The information that follows is a guide to the more common reptile health problems. We have tried to include information and advice that will help you with ‘non emergency’ problems.
However, if your reptile is seriously unwell, collapsed, seriously injured or in a state of ‘extremis’ please do NOT waste time reading here. You need veterinary support beyond any advice we can offer here. We will not recommend or attempt to prescribe medication in this guide but may suggest basic home or ‘over the counter’ remedies.
We will give advice that works for us but can not take responsibility for outcomes. If in doubt your first port of call should be your vet. For the non emergency situation you are of course welcome to contact Grinning Gecko for advice.
You can contact us via our contact page or Facebook . If you have purchased a reptile from us, you will have our contact telephone number. You are welcome to ring at anytime for advice. Please leave a message if we don’t reply and we will get back to you asap. Please remember for emergencies you need a vet. Please make sure you have your vets contact details readily available before that dreaded emergency arises.
My reptile wont eat. One of the most frequent problems people ask us about is that of their reptile refusing to eat, or to give the problem its proper name, anorexia.
There are several reasons for any reptile to become anorexic. Some of the causes of anorexia are easy to fix whilst others require more complex intervention. Thankfully the most common causes are easy to fix. Many reptiles will go for very long periods without food and come to no harm. They do of course normally need some fluid. It is a good idea to weigh your reptile regularly. A drop of up to 10% in body weight is not normally cause for concern. However a sustained or rapid drop in weight demands urgent investigation. Here are a few reasons why your reptile might refuse food and the strategies to employ to get it eating again.
Environmental : If a reptile is not eating, the first consideration should always be its environment. A reptile will not eat if the temperature within its enclosure is incorrect. It will be reluctant to eat if it feels insecure or any of the conditions within its environment are wrong. Check every aspect of your reptiles environment. It is easy for a heat mat to fail or a thermostat to go out of range without the owner noticing. Simple correction of the problem often results in the animals appetite quickly returning.
Relocation Stress : When we introduce a reptile to a new enclosure it enters into what is regarded as a period of ‘relocation stress’. During this period the reptile will be reluctant to eat. It needs time to adjust and settle into its new environment. Once it is feeling secure it will usually start eating. It does not matter if this is a newly purchased reptile or moving an established reptile into a new enclosure, the solution is the same.
Helping a reptile get over relocation stress is quite simple and the more disciplined you are in regards to keeping to the following regime the more quickly the stress period will pass. For a new reptile simply pop it into its newly furnished enclosure. For an established reptile transfer some of its old enclosure furnishings into its new home. This will give it familiar scents. Once the reptile is in its new home, absolutely strict HANDS OFF until the animal is eating.
It is tempting, especially with a new reptile,to get it out and begin handling it. To do so will simply prolong the period of relocation stress and the reptiles anorexia. Do not try to coax or tempt it with food, just offer its normal food and water each evening.
You may think you are helping your reptile by wiggling a juicy worm in front of it but you are actually adding to the stress. If you are offering food in a dish, worms for example, watch to see which hiding spot is favored by your reptile and place the dish close to that spot. (For snakes offer food after one week). The quieter the room that the enclosure is in, the less human traffic passing by, the more quickly the reptile will recover from relocation stress.
For nocturnal species, a towel draped over half of the front glass of a vivarium can help the occupant feel more secure. Drape it over the side that the animal appears to settle in. You will know when your reptile is eating when it starts depositing poops in its enclosure. Once you see poops deposited on a regular basis you know that it is eating and its time to start handling it.
Seasonal : In spring, some female reptiles go off their food during periods of ovulation. Again this is of no great significance providing weight is maintained. Similarly, males often go off their food as their focus is on finding a female to mate. Thankfully in both these instances, hunger eventually takes priority over the desire to reproduce. Speaking with other keepers and breeders via Internet reptile groups and forums can often provide reassurance at these times.
Seasonal anorexia is a common problem faced by many reptile keepers and it often causes a bit of anxiety. A healthy reptile kept in optimal conditions is however unlikely to starve itself. Parasites : We will discuss parasites further down the page. However internal parasites such as pin worm or hook worm can cause anorexia.
Impaction : Impaction or blockage of the gut is another of the more serious cause of anorexia and is discussed further down the page. My reptile wont drink and is becoming dehydrated. This is a slightly less common problem than anorexia but it is vital that it is corrected swiftly. A reptile will succumb to dehydration much more quickly than to anorexia. Even species from the driest of areas need some form of hydration.
The first steps in regards to dealing with a reptile that isn’t drinking is of course to check environmental conditions are optimal. Are you using the correct method for offering your reptile water to drink ? It would be easy,but wrong, to assume that all reptiles will drink from a bowl. Many species will only drink droplets of water off leaves and cage furnishings.
For these a daily (or more frequent depending on species and conditions) spraying will meet their hydration needs. Others will only drink water that is dripping. Some, for example many species of chameleon, will only drink from moving droplets of water. For these the use of a ‘drip system’ with the droplets falling onto a leaf or branch will often suffice. Others will drink from a bowl, providing the bowl is in an area where the animal feels secure and the bowl is of a depth suitable for the animal.
Obviously caution is needed to ensure that the bowl is of a size and depth so that the animal cant drown. Is the water quality good for your reptile ? If water is stagnant,contaminated with faeces or dead insects your reptile probably wont want to drink it. Tap water often smells of chlorine which would again put your reptile off drinking. For this reason we recommend the use of filtered water for all reptiles. If you do not have access to a filter then allow the water to stand in an open container for 24 hours before offering it to your reptile.
This will ensure any chlorine dissipates before offering it to your reptile. It is also worth pointing out that a lot of a reptiles fluid requirement is met through its live food. For this reason it is vital that your livefood is hydrated before it is offered to your reptile.
Inclusion of moist fruit and vegetables in your ‘gut load’ will contribute towards ensuring your feeder insects are hydrated. The dehydrated reptile: A dehydrated reptile is a serious concern and urgent action is needed to rehydrate it. The eyes of a dehydrated reptile will look dull and sunken, the mouth will appear dry, its skin will feel drier and less elastic than normal.
The animal will appear sluggish and lethargic. This is bordering on an emergency situation and if the situation is not corrected swiftly then an emergency veterinary appointment is needed. If the species will tolerate it, a soak in a bath of warm water for 10 or 15 minutes may provide the hydration needed. This is a typical first aid strategy for larger lizards such as bearded dragons. If this is not practical, as with smaller species, gently spraying short bursts of warm water onto the reptile and surrounding enclosure furnishings may stimulate the animal to lap up water.
Alternatively, a small amount of water dripped onto the snout of the reptile may be lapped up as it trickles down to the crease between the jaws. Be careful to ensure that water does not run into the nostrils. You can use commercial reptile rehydration products such as Komodo Revitalive if your reptile is clearly dehydrated.
There are several such preparations on the market and it is a good idea to keep one of them in your ‘reptile first aid’ kit. These preparations correct both fluid and electrolyte loss and many include glucose to provide the animal with a source of energy. It is essential that you mix these products exactly as the packaging recommends. A rehydration solution that is under or over concentrated can do more harm than good.
Over concentration for example can cause diahorrea which results in further fluid loss and worsening of dehydration. A dehydrated reptile is a sick reptile. If symptoms or the problem are not swiftly brought under control please seek veterinary advice as a matter of urgency.
My reptile is struggling to shed properly. This is another problem that is often caused by environmental or husbandry problems. Shedding is a natural occurrence with all reptiles periodically going through a period of shed. In most instances the reptile sheds without intervention from its owner. Sometimes we don’t notice when a reptile is coming into shed. It will often hide away and emerge when the shed is complete.
The first the keeper knows of the shed having taken place is their pet looking resplendent in its bright new skin. With most species, prior to shed the skin looses its vibrant colour and takes on a dusty hue. Immediately prior to shed, the layer of skin to be discarded begins to loosen from the skin below. All reptiles benefit from a little extra humidity at times of shed.
This often involves little more than a few extra sprays of the enclosure for species like crested geckos,or a moist hide moved partially onto the heat source for leopard geckos, even a soak in a warm bath for bearded dragons. Your research prior to acquiring your reptile should have provide information on the species normal shedding behaviour and the actions you need to take leading up to a shed. Unfortunately, even if conditions are perfect, some reptiles have problems at times of shedding. Often the remedies are simple and the problems quickly resolved.
Key areas of concern following a shed are the eyes, tips of toes, tips of tail and any areas where stuck shed can constrict blood supply. A useful product to have in any reptile keepers ‘first aid’ kit is a bottle of ZooMed Reptile Shedding Aid. This product is available from most reptile shops or online reptile stores. Sprayed directly onto the stuck shed and gently rubbed in, it usually helps the stuck shed melt away.
If you do not have access to this product, a smear of pure olive or vegetable oil may help soften and loosen the stuck shed. For smaller lizards and geckos with shed stuck to their toes it is sometimes possible to pop them into a small tub for a soak and sauna. Place a folded wad of kitchen roll in something like a cricket tub and add warm water till it is slightly higher than the paper.
Put the lizard in the tub ensuring the water is not too deep and put on the lid. Place the tub on top of the enclosure heat mat for approximately 15 minutes. The humidity and warm water will loosen any stubborn shed. If you do attempt this method it is very important that you do not leave the reptile unattended. If it appears distressed or in difficulty it is of course vital that it is removed and returned to its enclosure.
For larger lizards and snakes a soak in a warm bath, either a large bowl or tub, will result in stuck shed coming away with ease. One important consideration with snakes that have shed is ensuring they have not retained eye caps. A snakes eyes are protected from scratches by a layer of skin. As the snake comes up to shed, a fluid is secreted under this protective layer in preparation for peeling away as the skin on the head sheds.
It is this fluid that gives a snake its ‘blue eyes’ as it comes into shed. The eye caps generally peel away as part of the full shed leaving a new protective layer over the eyes. When your snake sheds it is always a good idea to unravel the shed and check that the eye caps have come away.
If you suspect your snake has retained an eye cap there are methods for remove them. However these should only be attempted if you are confident in handling and restraining your snake for the procedure. For the novice keeper we would recommend that you speak to an experienced snake keeper first. Done correctly, the retained caps can be removed quite easily but done incorrectly, damage to the delicate eye is possible.
Tail Loss ~ Caudal Autotomy Many species of gecko and lizard have a last resort defence mechanism for distractin a predator. This is the ability to ‘drop their tail’. When the reptile feels its life is in imminent danger, it detaches its tail, normally at the base. The detached tail will wriggle and squirm for up to 15 minutes. The hope is that the predator will seize the discarded tail giving its owner the chance to flee. The process of detaching the tail is quite fascinating. It involves the use of powerful muscles, fracture plates at the base of the tail and blood vessels that rapidly constrict ensuring the lizard doesn’t bleed to death from the wound left by the dropped tail.
Some species can regenerate their tails whereas others are destined to spend the rest of their lives tail-less. Leopard Geckos are one of the species that is able to regenerate its tail, although the ‘regen tail’ will never have the same shape as the original. It will still serve its purpose as a fat reserve though. A crested gecko can not regenerate its tail. Cresties without tails are often referred to as ‘frog bums’. Interestingly, when cresties were discovered it was thought to be a species of gecko that evolved with out a tail. None of the specimens captured from the wild had tails. !! It was only when bred in captivity that it was discovered cresties do in fact possess tails.
What to do if your gecko drops its tail : Providing the gecko is handled carefully ‘tail drop’ is not a common occurrence. Most incidents of tail loss are the result of accidental injury, such as the tail caught in a door or aggression from enclosure mates.
Obviously encounters with potential or actual predators outside of the geckos enclosure are likely to induce tail drop. If some unfortunate situation arises and your gecko or lizard drops its tail, the first thing to say is , don’t panic. There is actually very little you can do. Check the animal over for any other signs of injury. There should be minimal bleeding from the tail stump and we don’t generally recommend applying anything to the wound.
The wound will dry up very quickly and within few days you will see the healing process is well underway. Ensure your gecko has optimal conditions within its enclosure. On the rare occasions we have had leopard geckos drop their tail we simply switch to kitchen roll in their moist hide for a few days. For species such as crested geckos, just keep their enclosure clean and keep up with the spraying etc.
The most important thing you can do is ensure that the gecko or lizard has the best possible nutrition. It needs this for the wound to heal, for the tail to regenerate and to replenish any fat reserves lost with the tail. If the animal can regenerate its tail you will soon see the nub of a new tail beginning to show. You will be amazed by how quickly the regeneration process takes place.
Minor Cuts and Grazes. As with any pet, reptiles can sustain minor injuries such as cuts and grazes. These normally heal very quickly. However it is worth considering what you should do should your pet reptile sustain an injury. The first priority is assessing the severity of the injury. If it is a deep wound, if bleeding is severe or is not stopping then veterinary treatment is required.
For minor wounds, there is usually no great need for intervention. You can gently remove any debris from the wound by rinsing it with cooled boiled water. If necessary you can clean the wound with Tamodine wound and skin cleanser, available from most reptile shops or online reptile stores. ( A good item to have in your reptile first aid kit) It can be applied daily with a cotton bud. Obviously you will want to avoid getting dirt into the wound.
If necessary consider removing any particulate substrate and switching to kitchen roll until the wound begins to heal. Reptile skin has remarkable healing properties and wounds tend to heal very quickly. If the wound does not appear to be healing, if it becomes red or inflamed or produces any discharge you need to contact your vet. In this situation it is possible that the wound has become infected and needs appropriate treatment.
Parasites Reptiles are just like any other pet, they are at risk of picking up parasites. Parasites can be either internal or external and require intervention to rid them from your reptile. The first line of defence in combating parasite problems is hygiene. Hand washing before, in between and after handling reptiles will help prevent transmission of parasites from one reptile to another.
Quarantine of new animals before they are introduced to the rest of your collection will significantly reduce the risk of unwittingly introducing parasites to the rest of your reptiles. Good enclosure maintenance and correct environmental conditions will help to reduce the opportunity for parasites to overwhelm your reptile. This will be explained more fully in the text that follows.
Internal Parasites : The most common internal parasites for reptiles are pin worm and hookworm. These parasites are present all around us. They are easy to acquire and thankfully fairly easy to eradicate from an effected animal. Pin worm and Hookworm are members of a parasite group called nematodes. They have a direct life cycle and unlike many parasites they do not need an intermediate host to transmit them from one animal to another.
The adult worm resides in the gut of the effected animal. From here it produces eggs that are expelled in the animals excrement. The eggs are then scattered across the environment awaiting another animal to ingest them. Most wild reptiles carry low levels of nematode parasites without any significant effect on their health. It is thought by some that these parasites are a natural part of the guts ‘flora’ and in some way aid in digestion.
Understanding why these internal parasites do not generally cause problems to their hosts in the wild will give insight into how to manage them in captive reptiles. Many species of wild reptile establish a specific area for defaecation. This means that the reptile is not constantly in close proximity to faeces and reduces the risk of ingesting more eggs.
The faecal waste is often exposed to the sun which has a baking effect causing desiccation of any eggs contained within the faeces. The heat from the sun also causes thermal destruction of the eggs and the UV rays provide a degree of sterilisation. These factors reduce the number of viable parasite eggs available for ingestion, a contributing factor towards avoidance of an overwhelming parasite load. In the captive environment the situation is of course markedly different.
Even in the largest of enclosures, the reptile is in close proximity to its faecal waste. The smaller the enclosure, the closer the proximity. This means any eggs in the faecal waste are quickly transmitted around the enclosure. The captive environment does not have the destructive effect of the sun on any parasite eggs, thus eggs remain viable for much longer periods within the captive environment.
With a flick of the tongue the reptile can ingest the viable eggs and eventually levels of parasites in the animals gut can become overwhelming making the animal very unwell. My gecko has pin worm, does this mean I bough him from a bad breeder, does it mean I am a bad keeper ? Absolutely NOT. Any responsible breeder or keeper will go to great lengths to avoid parasites such as pin worm in their collection. Sadly, despite the most rigorous standards of husbandry, the accidental introduction of parasites into the collection is a possibility.
These common parasites are all around us. If a cricket or meal worm has been fed food contaminated with parasite eggs it can be an indirect route of transmitting the parasite to a reptile. That one occasion where you have been in the garden and fail to wash your hands before handling your gecko could simply be enough to transmit pin worm eggs.
We try our best to ensure our reptiles are free from pin worm etc. We carry out regular parasite screening throughout the year and would treat any effected animal. However I would not, and doubt any other breeder would guarantee that their animals are free from pin worm. They can however guarantee that they have done everything possible to reduce the risk. We have purchased animals from some of the best breeders in the world and on arrival carried out parasite screens.
These animals have been in perfect health, robust, strong, good sized reptiles. On carrying out a faecal screen we have at times found low levels of pin worm or hook worm eggs. The fact that these animals appear in such fantastic health despite the presence of very low level parasites is testament to the excellent care they have received. It shows the animals have been kept in conditions where parasite levels have not been allowed to escalate and overwhelm the animal.
They must have been kept in very hygienic conditions, optimal environments and in receipt of good nutrition. These effected reptiles respond very well to treatment. On the other side of the scale, we have been asked to help out with reptiles that have been very unwell because of an overwhelming parasite load. On carrying out screening, the microscope slide was covered with large numbers of eggs unlike those above where possibly only two or three eggs were seen.
It raises questions as to how the overwhelming levels of parasites has become established. These reptiles need urgent treatment to save their lives. The treatment strategy is however the same for the mildest or most severe infestations. We carry out our own faecal screening for parasites. However this is not practical for most people. You need several bits of equipment including a microscope and of course you need to know what you are looking for under the microscope.
If you wish to get faecal screening carried out you can get sample analysed at Pinmore Animal Laboratory Services. . The most commonly prescribed medication to treat internal parasites is a drug called Fenbendazole. This drug is prescribed according to the reptiles weight. We are not vets so will not attempt to provide a dosing regime etc. Please contact your vet if you think, or testing has confirmed your reptile has internal parasites.
It is important to realise that medication alone will NOT rid your reptile of its parasite problem. The medication kills the live worms in your reptiles gut and causes the eggs to become dislodged. The eggs are then expelled. However the expelled eggs are still viable or ‘live’. Your reptile can easily reingest them starting the parasite cycle over again. It is vital that the enclosure and ALL furnishings are disinfected every day during the treatment period and if possible straight after the reptiles passes faeces.
For this reason it is best to keep the reptile in an enclosure with the absolute minimum of furnishings and on a substrate of kitchen roll. Please remember, parasites are easy to acquire but also easy to prevent. Hygiene is your strongest ally in the fight against parasites. Please disinfect your hands, before, in between and after handling your reptile.
External Parasites : Personally I think external parasites are a much greater challenge than the common internal parasites. The most common external parasites in reptiles are mites. Red or Black, these little mites are a real pest. If they reach overwhelming numbers on the reptile they make its life a misery.
Mites that effect reptiles do not generally effect humans or non reptile species. They can however quickly spread through out a reptile collection. Red mites are commonly seen on wild caught lizards that are imported into the pet trade. Treatment given (if any) prior to the point of sale of wild caught specimens is not always effective. Black mites are more commonly seen on snakes and are again, easily transmitted around a collection. In the case of mites, prevention really is the best cure.
When you acquire a new reptile examine it closely for signs of mites. Around the ears and eyes, in the skin folds and armpits, look for the tell tale dots. Obviously if the animal has mites, refrain from buying it, or bringing it home until it has had treatment to eradicate them. When you bring any new reptile home, it should be quarantined away from the rest of your reptiles.
If possible keep the reptile on a substrate of kitchen roll and check this regularly, along with checks on the animal,to look for signs of mites. If the reptile is spending a lot of time soaking in its water bowl it could be a sign of it being irritated by mites. Check the water bowl for any evidence of shed mites. For some of the very small and fast lizards, it can be challenging to examine them for mites.
A photograph of the lizard, with a zoomed in view may reveal the tiny red dots of mites that are easily missed by the naked eye. What to do if you discover mites. The first thing to do is of course isolate the reptile away from any others. Mites can travel some distance independent of their host. There are numerous products on the market for the treatment of mites.
However you need to be extremely cautious and selective in their use. I would strongly recommend that you use a product prescribed by a suitably experienced reptile specialist vet. Some species are extremely sensitive to certain mite killers.
One product is widely used by snake keepers yet for a small number of snake species it is lethal. Used incorrectly mite sprays can be lethal. Please seek veterinary support or discuss treatment with keepers experienced with your species before attempting to use ANY chemical mite treatment.
For mildly effected animals it is sometimes possible to wipe the mites off with a cotton bud or cover them in vaseline. A bit of research on the Internet will yield countless non chemical methods of dealing with minor mite problems. However it is important to remember that a small number of mites can quickly become a large number. There is a method of helping to combat mites that we will thoroughly recommend.
That is the use of ‘defender mites’. These can be purchased from Bioactive UK. Defender mites are mites that feed on the mites that effect lizards. Sprinkled onto moist substrate, these little mites will feed of the reptile mites and their eggs. Once they have destroyed all the mites and their eggs they die off. If your reptile is heavily infested with mites you are likely to need a chemical solution.
However for small numbers, using the defender mites may avoid the use of any chemicals and their associated risks. It is also worth using defender mites following chemical treatment. Once all chemical treatment is finished and all traces of the chemicals erased, introduction of defender mites will give a final level of security in ensuring no mites or mite eggs evaded the chemical treatment. The chemicals used to treat reptile mites would also kill the ‘defender mites’ so the two methods of treatment can not be combined.
Full explanation of how to use the ‘Defender Mites’ accompanies the package accompanying your supply. However if you speak to Tarron at BioActive Herps, he will guide you through the biological treatment for mites. The best cure for mites is prevention. Left unchecked mites would swiftly infest a whole collection. Always quarantine new reptiles and check them thoroughly for mites before introducing them to your other reptiles. Hand hygiene is of course essential in preventing the spread of infestation or disease through your reptiles.
Impaction is a condition where the reptiles gut becomes blocked and stagnant. The reptiles abdomen becomes distended, it may well be in pain and it needs urgent intervention. Often this required intervention is surgery to remove the obstruction. Sadly many reptiles die from impaction before it can be successfully operated on. Often the choice of substrate is blamed for impaction, however in many cases, substrate choice is only part of the problem. Impaction is a multi factorial problem and all of these factors need looking at if you wish to avoid your reptile becomes impacted.
To begin with, the most basic form of impaction is that where the lizard ingests something that is too large and indigestable to pass through the gut. A gecko that lunge feeds may accidentally swallow something like a piece of bark chipping. This causes an immediate blockage that can only be alleviated by surgery. Ensuring your reptile is kept on the appropriate substrate vastly reduces the risk of this type of impaction. In other instances, impaction occurs gradually.
It is a classic problem with leopard geckos kept on sand. However sand alone is not generally the reason for the lizard becoming impacted. Small grains of sand should pass easily through a leopard geckos gut. When the gecko strikes and captures prey on sand, it is inevitable that it will ingest the occasional grain of sand. When other conditions within the leopard geckos environment are incorrect, the small grains of sand fail to pass through the gut, eventually accumulating and clumping together to form a complete blockage.
The other factors contributing to this blockage are the temperatures at which the gecko is kept. If temperatures are too low, the motility or movement of the gut slows down creating greater opportunity for the particles to accumulate. Dehydration further effects the speed particles are passed through the gut, it allows particles to bind together and solidify more easily. The end result of an impacted or fully blocked gut is a life threatening emergency.
Although we have mentioned Leopard Geckos in this situation, all reptiles can become impacted if substrate and conditions are wrong. We advise against keeping Leopard Geckos on any form of particulate substrate. If you keep your reptile on a particulate substrate it is worth keeping an eye on their faeces and if it appears to contain a significant amount of substrate it is time to consider a change.
If you suspect your lizard is becoming impacted, if it hasnt opened its bowels for some time or its belly looks a little distended, a warm bath may alleviate any blockage. A drop of olive oil dripped on the snout may be licked up by the reptile and help lubricate the passage for any particles to pass through. However if your lizard appears to be fully impacted, its belly hard and swollen please contact your vet as a matter of urgency. It is unlikely that you will be able to alleviate the blockage without veterinary help.
Metabolic Bone Disease is a complex disease connected with deficiencies in the calcium metabolism. It is beyond the scope of this guide to fully explain metabolic bone disease but I will post a number of articles regarding MBD in the links section. Simplified this disease is one that effects bones and joints because of some disruption in the calcium metabolism. The balance between calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D3 has been compromised. Bones weaken, they loose calcium and begin to bend, joints weaken and become inflamed.
The reptile will have visible swelling and deformity. It is generally recommended that all lizards reptiles receive some form of calcium supplement as part of their nutritional requirements. Often pure powdered calcium is left in a dish within the enclosure so that the reptile can access calcium when ever it requires. However calcium alone is not enough to prevent MBD. Without the correct level of vitamin D3, the reptile can not absorb and use the calcium it receives. Vitamin D3 is a vital component of the calcium metabolism and lack of vitamin D3 is one of the main contributing factors for MBD.
Vitamin D3 is the ‘sunshine’ vitamin. It is naturally synthesised when reptiles (or humans) are exposed to sunlight. This is why for many species, exposure to an appropriate level of effective UVB lighting is essential. A process within the reptiles physiology allows it to absorb enough UVB through the skin to synthesise the exact amount of vitamin D3 required. Vitamin D3 can become toxic and too much as damaging as too little.
However there is no danger of the reptile synthesising too much vitamin D3 while exposed to UVB. As soon as it has achieved the correct levels of vitamin D3, the process of absorbing the UVB rays stops. Despite provision of UVB , all reptiles, should receive vitamin and mineral supplementation. A good vitamin and mineral supplement will play a massive part in preventing metabolic bone disease. Nocturnal or crepuscular species are even more dependent on supplements for achieving the correct balance of calcium and vitamin D3.
At Grinning Gecko we recommend Repashy Calcium plus for routine vitamin and mineral supplementation. All Repashy products, including their complete diets such as crestie food, have an accurate and finely balanced vitamin and mineral content. Safety of supplementation combined with UVB exposure. It is becoming widely encouraged, that where ever possible that even nocturnal or crepuscular species are provided with low levels of UVB lighting. However some keepers have voiced concern over this because of a fear that the reptile will receive too much vitamin D3.
This fear although understandable is unfounded. Providing a properly formulated vitamin and mineral supplementation is used correctly, there is no danger of vitamin D3 toxicity when combined with UVB exposure. Think of vitamin D3 levels on a scale of 1 to 10. If the reptiles vitamin D3 levels are below 4, it does not have enough vitamin D3. If however its score is 9 or 10 the vitamin D3 levels in the lizard are dangerous and toxic. The optimal levels of vitamin D3 on this scale are therefore between 4 and 8.
Impaction is a condition where the reptiles gut becomes blocked and stagnant. The reptiles abdomen becomes distended, it may well be in pain and it needs urgent intervention. Often this required intervention is surgery to remove the obstruction. Sadly many reptiles die from impaction before it can be successfully operated on. Often the choice of substrate is blamed for impaction, however in many cases, substrate choice is only part of the problem. Impaction is a multi factorial problem and all of these factors need looking at if you wish to avoid your reptile becomes impacted. To begin with, the most basic form of impaction is that where the lizard ingests something that is too large and indigestable to pass through the gut. A gecko that lunge feeds may accidentally swallow something like a piece of bark chipping. This causes an immediate blockage that can only be alleviated by surgery.
Ensuring your reptile is kept on the appropriate substrate vastly reduces the risk of this type of impaction. In other instances, impaction occurs gradually. It is a classic problem with leopard geckos kept on sand. However sand alone is not generally the reason for the lizard becoming impacted. Small grains of sand should pass easily through a leopard geckos gut. When the gecko strikes and captures prey on sand, it is inevitable that it will ingest the occasional grain of sand. When other conditions within the leopard geckos environment are incorrect, the small grains of sand fail to pass through the gut, eventually accumulating and clumping together to form a complete blockage.
The other factors contributing to this blockage are the temperatures at which the gecko is kept. If temperatures are too low, the motility or movement of the gut slows down creating greater opportunity for the particles to accumulate. Dehydration further effects the speed particles are passed through the gut, it allows particles to bind together and solidify more easily. The end result of an impacted or fully blocked gut is a life threatening emergency. Although we have mentioned Leopard Geckos in this situation, all reptiles can become impacted if substrate and conditions are wrong. We advise against keeping Leopard Geckos on any form of particulate substrate. If you keep your reptile on a particulate substrate it is worth keeping an eye on their faeces and if it appears to contain a significant amount of substrate it is time to consider a change. If you suspect your lizard is becoming impacted, if it hasnt opened its bowels for some time or its belly looks a little distended, a warm bath may alleviate any blockage. A drop of olive oil dripped on the snout may be licked up by the reptile and help lubricate the passage for any particles to pass through. However if your lizard appears to be fully impacted, its belly hard and swollen please contact your vet as a matter of urgency. It is unlikely that you will be able to alleviate the blockage without veterinary help.
A correctly balanced vitamin and mineral supplement should provide your reptile with just enough vitamin D3 for the level to sit around 6. Not too much, not too little but midway of the optimal levels for your reptile. Now when we add the UVB lighting, the reptile can bask and safely absorb more UVB. It can synthesise vitamin D3 to the levels its physiology demands. It can increase the level up to 8 IF required. However once those levels hit 8, the process stops and no more vitamin D3 is made. So providing a quality vitamin and mineral supplement is used, one that does not take vitamin D3 levels beyond the optimal levels its use in combination with low levels of UVB lighting is perfectly safe.
Cryptosporidium If one word can fill a reptile keeper with dread, its the word ‘crypto’. Cryptosporidium, generally referred to as ‘crypto’ is a virulant disease effecting reptiles with as yet, no effective cure. It is a disease that it is resistant to virtually all disinfectant methods available to the keeper. It is a disease that is transmitted by spores and these spores are resistant to most chemical disinfectants and extremes of temperature. Sadly it is a disease that has wiped out whole collections of reptiles. It is possible for a reptile to carry crypto without it showing any symptoms. This is another reason all new reptiles should be quarantined for a period of 3 months before introducing them to the rest of your reptile collection.
If you wish, you can contact Pinmore Animal Laboratory Services to arrange a crypto screen for your reptile. However an accurate screen requires analysis of 3 faecal samples. The screening uses specialist techniques to identify cryptosporidium spores in the faeces. However these spores are only shed from the gut lining intermittently thus several screens are required to exclude false negatives.
Crypto effected animals will as the disease progresses suffer dramatic weight loss. In advanced crypto the reptile will regurgitate any ingested shed bundles. It will pass foul smelling faeces, initially of a cottage cheese consistency and eventually watery diahorrea. There is no effective treatment and the animal is best humanely euthenised. Thankfully, despite its fearful reputation, crypto is not as common as many other reptile health problems and diseases. Careful selection of your new reptile from a respectable breeder or store,rigorous hygiene standardsand strict quarantine procedures will play a massive part in ensuring you do not have to deal with the nightmare of a crypto effected reptile collection. An article providing more information on Cryptosporidium and reptiles is accessible via the links section.
Salmonella The issue of Salmonella is discussed fully in our ‘Parents Guide’ and a link to Becky Clarks report is available the links page. Reptiles can carry salmonella, and if you suspect yours is a carrier, discuss this with your vet. If your reptile has been confirmed to have Salmonella please speak to your vet. Generally the risk of acquiring Salmonella is absolutely minimal. You are at massively higher risk of contracting Salmonella from a ‘take way’ or handling raw chicken. Petting a cat or dog carries more health risks than correctly handled reptiles. Hand washing with antibacterial soap after handling of reptile or its equipment eliminates the risk. Obviously no eating or drinking while handling reptiles and very young children or the immune compromised should avoid handling reptiles.
Thank you for reading our ‘Guide to Common Reptile Health Problems’. We hope it has been of value to you. If there is anything you are unsure us please drop us a line. If you disagree with anything in the guide or have any suggestions for inclusion we love to hear from you. Most of all we hope your reptile has a long happy life, free of any significant health problems.