Reptile Medicine 101

What’s Wrong with the Husbandry?

I personally think that reptiles can make wonderful pets.  They are, however, not for everyone.  For instance, I can’t see my grandmother owning a 12-foot python.  They may not be warm and fuzzy, and they will never be able to catch frisbees, but these are beautiful and intriguing creatures.

The most important thing to reMEMBER about reptiles is that they are not domesticated animals.  Even though some species have been captive-bred for generations, they still have the instincts of a wild animal.  They have also not been bred to be acclimated to an artificial environment or man-made diet.  Therefore, if you want your pet reptile to stay healthy and happy, then you need to emulate its natural environment and diet as much as possible.

Ninety percent of the medical problems that I treat in reptiles are directly related to improper diet and husbandry.  Ninety percent!  Iguanas with improper lighting or diet present with metabolic bone disease.  Ball pythons kept in inadequate humidity become anorexic.  Geckos and bearded dragons fed crickets on a sand substrate develop intestinal blockages.  Juvenile box turtles overfed protein outgrow their own shells.  These are just a few examples.  And don’t get me started on hot rocks.  Those things are just a thermal burn waiting to happen.

So what can you do to make sure your pet reptile stays healthy?  Learn everything you can about the species that you have, preferably before you acquire it.  Don’t just go by what the guy at the pet store says.  There is no line a hate hearing more than “The guy at the pet store told me that all I needed to feed it was [insert improper dietary item here].”  And don’t ever buy a reptile on impulse.  Juvenile iguanas sell for as little as $5 some places.  What they don’t tell you is that this little lizard is going to wind up being six feet long, weighing twelve pounds, and will probably outgrow that ten-gallon aquarium you just bought in about a month.  And, oh yeah, if you don’t get the lighting and diet right, they have a tendency to get sick and die!  Spending $5 on one of the most high-maintenance lizards in captivity no longer sounds like such a great deal, does it?

With the advent of the internet, a plethora of information is available on virtually any species of reptile within minutes.  I know that it is hard to tell the good from the bad sometimes.  Start at www.anapsid.org or www.kingsnake.com.  If you can’t find it there, there is probably a link to it.  If you still can’t find it, email me at hannondvm@msn.com; I’ll email you a link.

The second most important thing that you can do to keep your herp healthy is to have it examined by a qualified reptile veterinarian, preferably right after you buy it.  By qualified, I mean a vet that is a MEMBER of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV).  A list of MEMBERs is available at www.arav.org.  Participation in this organization means that the vet in question has made an effort to continually educate him/herself in reptile medicine.  Most reptile veterinarians, such as myself, are also very willing to hand out care sheets and other husbandry and diet information on the species that they treat, so that you know you are getting information from a reliable source.

The reason I started Vet Pets Animal Hospital and Pet Store is because I grew very tired of dealing with the quality of animal and information that was coming out of the local pet stores, particularly the big box retailers.  Instead of just telling my clients where to go and what to buy, I could offer it to them right then and there, and not have to hear later that “They didn’t have what you recommended, but the guy at the pet store told me that this was just as good!”  I want all of my clients’ reptile pets to live as long and stay as healthy as all the other types of animals I treat.  And reMEMBER that the best way to do that is to not let them realize that they are living in captivity.

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