Friday, June 26, 2015

Things I learned about reptile care

Spike observes the world from the roof of his hide.
I’m currently enrolled in the Centre for VeterinaryEducation’s online reptile medicine course under the tutelage of Dr Robert Johnson. Dr Johnson is an experienced exotics veterinarian, former Taronga Zoo Veterinarian and co-owner of South Penrith Veterinary Clinic. He is also currently the President of the Australian Veterinary Association. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe he is the first exotics veterinarian to fill this role.

Anyway, the discussion board has been going off and one of the most interesting activities has been evaluating the husbandry of reptiles. Our tutor or class members post a photo of a snake, reptile or turtle enclosure and we have to comment on whether it is suitable for that species and how it might contribute to disease.

The framework that many of us have been using is the 8 H’s of husbandry, which is a nice framework to structure a husbandry assessment around.
  • Heat (and light, including access to UV light and provision of a heat mosaic – including use of themometers and thermostats);
  • Hide (somewhere reptiles can get some privacy; also very useful for handling the nippier species);
  • Humidity (optimal humidity varies from 40-80 per cent depending on species; to some extent this is controlled by the size of the water bowl);
  • Health (of the animals – including behaviour, such as soaking in the water bowl which can be a sign of mites, clinical signs including lesions);
  • Hygiene (including ease of cleaning, substrate and the cleanliness of the enclosure, as well as water quality);
  • Healthy appetite (anorexia can be a sign of disease but it can also occur because of poor husbandry – not keeping the animal in its preferred optimal temperature zone, stress or offering inappropriate food items);
  • Habitat (size does matter – snakes need to be able to stretch to their full body length but very large enclosures make thermoregulation more of a challenge);
  • Handling (over-handling is a contributing factor to metabolic disease in lizards as whilst they are being handled they are usually not exposed to UV light; it’s also a common cause of regurgitation in snakes, who take quite a long time to digest their food and should not be handled for at least three days after a good feed).
Analysing husbandry has been the most entertaining homework I’ve had in ages. It’s amazing what you can tell from a few images of an enclosure. If reptiles are not presented in their enclosures (and often this is highly impractical) it is very much worth encouraging the owners to take a few snaps so you can see if the set-up is deficient in any of the above.

There are 8 modules in the course (introduction to reptile medicine, the consultation, common conditions of reptiles, interpretation of diagnostic tests, hospital care, critical care, anaesthesia and surgery) which can be completed over the next four to six weeks, and there is still time to enrol.

On a related note, check out this lovely story about a police station that looks after blue tongue lizards. It’s great to see their community service isn’t limited to humans!