Reptile Medical Bay



Reptile First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is one of the most important investments you can make toward protecting the health of your reptile, yet the kit should not be used as a substitute for veterinary care. If your reptile is injured or becomes ill, a vet visit should be your first course of action. The items you keep in the first aid kit are meant to help with crisis intervention and comfort your reptile until you can get it to the vet.
An immediate vet visit is recommended if:

  • Your reptile is wheezing, having a difficult time breathing, or not breathing at all
  • Your reptile is non-responsive
  • You can’t get a wound to stop bleeding
  • A wound is very large
  • Your reptile is limping
  • Your reptile is constipated or has diarrhea
  • You notice lumps, lesions, or swelling
  • There are obvious signs of infection: oozing, puss, or redness
  • A small injury doesn’t seem any better the next day

Your First Aid Kit should include

Cleansing Agents

Povidone-Iodine is a topical microbicide used for cleansing and sterilizing wounds. It can be used full-strength for cleaning minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. Depending on the wound, you can soak it, swab it on, spray it on, or even drip it on.
Nolvasan is an antiseptic and disinfectant which provides activity against a wide range of micro-organisms.

Sterile Saline Solution is mainly used to flush the eye, but can also be used to flush minor wounds. When purchasing a saline solution choose a sterile solution designed for contact lens use, but purchase a plain one, not one with fancy additives like protein removers. Touching the tip of the bottle to any surface will contaminate the entire bottle, and it will no longer be sterile. I recommend keeping the factory seal on the bottle until you need to use it; also keep your eye on the expiration date and replace as necessary, even if the bottles never been used.


Styptic Powder helps to stop the bleeding from a claw trimmed too short or minor wounds. This product is available in several forms including a “pencil” and pre-dusted pads. Be sure to wait several minutes after the bleeding stops before rinsing the powder off. Over trimmed claws do not need further care, but for wounds follow up with triple antibiotic ointment.

Triple Antibiotic Ointment is a combination antibiotic used externally to treat or help prevent an infection. Use it after cleansing and drying the wound. Reapply as necessary, at least daily. Do NOT use in the nose, mouth, or eyes. To reduce the risk of contaminating the ointment, I recommend squeezing the desired amount onto a gauze pad or a cotton swab.

Wound Dressings

Mineral Oil can be used to help remove stubborn shed by applying to the affected area immediately after a bath. It can also be used to alleviate constipation; please consult your vet before using mineral oil for this purpose. Do not use mineral oil if you suspect intestinal impaction, immediately seek medical assistance with a qualified reptile vet.

Gauze can be used to keep wounds clean and ointments in place. Use sterile gauze for open wounds.

Tape is used to hold gauze in place, for splints, or even taping toes together.

Regular Tape should be used in applications where it will not come in direct contact with the reptile scales. This tape is very sticky and can harm the scales when removed.

Paper Tape is designed for delicate skin and is much easier to remove. It can be used directly on the scales.

Self-stick Tape is a rubbery tape that only sticks to its own material. It is an excellent choice when the bandage must be wrapped a leg or tail. Paper and self-stick tapes can be covered with regular tape to help waterproof the dressing or to make it more secure.

Nail Trimming Tools and Supplies

Keeping your iguanas nails trimmed will allow you to easily handle it. There are various tools you can use to keep nails trimmed, the three most common are: clippers, file, and rotary tools.

Clippers are just that… they are used to clip off the sharp tip of the nail.

Files can be used alone on very small reptiles. On larger ones, files can be used to smooth the nail after it has been clipped.

Cotton Swabs, like Q-tips, are handy to have for cleaning wounds or applying styptic powder, ointments.

Latex Gloves should be worn when dealing with blood or other bodily fluids.

Tweezers, preferably flat, can be used to remove small items (splinters, stickers) or dead skin that fingers can not reach.

Small Flashlight with a strong, focused beam can be used to illuminate a particular area that needs closer examination. It can also allow you to check on your iguana at night without turning on bright, overhead lights.

Magnifying Glass can be used to get a close-up look of an area of concern.

Of course you will need something to put all this in. Create your own First Aid kit with a briefcase or medical box and keep it near your reptile.


       Sheryl and her Iguana


Healthy Reptile Checklist


What goes into making a healthy reptile? Just buying one isn’t enough. (Just thinking you can buy one a problem: most reptiles sold in the pet trade and at too many expos and swaps are anything but healthy…). The many factors that must be dealt with include:

  • Enclosure of the proper size and orientation (vertical height for arboreals; width and depth to enable proper thermoregulation, wide-ranging species, and multiple inhabitants).
  • Sufficient humidity.
  • Water offered in a manner that can be utilized by the reptile.
  • Suitable and safe substrate (depth, type).
  • Furnishings (logs, rocks, hide boxes, according to species needs).
  • Proper heating and thermal gradients.
  • Proper lighting (day/night cycles, UVA/B when required).
  • Healthy food appropriate for the species, of the size that is appropriate for the individual.
  • Proper cleaning and disinfecting of enclosure, substrate, and furnishings.
  • Regular monitoring of enclosure and equipment to ensure proper maintenance.
  • Regular monitoring of the reptiles to detect early signs of stress or ill health.

Access as needed to an experienced reptile veterinarian for initial examination of new reptiles and exams and treatment as needed as problems arise

What to look for
Assessing stress and illness in reptiles means looking at the animal itself as well as its immediate environment (enclosure and equipment) and the macroenvironment (the room in which the enclosure resides).

Check the overall appearance of the reptiles:

  • Are there any lateral folds, or are the folds normal for the species exaggerated in appearance or are there more of them?
  • Has there been a change in color?
  • Is the color of the skin dulling, darkening?

Check for changes in feeding habits:

  • Has food intake dropped off?
  • Food choices changed?
  • Are they selecting foods with higher moisture content?
  • Eating more?

Look for changes in the appearance, consistency and amount of feces and urates:

  • Is there less urates?
  • Is it thicker, more viscous?
  • Are fecal masses smaller, harder, drier?
  • Defecating less often?

Check for any changes in behavior:

  • Is the reptile lethargic?
  • Spending more time in hiding or in the cooler end of the thermal gradient?
  • Spends more time in basking area?
  • Prolonged soaking in water bowl?
  • More active, especially at odd times?
  • Engaging in frequent or prolonged digging, scratching or head-banging behavior?
  • Increased or decreased tongue-flicking when handled or enclosure is opened?
  • Has the usually tame reptile become aggressive (not associated with breeding season)?*

Check for changes in shedding:

  • Has the shed schedule become erratic?
  • If the reptile should be shedding in one piece (all snakes, some lizards), is it?
  • Are sheds taking much longer than usual to complete?

Check for physical signs of illness an injury:

  • Is it gaping (sitting with open mouth) for long periods of time?
  • Increased or thickened saliva?
  • Paling of the tissues inside the mouth?
  • Prolonged eversion of hemipenes or cloacal tissue after defecation?
  • Limping?
  • Swelling of digit, tail, limb, back, jaw?
  • Loss of muscle tone/strength?
  • Tremors?
  • Shakiness?
  • Less climbing or failure to climb?
  • Difficulty raising body off ground (for legged species)?
  • Difficult or failure to right itself?
  • Any lumps, bumps or bruised areas?
  • Any scabs?
  • Blisters?

If any of these signs occur, the environmental requirements of the species must be checked against the conditions actually occurring in the enclosure and any inadequacies or failures corrected.