Your Vet is Always Wrong

Why Your Vet is Always Wrong

We see it across social media almost weekly if not more often. Someone in our network of ‘friends’ talking about a sick reptile they took to their veterinarian and how the veterinarian summarily killed their beloved pet; of course for the extra flair the veterinarian was unskilled. I’ve got numerous colleagues who are veterinarians working with exotic species and domestic. It’s clear there’s a consensus regarding veterinarian care.

It’s similar to the dog trainer adage ‘It’s not about training the dog, it’s training the owner.’ The same holds true for any veterinarian and to be blunt any profession.

We seem to have an affinity for complaining about people who have a skill set we don’t possess when they don’t perform to our standards. A ‘Team’ wins the game, it’s always the coach who loses the game.

By the Numbers

In order to graduate and earn a degree in veterinary medicine you’re going to spend a lot of money. Now add to this, the time investment of attending classes, time spent studying alone, and of course, hands on practical laboratory work. With any logic at all, I’d think it safe to say these veterinarians absorbed some knowledge of their practice. If nothing else at least by sheer chance alone or maybe osmosis.

Compare this with a working knowledge of reptile biology, a few captive care books, and maybe a vet manual. Now who do you think is better qualified to diagnose any pet?

I’m not including those who’ve been working with reptiles longer than I’ve been alive either. There are DEFINITELY those, rare as they may be, who can and do diagnose most of their reptiles medical needs based on learned experience. Learned experience meaning these folks have worked around reptiles and veterinarians who treated their reptiles long enough to confidently diagnose most of their charges. Even then, they’re aware, certain cases will require veterinarian assistance and they visit their veterinarian when necessary.

Life, Death, and Vet School

It maybe a lot of anthropomorphism on my part but medical school is medical school. You’re going to accept patients will die. My dad would always tell me ‘You never get used to killing, or watching people die. You accept it.’ This was in regard to the wars he’d fought in. I think it would be the same for any doctor who has a life in their hands.

I bring up the morbidity of death for the fact that when animals get sick or injured they’re instincts seem to be to hide the fact they’re ill at all. This is logical in the wild, as we can all agree the sick and dying are the first to be taken by a predator. This is because the sick and infirm are less of a fight to take down so therefore there’s a lower risk of injury. What this means in the captive environment however is that we as keepers must be astute enough to ‘read’ our reptiles language.

Anthropomorphism & Diagnosis

laceyDoggieCryMany people want to believe their respective reptile has a personality or at least recognizes the human as a care giver. These attributes are often reserved for our mammalian pets. Today with numerous articles being published every month it’s time to reconsider the idea; ‘reptiles, as a species are incapable of feeling and experiencing psychological stressors.’

This is a slippery slope for many people. It’s almost too easy to place our own perceptions onto the reptiles and animals we keep. Even with astute owners reptiles are very adept at hiding ailments. This is the very reason, so many veterinarians get the ‘bad rep’ they do.

The reptile is so good at hiding illness it’s often the veterinarian is not consulted until the sickness is very advanced.

As with any advanced ailment on a broad spectrum these often require larger doses of medications for longer periods of time and sometimes in more grave cases even surgery. Diagnosis isn’t a simple craft. While the obvious traumatic injury is self-explanatory (if it’s bleeding, stop the bleeding). The intricacies of microscopic identification of parasites, viral infections, etc., is an art form.

You’re paying for a skill set.

Just as you do indirectly for the butcher or farmer or any other profession you want to choose. We also have to factor into this equation the vet is probably paying school loans, and if they’ve been lucky enough to open their own practice they’ve got massive amounts of overhead to cover. When’s the last time you went out and purchased an X-Ray machine and the learned the skill set necessary to use it safely? Even when not owning their own practice they’re still indirectly paying for that overhead.

Diagnostic Photography & Other Myths

Courtesy of

I know I’m not the only one who’s seen it. Someone posts a photograph of a reptile species with some ailment or other. What ensues is the epitome of wunderkind in internet technology. Almost everyone within a given group becomes a veterinarian with a diagnostic skill set to rival House M.D.

Then of course, as soon as someone begins to ask questions, before offering any insight or stating at the outset that veterinarian consultation should be considered. They’re often disregarded and even sometimes talked down to and in some further cases, even outright attacked. I’ve discussed this in a previous article so I won’t go on about that here.

What gets my knickers in a real bunch though is when there’s not even a photograph and people offer a diagnosis. Again this happens without asking any questions. How in the world anyone can diagnose with confidence anything without seeing the patient is beyond my realm of comprehension. There it is though, everyday on the social networks.

Often following said diagnosis is of course the prescription of medications to treat the diagnosed reptile. Again I’ve covered this topic before so to save on space here’s the link Warning: Medications May Kill Your Reptile.

Legalese and Ethics

Something I’d not even considered before speaking with a veterinarian colleague today. There’s a code of ethics and legal repercussions all veterinarians are held to. From a quick search I discovered at least five in-depth code of ethics documents with respect to both Veterinarians and even veterinarian technicians.

Your Vet Is Always Wrong

When emotions get involved as they will or should with any animal in our charge, whether that be a human primate of our conception, or a reptile prisoner chosen by our ‘superior’ intellect to be kept captive pet. We can get fired up, and or emotional when we are told that what we’ve been doing is wrong. We don’t ever want to believe we made an animal suffer. The fact remains when we keep reptiles, at the very first sign of anything outside of normal is in fact grounds for a more concerned look into every aspect of your husbandry. It may not be your husbandry at all. That’s where we need to start though as it’s the simplest place. More often than not, it’s the very aspects of husbandry which haven’t been addressed as the reason for a veterinarian consult in the first place.

Husbandry 101

My dad told me once that most life needs five basic elements to survive.

Feeding: Everything has to eat

Lighting: Most reptiles require some light

Heating: Most reptiles require some supplemental heat

Hydration: All animals require water in some form

Shelter: All animals require some form of shelter to rest in

Be Aware!

These are the very same aspects I would examine at the first sign of anything which might lead me to believe my reptile wasn’t thriving. Signs of illness can range as widely as the species we keep. In general terms, lethargy, loss of appetite, change in frequency of bowel movements or of the bowel movement itself. Yes, I mean you can tell a lot by examining your reptiles poop! Alterations in normal behaviour i.e. gaping or popping noises in the throat. Interact every day with each of your reptiles unless you can trust someone with your investment.

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***Please Note: Musings of the HerpFather are the opinions of John F Taylor and in no way reflect the opinions and or beliefs of our sponsors or any other staff member.