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Keeping Your Amphibian Healthy

Keeping an amphibian healthy implies that you’ve already started with a healthy animal, and you want to maintain that health. Here are several concepts that will help you, along with a few cautionary points.

When you select your amphibian, pick one that is bright-eyed and seems lively. Lively is a term that doesn’t apply to amphibians the way it would to other animals, like hamsters. For an amphibian, lively means the animal responds to his surroundings. This ranges from lifting his head to look at you when you uncover his resting area, to eagerly shoving earthworms in his mouth when feeding, to leaping/moving away from your hand when you reach toward him.

Conversely, danger signals when you’re looking at an amphibian include a red rash on the legs of a frog; no reaction when you uncover him or reach into the cage; no feeding response when live food is offered, and apathetically floating in water, with no swimming response. If the amphibian you’d like to acquire exhibits any of these negative behaviors, don’t even think of buying him or even taking him in trade.

Veterinary medicine has made progress in caring for reptiles and amphibians over the past 10 years, but the area of knowledge is still very small. Most veterinarians will admit they know little about amphibian medicine. Your part of the bargain in keeping an amphibian healthy is providing the very best in care. This includes clean caging, filtered water, frequent partial to total water changes, a varied diet and cool temperatures ranging from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit for temperate species and 80 to 87 degrees Fahrenheit for tropical species.

Use one of the chlorine/chloramine removers sold in aquarium shops to de-chlorinate the water you use in your amphibian cages.

Proper Diet

A varied diet depends to a great extent on the creature you’re trying to feed. A giant toad needs a different diet than tiny mantella frogs. Before you acquire your amphibian, track down sources for live foods such as crickets, earthworms, trevo worms, termites, springtails, mealworms, wingless fruit flies, wax worms and maybe some odder items like glass shrimp. A pet store may be one of your sources of live foods. Your local bait shop may be another.

Pinkie mice, when just a few days old, can be an important food supplement, but are better offered on an occasional basis rather than as a major dietary item. Their high fat content seems to be implicated in eye problems later on.

Remember that gut-loading or feeding the crickets a diet of laying mash or cricket gut-loading food (both from your pet store) assures your amphibians good nutrition.

Many amphibians will adapt to a diet that includes commercial foods,
meaning foods from a package. Offer trout or koi chow or a reptile/amphibian diet like Reptomin. Your amphibians may nibble at any of the pelleted tropical fish foods. Don’t be surprised if your amphibian’s food preferences change over the space of a year. Some of this change may be individual (as if they’re saying “what crickets AGAIN?”), and some of it may be intrinsic. In the wild, amphibians are adapted to the seasonality of some foods. If your amphibian is used to a varied diet, the fact that it suddenly decides not to eat earthworms presents no real problem to either of you. You, as the human, simply offer more trevo worms or more crickets.

The Right Temperatures

Another aspect of keeping an amphibian healthy is keeping it at the right temperature. Amphibians do better at cooler temperatures. Tropical species do well at 80 to 87 F while temperate species do better at 65 to 80 F. There is usually a comfortable thermal range within those parameters for a given temperate or tropical species. Generally speaking, frogs are active at higher temperatures than salamanders.

When an amphibian is stressed by temperatures that are too cold, it may contract a disease called redleg, a bacterial disease that is fatal if not diagnosed and treated at the very first appearance of a red flush on the legs.

Good Water Chemistry

Even the oxygen level in the water has an effect on amphibians. When an amphibian is placed in water that is supersaturated with gases it can suffer from non-infectious disease called gas bubble disease, or bloat. Much like the “bends” in humans, gasses come out of solution in the blood. If large, these gas bubbles in the blood can close part of the circulatory system.

There may be no overt symptoms other than sluggishness on the part of the animal. The internal hemorrhaging aspect is hard to detect from observation. In frogs, gas bubbles may be visible in the webbing between the toes. In eastern newts, these bubbles may be seen in the eye, or the abdomen may appear swollen.

In addition to causing extreme discomfort, gas bubbles can damage the circulatory system, providing an open door for massive secondary bacterial infections.

When the gas bubble disease is diagnosed, there is essentially no treatment other than placing the animal in water that has normal gas levels. Antibiotic treatment of any secondary infections may save the animal if circulatory damage and tissue necrosis is not too great.

Gas super-saturation can be caused by a number of conditions. It occurs naturally in ground or well water as the water is warmed up during the summer months. Bacterial action may also modify natural gas levels. Air drawn through intake pipes that are not fully submerged, or through tiny holes in tubing, increases the chance of saturation. Amphibians shipped by air in non-pressurized compartments (all commercial airlines have pressurized shipping compartments) may also develop this condition.

There are sophisticated ways to measure super-saturation and to literally de-gas it. Most involve running the water through a packed column that has plenty of surface area but zero air intake. The easiest and least expensive method simply involves drawing the water into a container and letting it sit for a day or two. The gases diffuse out to the atmosphere, and the water is safe to use. If you have well water and have any concern whatever about gas super-saturation, this is a safe and cost-free way to prevent the problem.