Educational Articles

Reptiles + Pet Services

  • There are several problems that can occur in aquatic turtles. Cystic calculi occur in turtles when minerals from the diet form crystals in the urine, which stick together and form stones, often resulting from improper nutrition and/or dehydration. A prolapse occurs when an organ protrudes from the vent. Regardless of the tissue or organ prolapsed, all can become traumatized, become dried out, or suffer from compromised blood flow and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. If you notice that your turtle's shell is growing irregularly, it may be a sign of malnutrition or metabolic bone disease. Any turtle whose shell is abnormal should be checked by a veterinarian so that appropriate treatment can be initiated. Although shell fractures can be serious, the shell is bone and often can be repaired. Any trauma to the shell should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian immediately. Green algae growing on the outside of the shell occurs commonly and can be cleaned off with periodic brushing of the shell with disinfectant cleaners. The skin of turtles periodically sheds off in pieces. In the water, shed skin appears as a whitish, "fuzzy" substance. Although turtles are certainly not the only reptiles that can carry Salmonella, most turtles carry the infection asymptomatically. Wash your hands thoroughly with disinfectant soap every time after handling, cleaning, or feeding your reptile or its cage items to help minimize risks of contracting salmonellosis. Most veterinarians feel it is best to try to prevent captive red-eared sliders from hibernating. Dystocia occurs the female turtle is unable to pass her eggs, is a common problem in reptiles, and can be life-threatening. A turtle with dystocia typically does not eat and rapidly becomes sick, lethargic, or unresponsive and should be seen by a veterinarian familiar with reptiles immediately.

  • Anorexia means lack of appetite or refusal to eat. Anorexia can be a normal condition associated with the breeding season, egg bearing, or shedding. Anorexia can also be a symptom of an underlying environmental problem or diseases including infectious stomatitis, internal parasites, gastrointestinal blockage, intestinal infections, respiratory disease, kidney or liver failure, tumors, or gout. Salmonella can cause severe gastrointestinal disease or life-threatening septicemia. Many animals and people carry these bacteria without showing any clinical signs, yet they shed the bacteria in their feces and serve as a source of infection for others. Snakes commonly develop lumps and bumps either on their skin or within their bodies. External lumps may be caused by abscesses, tumors, or parasites. Internal swellings can be caused by organ enlargement, retained eggs in species of snakes that lay eggs, tumors, or even constipation. A healthy, well-maintained snake will shed its skin in one piece. Some snakes experience difficult or improper shedding. Burns occur with pet snakes when the animal, naturally seeking a warm place to rest, either finds a place that is too hot or stays in that hot spot too long. Offering live prey to a snake should be avoided, as live prey can cause severe bites and life-threatening injuries to the snake. Dystocia occurs when a female snake is unable to pass eggs and may require medical or surgical procedures.

  • The complete blood count (CBC) assesses different parameters of the cells in the blood including total number, appearance, size, and shape. Red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets comprise the cellular component of the blood. Changes in the red blood cells can affect oxygen delivery from the lungs to the blood. Changes in the white blood cells can indicate infection, inflammation, and cancer. Platelets are needed for adequate blood clotting so decreased numbers can raise concern for spontaneous bleeding.

  • Cytology is the microscopic examination of cell samples. Cytology can be used to diagnose growths or masses found on the surface of the body, and also to assess bodily fluids, internal organs, and abnormal fluids that may accumulate, especially in the chest and abdomen. Cells can be collected using various methods including fine needle aspiration, skin scraping, impression smear, cotton-tipped swabs, or lavage. A biopsy is the surgical removal of a representative sample of tissue from a suspicious lesion. The most common biopsy techniques are punch biopsy, wedge biopsy, and excision biopsy. The tissue is then processed and is examined under a microscope via histopathology. Histopathology allows the veterinary pathologist to make a diagnosis, classify the tumor, and predict the course of the disease.

  • Turtles are omnivorous, eating both animal protein and vegetable matter. As juveniles, they are mainly carnivorous, become more omnivorous as they age. When feeding turtles, offering a variety of food is important to help stimulate the turtle to eat and provide nutritional balance. The carnivorous portion of their diet should consist of commercial turtle or fish pellets, as well as a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates. The plant portion of the diet should be made up of vegetables, preferably ones that float and can be left in the water for the turtle to nibble on throughout the day. Some veterinarians suggest adding a balanced, commercially available multivitamin once per week with an additional source of calcium, such as a calcium block or cuttlebone, twice per week. Having a well-functioning filtration system that is cleaned regularly is key to ensuring good water quality. Turtles and other reptiles commonly carry Salmonella bacteria on their skin or in the gastrointestinal tracts, so always wash your hands thoroughly after feeding, cleaning, or handling turtles.

  • Box turtles are omnivorous. Generally, your box turtle's diet should be about 50% plant-based material and 50% animal-based material, but be sure to discuss a specific diet plan for your turtle with your veterinarian. Most young turtles eat daily, while older turtles can be fed daily or every other day, depending upon the pet's individual appetite, body weight, and overall health. Most (80-90%) of the plant material fed to box turtles should be vegetables and flowers, and only 10-20% should be fruit. As a rule, dark, leafy greens should make up the largest part of the diet. Fruit should be fed more sparingly than vegetables, since they are often preferred by box turtles over vegetables and tend to be less nutritious. The key is to feed a wide variety of healthy items, including both plant- and animal-based protein sources. A common problem seen in pet box turtles is over-supplementation with vitamins (especially vitamin D3) and minerals. Check with your veterinarian about the need to supplement your pet's diet with any kind of vitamin or mineral. Fresh clean water should always be available to box turtles.

  • Iguanas are herbivorous, meaning they eat plants. Most of their diet should be dark green leafy vegetables, with less than 20% of the diet as fruits. In general, foods comprised of large amounts of animal-based protein, such as crickets, mealworms, pinky mice, tofu, and hard boiled eggs, are too high in protein for iguanas to eat frequently and should be offered as less than 5% of the adult iguana’s total diet. The amount and type of supplements required by iguanas is controversial and somewhat age-dependent. Most veterinarians recommend lightly sprinkling a growing iguana’s food every other day (4-5 times per week) with calcium powder (calcium carbonate or gluconate), without vitamin D or phosphorus that has been specifically formulated for reptiles. Most veterinarians recommend that young iguanas receive a multivitamin supplement containing vitamin D twice a week. Opinions vary regarding the nutritional needs of captive iguanas, and our knowledge in the subject is continually expanding based on new dietary studies in reptiles. Check with your veterinarian for specific nutritional needs for your pet iguana.

  • All snakes are carnivores. Some eat warm-blooded prey (rodents, rabbits, birds), while others eat insects, amphibians, eggs, other reptiles, fish, earthworms, or slugs. Since snakes eat entire prey whole, it is easier for their owners to feed them nutritionally complete diets and certainly prevents many of the dietary-related diseases commonly seen in other reptiles. Live prey should not be fed to snakes. Snakes can be offered either thawed, previously frozen prey, or freshly killed ones. Smaller or younger snakes usually eat twice each week, while larger, more mature snakes typically eat once every week or two. If your snake has a decreased appetite, see your veterinarian. A large, heavy ceramic crock or bowl filled with fresh clean water should be provided at all times.

  • An improper environment is one of the most common causes of health problems encountered in reptiles next to improper nutrition. Aquatic turtles should be kept in as large an aquarium as possible and the environment should have enough water for the turtle to swim, a dry area on which the turtle can escape the water to bask, a heat source, and a source of ultraviolet (UV) light. Since pet turtles eat and eliminate in the same water, the tank water must be changed at least once weekly or more frequently if it becomes dirty. A heat source is necessary for all reptiles to maintain their environmental temperature within a constant range. In addition to regulating the water temperature, the temperature of the basking area must be regulated. Plants can be used for decoration, as long as they are safe for the turtle to eat. Failure to provide unfiltered UV light can predispose your pet to nutritional metabolic bone disease. Thoroughly wash your hands after feeding, cleaning, or handling turtles, as they can carry and transmit Salmonella bacteria.

  • A 20-gallon aquarium is usually adequate to begin with, depending on the size of the turtle, but as your turtle grows, you may need to provide it with a 60-100-gallon aquarium. Newspaper, butcher paper, paper towels, or commercially available paper-based pelleted bedding or reptile carpet is recommended. Cedar wood shavings should never be used. Rocks and hiding places should be provided. Provide a shallow water dish or pan with a ramp to help the turtle climb in and out of the dish to soak and drink. Turtles are ectotherms and therefore require a heat source in the tank to establish a temperature gradient within the tank. Hot rocks or sizzle rocks are dangerous and should not be used. UV light is essential for turtles to manufacture vitamin D3 needed for proper calcium absorption. Failure to provide UV light can predispose turtles to metabolic bone disease. If you house your turtle outdoors, it should be contained within an escape-proof enclosure. Make sure a shaded area is provided to enable your turtle to cool off from the sun, as well as a hiding area to provide seclusion and escape from rain.