Thursday, May 13, 2010

Care of newly acquired reptiles

Any time you get a new reptile they should be quarantined. They should be placed in a cage with the minimum decorations and lined with newspaper so it can be easily cleaned. They should be kept away from any other reptiles in your collection to avoid transmission of parasites or disease. Always wash your hands after handling the new reptile before you go and touch the other reptiles in your collection as well.

Before you get your new reptile understand that at the supplier's facility or pet store, that reptile is exposed to illness, disease and parasites. This is because most of them do not thoroughly clean and disinfect the cages in between housing different reptiles that they have for sale. All wild caught reptiles have parasites and/or other illness. Most reptiles in the pet trade are wild caught. So for example after a wild caught reptile has been in a cage and sold, a captive born one could be placed in there next, it might not have had parasites and/or illness, but guess what? It does now.

Always take a new reptile to your vet for a fecal exam and a health check. If you are very experienced with reptiles you can learn how to do your own fecal exams and watch a reptile closely for signs of illness and take it to the vet if you suspect it's sick. I myself feel better having a vet do it all for me. They have a microscope for the fecal exams and can also take saliva or skin samples and look for bacteria, etc which would signify infection. This way infection is caught early on before it gets bad and could've caused serious harm or death to your reptile. Most reptiles do not show signs of illness until it is serious and often the result is death.

External parasites(ticks and mites):
Before putting your new reptile in it's cage for the first time thoroughly inspect it's skin, in between it's scales, eye lid folds, anywhere the skin folds, vent area, nostrils and folds around the mouth for ticks and mites. Ticks are bigger and easier to spot. Mites are tiny, usually red or brown/black in color. If it has any, pick them ALL off. Then soak the reptile in water to see if any you might have missed float to the surface. You must really try to find them all and get rid of them. A mite infestation is extremely hard to get rid of as the mites crawl off your reptile and go in cracks to hide or climb outside the cage and infect other reptiles. I do not condone using any tick/mite medications (sprays or stuff you rub on the skin) because reptile respiratory systems are very delicate and the reptile could go into respiratory distress and possibly die within weeks after being treated. These medications can be very toxic to reptiles despite what the labels say. After you think you have gotten all the mites off, put it in it's cage and instead of using newspaper for the bottom, use white paper towels. This way it is easier to see the mites crawling around if you missed any. If you see some, get them out immediately. Keep checking your reptile and it's cage for a few weeks to make sure you really got them all.

Treating for internal parasites and/or intestinal protozoa overgrowth:
After you get a fecal exam done and you know what type of parasite or intestinal protozoa infection the reptile has, the vet will prescribe medication and treatment. Different ones require different medicine so it is very important to know which one you are dealing with. Most parasitic worms are treated with Panacur(only a few types don't respond to it and need different medicine). Usually it is given once daily for 1-5 days in a row, 3 times, two weeks apart each time. The 1st dose kills the adult worms, the 2nd dose kills the newly hatched worms from the eggs that didn't die, the 3rd dose is to kill any that might have been missed with the 1st two doses. Wait 2 weeks and start taking in fecal samples every 2 weeks until 3 fecal exams in a row come back clean. This way you know for a fact the reptile is totally parasite free. Sometimes parasites can be missed or the reptile could get reinfected (if you don't clean the cage good enough) so that's why it's important to do 3 fecals in a row.

The most common intestinal protozoa overgrowth in reptiles is Coccidia. This can become deadly! It's most often recognized by very smelly feces. The longer it goes untreated the worse it gets. The feces turn very runny and get more smelly. The reptile eventually becomes lethargic and stops eating and drinking as much or not at all. Then it dies. The medication used for Coccidia is Smz Tmp (sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim). Most other types of protozoa infections are treated with Metronidazole. Both medications are usually given once daily for 7 days. Then start taking in fecal samples every 2 weeks until 3 in a row come back clean so you know for sure the infection is gone.

VERY IMPORTANT...the whole time you are treating for parasites and/or protozoa infections you must clean up feces as soon as you see it! Change the newspaper on the bottom and disinfect the area and/or anything the feces touched. This is to prevent reinfection during treatment and until 3 fecals in a row come back clean. If you don't do this your reptile WILL get reinfected and you will have to treat it again later.

Respiratory illness:
If you notice excess saliva/mucus/bubbling in your reptile's mouth or nose it has a respiratory infection. Other signs are opening the mouth to breath, coughing and sneezing. Sometimes reptiles will also regurgitate food. Have your vet take a swab and look at it under the microscope. Usually it is bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics. Sometimes it's a virus, these cannot be treated usually:( or it could be fungal, which is extremely hard to treat and get rid of. Bacterial respiratory infections should be treated with oral antibiotics( Enrofloxacin, the oral form of Baytril). It is much less painful than giving a shot of Baytril and there are no worries of the injection site becoming necrotic. Enrofloxacin is usually given once daily for 14 days. It's also a good idea to bump up the heat in your reptiles cage a few degrees to help the recovery process during treatment.

Skin infections:
Watch your new reptile's skin closely for signs of infection or discoloration. If it has a scrape or cut clean it out with Betadine and apply Silver Sulfadiazine to the area twice a day until healed. Don't use anything else as reptile skin is delicate and could be harmed by other ointments, antiseptics, soaps, etc. If the scrape or cut is deep and is infected the reptile will need antibiotics. Enrofloxacin given orally once a day for 14 days is usually enough to cure the infection along with cleaning the wound daily with Betadine and using the Silver Sulfadiazine ointment.

If you see your reptile's skin start to have gray patches/areas where it looks like it's going to shed, but it doesn't and the area starts to spread, it has fungus. Other signs are: the areas of gray skin are hard(necrotic), blisters, weeping fluids from the skin area, lesions and swelling of spots under the skin. Take your reptile to the vet right away! Do not expose this reptile to any other reptiles at all, not even in the same room! Fungus is not only spread by touch but the fungal spores can travel through the air landing on another reptile and infecting it. Whole reptile collections can be wiped out! Your vet will take a sample of the skin and send it out to be biopsied. Once you know what type of fungus it is, your vet will grow a culture and see what medication it responds to, and then prescribe that one for your reptile. Fungus is very hard to treat and might need to be treated more than once. Each treatment usually lasts for 2 months. The medications used for fungus are very hard on reptile kidney and liver so it's really important to keep the reptile very well hydrated during treatment. Usually the oral medication Itraconazole is used and sometimes also Conofite lotion applied topically to affected areas at the same time during treatment. If the fungus has not affected the internal organs of the reptile and is just affecting the skin, the reptile has a good chance of recovering and not dying. There are a few types of fungus a reptile can get and most are cureable. Beware of the deadly CANV fungus. It's extremely deadly and contagious!

After your new reptile has been in quarantine for around 3 months and has no apparent signs of illness it's usually safe to introduce it to your other reptiles. Usually during the 3 month quarantine period if the reptile had an illness it would've been discovered by you and your vet.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Caring for Green tree monitors Varanus prasinus

So recently many people have contacted me asking all sorts of questions about my green tree monitors. About the care I provide and how I got mine to be so tame and interactive with me.

First off I want to say I have done a lot of research over the years gathering small bits of info here and there from books, the internet and people. This has all contributed to the way I care for this species. So far how I care for them has resulted in 2 very healthy adults who have now just started to breed for me. The next adventure will be finding fertile eggs, incubating them and hatching them out to be healthy babies.

Care of my monitors:
Cage: 6ft tall x 4ft wide x 2 1/2 ft deep. Back wall and sides are covered in cork sheets so they can climb up and down the walls (these monitors are very active and need this). There is no screen but 2 vents for air flow. This is so the cage traps in heat and humidity. Screen is also bad because these monitors will rub their noses raw on it trying to get out. I have a nest box with a perch placed up high in a corner for sleeping and nesting filled with damp moss. These are aboreal monitors that live in trees so they prefer hides up off the ground rather than on or under the ground. There is a tree I made out of large branches and ficus sprays for climbing, vines and plants. I also have a large cork tube in the tree they like to go in and out of.

Watering/humidity: I have a large water dish big enough for them to soak in but they never get in it and rarely ever drink from it. They drink every day when I mist them. I manually mist them when I am giving them water to drink in the morning and I also have an automatic mister that sprays the cage every hour for 1 minute. Before the automatic mister I hand misted them generously at least 5 times a day for humidity and drinking. I keep humidity at 70-100%. I plan to add a fogger and stop using the automatic mister so much as the motor on it wears out quick:(

Heat/lighting: I use a 5.0 UVA/UVB light and 2 basking lights during the day. The UVB is used so they can make vitamin D3 (for calcium absorption) through vit D synthesis in the skin. The UVA also benefits because it allows them to see the full spectrum of their vision. Reptiles have 4 cones in their eyes vs a humans 3 cones and so they see more colors than us and need UVA to see them. Without UVA reptiles are essentially color blind. The basking area temps are between 110-120 degrees. The cool side and night time temps never go below 70 degrees. The warm side is 85-90 degrees. I use a heat emitter for night time heat. I use this because it does not let off any light to disturb their sleep/night cycle. All lights are on a 12 hour day/night cycle.

Diet/feeding: I have offered my monitors every type of insect but the only ones they will eat are lobster roaches, crickets and superworms. Mostly crickets and roaches. I have offered both pinkie mice but only the female will eat them. Since this species in the wild eats mainly insects and hardly ever eats rodents I only feed the female a pinkie once or twice a month as a treat. I read in a study that 30 something tree monitor's stomach contents were examined and only one, a large male, had rodent content in his stomach. All the rest of stomach contents, in all the monitors, were insects and a few other invertebrates. Since these monitors have a very high metabolism I feed them every day as much as they will eat. Usually this is around a dozen insects a day. I dust insects with plain calcium once a week(since they get most of vit D3 from the UVB light) and dust with multivitamins with added vit D3 once a month(since no UVB light is as good as natural sun). All insects are gut loaded with fruits and veggies before feeding. I have 2 food bowls in the cage, one on the bottom and one mid way up their tree that they eat out of. I also take them out and hand feed them. Occasionally I will offer raw egg which they LOVE.

Substrate: I use a bottom layer of fine cypress mulch with a layer of moss on top. This helps hold humidity in the cage. It's several inches deep on the bottom.

Handling: I handle my monitors every day, sometimes more than once a day because they always want to come out. I only hold them for 10-15 minutes at a time because my house is not near hot or humid enough for them and I don't want them to get sick. From day one I have never grabbed or constricted these monitors. Doing this causes them to fear you as they see that as being predatory. The CB male was a tiny baby when I got him and was never really afraid of me. All I had to do was stand still and let him check me out by crawling on me. He was very curious, more curious than afraid. The very day I got him he has always wanted to come out of the cage and be held or explore. The WC female was a juvie when I got her and in a week she was just as curious and unafraid as the male. Again I just let her crawl on me and check me out. She would try to get to a place to jump off of me but I would turn my body and so she had to turn and walk across me again. I would do this as I let her crawl on my shoulders. To get her out of the cage to do this the first week I would stick my hand in the cage and wait till she got curious and flicked her tongue on it. Then I would slowly slide my hand under her and lift her out and let her crawl on my shoulders. After that first week she would come to the front of the cage wanting to come out. I would stick my hand in there and she would climb up my arm herself, just like my male has always done. I used to hear that these monitors were a very shy and skittish species. I do not believe that to be true at all. I think it's just how you handle and interact with them that makes the difference. Mine are the most curious and outgoing reptiles I've ever seen. They exhibit behaviors I have never seen in a reptile before. They truly like being interacted with and it is not a food response. They always want to come out when they see people. They crawl in my clothes, ride on my shoulder or head, follow me around and come after me, sit with me outside, etc. They never try to run away from me or anyone and seem to like people. They honestly act more like a mammal than a reptile. They are so curious they have to check out new people whenever they meet one. They jump on the new person and crawl all over them and sometimes in their clothes investigating them. Very funny to watch people's reaction to this:)

Vet/health care: When I first got both monitors I quarantined them away from each other in separate cages. They both went to my vet's office for a health check and fecal exam. After the first fecal I waited 2-3 weeks and had a fecal done again and then another 2-3 weeks later had another done. All 3 fecals came back clean and they showed no signs of illness so I introduced them and kept them in a larger cage and they have been living together ever since. The reason for the 3 fecals in a row is so I was sure they were parasite free and I didn't happen to miss anything or have anything develop that might have been incubating. It is very important to do this in wild caught animals because they are usually loaded with parasites and or illness. It should also be done as a precaution in captive bred or born animals because you honestly do not know what the supplier's methods for cleanliness are and they could have been exposed to another reptile with illness or parasites or come into contact with something a sick reptile touched/lived in or on. Not many suppliers or petstores sterilize cages before putting in new reptiles:( A great book to read to find out more is "Understanding reptile parasites" by Roger Klingenburg. There are so many parasites and protozoa infections in reptiles that go unnoticed until too late, this book I highly recommend reading. There are also many illnesses like bacterial, viral and fungal infections so it is always important to quarantine new reptiles before putting them in with healthy established ones.

Breeding: Well I guess these monitors can breed at one year of age because mine have just started breeding. My female is a year and a half and my male a little over one year old. There is little info available about gestation and incubation temps so when I get to that point and experience it myself (try out things I've read and heard) I'll let you know what worked for me.

Interesting facts: They have a fully prehensile tail and sometimes they hang upside down with them while climbing and jumping around. They are quite the little acrobats! They protect this tail instead of using it like other monitors when threatened. Other monitors whip their tails and try to hit you but these tree monitors curl them up closer to their bodies like a chameleon but to the side instead of underneath. They have on the bottoms of their feet black rubbery feeling pads that help them grip onto branches and trees while climbing. Some things I've read, in the wild they live in a group consisting of a dominate male, a few adult females and juvenile offspring of both sexes. Females lay eggs in termite nests high up in tree cavities and when the eggs hatch the babies eat all the termites.

Well that's it for now:) Wish me luck on getting some babies!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Building a cage for my Green Tree Monitors

So finally I am done building a cage for my green tree monitors! This is the first cage I've ever built. I am quite pleased at how it came out considering it was my first time building one. A lot of thought, time and hard work went into it.

I must admit it was difficult for me because I was building it by myself and I am not a strong person, lol! When I was trying to screw the frame together I couldn't get the screws in all the way and had to take them all out and use nails instead.

First I had my friend help me figure out all my wood cuts so I could take a list to Lowes and have them cut everything for me. I didn't know anything about building a frame and I am very thankful to my friend Jason for taking the time to explain and figure it out. He spent many hours on the phone with me:)

Next I stained the wood to match my living room furniture and applied 5 coats of poly crylic with a roller. To waterproof wood you only need to do 2 coats with a brush but since the cage is very humid and wet I put extra coats and made them very thick with the roller.

Next I cut out holes for my vents to go in. Since I wanted the cage to hold a lot of heat and humidity I did not want to use any screen. The vents are placed so that the air will circulate. One vent is at the top (in back) and one vent is at the bottom(in front). I stuck them on with sealant and after it cured I reinforced it with screws.

Next I put together the frame and attached my plywood to it. When it came time to attach the pieces of plexi glass for my windows and doors I noticed Lowes had cut it wrong! I had to go back so they could fix it.

When I attached the lights in the ceiling I did it backwards and had to redo it, lol! There are 2 basking, 1 florescent(UVA/UVB), and a ceramic heat emitter. I plan on switching to Mega ray MVB soon. They are the best for these types of cages.

Next I attached cork sheeting to all the walls. At first I tried doing it standing up but that was a disaster! It kept falling down and getting wavy. I had to lay it down, screw it in my frame and put sealant under the edges and on top of the edges. I also put sealant around the egdes of my vents where the cork meets.

Next I made their nest box. I used a sterlite tub with a clear opauge bottom so I could see up through it but the monitors can't see through the bottom and feel secure. This will help when checking for eggs. When eggs are laid under the moss in there I will see white spots and know to take them out. The nest box I attatched to a pulley system so I can lower and lift the box when I need too. The outside of this tub I covered in cork sheeting so they can climb on it and feel secure when inside the box. I also drilled a hole and attached a branch for them to crawl in and out of the box on.

Next I put together their tree. I found a huge Y branch and cut the tips off and placed the bottom into a plastic Xmas tree base. I measured out where I wanted their basking spots to be and how far they would be away from the lights and I screwed branches in those places. Then I screwed other branches all over the tree. I put a huge cork tube in the center of the Y in the branch. I also bought 12 fake ficus sprays and drilled holes in the wood branches and stuck the ends through. This way it looks like a tree with branches and leaves. It turned out pretty cool! The base I filled with rocks so the monitors cant get in it.

Next I drilled holes for all my plugs to go through. I put a cord gromet in 2 places. 1 on the ceiling for my lights and 1 above the nest box for the heat mat I am using attached to the side of the nest box. The heat mat is very small and does not get hot enough to melt plastic or burn reptiles. I have it so the female can choose what spot she wants to lay eggs in. Warmer vs cooler. I also drilled a hole at the bottom for the cord on my aquarium filter. I put a filter in their water bowl which is very large. It keeps the water clean and the moving water releases humidity into the cage. I drilled a hole in the ceiling for my mister's tubing to fit through. The tube comes into the cage and has a nozzle on the end for spraying. The mister is attached to the outside wall of the cage.

I attached vines and plants to the sides of the cage for climbing and put up my humidity and temp gages. Put their water bowl in and placed plants around it. Put in the filter, added water. Lined the bottom with cypress mulch and then a thick layer of moss on top.

Then I added the monitors!!! Here are some videos.

This is me building the cage with the end result

This is right after I put in my GTmonitors