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How to Tell If Your Reptile Is Sick?

By: Dr. Jenni Bass

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Skin: Know the normal, but generally, snakes should be smooth, without wrinkled scales or retained skin. Check your snake after each shed. Retained eyecaps or skin may indicate medical or environmental problems, but is never normal. Scales should not be raised or blistered. There should not be peeling of individual scales or red, sore appearing areas. The underside of the snake should appear healthy, not red and inflamed or moist. Burns to this area are common when hot rocks are used, and for this, among other reasons, they are not recommended. Tortoises and turtles should have hard shells, without swellings or soft spots. Areas of white or pink discoloration can indicate a variety of problems, such as infection. Lizards, snakes and the soft parts of tortoises and turtles should be free of swellings under the skin, of sores and areas of discoloration. The head is a common place to find mites, which will appear as very small spots between scales. Species with toenails should have these checked to be sure that they are wearing properly. Particularly in the case of lizards such as the leopard gecko, constricting bands of skin, which has failed to shed, can accumulate around the toe, leading in some cases to strangulation of the digit.

Eyes, ears (for those who have them), nostrils, mouth and vent: There should be no discharge or bubbles from the eyes or nose. A white crystalline discharge (salt like, is normally sneezed from the nose of some reptiles, such as the green iguana). There should be no sores or scabs on the nose-this is a particularly common problem of captive lizards and snakes. There should not be foam, red or other discolored patches in the mouth. There should be no noise when your reptile breathes. Wheezing or a squeak or whistle may be associated with respiratory disease, and should be investigated. It is important to be able to distinguish between abnormal respiratory sounds and those related to an aggressive display by the reptile. This is not always easy, but your veterinarian will be able to help you. Swellings in the area of the ear are often seen in turtles and tortoises, and can be caused by abscesses. Nutritional problems often cause the animal's conformation to be abnormal. This is especially common in the case of herbivorous reptiles, such as the green iguana, which as a result of malnutrition and other factors can develop a swollen jaw. Again, it is necessary to know what the head of a healthy iguana looks like, before you can recognize this. The jaw should be firm, not rubbery. In the case of tortoises and turtles, beaks can overgrow, and become deformed. Comparing your pet to healthy specimens in a zoo, in a book or on a nature television program may reveal cause for concern. The vent should be clean on the outside. Soiling may indicate diarrhea or another condition.

Body condition: Obesity is as dangerous to your pet as being underweight. Be familiar with the appearance of a well-fleshed member of your pet's species and have your veterinarian explain assessment of body condition for your particular species. Weigh your pet regularly and write down the number.

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