Added 11 January 2011.

Veterinary Resources

for Reptiles and Amphibians


If you keep a pet, it may well be sooner or later that you need veterinary assistance. This is as true of reptiles and amphibians as it is of cats, dogs and fish, although unlike cats and dogs, reptiles and amphibians do not require flea treatment or flu vaccinations, for example. Nevertheless any person taking on the care of a pet animal should be aware that there may be a time when a trip to the vet is necessary for the sake of the animal. The awareness of this should also focus the keeper's mind on the possible costs involved. For that reason alone it is unwise to take on too many animals, particularly animals which may need regular veterinary treatment. Even a "regular" visit to the vet for a standard cat or dog treatment can cost £40 or so. Insurance is available, even for exotic pets, but it seems that this will only extend so far, or cover a certain number of animals. Always check the small print and work out whether it is worth paying so much per month if you think veterinary visits will be infrequent.

Finding a vet

Sad to say, even in these days when reptiles and amphibians are coming to be seen as almost as normal household pets as cats, dogs, birds and fish, not all vets are equipped to deal with herpetological veterinary problems. In fact I would go so far to say that most are not. Without wishing to sound disrespectful to highly qualified professionals, most veterinary clinics seem to be set up mainly to treat cats and dogs, which do after all form a huge market. Some veterinarians will have had experience of tortoises, which have long been popular reptile pets in Britain. A smaller number will have experience and knowledge of lizards and snakes, and fewer still of amphibians or invertebrates. Clinics that treat birds may also be equipped at some level to treat reptiles or amphibians.

It is a good idea to know where your nearest vet capable of treating herps is before you acquire an animal. The best place to look is in the advertisements of popular herpetological magazines if they carry adverts for your country (not much good looking in a magazine produced in the USA, for example, if you live in the UK). After that, look in your local Yellow Pages or on an equivalent Internet site. Asking other keepers for recommendations is also helpful, especially for a second opinion on the treatment received at a particular clinic - Internet forums are a good place for this, but asking someone you trust is better (some forum users can have axes to grind).

Something you should also consider is that you may need to travel a bit further to find a capable vet. Where I live it is possible to have a cat treated within a mile of my home, but in the past I have usually had to travel at least eight miles and sometimes thirty to get to a veterinarian to carry out treatment on a reptile. This also means that you should think carefully about how you are going to get there and how to transport your pet. For carrying most pets it is usually less stressful on both owner and animal to use a car to reach the clinic rather than public transport.

When should I seek a vet?

Good question. As a keeper you should have read about your animal, set up its housing and diet appropriately, and observed it regularly enough so that you know its normal behaviour, habits and moods. If your animal is behaving unusually, and particularly if it is showing lack of appetite or unusual or unseasonal lethargy, producing unusual- and often foul-smelling faeces or showing evidence of bleeding, other secretions or wounds, then the warning signs should be going up. If you have not had the animal long and it appears not to be eating or to be lethargic, check the setup - the problem may be one of feeding the right animals or the right amount, or adjusting the lighting or heating. In the other cases (unusual excrement, bleeding or other secretions or wounds), then regardless of the origin of the problem, veterinary care is certainly required.

It is worth reiterating that in the case of reptiles and amphibians, most veterinary problems can be avoided by having the correct terrarium setup for the animal(s). This means spending the necessary money on the setup, plus a little bit extra for any guides (in book form) that may help the keeper understand the animal and its requirements.

Can't I do it myself?

The answer, for the most part, is no. The keeper can eliminate or resolve some problems by maintaining or adjusting the correct husbandry for the animal, and use certain items such as over-the-counter iodine-based solutions for treating simple surface wounds - and there is no reason why a keeper cannot read up on the parasites and diseases of reptiles and amphibians. However any veterinary drugs must, in most countries, be prescribed by a veterinarian, who will normally only do so after examining the animal his- or herself. This may sound restrictive, but there is a good reason for this: a veterinarian has undergone years of training and is, or should be, better qualified to offer the best prescription, at least for those animals he or she is trained to treat.

Resources for veterinarians

This section is addressed also to veterinarians, in the hope that they may find some useful reference material here. Keepers may also find some of these works useful, but it should be remembered that (a) only veterinarians are equipped, or licensed, to carry out procedures or prescribe drugs, and (b) the true veterinary works often come with a hefty price tag. This section will be updated as new works are encountered. German language books are included at the end of this section because herpetology has long been established in Germany and treated seriously.

It should become apparent that most herpetological books in this field deal primarily or exclusively with reptiles, partly because of their greater popularity and I believe partly because amphibian medicine is a less investigated subject. Hopefully the situation regarding amphibians will change in this respect.

DISCLAIMER: Most of these books listed here I have not read myself, nor would I be qualified enough to comment on them from a veterinary point of view. They are listed partly through recommendation on websites such as Amazon or in herpetological publications, and partly because they appear to be the latest texts (in most cases) on the subject.

Also, this list does not claim to be exhaustive but will hopefully be useful in pointing readers to the most important or widely used or recommended books. It will be updated over time.

General reading

Older texts which one can still find second-hand are the original TFH 3-volume set on diseases of fish, amphibians and reptiles. However the reader should be aware that the state of our knowledge has progressed considerably since the date these were published.

Understanding Reptile Parasites, Roger J Klingenberg DVM, Herpetocultural Library, 2007. Appears to be an updated edition of the author's 1993 work Understanding Reptile Parasites - A Manual for Herpetoculturists and Veterinarians.

TFH produced a similar volume by Eric M Rundquist, Reptile and Amphibian Parasites, 1995.

Reptile Diseases, Rolf Hackbarth, TFH 1991. Slim hardback book.

Self-Assessment Review of Reptiles and Amphibians, Frederic L Frye and David L Williams, Manson Publishing, 2005.

The Biology, Husbandry and Health Care of Reptiles, Lowell J Ackermann DVM, 3 volume set, TFH 1998.

Veterinary books

Reptile Medicine and Surgery, Douglas Mader MS DVM, Saunders, 2005. Apparently contains a chapter by Kevin Wright on amphibian medicine as well.

Amphibian Medicine and Captive Husbandry, K M Wright and B R Whitaker, Krieger 2001. So far the only contemporary book I am aware of that treats amphibians in their own right.

Invertebrate Medicine, Gregory A Lewbart, Wiley-Blackwell, 2006. Given the popularity of some invertebrate pets such as tarantulas, scorpions, land snails and hermit crabs, this is probably a timely volume.

A Veterinary Guide to the Parasites of Reptiles: Volume 1, Protozoa, Susan M Bernard and Steve J Upton, Krieger, 1994 edition.

A Veterinary Guide to the Parasites of Reptiles: Volume 2, Arthropods, Susan M Bernard and Nixon M Wilson, Krieger, 2000 edition.

Hemoparasites of the Reptilia, Sam R Telford Jr, CRC Press, 2008.

Parasitology in snakes, lizards and chelonians: a husbandry guide, Leonard Marcus

Veterinary Nursing of Exotic Pets, Simon GirlingWiley Blackwell, 2003

BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets, Anna Meredith and Cathy Johnson Delaney, British Small Animal Veterinary Association, 5th edition, 2010.

BSAVA Small Animal Formulary, Ian Ramsey, British Small Animal Veterinary Association, 6th edition, 2008. Covers drug use on small animals: unfortunately I have not been able to verify whether this includes reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.

Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician, Bonnie M Ballard and Ryan CheeckWiley-Blackwell, 2nd edition, 2010. Covers variety of exotics including birds, sugar gliders and snakes.

German language books

Erkrangungen der Amphibien, 2. Auflage, F Mutschmann, Enke Verlag, Stuttgart 2010, 322 pages.

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