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Reptiles: Keep Them Separate

Todd Z. Gray, DVM

Exotic Animal Medicine

|September 2008

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This review focuses on preventive medicine in reptiles, with an emphasis on quarantine, disinfection, and entry control for infectious agents. Most reptile and amphibian keepers do not follow adequate quarantine measures. New animals should be housed in a separate room for at least 90 days (with some exceptions) and should always be handled after the resident collection. The authors recommend using disposable gloves, disinfecting hands, using different instruments from those used on the resident collection, and performing regular health checks. Facilitating acclimation of new reptiles is also discussed, and environmental disinfection is briefly touched on, with an emphasis on the importance of having longer contact time of the disinfectant and keeping organic debris to a minimum. Entry control for parasites, an important cause of disease in captive reptiles, is reviewed. Routine examination for endoparasites on fresh (< 3 H) fecal samples is recommended, preferably with several consecutive samples being checked during quarantine. Swabs of the oral cavity to look for parasites (especially in lizards and snakes) are strongly advised. Only parasite-free or successfully treated reptiles should be introduced into a healthy resident collection. Additional detailed discussion is given to Cryptosporidium species and Entamoeba invadens. Ectoparasites, especially mites, are also common in reptiles, and the authors provide a general review of entry control for these parasites. Specific bacterial infections are covered in detail (chlamydials, Mycobacteria, Salmonella, Dermobacter species, and Mycoplasma). Most bacterial infections tend to be secondary, and routine screening via oral or cloacal swabs is not recommended because interpretation is difficult. Lastly, Herpesvirus, Paramyxovirus, inclusion body disease, and adenovirus are discussed in detail along with recommendations for their control.

COMMENTARY: More experienced herpetoculturists will practice quarantine, but not always correctly. This makes disease screening all the more important. At my hospital, the staff knows I'm big on poop. Reminding owners to bring in a "fresh-as-possible" stool sample is important, as our reptile patients are not always cooperative in giving us in-hospital samples. Viral and bacterial screening becomes more complicated, but there are more tests now than ever. Talk to your diagnostic lab and see where they send their tests or browse through the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery to look for specialty labs. Organize a binder of specialty labs containing pricing, request forms, submission information, shipping guidelines, and shipping labels to make it easy when things are busy. As the article points out, there are numerous infectious diseases with similar presentation (anorexia and lethargy anyone?), so proper diagnostic testing is critical.

Introducing reptiles into a captive collection: The role of the veterinarian. Pasmans F, Blahak S, Martel A, Pantchev N. VET J 175:53-68, 2008.

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