Annual Veterinary Visit for Reptiles
Many reptile owners are surprised to learn that all pets, including reptiles, need at least annual checkups. A number of reptile veterinarians actually recommend checkups at least twice a year. There are two reasons for this: first, since most pets including reptiles do not live as long as people, getting a checkup only once a year is like you going to your doctor every 5-10 years. This is too long to wait to find out if something is wrong with your pet. Second, early detection and treatment of disease are very important to give your pet the best prognosis for recovery from disease and is less expensive than treating a serious problem. Regular veterinary care, to prevent problems before they occur, is necessary to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy life. This is what veterinarians call practicing preventive medicine.
What happens during a reptile checkup?
While veterinarians follow their own protocols when performing routine annual or semi-annual examinations, most recommend a series of tests to help assess your pet reptile’s health. Most physical examinations and blood testing can be performed on reptiles while they remain awake. However, depending upon the species of reptile, the testing performed, and the temperament of your pet, some of these tests may require short-acting sedatives or gas anesthesia to minimize an animal’s stress level. If your pet is easily stressed, it may be easier to sedate them first, as they will be less stressed when sedated.
Physical examination. Every visit starts with a thorough physical examination. During the exam, your veterinarian will record your pet’s weight, general appearance, and activity level. Your veterinarian will also ask you about your pet’s recent history and evaluate its diet. Your veterinarian will palpate (feel) various parts of the pet’s body to check for abnormalities and note any changes that have occurred since the previous visit that warrant specialized testing.
“Your veterinarian will note any changes that have occurred since the previous visit that warrant specialized testing.”
Blood testing. Just as your own regular medical visit includes blood testing, so does a checkup for a pet. Blood testing can include a complete blood count (examining the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) and a serum biochemical profile (which looks at various organ enzymes).
Fecal analysis. Microscopic examination of the feces allows detection of internal parasites (including coccidia, flagellates, or other protozoa and intestinal worms) that may be transmittable to people and that should be treated medically.
Microbiological testing. Special stains, including Gram’s stain, may be used to stain fecal samples, skin scrapings, or other tissue samples to detect the presence of abnormal bacteria, yeast, or parasites under the microscope. Depending upon the findings from the Gram’s stain, additional tests, such as a culture and sensitivity (to determine the type of antibiotics and antifungal drugs to best treat the illness or infection), may be needed to determine the species of bacteria or yeast and the appropriate treatment.
Radiological testing. Using X-rays, your veterinarian can examine your pet’s body for abnormalities in the size, shape, and position of body organs, screen for masses such as tumors, look for abnormal fluid accumulation, and check the bones and joints. X-rays can be particularly helpful in assessing the status of a reptile’s skeleton when your veterinarian suspects a common condition called metabolic bone disease that involves an imbalance of body calcium and phosphorus due to improper nutrition or lack of ultraviolet light exposure.
Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM
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