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Reptile First Aid

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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When properly housed and fed, reptiles rarely face emergency situations. Even so, being prepared in case of an incident can help reduce the severity of injury and may even prevent the need for veterinary assistance.

Loss of Power

Many reptiles need supplemental heat and special lighting, both of which require electricity to operate. When power is lost, your pet can suffer. Fortunately, most power outages are short-lived, and there is usually no need for concern. If you live in an area that is prone to prolonged power outages, an emergency generator may be necessary. If you do not have power for hours to days, move all cages into one area and use a generator to supply the necessary heat and basking lights. In the worst-case scenario, you can move your reptiles to your car and run the car with the heater until power is restored.

Cage Damage

A lot of reptiles are kept in glass aquariums, which can crack or break. If your reptile's aquarium is damaged, make sure you have a temporary cage available. Plastic containers with holes pierced in the lid work well. Old suitcases with punched out air holes also work for temporary housing. As a last resort, house your reptile in a securely tied pillowcase. This should only be used for temporary storage.

Injury and Trauma

Lacerations and abrasions can occur, especially if the housing contains sharp objects. If your pet is injured, clean the wound thoroughly with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine. Topical antibiotic cream can be applied to help reduce the risk of infection. If your pet is severely lacerated or the wounds become infected, contact your veterinarian.

Lizards improperly grasped by their tail may lose the tail. Broken off tails leave an open wound at the end of the remaining stump. Clean with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine and apply topical antibiotic cream. The tail will likely re-grow but will never look like the original.

Carnivorous reptiles fed live prey are frequently bitten and scratched. As with other wounds, clean with disinfectant and apply topical antibiotic cream. Many of these injuries are severe and require veterinary assistance.

Reptiles usually require a supplemental heat source. If not properly contained, some reptiles can be burned as they try to get closer to the heat. Burns can be quite serious. Clean with disinfectant and contact your veterinarian. Burns can easily become infected and many reptiles have died after serious burns.

Special Turtle Issues

Unlike other reptiles, turtles and tortoises have hard shells covering their internal organs. In some traumas, the shell can be cracked. The best treatment your can offer your turtle is to clean the wounded shell with disinfectant and contact your veterinarian. Cover the shell with non-porous tape such as duct tape to keep the area clean and protect the internal organs.

The most important part of first aid for reptiles is to prevent injury and trauma. Know what first aid measures to take but with proper prevention, care and housing, you will never have to use your skills.

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