Respiratory Tract Infection in Reptiles
©1999 Melissa Kaplan
In reptiles, respiratory tract infection (RTI) are caused by a bacterial infection in the lungs. RTI is generally related to improper environmental conditions (being kept too cold, too wet, prolonged stress due to enclosure being kept at a single temperature rather than the species' required thermal gradient, prolonged psychosocial stress, etc.). If the reptile is not otherwise being cared for properly (dirty enclosure, inadequate feedings, etc.), this can exacerbate the condition, making it more severe and prolonging recovery.
When you notice signs of a respiratory infection, not only must you evaluate and correct the environmental problems, but you must take the reptile to a reptile to be evaluated for systemic antibiotic therapy and possibly fluid and nutritional support. If the reptile does not respond to environmental correction and the antibiotic therapy, a culture and sensitivity should be done to determine exactly what the organism(s) is and the best antibiotic to combat it. The sample is easily taken by the vet in the form of a choanal swab or, in more difficult cases, a lung washing. In rare cases, the infection may be due to a fungal infection, which requires different medications than bacterial infections.
Reptile with respiratory infections should be kept in draft-free but well-ventilated enclosures maintained at the species' day time temperature gradient both during the day and at night. For reptiles who require a hotter basking area, the basking area temperatures do not need to be provided at night, but the higher overall gradient does. This will not only enable the reptile's own immune system to function better, but increases the efficacy of the antibiotics.
Anorectic lizards and chelonians will need to be hand- or force-fed during this time. Snakes may be able to do fine without food over the short term, but if they begin to show signs of weight loss (a loss in mass) then they, too, will need to be force-fed. See the article on Emaciation (Starvation) Protocol for force-feeding slurry recipes.
Respiratory Infections in Snakes
Choking or gagging on a piece of food or foreign object may result in temporary excess saliva. Being handled too soon after eating or drinking may result in water being regurged and spit out; since it is now mixed with saliva, it will be rather viscous rather than thin like plain water. If too soon after eating, some food may be partially regurged and stuck in the throat which may cause increased salivation. No other signs of RTI occur in these instances, so they are easily told apart from an RTI..
Some reptiles may exhibit signs of respiratory infection as a signal to you that they have been handled enough or want (or need) to be put down. My female Burmese python would start dripping saliva from her mouth in copious amounts when she'd decided she had had enough out and handling time at education events. When I saw the saliva start oozing from her mouth, I knew I needed to put her away off exhibit immediately. (An interesting note: my male Burmese would erect his anal spurs, digging them into my arm, when he was tired.)
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