Reptile Health: Knowing What is Normal

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Other Normal Characteristics

Skin: Generally, snakes should be smooth, without wrinkled scales or retained skin. Check your snake after each shed. There should be no evidence of retained eyecaps, raised or blistered scales, or red, sore appearing areas. The underside should appear healthy, not red and inflamed or moist. Burns to this area are common when hot rocks are used and they are not recommended.

Tortoises and turtles should have hard shells, without swellings, soft spots, or areas of white or pink discoloration. Lizards, snakes and the soft parts of tortoises and turtles should be free of swellings under the skin, sores and areas of discoloration. Mites appear as very small spots between scales on the head. Species with toenails should be checked for proper wearing; constricting bands of unshed skin can accumulate around the toe, leading 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, although a salt-like discharge 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 be no foam or red/discolored patches in the mouth.

Your reptile should breathe quietly — wheezing or a squeak or whistle may indicate respiratory disease and should be investigated. Distinguishing between abnormal respiratory sounds and those related to an aggressive display 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. These can be caused by abscesses.

Nutritional problems often cause the animal’s conformation or shape to be abnormal. For example, a herbivorous reptile, such as the green iguana, often develops a swollen jaw when it is malnourished. The jaw of a healthy iguana should be firm, not rubbery. In the case of tortoises and turtles, beaks can overgrow and become deformed. 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 record the number.

For more information on how to tell if your reptile is sick, see When Your Reptile Behavior is Abnormal and The Iceberg Principle.

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