HEALTH

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Your Gecko's health and well being.


Impaction/ Metabolic Bone Disease/ Cryptosporidiosis/ Mites/ Stress/ Shedding/

Mouth Rot / Respiratory Infections


Impaction

The first - some would say most important consideration, is the danger of impaction. Impaction is where the digestive tract is blocked by a solid or a semi-solid mass. If it is not treated it can become fatal.

impaction 1   impaction 2

From Substrates:

The most common cause of impaction is housing them on loose substrates. This will develop over a longer period of time and is a gradual process. Sadly you will tend to miss it until it has become to late to save the gecko. As is mentioned in other sections of the site - sand based substrates such as Calci Sand - and its equivalents; are generally not recommended as they encourage eating the sand due to the calcium content! All such products clump together like cheap cat litter when wet. You've seen what that looks like? Imagine that in the digestive tract of your gecko!

It's worth bearing in mind that one of the oldest Leo's in the world in captivity was raised his whole life on sand! - The general consensus nowadays though is that only adults should be kept on sand and then at the owners risk. I personally don't think the risk is worth it myself and steer clear of it. Please refer to the section on substrate for a more indepth account of my opinions on substrate materials.

      NOT RECOMMENDED as sole or majority substrate     RECOMMENDED
 
  • Playsand
  • Pine (poisonous anyway)
  • Aspen (poisonous)
  • Wood chips
  • Dirt - fine like sand 
  • Bark
  • Corn cob
  • Crushed walnut shells
  • Gravel
  • Cheap cat litter
  • Small pebbles
  • anything else that is small and pellet like
 
  • Tile
  • Slate
  • Reptile carpet
  • paper towels

From Food: 

Other causes include feeding Leo's food that is either to large or inappropriate. You should feed insects that are generally no larger than the width of the reptile's head and never longer than the measurement from the tip of the mouth to the back of the head as an absolute maximum.  Hard bodied insects that are too large can get stuck in the digestive tract, causing blockage. Feeder insects that have a hard Chitin outer-shell can, also cause impaction - one reason personally for me that I prefer to feed soft bodied young locust as opposed to crickets.

From Heat and water:

Low temperatures can cause improper digestion. Leo's require belly heat versus air heat, so take my advice on heat mats in the housing section. One other possible cause of impaction is lack of water - always ensure that there is suitable water in the Vivarium at all times.

Symptoms

Symptoms of impaction would be along the following:

 Mild:
  •  Initially signs of substrate in the droppings.
  • Constipation
  • Straining to excrete faecal matter
 Medium to severe:
  • Slight leg trembles .
  • Regurgitation of food.
  • Bumps along spinal area.
  • Paralysis in one or both back legs (impaction in Lower Dig' tract). 
  • Paralysis in one or both front legs (impaction in upper Dig' Tract). 
  • Lack of appetite compared to normal.
  • Lethargy.
  • Blue bruised abdomen area.
  • Difficulty breathing.

  Treatment

If you have caught the impaction early enough you may have a chance to successfully treat it. Set up the Leo in its own tank. Ensure heating provides the proper floor temps as discussed elsewhere. Use kitchen towels as the substrate in order to ensure there is no further substrate ingestion. NOTE: you will only be able to treat mild symptoms - more severe symptoms require the attention of a vet as soon as possible.

  • With the use of a small eye dropper administer a small drop of mineral oil, olive oil or vegetable oil to the gecko daily.
  • Provide warm water soaks for the gecko daily - ensure water in no hotter than 95ºF maximum.
  • Try diluted weak solution of glucose laced conditioned water every now and then.

If you haven't noticed a significant improvement and loss of impaction visible in faeces in 10 days - the only remaining option is veterinary care. Do not even consider administering your own enema to your Leo!! Leave it to the vet - preferably one specialised in reptile care. 

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Metabolic Bone Disease (Hypocalcemia)

 MDB is caused when a leopard geckos diet does not contain enough calcium. In order for the Leo to acquire suitable levels of usable calcium the body begins to extract calcium from its own bones.

Symptoms include rubber-like flexibility of the limbs and lower jaw; deformities of the skull, spine, and tail; inability to feed; paralysis; and eventually death..

With leopard geckos being more resistant to complications regarding low calcium you should almost never see this problem so long as you observe proper healthcare procedure. To prevent MBD all you need to be aware of is that you need to add calcium or calcium containing supplements to the live food you feed them and to ensure you have a source of calcium in the tank at all time.

Use of a UV light can be beneficial if you find yourself treating a gecko with MDB - you have rescued one for example.

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Cryptosporidiosis

A parasitic disease caused by Cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite. It affects the intestines of mammals and is typically an acute short-term infection. It is spread through the fecal-oral route, often through contaminated water. It is one of the most common waterborne diseases and is found worldwide. The parasite is transmitted by environmentally hardy cysts (oocysts) that, once ingested, exist in the small intestine and result in an infection of intestinal epithelial tissue.

In recent years, there has been a trend of captive-bred leopard geckos hosting the parasite, which hobbyists typically refer to as crypto. This is more often down to breeders and pet shops keeping their animals in less than adequate housing and conditions - or breeding wild caught geckos without sufficient quarantine procedures.

Lizards afflicted with this parasite often appear to be wasting away, losing a significant amount of weight and regurgitating their food despite good environmental conditions and treatment. Medication, along with nutritional supplements and fluid and electrolyte therapy, can stabilize an infected gecko, but because this parasite can't be totally eliminated, the prognosis is grim for animals that contract it. Also, Cryptosporidiosis can be transmitted to humans, so the use of disposable gloves and effective hand washing is critical when dealing with an animal infected with the protozoan.

Sadly if your stock becomes infected with this parasite there is very little that can be done - although treatable in humans with healthy immune systems where it's duration is short - it is more often than not fatal for Leo's. The only protection you have against this parasite it to purchase your stock from reliable breeders. Ensure proper cleanliness at all times and quarantine new stock for a minimum of 3 months before introducing to the fold.

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Mites

Mites are external parasites that sometimes affect leopard geckos. They are tiny (a few millimeters in diameter and a member of the spider family) and difficult to spot. They appear as tiny red, black, or gray flecks and tend to congregate around the eyes, ears, armpits, cloaca, mouth, and nostrils of their hosts-areas where the skin is thin and the number of blood-filled capillaries are high and easily accessible. If many mites are present, they can work together and quickly drain a significant amount of blood. Because of how quickly an infestation of mites can seriously affect the Leo's health - when you notice them you should act as quickly as possible.

Check for the presence of mites by wetting a white paper towel and scrubbing your lizard gently. If you see flecks moving slowly on the paper towel, your gecko has mites, confirm with a jewellers loupe or suitable magnifying glass.

Thoroughly bathe the Leo, paying particular attention to the eyes, nostrils, vents, and skin folds, and housing it in a separate Vivarium while you clean its home. When cleaning the Vivarium, dispose of the substrate, any live plants, and other furnishings that are able to be thrown away. Any items that are kept should be treated with a suitable mite killer following all safety precautions provided. Next, if your Vivarium is glass, soak the Vivarium in a bleach solution, letting it soak for 18 to 24 hours. Then, thoroughly rinse it and air it out. Alternatively use a mite killer commercial application on that also.

One final option is to take your pet to the veterinarian. They will prescribe a mite killer that will usually need to be applied on both the gecko and his Vivarium. This treatment should soon eradicate all mites.

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Stress

Stress weakens the immune system and makes your leopard gecko more susceptible to disease. Minimizing stressful conditions is a simple and effective way to prevent it from getting sick.

Many factors, including handling, over feeding, breeding, poor environmental conditions, overcrowding, and being moved to a new enclosure, can cause stress in your gecko. Keep interactions with a stressed leopard gecko to a minimum, and ensure that its surroundings meet its needs to keep its immune system up to par.

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Shedding
 shedding A leopard gecko sheds its skin regularly. If your lizard takes on a dull, cloudy almost ghostly appearance, this indicates that the shedding process has begun. Its skin peels off the body in pieces, which the gecko tugs and pulls off and then consumes. (It's not known if geckos do this for nutritional benefit or to reduce the chance of attracting predators.) 

Occasionally, problems can occur while shedding, usually when the skin adheres to the toes. If some of the shed skin becomes stuck on the toes, parts of the toes can become necrotic (dead) and fall off. Unlike the tail, toes that have fallen off never grow back. If a toe is lost by a bad shed, put a bit of antibacterial ointment on it to prevent infection.

Shedding problems are mainly the result of low humidity. If the skin won't peel from the toes or other portions of the body, a soak in warm water may fix the problem. To soak your gecko, place it in an escape-proof container with water that just reaches its belly for an hour or until the water cools. (Always supervise a soaking lizard.) Hatchlings in particular, being completely new to this experience - take a few times to learn the procedure and often encounter problems with their first few sheds.

After the soak I use a moistened cotton bud and gently roll off the sloughed skin from the affected areas until it is finally removed. The hatchlings soon cotton on to what I am doing and invariably joins in the process! I recently had a hatchling that had done fairly well but had itself a new head cap where it had been unsuccessful removing it; it had dried and shrunk leaving the poor thing unable to open it's eyes properly.

I gently applied moisture using a cotton bud to the old skin being very wary not to let water drip into the nostrils and once the skin had been softened enough I used a clinical tweezers to gently tug away the skin - be careful if you ever have to do this as you may encounter a similar situation to mine where the remainder of the skin was partly down the geckos throat. This necessitates a gentle but gradual pressure to slowly extract the partially swallowed skin without damaging the internals of the gecko. N.B. do not be tempted to use tweezers on tight skin remnants on toes - it's far too easy to misjudge and break the toes doing more harm than good. Use the cotton bud rolling technique and be patient!

After about 4 months geckos will usually get the process down to an art - but you should always carefully monitor the geckos feet and eyes whenever handling them for signs of bad sheds.

 One area to keep an "eye" on is the eyes themselves. If a gecko is experiencing troublesome sheds it may not be successfully removing the lining on it's eye and this can quickly develop into a very nasty complication where there will be multiple layers of unsuccessfully un-shed eye linings coupled with a build up of pus that can ultimately lead to blindness and/or loss of the eye itself.

These are commonly nicknamed eye caps or spectacles. They need to be removed by a vet - do not attempt to remove them yourself! They can get to this stage surprisingly quickly - so it's very important to monitor your Leo's. It can start with a simple thing like a bit of irritation from gritty substrate getting stuck under the eyelid.

This is almost certainly a result of poor diet, substrate and poor humidity - follow the advice given on this site and thankfully you should never have to witness this.

 eye infection

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Mouth Rot

Mouth rot is a bacterial infection that can affect both the mouth and gums of a leopard gecko. Symptoms include bleeding gums, loss of appetite, blackening of the teeth, swollen mouth, and a cheesy, yellowish buildup between the teeth. This disease almost never occurs in healthy geckos, as it is generally brought on by dirty living conditions and low temperatures. It is extremely painful for the reptile and can prove fatal if not treated by a veterinarian as quickly as possible. To prevent mouth rot, maintain a clean Vivarium and be sure your pet is getting an appropriate level of heat.

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Respiratory infections

With leopard gecko's respiratory infections can be caused by prolonged exposure to temperatures less than 73º F or humidity levels that are too high.

Low temperature causes a suppressed immune system, which allows respiratory infections to take hold. Symptoms are usually not easy to identify and may just be the signs that your Leo is in a distressed state and seems to be panting and leaving the mouth slightly open most of the time. you may hear the occasional sneeze too.

Mild cases can easily be cured by making the temperature in the enclosure slightly higher, a day time temperature of around 84-90 degrees Fahrenheit with a night time temp drop to no less than 80 degrees. If symptoms persist it is recommended that you seek expert advice from your local Vet.



F.Passaro

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