital with any questions or concerns regarding husbandry or medical care for your reptiles.