Warning: Medications May Kill your Reptile! 6

Medicating Reptiles

Everyday I surf through various social networks and reptile related websites both national and international. No, I don’t read or write in any other language except for English; Google Translator is a great tool. At least once a week, often times more, I receive questions or read someones question about reptiles that are ill or might be ill. Even worse the reptile may have become injured in some way physically as in maybe amputated tail, burn, or even a broken limb in the case of some lizard species.

How much is too much?

For me this is commonplace, as any animal can; reptiles can become sick or ill. What I find so offensive is the fact, within about three comments there is someone who suggests how to treat the animal. Some of you may be wondering what I have against someone else suggesting a treatment for a sick or injured reptile.

We are after all a community aren’t we? Is that not what we are supposed to do is help one another out when our reptiles have an issue?


Sharing Information and Medication

Here’s my point of contention. Reptiles like humans are not all the same. You wouldn’t take a friend or relatives high blood pressure medication after stopping at the local pharmacy and getting a high reading from the blood pressure machine would you? Let’s say the doctor tells you you’re borderline diabetic, do you immediately run out and start dosing insulin that a relative is taking? This of course goes without mentioning the fact that no one except the owner of the reptile has placed hands on the animal to examine it.

I would say that about 90% of the reptile ailments I come across are instigated by husbandry issues.

Reptile importers often deworm reptiles with various products and that’s fine, I have no contention with that by any means. When I come across these comments of someone seeking treatment I will direct them towards a local reptile qualified veterinarian; sometimes even going so far as to look one up in the owners area where they live.

When reptiles first began being kept in the public sector there wasn’t much knowledge on their immunological systems, much less how to keep them properly in a captive environment where they could thrive. Reptiles when first introduced into public keeping were typically imported. With them came varying forms of bacteria and worms previously unknown to animal keepers I am sure. Through the loss of several animals, we humans identified things such as proper husbandry and began to learn about the diseases and ailments afflicting our new scaly charges. Veterinarians and zoo keepers began to publish and share papers about their experiences with their captive reptiles. Sometimes these papers made it into the public awareness and over time a new sector of veterinarian medicine opened up for exotic pets.

Reptiles and Exotic Veterinarians

Today we have reptile veterinarians world-wide there is even a directory for reptile and amphibian veterinarians. The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians is a resource of not only names of veterinarians world-wide but also newsletters and other publications. Here is the actual member directory if you need a reptile veterinarian check this directory. As you can see there is absolutely no reason to not take a sick or injured reptile to a properly qualified reptile veterinarian.

I have spoken with numerous veterinarians over the years about both mammals and reptilian species and the fact is this.

You should never treat or diagnose any animal without proper examination or at the very least a consultation by qualified veterinarian.

The reason I say consultation is sometimes the ailment can be identified by a conversation over the phone. Not a conversation over the internet with someone more experienced; while their diagnosis maybe completely valid, the fact is how are you to know what the proper dosage is for a given species? Is the dosage based on weight? What if there is an underlying cause to the issue that wasn’t revealed because the other keeper didn’t ask the right questions?

Let’s put it another way, would you as a parent, spouse, or lover, feel 100% confident in treating your significant other for a life threatening ailment you diagnosed through an internet search? I would hope not. Don’t treat your reptiles any differently. Have the foresight to recognize something is wrong and consult a properly trained reptile veterinarian you really have no excuse now. I have given you the resources, what will you do with them?

We would love to hear any stories or comments where you have either experienced this or seen this happening on the internet. What are your thoughts on self diagnosing and treating reptiles? Let us know on our Fanpage Robert Kilpatrick also recommended this site for information Herp Vet Connection

6 thoughts on “Warning: Medications May Kill your Reptile!

  • John F Taylor Post author

    I agree Zach but as you yourself stated the times have changed and we now have access to qualified veterinarians and the ARAV does make it easier and I would still advise calling a vet even before posting a question on the internet where anyone can be a ‘expert’ as I covered in my piece http://reptileapartment.com/2010/09/05/the-real-experts/. this is the reason for this article in the first place as too many times people are just giving a diagnosis without understanding basic husbandry requirements.
    Sadly enough reptiles are seen as disposable pets as we all know and I have discussed numerous times both here and other places. This is why education is a must and we need to start with when the reptile is originally purchased from the buyer the seller needs to make sure that the buyer is aware of the aspects of caring for the reptile pet in the first place.

  • Donna

    If a cut is big enough that the ointment is going to get into the bloodstream, it obviously needs vet treatment, not ointment. Also, I think a majority of people know that you don’t eat antibiotic ointment–since it’s printed on the tube. I’ll grant, there are stupid people out there, and people who do not read directions, but they’re not likely reading this blog.

    It is a good point to state, however, as folks should not use it near their animal’s mouth/nose, and should take care that their animal doesn’t lick the ointment (fortunately, a rare thing for a reptile to try to do).

    In fact, antibiotic ointment shouldn’t be used on anything large, on a reptile, because it causes scales to slough due to the petroleum jelly in it. All of this still falls into the category of first aid, though. You don’t want your animal swallowing betadine, either.

    Treating reptile parasites is not the immensely challenging ordeal you make it out to be. Drugs such as panacur and flagyl SHOULD be available over the counter, with instructions on dosage per body weight in grams. They are sold over the counter for livestock, but the concentrations are too high for small animals. We’re not talking about things like ivomec that can prove deadly to some species. Panacur and Flagyl have a good error margin, and are reasonably safe. Reptile breeders are not less competent with their animals than cattle breeders are with theirs.
    Obviously, if a reptile has something other than a simple case of worms or flagellates, a vet is needed, but that’s beside the point.

    The text books used by vet techs can be purchased by individuals, as can good microscopes, slides, and dyes. Doing a fecal float, and learning how to identify reptile parasites, is not so immensely challenging that it can’t be learned at home for free. (Honestly, few things are). I dismiss educational elitism in a world where technical information can be accessed through the internet, or in easily acquired books, readily. I’ve seen too many mind-numbingly stupid errors conducted by vet techs, or even vets, on reptiles, to believe that the rehabbers you noted are actually doing any worse than that.
    I think my main point is that people should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their common sense and intelligence, rather than being ‘protected’ from their presumed stupidity, by authorities. Education is the answer to all of this, not restriction.

    I will end off, however, by stating again–a GOOD vet is worth every penny you will pay them, because beyond the simplest first aid, you need a vet.

  • Zach Whitman

    While I agree with everything John and Robyn said, there are a few big pieces of this puzzle that are being left out of this conversation. When reptiles first started being widely kept, there were very few vets who knew anything at all about them. 25 years ago, if you had a problem, you would likely get better information from an expert reptile keeper than you would from a vet. Today this is very far from the truth, yet many of these old time experts are still around, and there is a generalized distrust pervasive in the reptile community that vets don’t know what the are talking about with herps, and they will most likely be a waste of money. This situation is made worse by unscrupulous vets that choose to open their doors to reptile patients even if they don’t have the proper training. If you have a sick reptile the onus has to be on you to find a QUALIFIED reptile vet. ARAV does make this easier, but you still have to be in the know, and most petsmart buying owners just don’t know. Thankfully there is finally a board certification exam for herp vets!

    This brings me to the next point which is that herp vets are not always easily accessible in all areas of the country. If you live in a big metropolitan area you should have options, but if you don’t, you may be facing a several hour long drive. Or instead choose to see a vet that does not specialize in exotics. Posting a quick question on the internet starts seeming like a more valid idea.

    Lastly many reptiles are still viewed as disposable pets. In this economy people are looking for answers to health questions for their dogs (and scarily even for themselves!) online before doing anything that costs any money. The truth is that going to a vet is likely to cost over $100 for an exam, and the most basic diagnostics/treatments. Some people just aren’t going to do that, and they turn to free online help as a last resort.

    Assuming that someone posts an intelligent/caring question and they provide complete husbandry information, I will usually try to help them decide whether a trip to the vet is mandatory, or if they are likely to be successful with husbandry changes or very basic first aid care.

    For Donna: Did you know that in your version of “basic first aid” you are dealing with deadly drugs. Thats right, triple antibiotic ointment is extremely toxic if it is ingested or used on a cut that is large enough so that the antibiotics enter the blood stream. Also, the reason cattlemen can deworm their cows is because they are dealing with one very well studied species (the cow), a group of well studied parasite species, drugs that have been studied extensively in that exact application, and are usually under the guidance/consultation of a veterinarian. The reason drug dosages are not made available for exotics is because it is not an exact science and the lay person does not have the information they need to make these decisions. Oh wait, that information is available! Anyone can buy an exotic animal formulary! Don’t even get me started on the home remedies I have seen “rehabers” try after buying veterinary text books they don’t understand. Unless you went to vet tech school, or majored in parasitology there are very few people out there who can accurately read a fecal.

  • John F Taylor Post author

    Robyn, I couldn’t agree more. I operate on a number of “ask the ‘expert'” locations and each time someone comes to myself with an issue they generally leave out all the husbandry parameters. I have written the same response so many times I can recite it by rote memory. “Hello, (insert name) I am happy to help but before moving forward I need to know what the parameters the (insert species) is being kept under. I need to know ambient temp, basking temp, substrate being used, water provisions, and diet being fed as well as what decor is in the enclosure. Once this information is provided I will be happy to answer your question more accurately.”
    Generally, and I mean 90% of the time it’s a husbandry issue. I cannot take it anymore with people just spouting off about oh use batryl or this or that? When did you become a vet? I mean come on! You haven’t even laid eyes much less hands on the animal. Then the ‘experts’ which I also have strong feelings about as you can see here http://reptileapartment.com/2010/09/05/the-real-experts/ just drive me nuts even further. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and drop by anytime.

  • Robyn@TheReptileReport

    “I would say that about 90% of the reptile ailments that I come across are instigated by husbandry issues.”


    I get immensely frustrated in lizard husbandry threads, especially Bearded Dragon stuff, when online “experts” recommend all types of medications and treatments to address ill/sick/weak lizards, without making any inquiry first about husbandry parameters, in particular proper temperatures. Not that many of these same “experts” would know proper temps if they were tattooed on their foreheads.

    With a proper temperature and moisture gradient, including an appropriate basking spot, a lizard will thrive. Changing setup to provide such will also turn around 90% of the failing lizards, but instead husbandry parameters are ignored or misunderstood, and a variety of magic pastes, creamy diets and pedialites are touted.

    Worse yet is to dismiss a struggling and obviously underkept lizard with reassurances that “it is probably trying to brumate, don’t worry about it” diagnosis. Ugh.

  • Donna

    Well, I think it has to be considered on a case by case basis. If someone has an animal that got a little cut, and people recommend betadine, antibiotic ointment (without painkiller), and observation for signs of infection, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s first aid, and every little cut doesn’t require a vet.

    If someone has an animal that’s not eating, and someone says ‘it’s probably worms, you should get some flagyl for horses and use just one grain’, etc, then they’re doing wrong, for certain.

    However, if they say ‘it’s probably worms you need to get a fecal check done’–there’s nothing wrong with that.

    As for your own animals–anyone can easily treat minor injuries in their pets, if they understand safe first aid procedures, and which antiseptics and antibiotic ointments aren’t harmful.

    I see no reason why an experienced person cannot get out a good microscope, and run their own fecals. I also resent the fact that dilute doses of worming drugs are not readily available, as calculating the correct dose for body weight of Panacur is NOT rocket science, and if you can ID a worm, you know what you need to do to treat it. I have that book, you can buy it on Amazon. Apparently, cattlemen are competent to do this, but we are not. I’m not fond of double standards.

    As for anything else–take it to a vet.

    ARAV.org DOES make it much easier to find a competent reptile vet, but make no mistake about it. There are STILL incompetent vets on the loose, who will attempt to treat reptiles, but do NOT have the proper knowledge to do so. Buyer beware!
    A reptile owner must educate themselves in the basics of reptile physiology, and common ailments for the species they keep. If they don’t, they won’t be able to discern when their vet is full of @#$@.

    We’ve all seen the stories posted on forums. Vets recommending that animals be force-fed yogurt, or prescribing Flagyl as an ‘appetite stimulant’…diagnosing worms without running a fecal, or giving a clearly ill reptile a ‘clean bill of health’ because they couldn’t find anything wrong that they could identify.
    We still have to take primary responsibility for the health of our charges, even now. But, things are getting better, and that’s very important to note. A GOOD herp vet is worth their weight in gold.

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