Treating Crypto in reptiles

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Disclaimer:

I’m undecided about whether I should publish this post. I believe in providing as much information about the treatment of our scaley friends as possible… but it seems like this info could be harmful. Therefore, I urge you to always consult your vet first. I will not say this works. In fact, it did not save my snake’s life. After visiting the vet myself and having many tests performed and forcing a ridiculous amount of medications onto my snake, I felt this was my last and only option… So I’m posting it online with the hope that maybe, maybe, it can save one life.

Please do not let this deter you from taking your reptile to the vet.

There can be many things that cause similar symptoms to arise in your pet and some of them can easily be treated by a professional (at little expense). Please let this be your last option, reserved only for when you’ve exhausted every other possibility.

About Crypto:

I will be using the term “crypto” as a shorthand of the infection Cryptosporidiosis. For more detailed information about this infection, please visit these links: RichmondVets and Arizona Exotic.

Crypto is dreaded among reptile enthusiasts because of it’s ability to wipe out entire collections. It is usually transferred through fecal matter and anything that comes into contact with an infected area (to include water and food bowls, hides, or other decor). The infection is difficult to detect through regular fecal tests because the crypto organism sheds only intermittently. Because of this, any new animals should always be quarantined immediately and strict hygenic processes should always practiced when caring for your reptiles.

Symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite or interest in food
  • Weight loss
  • Regurgitation (often looks like it’s covered in mucus)
  • Change in stool (it has been described as similar in appearance to cottage cheese)
  • Lethargy
  • A firm bulge or swelling in the middle of the body

The cure:

My label “the cure” is misleading. There is no cure. Many vets will resort to euthanasia to prevent loss of quality of life. But please, take your pet the vet anyway. Follow their advice. They are the experts. They can rightfully diagnose crypto in your pet. If you have other pets, you need to consider their safety as well. Quarantine your sickly animal as soon as humanly possible or you may infect the others and risk losing your entire collection.

If you’re like me, and can’t bear to part with your pet, then follow these steps only after you have discussed them with your vet.

  • Separate the reptile from the rest (which you should have already done but I’m going to reiterate my point). Put the infected animal in another room.
  • Clean the entire tank with bleach. Do not redecorate. Throw away fake plants or unnecessary decor. Do not use it for other animals. If you can’t bear to part with it, bleach those items and leave them outside in the sunlight for a few months. You have to wait for the parasite/oocysts (eggs) to die off, which can take quite a while.
  • Lay down paper towels so that the tank will be easier to change and clean. This is going to need to be as close to hospital sterile as we can get it.
  • Soak you reptile in a pedialyte (or Gatorade at the very least) solution (I used 1/3 pedialyte and 2/3 water) to allow for rehydration. You’ll probably need to start doing this daily, depending on the severity of the infection.
  • Buy what is called “hyperimmune bovine colostrum” (I purchased mine from Synertek, but that was a few years ago).
  • Quoted from the study that I supplied below as a source: you can treat the reptile with “six gastric [hyperimmune bovine colostrum] treatments of 1% snake weight at 1-week intervals each.”
  • There is a little more research available than I had years back, but what I did was this: I filled a syringe (a small one like these) with the required 1% of body weight, attached a rubber tube (aquarium tubing works well), carefully pried open the snake’s mouth (by pressing on either side of the jaw), inserted the tube to just past the snake’s neck (this is a good pic for reference; I aimed for the spot just past the person’s hand), and slowly empty the contents of the syringe. Once empty, hold the reptile’s mouth closed for a minute to prevent regurgitation.
  • Put the snake back into it’s cage on a heat source so he can digest the colostrum.

Even if your reptile shows signs of improvement, you can never reintroduce the reptile to other companions. You will always have to keep him separated from the rest. This may suppress and manage the crypto parasite, but he will always carry it.

Source:
Therapeutic efficacy of hyperimmune bovine colostrum treatment against clinical and subclinical Cryptosporidium serpentis infections in captive snakes

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Bearded dragon care sheet

Quick facts:

  • Size – 1.5 to 2 feet.
  • Lifespan – with good care, your beardie can live up to 10 years, although some owners report as low as 6 and others insist they can survive for much longer.
  • Personality – bearded dragons seem to come pre-tamed. In fact, they have such a docile nature that many residents of Australia are able to pick up wild ones and handle them with no problems. Now, that’s not to say there can’t be exceptions. Generally, beardies make very good pets for a variety of people and even young children.
  • Cage size – a 40 gallon breeder aquarium is the acceptable standard, although, as always, bigger is definitely better.

Diet:

Beardies are omnivorous, meaning they eat both vegetables and meat. “Meat” in this case, however, means insects. Crickets, dubia roaches, and superworms or mealworms are perfect for a happy beardy. As with all other reptiles who eat insects, remember to dust your feeders with powdered calcium to ensure that they get enough to meet their needs! To dust, you can separate the feeders you’ll be offering that day into a separate container (a baggie or tupperware works fine) and sprinkle some calcium powder over the insects. You can then shake the container gently to help coat the bugs with the powder. They’ll come out looking white and this is when you can offer them.

Young beardies need more protein (AKA insects) than adult beardies. You should offer as many appropriately sized crickets or dubias as they can eat in a 5-10 minute time frame. To ensure the proper size, take note of the length between the eye “bumps.” Your feeder items should not be any longer than this or it may cause impaction problems for your dragon. Vegetables should also be provided. Great staples for a young beardy diet include (make sure these are chopped to an appropriate size): mustard, turnip, collard, or dandelion greens; endive; watercress; escarole; acorn, butternut, or yellow squash; green beans; parsnips; zucchini; and peas. Protein and vegetables should be offered daily to a growing beardy.

For an adult dragon, this differs slightly. They should only be offered about 50 insects per week. Providing more may lead to obesity problems and, subsequently, other health issues. Try to keep the ratio of bugs to veggies at approximately 30% insects and 70% vegetables. If you’re lucky, you might be able to convince your beardy to eat the pellets that petstores sell but these brands differ wildly and, honestly, I’m not convinced that the dragon gets everything he needs from these. If you wanted to try pellets as a way to supplement his diet while still offering insects and vegetables then more power to you! Great staples for a adult beardies include the same as for younglings (again, make sure these are chopped to an appropriate size): mustard, turnip, collard, or dandelion greens; endive; watercress; escarole; acorn, butternut, or yellow squash; green beans; parsnips; zucchini; and peas. You can add some variety by introducing fruits in moderation. Mango and papaya are perfect. Peeled apples, strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, and bananas are great for the occasional treats.

A more detailed list of proper food items can be found here.

Temperature/cage:

Dragons need a basking spot on one end of their enclosure in the high 90’s to about 110, depending on age. For babies, 105° to 110°. I like to keep my adults at exactly 100°. UVA/UVB light must also be provided. Like most lizards, dragons are susceptible to metabolic bone disease (MBD) if they are not exposed to proper lighting.

A cool side of 80° must be provided for your dragon. If you’re using at least a 40 gallon breeder (like you should be!), this is easily achieved as it provides enough space for the heat from your lamp to disperse.

You’ll find a common item in petstores that advertises itself as calcium sand, or some such variation. Do not  use this. This sand is very fine and has a tendency to clump together when wet. It can cause severe impaction problems in your dragon. If you want to use sand, buy a big bag of play sand from Home Depot or another hardware store. This sand is infinitely better because it does not clump. Newspaper, paper towel, or other absorbent medium is the best, but understandably does not look the greatest.

beardie

Crested gecko care sheet

Quick facts:

  • Size – males and females reach a length of approximately 4 to 5 inches, from snout to vent. Including the tail, they can range between 8 to 9 inches.
  • Lifespan – with good care, your crestie may live for 20 years, give or take.
  • Personality – crested geckos are generally calm in demeanor. They can be a bit flighty when they’re young, but with proper handling an adult can become a very docile pet.
  • Cage size – as usual, bigger is better. The minimum enclosure size for a full-grown crested gecko should be a twenty gallon tall tank. Three adults can be comfortably housed in 30 gallon tank, but you want to ensure that they are all female (males can be extremely aggressive toward each other, especially when there are females nearby).

Diet:
Cresties are very easy to feed and can lively largely on commercial crested gecko diets. Repashy is a great brand to choose and can be found easily on Amazon. Pangea is another great brand, but I’ve had some trouble getting mine to adjust to certain flavors offered by the company. You might end up having to buy multiple flavors to satisfy the preferences of your gecko.

To ensure that your crestie is getting all of the nutrients it needs for growth and health, you may choose to offer snacks consisting of insects multiple times per week. For example, I offer mine crickets and dubia roaches twice a week. As a rarer treat, you may choose to offer waxworms or mealworms but you should be careful with these insects as they can cause impaction problems.

In a pinch, you can give them fruit baby food but I would generally advise against this as a frequent diet because of the guesswork involved in adding proper amounts of vitamins and calcium.

Be sure to provide a bowl of standing water for your gecko just in case he/she takes to it. It is very important to mist the enclosure daily, however, as geckos will usually recognize the water droplets as a source of hydration before the water bowl.

Temperature/humidity:
Being nocturnal by nature, there is no need for a UVB light.

Heating should be between a moderate 75° and 85°. A temperature drop during the night into the low 60’s is permissible but you’ll need to provide an alternate source of heat during winter freezes.

Humidity is important for these geckos as they come from tropical areas. An ideal humidity would be about 60-70%. In drier climates, multiple mistings per day may be required.

Additional notes:
It is quite normal for a crested gecko to lose it’s tail, but unfortunately, the tail will not grow back. For this reason, you’ll want to avoid touching or pulling on the tail. If an accident occurs and your crestie loses his tail, however, do not panic as this is perfectly natural.

B&W tegu care sheet

Quick facts:

  • Size – 4 to 5 feet.
  • Lifespan – with good care, your tegu can live for 20+ years.
  • Personality – the Argentine black and white tegu can become remarkably docile, almost dog-like by the time it reaches full maturity. Argentines are not to be confused with the Columbian species, though. Columbians can become quite tame but are certainly not known for it like their Argentine cousins.
  • Cage size – there are no commercially available cages. You’ll have to build your own. A minimum 6′ length x 3′ depth x 2′ height is recommended, although, like always, bigger is definitely better.

Diet:

Tegus are primarily meat-eaters but it’s good to include some fruits and veggies for them as well. When your tegu is small, you’ll want to introduce crickets, mealworms, cooked eggs (raw eggs provide unnecessary exposure to bacteria that may make your tegu sick), and raw turkey. Berries of any variety are good for them and can help get them used to non-meat entres.

As adults, you’ll want to start introducing a little more fruit and some fish. Melons, berries, bananas and oranges (in moderation). Fish should be given raw. Salmon is the best, but I’ve given mine fresh tilapia as well. Ground turkey should be mixed with vitamins and calcium powder. I like to chop up my veggies and mix it into some scrambled eggs for mine to eat. Remember to feed him those shells, too! They’re a great source of calcium.

Hatchlings and small tegus should be fed daily or every other day while adults can bed fed every other day.

Temperature/humidity:

Tegus need a basking spot on one end of their enclosure in the high 90’s to about 110. I like to keep mine at exactly 100°. UVA/UVB light must also be provided. Like most lizards, tegus are suceptible to metabolic bone disease (MBD) if they are not exposed to proper lighting.

The humidity needs to be high for proper shedding and overall health. Eighty to 90% is perfect for them and can be achieved through daily misting or the addition of a humid-hide box. You’ll also want to make sure that your tegu has a water bowl big enough for soaking as they are quite fond of submersion.

Additional notes:

Tegus are quite terrestrial and like to burrow. Make sure you provide a massive amount of dirt for them to play in. A good recipe for your tegu’s substrate consists of playground sand with some organic topsoil. You want it to be able to hold a burrow if the tegu so desires.

Your tegu may also be given the chance to brumate. They’ll typically sleep for 6 months out of the year during this period. It’s usually done to ensure breeding but some people also believe it contributes to the overall health of their animal. I do not allow mine to brumate and I have not noticed any ill-consequences as a result.

To brumate your tegu, you’ll want to take him off feed approximately two weeks prior to brumation. This will ensure that his belly is empty and food does not rot in his stomach. Next, you’ll provide a place for your tegu to bury himself. Be sure to keep this area continuously misted. That moisture is important! And then you’ll gradually lower the temps over a period of days until you’ve arrived at approximately 55°. It is difficult to ensure that that temperature remains the same, but it must be relatively consistent. If it dips below 50°, your tegu could get sick. If it goes above, he will come out of hibernation.

Treating scale rot, shell rot, or tail rot

Commonly, rot of any kind in myriad reptile species is caused by poor husbandry conditions and the stress that stems from it. Dirty water, dirty cage, poor heating, bad food, etc. The best way to treat scale rot, shell rot, tail rot, or mouth rot is to avoid it altogether.

Obviously, you wouldn’t be reading this article unless that opportunity hadn’t already passed, though.

The good news is that rot, if caught early enough, can be fixed with relative ease. By “ease,” I mean: without a trip to the vet. Now, that’s not to say a vet trip couldn’t be recommended. When in doubt, I would always suggest having the experts take a look at your beloved pet. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

Assuming that you feel the rot hasn’t reached the point of necessitating a vet appointment yet, let’s proceed:

Signs of rot –

  • Dark coloration on scales (similar in some ways to a bruise)
  • Blisters or sores
  • Abscesses or lesions
  • Dead tissue, loose scutes, or visible infections

Example of rot –

Steps to treat scale, shell, or tail rot –

  1. Remove any excess skin, scales, or scutes that you can easily remove. Do not pry or force. For turtles, take a soft bristle brush (a toothbrush works well) and clean the infected areas with soap and water. Rinse when done.
  2. Soak the animal in a Betadine and water solution for approximately 30 minutes. When mixing your Betadine, pour  just enough into the water to make the solution look like weak tea. Keep your animal from swallowing the solution. Try, also, to keep their head above water as the Betadine may cause irritation of the eyes or soft tissue in the mouth or nostrils.
  3. After 30 minutes, remove and dry the animal with a clean towel or clean paper towels. Apply dabs of Neosporin to any infected area. (Note: do not use the Neosporin that offers “pain relief” as this is bad for your reptile; the plain Neosporin is best.)
  4. Set up a quarantined, sanitary box for your pet with paper towels for bedding and new, clean bowels for water and food. This will be his hospital room for as long as the infection persists. Clean daily to avoid re-infection. Keep the environment dry (the infection thrives in moisture).
    1. If you have an aquatic animal, give them a few hours to dry out before reintroducing them to a thoroughly cleaned tank.
  5. Repeat steps daily for one week and every other day for as long as two weeks. If you see no improvement after a month, my suggestion would be to take the animal to the vet.

Mouth rot –

  1. Unless you have extensive experience with reptiles, I would not advise treating mouth rot yourself. This can potentially injure the animal, make the rot worse, or get you bit!
  2. If you’re insistent on doing it yourself, pour yourself a small solution of Betadine and water (“weak tea” colored) and, using a Q-tip, carefully clean the infected area daily.
  3. If you’re savvy enough, you may consider giving an injection of Baytril to clear up the infection. Again, this is not advised. You can mortally wound your pet if it’s done incorrectly.

Corn snake care sheet

Quick facts:

  • Size – typically grow about 4 to 5 feet in length.
  • Lifespan – with good care, your corn can live for 15 or 20+ years.
  • Personality – hatchlings can be fearful and may try to strike, but as they grow corns will usually mellow out quite a bit. This isn’t a snake that needs to be handled daily although daily handlings will certainly allow your corn to get used to you and he or she may be less “squirmy” for it.
  • Cage size – a 20 gallon long aquarium will suffice for smaller snakes but larger ones will really need a 40 gallon breeder at a minimum.

Diet:
As with all snakes, a diet of mice or rats is acceptable. Young rats provide more nutrition for corn snakes and are the better alternative but mice will suffice. You should choose a mouse that is at least as big or one and a half times the thickest part of your snake. Frozen/thawed mice or rats are the better option because these rodents have been pre-killed and do not pose a danger to your snake. Their frozen state kills off unwanted bacteria, also. Frozen/thawed rodents are readily purchased at almost any petstore or can be ordered (in bulk) from online shops like RodentPro, PerfectPrey, or LayneLabs.

Do NOT try to thaw out your mouse or rat in the microwave! Place the rodent in a baggie and let it thaw slowly in a bowl of hot water. Or, better yet, do what I do and set the rat or mouse in the refrigerator the night before. This will ensure that it is properly thawed. You can then place it in some warm water to get the body temp up and make it more “lifelike” for your corn snake. Cold food is NOT good for snakes. Make sure that it is warm!

Temperatures/Humidity:
Corn snakes, like all snakes, need a temperature gradient to help them regulate their own body temperatures. They are cold blooded, so they need an external heat source. I find that under tank heaters are terrific and easy to use. Heating lamps can work well but there needs to be an object below the lamp to help absorb the heat (like a rock or a piece of tile). Corn snakes absorb heat through their bellies. You’ll find them basking on rocks in the wild to soak up the heat from below rather than waiting for the sun to warm them.

Do NOT use heating rocks! These are wicked products and can result in severe burns to the snake. A mild malfunction in the devices can burn the skin right off of your snake. I would show you pictures but they’re very hard to look at.

To get your tank set up properly, you’ll want to maintain a “cool” end temperature of about 70° to 75°. You should not let the tank drop below that 60°. On the other side of the tank, you’ll want to place your heating device and maintain a temp of approximately 85°. You can allow a small decrease in temp during the night, but the day needs to maintain this gradient constantly. To monitor these temps, please make it easy on yourself and purchase a temp gun. They sell little thermometers at pets stores but those can be horribly inaccurate. The temp gun is much more reliable and easier to use. Just shine the light at whatever space your snake can rest on and, if it checks out, call it a day.

In addition to the temperature, you’ll want to maintain a humidity of about 60%-70%. In some areas, you may not need to worry about this (some places in the south are more humid than others). But for those who need to take this into consideration, misting the cage can help you raise the humidity. Placing the water bowl over the heating pad or under the heating lamp can help. Even draping moist towels over the top of the cage can provide a little extra moisture. If all else fails, get yourself a tupperware container and cut a hole into it big enough for your snake to access. Fill it with damp sphagnum moss and let your snake regulate his own humidity. You’ll need to make sure you moisten the moss daily, however.

Ball python care sheet

Quick facts:

  • Size – females can grow 3 to 5 feet while males grow 2 to 3.
  • Lifespan – with good care, your python can live for 30 to 40+ years.
  • Personality – considered the “Labradors of the snake world.” They rarely strike. Very docile tendencies. When they feel threatened, they will curl into a tight ball and only come out when they feel safe again.
  • Cage size – a 20 gallon long aquarium will suffice for smaller snakes but larger ones will really need a 40 gallon breeder at a minimum.

Diet:
As with all snakes, a diet of mice or rats is acceptable. Rats provide more nutrition for ball pythons and are the better alternative but mice will suffice. You should choose a mouse that is at least as big or one and a half times the thickest part of your snake. Frozen/thawed mice or rats are the better option because these rodents have been pre-killed and do not pose a danger to your snake. Their frozen state kills off unwanted bacteria, also. Frozen/thawed rodents are readily purchased at almost any petstore or can be ordered (in bulk) from online shops like RodentPro, PerfectPrey, or LayneLabs.

Do NOT try to thaw out your mouse or rat in the microwave! Place the rodent in a baggie and let it thaw slowly in a bowl of hot water. Or, better yet, do what I do and set the rat or mouse in the refrigerator the night before. This will ensure that it is properly thawed. You can then place it in some warm water to get the body temp up and make it more “lifelike” for your ball python. Cold food is NOT good for snakes. Make sure that it is warm!

*Note: Not all ball pythons will accept frozen/thawed. They can be picky eaters.

Temperatures/Humidity:
Ball pythons, like all snakes, need a temperature gradient to help them regulate their own body temperatures. They are cold blooded, so they need an external heat source. I find that under tank heaters are terrific and easy to use. Heating lamps can work well but there needs an object below the lamp to help absorb the heat (like a rock or a piece of tile). Ball pythons absorb heat through their bellies. You’ll find them basking on rocks in the wild to soak up the heat from below rather than waiting for the sun to warm them.

Do NOT use heating rocks! These are wicked products and can result in severe burns to the snake. A mild malfunction in the devices can burn the skin right off of your snake. I would show you pictures but they’re very hard to look at.

To get your tank set up properly, you’ll want to maintain a “cool” end temperature of about 75° to 80°. You should not let the tank drop below that 75°. On the other side of the tank, you’ll want to place your heating device and maintain a temp of approximately 90°. You can allow a small decrease in temp during the night, but the day needs to maintain this gradient constantly. To monitor these temps, please make it easy on yourself and purchase a temp gun. They sell little thermometers at pets stores but those can be horribly inaccurate. The temp gun is much more reliable and easier to use. Just shine the light at whatever space your snake can rest on and, if it checks out, call it a day.

In addition to the temperature, you’ll want to maintain a humidity of about 60%-70%. In some areas, you may not need to worry about this (some places in the south are more humid than others). But for those who need to take this into consideration, misting the cage can help you raise the humidity. Placing the water bowl over the heating pad or under the heating lamp can help. Even draping moist towels over the top of the cage can provide a little extra moisture. If all else fails, get yourself a tupperware container and cut a hole into it big enough for your snake to access. Fill it with damp sphagnum moss and let your snake regulate his own humidity. You’ll need to make sure you moisten the moss daily, however.