Choosing a healthy reptile isn’t necessarily as easy one thinks – the biggest out of the bunch is not always the healthiest. While it is true that reptiles will often hide signs of illness/disease, there are still a few things that you can look for to help decrease the chances of getting in over your head with a new pet.
Ultimately no matter which reptile you choose, I always advise that you set up an appointment with your veterinarian for a thorough check-up, including a physical and fecal exams to check for internal parasites.
So with that said, what qualities should you look for? Obviously, some of these will be for lizards only and not appropriate for investigating a potential pet snake.
Attitude: A healthy reptile is typically frisky and alert. A reptile that relaxes too quickly or fails to respond may be sick (although that is not always the case). Obviously, signs of lethary could indicate a problem.
Eyes: The eyes of a healthy reptile should be clean and bright. Signs of potential problems include drooping or swollen eyelids (in lizards), discharge, tearing or crusty residue. Remember, they are wild animals and when they look at you, you want to see them “on alert” because to them, you might be a predator!
Jaw: A lizard’s jaw should be nice and firm, with no obvious signs of distortion or swelling. With some VERY VERY delicate pressure using your thumb and forefinger you can test the sides of a lizard’s jaw and if it feels soft and spongy, this could be an early indicator of Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). MBD (calcium deficiency) is one of the most common medical problem with captive lizards.
Legs: For many lizards, such as iguanas, you want to see nicely rounded thighs and calves. Legs that appear swollen or excessively fat-looking may indicate a calcium deficiency. Some lizards may even drag their legs while others, with a more advanced form of MBD may have a twisted or distorted spine.
Mouth: When looking inside the mouth, you do not want to see yellow coloring, or a spongy/stringy/cheesy mucous discharge. If the reptile is gaping, it could also indicate a respiratory disease, especially if you are also noticing labored/forced wheezing. Just remember – looking inside the mouth of reptile is NOT like lifting the hood of your car! You must be VERY VERY gentle.
Nose: What you don’t want to see is a runny nose or one with any sort of a mucous discharge. However, if you are looking at an iguana, they normally do discharge a clear, watery fluid out of their nostrils with a sort of “snorting” action. Because iguanas do not sweat, this is how they regulate their body’s salt balance.
Skin: You will definitely want to avoid a reptile with any sort of open sores or blisters – infections can set in very quickly. The skin should also be tight with no obvious signs of bagginess – loose skin often indicates that a reptile has not eaten for quite some time. Also keep your eyes open for any signs of external parasites such as mites and ticks. And of course, if the skin is falling off in thin sheets – don’t panic! Lizards and snakes regularly shed their skin – a process that starts at birth and ends at death.
Stomach: The stomach of a healthy reptile should be fat and full (especially evident in lizards) – it should not look thin or recessed.
Tail: Many lizards can drop their tails so it is not uncommon to see a lizard with a stump, or misshapen tail. However, what you want to ensure is that the tail is fat and plump at the base – this indicates that the lizard is eating well and regularly. You should not be able to see the bones at the base of the tail. A thick tail shows you that the reptile has been eating well and regularly.
Vent: The vent is the opening through which the reptile will defecate and where the sex organs are located. It is a horizontal slit/fold where the tail meets the body. You do not want to see any discharge from the vent or anything sticking to this area – this could indicate a potential sign of illness.
By Candace, SaveTheReptiles.com