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How to Tell If Your Reptile Is Sick?

By: Dr. Jenni Bass

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Most reptile species that are kept as pets are subject to predation in the wild. As potential prey themselves, they have adopted the survival strategy of trying to appear fit and healthy to avoid being eaten. This is sensible in nature, as a sick or weak animal, or one, which is obviously abnormal in its behavior or appearance, is easier to catch. So, the most important thing to remember when evaluating the health of your pet reptile is that he doesn't want you to know that he is unwell. By the time an owner is sufficiently concerned to seek veterinary advice, the reptile may have been ill for a relatively long time, and disease may have progressed further than is immediately clear.

To make matters more complicated, reptiles have a very limited number of ways in which to show that they are ill. Again, this is an evolutionary strategy. Unlike domestic animals, or indeed humans, there is no advantage to the reptile if he can communicate that he is ill. On the contrary, advertising weakness is a distinct disadvantage. So, by the time your pet displays signs of a problem, he may be extremely ill and no longer able to appear well.

Good preventive health care should clearly be the goal of every reptile owner. This involves researching the natural environment of the species, its habitat, diet and particular requirements in captivity. Regular veterinary visits are strongly recommended and screening blood work, examination for parasites and husbandry reviews can be performed as appropriate. In spite of the best care, however, some pets will become ill and early recognition of a problem is often crucial to the outcome of the case.

There are three key points to evaluating the health of your reptile:

  • Know what is normal for your species
  • Keep records
  • The Ice Berg Principle

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