Terrarium animals can also become ill. And yet, most illnesses are easy to avoid by following a few rules. Vet and reptile expert Kornelis Biron explains how.

Reptiles and amphibians are particularly popular terrarium pets. Which illnesses affect these animals?

Pet owners are constantly surprised that terrarium animals can basically become ill just as we or other mammals do. In addition to injuries and tumours, these illnesses arise chiefly from living conditions and are caused by unsuitable objects in the terrarium, insufficient lighting, improper feeding etc. Infections are just as common.

What infections can occur and how do I recognise them?

The main risk is parasites and bacteria, although viral infections and fungal infections are also fairly common. Until the illness has broken out, viral infections can only be determined by special examinations. Fungal infections and bacterial infections can usually be identified by changes to the skin. These infections also cause abscesses and respiratory problems ranging from sniffles to pneumonia.

What can I as an owner do to prevent my pet from getting ill?

The best thing you can do is to create the best possible living environment for your pet. Most infections result primarily from a weakened immune system caused by, among other things, stress. Pathogens already present can then lead to an illness. Roaming freely through your home or ventilating too long in winter can also pose a threat. Viral infections can only be prevented through quarantine. Many viruses can only be detected through special examinations. You can prevent parasitic infections the same way.

What exactly does quarantine mean and what is the best way to do it?

Newly acquired reptiles should first be placed in a quarantine terrarium with minimal furnishings. You must provide food, water, lighting and heating of course. You should then bring a fresh, still moist stool sample, or better yet, your pet, to a specialised vet or laboratory for examination. Even pets that seem healthy can be infested with parasites. Once they have been fully treated, and ideally after a follow-up appointment for confirmation, your animals can finally move.

Isn’t it possible to treat my pet in a normal terrarium?

Surely he would be more comfortable there. That is correct. However, not only would you run the risk of your pet infecting other species already living in the terrarium, he could also spread helminth eggs, coccidia oocysts, mites etc. to such a degree that you’ll never be able to get rid of the parasites, no matter what treatment is used. It is also easier to observe your pet under quarantine, as they aren’t able to hide as well. Most animals aren’t really affected by quarantine; therefore you should be patient for the sake of your pet’s health.

What else poses a risk of infection? Do I need to worry about live food or equipment/accessories?

As long as you don’t use any reptiles as live food, which is typically the case anyway, you don’t have to worry about contamination from the food or other objects. This is because the parasites from live food, with few exceptions, do not attack reptiles. By heating equipment/accessories in the oven, however, you can guarantee there will be no unwelcome guests. Stool samples should be examined for each new arrival and twice a year, ideally before and after your pets go dormant and if you happen to be cleaning the terrarium anyway. Doing so will allow you to discover an infestation and fight it before it causes problems.

What should I do if I have several terraria to prevent transferring pathogens?

Use one set of utensils per tank when cleaning the terraria, i.e. one spoon and one glass used purely for this task. Whether you have one or more terraria, you should remove droppings and leftover food immediately. If your pet is infested even slightly with worms, he will continue to ingest worm eggs if he comes into contact with his own excreta.

Could I get infected with these parasites?

No. Parasites that can attack people are only rarely found on certain species captured in the wild. Nevertheless, it is important that you wash your hands thoroughly after each time that you handle your pet or use something from the terrarium. In theory, there is a risk of salmonella poisoning, but following basic rules of hygiene will keep this risk purely theoretical.

Call into your local store today to discuss your reptile’s personal needs with our Maxi Zoo Pet Experts.