By Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP
If you are interested in writing in to ask me a question about your herp, there are several things that would assist me greatly in providing you with the most accurate answer possible.
First, my advice is that if you think your herp is sick, you should schedule an appointment with your herp veterinarian and not wait for me to answer in my column, as there may be significant lag time between the time you submit a question and when the answer appears in my column. Also, due to the volume of mail that I receive, unfortunately, I cannot answer every question personally. I get concerned thinking that you are awaiting a reply from me, which could waste valuable time, when you could be having your herp already examined and treated.
Please, if your herp is vomiting, regurgitating, having diarrhea, is sneezing excessively or breathing hard, or if you notice any unusual swellings, lumps or bumps, or if some unusual tissue is protruding from an orifice, or if there is a dramatic change in appetite, if there is dramatic weight gain or loss, or if you notice problems with it ambulating or moving about normally, or if you see a change in activity level, or if you have seen a change to the nose, eyes, cloaca, tail, spine or toes, or if you notice skin problems, then you should seek immediate veterinary care.
If you submit a question of general interest, or would like an explanation for a medical problem that your herp is experiencing or if you would like a “second opinion” about your herp’s care and treatment, then I would like to offer some guidelines to help me best help you.
The more information that you can provide to me, the better I will be able to advise you. So, here is a list of what information you should be able to include in your question:
1. Provide me with the species of herp (if you know the scientific name, all the better), but at least provide me with the common name.
2. Let me know if your herp is housed alone or if it is with others of the same species. If you have a mixed habitat, include what other types of creatures share its living space.
3. Include specifically what your herp consumes, how often and how much. If the food consumption has dropped off, tell me the last time your herp ate a meal, or how much of a decrease has been observed. Let me know if your herp is passing normal droppings at normal intervals, or if there has been a change in elimination habits.
4. Provide me with the size of the habitat and what it is constructed from. Let me know about ventilation, if you use fans or other methods to move air.
5. Let me know what kind of water delivery system you are using. If applicable, tell me what kind of water is offered (bottled, tap, dechlorinated, treated, etc.)
6. Include the daytime and nighttime temperature ranges of the habitat, and humidity ranges, if known. If you don’t know this information or cannot provide it because you don’t have accurate thermometers/hygrometers to measure these values, then you cannot possibly be properly caring for your herp. Describe the method of heating used (heat tapes, heating pad, infrared light, aquarium submersible heater, incandescent lighting, etc.) What is the light/dark cycle?
7. Provide the type of lighting that you are using and if you are using full-spectrum lighting (that provides UVA and UVB spectrum), make sure that you include how far from the animals the lights are located, whether or not the light passes through glass, screening or plastic barriers, how often you change out the bulb, and what kind of bulb it is. If you use a basking light, let me know what the temperature is in that area, as well. Let me know if your herp ever receives natural sunlight (not filtered through glass or plastic) and how many hours per week it has access to natural sunlight.
8. If possible, take a couple of digital photos of the cage set-up, your herp, and provide me with a close-up or two of the problem area.
9. If blood tests, radiographs (X-rays) or other veterinary tests (including physical examination results) are available, include any normal or abnormal results.
While I realize that this seems like a lot of information to include, the more information that I have, the better I will be able to assess the situation. My column is not meant to replace veterinary care. Don’t forget; if your pet is ill, you should always seek the assistance of a qualified herp veterinarian and not wait to see if I answer your question in my column. And please don’t ask me to respond personally to you via e-mail, as due to the volume of questions I receive, this is simply not possible. Some herp owners are so upset that they have included their work, home and cell phone numbers, in addition to their e-mail address. While I certainly understand that concerned pet owners are desperate for help, it is important for owners of sick herps to seek out a qualified herp vet and make an appointment to have their animal evaluated and treated as soon as possible. Your herp vet will also want to have all of the information that I have requested, so be sure to have all of your herp information ready for him or her, as well.
If you don’t have a herp vet, you have several choices. You can ask other herpers in your area whom they use and recommend. Local herp club members are an excellent source of information about herp vets in your area. You can call a couple of local veterinary clinics whose veterinarians don’t see herps, and ask them whom they recommend for herp cases. You can also call a few pet retailers that sell herps and ask them for the name of the veterinarian who help care for their reptile collection. You can also check the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarian’s website for member vets in your area. A state-by-state list of herp veterinarians is also available on ReptileChannel.com. To access this list, click here.
If you are in an area where there are no vets who treat herps, I have one more suggestion. If you can locate a vet willing to work with you, you can suggest that your vet take advantage of the free service offered by the large veterinary diagnostic laboratories. The larger labs have veterinary experts and board certified specialists who are available to perform consultations with less experienced veterinarians. So, a vet with limited or even no experience with a particular kind of herp can call in and request a consultation with an experienced herp vet who can help by providing information on husbandry, medical conditions, treatments (how to draw blood, for example, as that can be a challenge for a vet who has never done so in a reptile), surgical procedures and more. This can be invaluable to all concerned. Any vet can then receive the advice and medical expertise of a more experienced herp vet. This service is wonderful and is so helpful because this means that NO vet out there is ever really left alone to deal with an unusual species. Help is just a phone call away. So, if you can locate a young vet, maybe one just out of vet school, or one who is willing to help you with your herp’s medical problems, even though he or she is inexperienced, the consultation service offered by the larger veterinary diagnostic labs can provide all the information necessary to provide the care needed for your sick herp. It never hurts to ask!
Disclaimer: The ReptileChannel Online Veterinarian service "Ask the Vet" provides information to assist herp owners care responsibly for their pets, and to educate visitors to the website about reptile health issues. All content posted on this website is strictly informational in nature, and should never be used in place of, or as a substitute for proper hands-on medical examination of a sick pet by a qualified and licensed veterinarian. Dr. Wissman, ReptileChannel, REPTILES magazine and BowTie Inc., along with any of their respective subsidiaries or employees expressly disclaim all liability associated with the failure of anyone using this website to seek proper veterinary care for their pet, including but not limited to situations resulting in death of the animal.