The New Age of Reptile Medicine and Surgery Is Here

The future of reptile medicine and surgery is here, and it’s exciting! Reptile medicine and surgery is complex and interesting, and the general body of knowledge is growing at lightning speed. At Ohana Animal Hospital we are routinely performing blood work, performing ultrasounds, obtaining x-rays, collecting samples for viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic evaluation, anesthetizing and performing surgery, and amazingly, we only rarely send home Baytril! I don’t mean to say that Baytril is an inappropriate antibiotic for certain cases, but we can do so much more now, and it is time we all expected more for our reptilian companions. I admit that we are by no means perfect, and we cannot fix every case that walks through the door, but with owners having an open mind and a desire to provide the best care possible, we are doing amazing things (as are many of our incredible colleagues).

I have recently seen a large number of cases of reptilian respiratory infections, and that really got me thinking how far we have come in this field. I remember when I started out early in my career thinking respiratory infections were simple, and even boring (oh, how little I knew)! The snake would come in with some oral and nasal discharge, and it would go home with some antibiotics. Some of them got better, some of them didn’t, and that was just how it was. Working through snake respiratory infections today can be a significant process because we know so much more about the various, and NUMEROUS, causes. We now understand that many respiratory infections are multifactorial in nature, and are commonly the result of suboptimal husbandry conditions (yes, that client handout you fill out before the appointment is really that important), viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic infections, trauma, foreign bodies, inhalation of toxic fumes, and even cancer. One of those things will respond well to an antibiotic, and the others will not. I am amazed at how many of my early patients actually did well actually!!

We know about more diseases than ever before, and we are slowly developing a larger body of evidence-based medicine to base our therapies. We know that fewer bearded dragons die during treatment for Nannizziopsis guarroi (previously called CANV or Yellow Fungus Disease) if they are treated with voriconazole than itraconazole. We now know that the elusive inclusion body disease virus is not a retrovirus like was once suspected, but it is actually an arenavirus, and we can adjust our diagnostic testing to better evaluate our patients. We know that adenovirus is common in bearded dragons, cryptosporidiosis is common in leopard geckos, vitamin a deficiencies are common in insectivores not fed a balanced diet, nidovirus is common in green tree pythons, mycoplasma is a common cause of tortoise respiratory disease, and so many other things. We learn about new diseases every year, and this allows us to offer so much more to you and your reptile companion in terms of therapy.

We routinely perform complicated surgeries on reptilian patients. I have performed intestinal resection and anastomoses surgery (surgically removing a portion of intestine and sewing clean edges of the intestine back together), foreign body removals, eye removals, bladder stone removals, repaired traumatic wounds to the skull, amputations of limbs, spay surgeries, and biopsies of skin abnormalities just to name a few things. These patients are routinely placed under general anesthesia, ventilated to ensure they are breathing and oxygenating appropriately, have intravenous or intraosseous catheters placed to provide fluid and medication, are closely monitored while under anesthesia, and recover uneventfully. I remember when every reptile patient was given the same anesthetic cocktail, the recoveries were long and inconsistent, and I didn’t even think that an intravenous catheter was possible. Every patient now gets their own specialized anesthetic plan, we have numerous reversal drugs to help our patients wake faster, we have access to effective pain medications, and my bearded dragon patient gets the same level of anesthetic care and monitoring as a dog or a cat. This is cool stuff, and is something that I personally take great pride in.

I understand that it is not practical for everyone to perform blood work, a tracheal wash with culture and sensitivity testing, viral PCR evaluation, lung biopsy with histopathological evaluation, endoscopic airway evaluation, CT scan, etc. I want you to know that this is all possible now though. If you are on your third round of Baytril with your snake for a “respiratory infection” it may be time to look a little deeper. The new age of reptile medicine and surgery is here, and the future looks bright!

Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

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