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More and more people keep reptiles such as turtles, lizards, iguanas, bearded dragons, snakes or chameleons. To be able to recognise diseases in reptiles, special knowledge is needed regarding their natural habitat, their physiology and their diet. We have specialised reptile vets to ensure the correct diagnosis and treatment of your pet.

Causes of diseases in reptiles

The causes of disease can be:

  • Incorrect temperature in the terrarium
  • Lack of heat lamps
  • Lack of or unsuitable substrate
  • Insufficient lighting
  • No or unsuitable concealment options
  • Nowhere to lay eggs
  • Environment too dry or too moist
  • Incorrect diet
  • Excessive or inadequate feeding
  • Poor hygiene in the terrarium
  • UV lamps exchanged too seldom or UV lamps with inadequate UV-B range

How do I recognise that my reptile is sick?

Sickness in reptiles is often expressed initially in behavioural changes, for example:

  • Refusal to feed
  • Little or no physical activity or unusual agitation
  • Sleeping too much

Besides the general signs of sickness, each reptile species reacts in a characteristic way to disease. The following behaviours can be evidence of sickness:

  • Many lizard and snake species become more aggressive.
  • In chameleons the skin colour changes.
  • Turtles swim and dive less and mostly lie close to the heat lamp.
  • Tortoises often burrow when they are sick.
  • Symptoms such as stomatitis or shedding problems in snakes indicate disease.

Naturally there are also numerous diseases not associated with these behaviours.

Even when the environment is in order and the animals are particularly robust, it can happen that your reptile gets sick. Note any external change or change in behaviour and get the vet to investigate the symptoms.

The reptile veterinary surgeon – what are the commonest diseases?

Just as in other animal species, there are numerous diseases that a reptile can catch. The following diseases are the most widespread:

  • Parasite infestation
  • Skin shedding problems
  • Dehydration
  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Inflammatory diseases, e.g., conjunctivitis
  • Abscesses
  • Necrosis
  • Egg binding

How do I transport my animal to the reptile vet?

Reptiles must be transported with particular care although they appear robust.

Since reptiles are cold-blooded creatures, their preferred temperature should be maintained while they are being transported. The animals should not become cold as the symptoms can weaken or disappear so an accurate diagnosis is not possible.

Transport your exotic pet therefore in an insulated container with an integral heat source, e.g., a hot water bottle or heat pad. Avoid overheating your animal too. The space should be suitable for your reptile’s size. Ideally, the transport crate will consist of easily cleaned material such as plastic or Styrofoam. Ensure that it is on a non-slip surface and don’t leave any small items in the crate as your reptile could injure itself on them during the transport. Feeding is not necessary for the short duration of transport.

If you want to bring more than one exotic pet to the reptile vet at the same time, ensure that these are placed individually in separate transport crates.

Important: be calm and careful when catching and packing the animal. Many lizards are able to shed their tail in the event of stress or danger or when they are grasped by it.

If you have to attend a reptile vet because of an emergency, the best thing is to call the veterinary clinic or practice before transporting the animal so that everything can be prepared in time for the treatment.

Reptile vets – range of services

The following services are offered by a reptile vet:

  • Emergency treatments
  • Hospitalisation is possible in a few locations
  • Advice on care
  • Overwintering check of tortoises
  • Herpesvirus and ranavirus testing of tortoises
  • Obtaining gastric lavage samples to test for cryptosporidia
  • Obtaining samples for evidence of IBD and paramyxovirus
  • Obtaining samples to test for Nidovirus
  • Parasitological tests (faecal test, flotation)
  • Laboratory tests
  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound scan

Caring for reptiles correctly to avoid disease

For reptiles and exotics to remain healthy and agile, they must be kept according to their species. Many diseases have their cause directly or indirectly in poor housing conditions. Before getting a reptile, it is essential to give intensive consideration to the conditions necessary for keeping it, for example through appropriate specialist literature on the individual species.

Most reptiles are best kept in a terrarium containing a substrate suitable for the species and of adequate depth.

All reptiles are cold-blooded and have to warm up. Special heat sources are therefore essential for keeping exotics and keeping them healthy. Classic radiant heaters are generally used for reptiles active during the day. For reptiles active at night, heat mats, heating cables, infrared or ceramic radiators are suitable, depending on the species.

The entire terrarium should have a temperature gradient adapted to the animal species. The heat lamp should enable the exotic to warm up more if necessary. The heat sources should stay on long enough so that the animals have sufficient time to warm up several times daily. Cooler areas in the  terrarium are also necessary so that the reptile can reduce its body temperature itself if necessary.

Too low temperatures lead to cooling and therefore to disease. If heat sources are lacking, or if they are too weak or attached too far distantly, the animals cannot raise their body temperature. This leads to digestive disorders and reduced immunity, among other things, which can result in metabolic disorders and infectious diseases. However, too high temperatures are also harmful to health.

Apart from heat lamps, special UV lamps that illuminate the terrarium for several hours daily are also needed. Reptiles need the UV radiation from these lamps for their calcium and bone metabolism.

It is also important that the conditions in the terrarium resemble the reptile’s natural environment as closely as possible. Appropriate soils with room for burrowing, water, plants and possibilities for concealment contribute to their well-being. This is the only way for the animals to remain healthy in the long term and feel at home in the terrarium.

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