Giving medications to reptiles can be challenging, and hiding medicine in food doesn’t work too well if the reptile does not eat every day. In addition to metabolic differences compared to mammals, reptiles have a slightly different blood flow that can cause some trouble with certain medications. It has been found that the blood flow in the rear part of the body circulates through the kidney and liver before continuing through the body (renal portal system). This can result in the elimination of medication before it has had a chance to work if the medication is injected in the rear part of the body.
For this reason, it is recommended that medication be injected in a part of the body in front of the kidneys. Currently, research is being done to determine if this renal portal system significantly affects medication blood levels or not.
Below are methods for administering medication. Please consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns. Give only medication prescribed by a veterinarian.
Methods of administering medication
- Oral. This is not a common method used to give medication to reptiles. This generally only works if the reptile eats every day, such as iguanas, and does not detect the medication in the food. Some liquid medications can be given with an oral syringe but extreme care must be used when prying the mouth open. Reptile teeth can fracture and severe trauma can occur to the mouth if excessive force is used.
- Injectable. This is the most common method of administering medication to reptiles. If you are squeamish about needles, you may be able to take your reptile to the veterinarian for each dose.
Injectable medications can be given just under the skin or in the muscle. This will depend on the medication given and the type of reptile you own. It is currently recommended that injectable medications be given in the front two-thirds of the body. Avoid the area that is located behind the kidneys. It is recommended that you ask your veterinarian to show you how to inject medication before trying this on your own.
Restraining the reptile for medication administration can be tricky. Many reptiles are quite strong and some can even be aggressive. Two people may be required to hold the reptile for his/her injection.
- For snakes. Someone should hold the head and support the body. The other person can firmly hold the area near the injection site. Be prepared for a lot of squirming.
- For chelonians. Have one person gently hold the neck to prevent the turtle/tortoise from withdrawing under the shell and making the injection quite difficult to accomplish.
- For other reptiles. Wrapping the body in a large towel works well. Make sure the towel does not cover the injection site.
Methods of Administering Injections
- Subcutaneous. This method is defined as injecting the medication just below the skin. The most common place to inject subcutaneously is over the back. In chelonians (turtles, tortoises), the skin folds around the front legs work well.
Fill the syringe with medication. Hold the syringe with the bevel of the needle pointing up. Holding the syringe at a 45-degree angle, gently insert the needle through the skin, going between any scales (do not pierce through a scale). Insert the needle just under the skin until the bevel is no longer seen. Push the plunger of the syringe to inject the medication.
- Intramuscular. This is the most common method of medication administration. In snakes and legless lizards, the muscles on either side of the spine work well. For other reptiles, the muscles of the upper fore arm are recommended.
Fill the syringe with medication. Hold the syringe with the bevel of the needle pointing up. Holding the syringe at a 45-degree angle, gently insert the needle through the skin, going between any scales (do not pierce through a scale). Insert the needle under the skin until the bevel is no longer seen and advance the needle a little bit more. This will result in the medication being in the muscle. Push the plunger of the syringe to inject the medication. If the needle is not deep enough, you may see a swelling develop as the medication is administered. If this occurs, push the needle further into the muscle and continue injecting.