In my opinion, it’s important that all vets, especially those going into a small animal practice, should know the basics for treating exotic animals. When you get out into practice and you’re not afraid to see the occasional snake or lizard, here are some of the most common illnesses that you might see in a reptile.
Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism
This is the most frequent metabolic bone disease seen in reptiles and it’s caused by poor husbandry including a diet with disproportionate calcium/phosphorus ratio and a lack of UVB lighting. It’s important for owners to know that reptiles need a diet higher in calcium than phosphorus and UVB lights need to be changed often. Even if the light is still shining, the lights’ radiation abilities wane over time. Radiographs can diagnose this disease quite easily and the correction of the husbandry concerns are key.
Those that come to mind here are due to live prey and burns. Although owners have the best intentions when offering live prey, it can be dangerous for the reptile if left unsupervised. Rodents will often times attack by biting and can leave serious wounds which can become infected if left untreated. Accidental burns are usually linked to the use of heat sources, which are critical for reptiles’ well-being. These too can lead to secondary issues such as infection and septicemia.
Reptiles are special compared to our mammals in that they have one opening for their urogenital tract as well as the end of the intestinal tract. That means they can prolapse their cloaca, colon, oviduct, and hemipenes. This can make it more challenging to figure out what is coming out in the first place! Just like with our cats and dogs, healthy tissue can be put back into place, but it’s important to get to the bottom of why the prolapse happened to begin with.
These are just a few common reasons you might see a reptile when you’re a practicing vet. It’s important to know where to find information on treating reptiles so that you may manage the patient before it’s able to see a specialist if it needs it. So don’t be afraid to learn something new, and help a scaly friend!