Diseases & treatments
Metabolic Bone Disease
MBD is usually caused by one simple thing: A lack of variety in the diet. Essentially, it comes down to a lack of calcium, and/or a Calcium/Phosphorus imbalance. Many fruits are rich in phosphorus. So, if you feed your blue tongue mainly fruits, he's likely not getting the calcium he needs. Same with any food. VARIETY is key. Lack of any UV lighting (including the sun) can also be a factor. In reptile language, MBD is actually somewhat similar to the human version of the disease, "osteoporosis" which in a nutshell, is a weakening of the bones. There are a large number of symptoms including stunted growth, softening of the bones, lumps on the back or tail, a jerky walking motion or labored movement, shaking or little twitches in the legs & toes (which means the nerves have been affected), violent convulsions, and it can even become so advanced as to affect the internal organs, cause partial or full paralysis, and even bone fractures. In the case of partial paralysis, your skink will probably walk with its front legs, but drag its entire body behind him.
Treating MBD entirely depends upon what started it in the first place. To treat it, you have to KNOW what caused it. Whether it be poor conditions, no UV lighting (needed to metabolize calcium), or a terrible unbalanced diet, it's important to reverse whatever it is you were doing (or perhaps you acquired the animal in this condition). If you had an unbalanced diet, do your research and start feeding your animal the correct diet—one of course that is rich in calcium to bring balance back to the animal's system. If UV lighting is the case, take your animal outside often and let it soak in the hot sun. If there is no sun out, use a powerful fluorescent UV bulb. In the case of MBD, I would not rely on an incandescent bulb as many claim UV rays which they might not have. A common question asked is if MBD is reversible. The answer is that it's not reversible per se, but definitely treatable. Once a BTS has a severe "hump", it's pretty much there to stay unless the MBD is only causing swelling of the bones. If the bones are swelled, treatment such as increased calcium and natural sunlight will bring the system back into balance thusly minimizing the swelling in the bones. If the lumps are caused by bone breakage however, then any healing process would be much slower, and even that depends on how and where the bones were broken. Imagine doing nothing and that hump becomes progressively worse eventually killing the animal. That's what would happen if one kept doing the same things. If you recognize the problem (many don't) and begin offering a correct diet, the bones will become less "soft" and begin to harden hence stopping the effects of the disease. It won't reverse the effects (unless the bones are not broken—MBD causes bones to become spongy and easily breakable), but it will keep them from getting worse.
When the bones begin to diminish, a special tissue or cartilage if you will, will connect to the bone in an attempt to heal it. As the skink forages around, the pressure and strain from movement causes the affected (and often swollen) bones to bend—because of the MBD—or even snap causing lumpy and irregular shaped areas on the animal. Remember, irregular shaped areas can also be the effects of enlarged or swollen bones in which case proper treatment can help reverse the problem.
Respiratory infections can occur in BTS, but usually is nothing to worry about if you have a clean terrarium, good diet, and most importantly, correct temperatures and humidity. The basking end should of course be at 100 degrees, with your middle range and cool end in the high 70's to low 80's. Night time temperatures should not fall below 65-70 degrees. Stress can also be a factor with respiratory infections as well as many other complications. Major temperature changes (such as taking your blue tongue from its hot rock, and placing it outdoors when it's cold) can also be a cause, as well as extreme humidity. Try to keep your humidity in the 25-45% range, and never above 50%. Symptoms of a respiratory infection can include gasping, wheezing, coughing, heaving (very heavy breathing), and mucus leaking from the eyes, nose, or mouth. Remember, sneezing is normal unless it's suspiciously excessive (don't be paranoid, they will sneeze more when burrowing in their substrate). Heavy breathing is also normal after a big meal, especially if you have a fat skink. Most infections will require veterinary medicines, and that means a trip to your vet. Be VERY mindful of obvious problems, because often blue tongues will not show excessive symptoms until it is too late.
Do not panic about "frothing" at the mouth. As a blue tongued skink repeatedly shoots his tongue in and out, saliva naturally collects at the corners of the mouth, and eventually bubbles out a little bit. This is especially seen when your animal is moving around and active. Also don't worry about "whistling". Whistling and wheezing are two very different things. Whistling is just ordinary breathing that sometimes generates a "whistle". This usually occurs in an animal that has uniquely shaped nostrils that are shaped in such a way as to create a whistle with each breath.
Don't freak out if your skink throws up once or twice during a two day span. Once in a while, your BTS may have an upset stomach, or didn't digest his food well. This doesn't mean he has an illness that requires treatment. If vomiting continues throughout the course of a week however, and you notice other signs, then seek a veterinarian immediately.
Here are some known treatments to ask about. These are NOT instructions for a sick skink but more suggestions you might give your vet. Enrofloxacin (Baytril) is a common treatment. Treatment could range from injections daily for a week, to a syrup form being taken orally twice a day. Two other known treatments are Ceftazidime and Metronidazole (Flagyl [used for bacteria, amoebic, and protazoa infrections]). Injections are typically made in the front half of the body in either the leg or shoulder. Remember, never try any experimentation on your own. Use only what your vet prescribes and in the correct dosage.
Worms are a parasite that actually live inside your blue tongue. Sometimes you can even see them in your animal's waste; they look like tiny, white, wiggling worms. You probably won't have any problems with worms unless you buy an imported wild caught animal, or are housing the animal in poor dirty conditions (not cleaning fecal matter regularly for example). A dirty tank can lead to problems much worse than worms, so be sure to keep a spotlessly clean terrarium, and perform a complete clean-out once every 1-3 months. To treat worms, your veterinarian will perform a fecal exam to determine the type of worms, and what types of medicine should be used to get rid of them.
Mouth Rot :
Mouth rot is an awful bacterial problem that stems from an infection in the mucus membrane. Inflamed reddish colored lips, mucus in the mouth, red bumps (don't get red bumps mixed up with their "teeth") or red swelling around the mouth are all signs. Causes can be an injury to the mouth, rostrum or face that was never properly taken care of. It can also simply be due to unsanitary living conditions. It's important to see a veterinarian immediately if you suspect mouth rot. It can usually be treated pretty efficiently if caught early enough. A common treatment is a 1% silver sulfadiazine cream. Ask your vet for directions regarding your skink's specific condition. The images below show what a mouth rot or viral/bacteria/fungus infection might look like. If the scabbing and bleeding is exterior only, treating is not hard. Keep the terrarium spotlessly clean, and remove all substrate. Use paper towels as a substrate. Be sure that clean water is changed more often—at least twice per day if possible—and feed solid foods such as whole blueberries. Refrain from sloppy juicy foods such as cat food, sliced tomatoes, mango, etc. We don't want anything sticking or interfering with the healing. Also, do not take them outside during this time. If the problem becomes, or is, interior, this is a bit more serious and will probably need to consult a reptile vet as interior infections are more likely a real form of mouth rot.
Unless you're an expert, any potential symptoms that are severe enough to give you a good scare should be checked over by an experienced reptile (herp) veterinarian. Proper diagnosis, antibiotics, and instructions can then be given, and treatment can usually even be administered from home. Keep a clean terrarium, proper temperatures, good diet, etc, and you may very well never have a problem. Don't get lazy, and don't neglect your pet. Perfunctory care will do nothing but cost you hundreds in vet bills, but if somebody is dim-witted enough to neglect their animal in the first place, I doubt they're smart enough to recognize an animal in need of veterinary care. Just be alert and aware! That's the key. Know the symptoms, research the symptoms. We are caring for living animals, and it's important that we be able to recognize problems, administer a solution, and/or make a responsible decision when and if an instance arises.
This great looking specimen belongs to our friend Nitai Levy from Israel, and is the same animal from the above two photographs. She is nicely recovering from the mouth infection, and is doing great.
Eye Problems :
Currently, this is a great section to learn about eye problems. Bulging, Drooping, Distended Eyes in Reptiles
The following pictures show one of our babies from 2005. We suspect a piece of small substrate became lodged in the eye. We didn't panic, and the swelling ceased on its own within a few days.
Mites are not a huge problem, and are rarely seen on captive bred blue tongues in the United States. Blue tongued skinks being indigenous to Australia and Indonesia, wild species will obviously have ticks, mites and whatever else they might encounter in their natural environment. This is another reason why purchasing a captive bred animal is so important. If your bluey somehow does get mites however (due to unsanitary conditions, wrong substrates, etc), a simple solution is a product called Reptile Relief (most pet stores will carry it). It's a simple mite treatment that is cheap, safe, and convenient. Most bottles come in a spray, and you simply coat the animal with the formula, and rub it all over with a cloth top to bottom avoiding the eyes, but coating the outer ear. Do not repeat until 3 days later. These are the usual instructions you will read on the product. Mites will usually be gone, but even if they're not, I would repeat the process 3 days later just to seal the deal. Now, of course, your next step is to clean the infected terrarium. Clean it thoroughly with the Reptile Relief spray. It's a good idea to clean your tank once before your first treatment (use the mite spray, rinse, then clean again with water/bleach solution), and again after your second treatment (using mite spray only). You don't want these buggers coming back. You want to get them all in one shot and not have to worry about it again.
After your first treatment, I personally remove as many mites as I can. Mites however live UNDER your animal's scales—this is what causes the lift that you may be wondering about. You may attempt to remove mites before, or after the spray treatment, but treating afterwards will give the spray a chance to actually get under the infected scales. Take the animal in one hand, and then take an exacto knife, or even a toothpick—very carefully "dig" under the lifted portions of the scales to remove the mites. You may see as many as 1-5 (depending on how bad of an infestation and how large the mites are) living under each lifted scale. Repeat this process (gently) for each infected area. Your animal will very likely hold still and let you do this, as it is probably a major relief. Infected scales may look pretty bad for a while, but should improve over time. Also keep an eye out for white specks all over your animal—this is mite feces. If you look closely, you may also see little black spots walking around. You will really have to look as they are very, very small. These are of course, the actual mites.
Symptoms of mites :
• Lifted scales (feel up and down the animal's back with tips of fingers)
• White specks appearing in 'patches' all over the animal
• Small black spots moving around on the animal
• Spontaneous outbursts from the animal
You may have heard of using Nix or Frontline dog/cat products for mite treatment on your skinks or other reptiles. There are definitely varying opinions on whether this is safe or not. The following explanations are not meant to offend anyone, nor attack anyone's personal methods for mite treatment. It is only to raise awareness and to encourage people to keep an open mind when listening to either side. Another reason I'm writing this is because I've heard a lot of advice from veterinarians (regarding BTS) that is simply not correct. They may know animals, but they don't know everything about every animal. This is from my own experiences, as well as receiving many, many emails from people telling me "well, my vet told me this". You have no idea how hard it is to change someone's mind after hearing advice from an almighty veterinarian. It's quite frustrating.
ust like with pet stores, if a vet tells somebody that a certain product is safe to use on their reptiles, it does not necessarily mean that it is indeed safe. There are always differing opinions among veterinarians on almost every subject. Mite treatment is one of them. Over the years, I've come to learn that even if a vet has been working for 25 years as a veterinarian giving treatment to animals like dogs, cats, and reptiles alike—it does not necessarily mean that he has extensive knowledge on pesticide/insecticide effects on reptiles, or any other similar subject. Many people seem to think that just because someone has years of experience in a general topic, that it must mean they know everything about a specific topic. This is definitely not the case. Many vets attribute little secrets they learn to word of mouth. If one vet uses a mite treatment that seems to work effectively, he might pass on the tip to his fellow vets. This does NOT make it safe! Remember that no matter how many years experience one has as a vet, it does not make him or her an expert on everything. You learn new things every day. And remember that opinions vary. Some vets will tell you NEVER to feed with cat food. Others will tell you that housing a couple blueys together shouldn't be a problem. Those are just a couple examples. Here is a good quote from Marie on the subject:
" I got really mad at my vet once because he almost killed Popsicle with a lung wash. I still carry a grudge against the guy. However, when you really think about it, even vets that specialize in exotics (like my vet), don't always know everything about reptiles. They don't see as many reptiles as a normal vet sees cats and dogs. They might never even see certain types of reptiles (like BTS). They might not know exactly what to look for or even how to treat a specific species. They can't just turn to literature or a book because there probably isn't much published data about that species. I think adequate vet care is one of the downfalls of owning a rare animal. "
And another good quote from Oregon:
" I would first find and research a recommended reptile vet. Just because a vet agrees to see an animal doesn't mean they are trained in that species. You want a vet who did a residency in exotics or is board certified. Start with the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians. " http://www.arav.org
Another interesting thing to think about is that the MORE experience a vet has, once in a while this means they're living in old times meaning that there are newer improved products and ways to do things that these old time vets have not picked up on yet. Just something to think about. Sort of like how older doctors still used leaches long after the method became obsolete. All in all, we feel that there is no need to use toxic chemicals to kill mites when there are so many other SAFE alternatives. There are many irresponsible reptile owners out there that just haven't done the research on the subject, and they just go with what they hear...offering advice for what works for them personally. Words and rumors spread quickly, and those words often get stuck in people's heads and they refuse to listen to anything else. This is what poor husbandry stems from—rumors. For example, one common rumor states that blue tongued skinks don't need UV light. Where did that come from?
Using Nix on your skink
"Nix contains permethrin, which is a neurotoxin. Symptoms include tremors, incoordination, elevated body temperature, increased aggressive behavior, and disruption of learning. Laboratory tests suggest that permethrin is more acutely toxic to children than to adults.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified permethrin as a carcinogen because it causes lung tumors in female mice and liver tumors in mice of both sexes. Permethrin inhibits the activity of the immune system in laboratory tests, and also binds to the receptors for a male sex hormone. It causes chromosome aberrations in human and hamster cells.
Permethrin is toxic to honey bees and other beneficial insects, fish, aquatic insects, crayfish, and shrimp. For many species, concentrations of less than one part per billion are lethal. Permethrin causes deformities and other developmental problems in tadpoles, and reduces the number of oxygen-carrying cells in the blood of birds.
We like non-toxic approaches to problems."
Using Frontline on your skink
Frontline is manufactured by Merial and its active ingredient is fipronil.
Fipronil is a phenylpyrazole insecticide discovered and developed by Rhōne-Poulenc between 1985-87 and placed on the market in 1993. Although effective against a variety of pests, there are concerns about its environmental and human health effects. Actively marketed in many industrialized and developing countries, its worldwide use is increasing.
Fipronil disrupts normal nerve function. It acts by blocking the GABA-gated chloride channels of neurons in the central nervous system. When the system’s regular functions are blocked by fipronil, the result is neural excitation and the death of the insect. Fipronil kills insects by contact and ingestion.
Fipronil is highly toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Its tendency to bind to sediments and its low water solubility may reduce the potential to aquatic wildlife. Fipronil is toxic to bees and should not be applied to vegetation when bees are foraging. Fipronil has been found to be highly toxic to upland game birds, but is practically non-toxic to waterfowl and other bird species. One of the metabolites of fipronil has a higher toxicity to birds than the parent compound itself. Fipronil is non-toxic to earthworms, soil microorganisms and aquatic plants. It is moderately toxic to small mammals if ingested.
As it regards to lizards, the LD50 of fipronil for the fringe-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus dumerili) [Lacertidae] has been estimated at 30 µg a.i./g body weight in laboratory tests, indicating that it is highly toxic. Mortality was delayed and lizards died during the four weeks after treatment. Locomotor activity, prey consumption and body weight remained significantly lower in lizards fed fipronil treated prey than in the control group for 2-4 weeks after treatment.
Few studies of effects on wildlife have been carried out, but studies of the non-target impact from emergency applications of fipronil as barrier sprays for locust control in Madagascar showed adverse impacts of fipronil on termites (Coarctotermes spp.), which appear to be very severe and long-lived. There were also indications of adverse effects in the short-term on several other invertebrate groups, one species of lizard (Mabuya elegans) and several species of birds (including the Madagascar bee-eater).
Frontline should be only used on dogs and cats, not lizards. Merial even states on their website, “FRONTLINE is intended for use on dogs and cats only. Do not use on other animals.”
Frontline should be only used on dogs and cats, not lizards. Merial even states on their website, “FRONTLINE is intended for use on dogs and cats only. Do not use on other animals.”
Note: Frontline works by being stored in the animal's hair folicles, so even if it did work, its very short lasting on reptiles and not as safe as other methods.
Using Sevin (dust) on your skink:
"Sevin is an insecticide or pesticide. Another poison that can be avoided. Active ingredient is carbaryl.
Acute toxicity: Carbaryl is moderately to very toxic. It can produce adverse effects in humans by skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion. The symptoms of acute toxicity are typical of the other carbamates. Direct contact of the skin or eyes with moderate levels of this pesticide can cause burns. Inhalation or ingestion of very large amounts can be toxic to the nervous and respiratory systems resulting in nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and excessive salivation. Other symptoms at high doses include sweating, blurring of vision, incoordination, and convulsions."
Air-freshener/hanging/strips style mite removers
"I would only use the strips without the reptile in the cage. The original hanging strips (which I believe are no longer sold) contained dichlorvos. Dichlorvos worked well because it treated both the reptile and the environment. Unfortunately, it also had one serious disadvantage; it could potentially cause poisoning in the reptiles and the keeper. The EPA has classified dichlorvos as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen. The label also states: "Proposition 65: Warning: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer." "
Ticks are commonplace in wild blue tongued skinks in Australia. Although blue tongues in captivity are not usually exposed to ticks, those in outside enclosures are susceptible and will need to be checked regularly. Especially in their native habitat.
Beware of infestations. The adult female tick attaches its mouthparts deep in the host's skin, sucks the blood and injects its neurotoxin (poison) into the host. On attachment the tick is quite small but grows in size each day as it becomes engorged with blood. The toxin has several effects, most obviously acting on the skink's muscles and respiratory system. If the tick is not killed and removed, or if it does not drop off by itself, it may cause paralysis and death. A few ticks here and there are completely normal however, and will fall off on their own once finished.
What to look for
Ticks can attach anywhere on a skink, but are most commonly found under the legs and behind the ears where the skink can't reach them. When first attached, they are difficult to spot. Look for an unusual-looking 'scale' - it will be the tick's body lying flat against the lizard's skin. When filled with blood, they are easier to see as their bodies become spherical.
There is debate about the best method of tick removal (with every Aussie bushman having his/her own theory and method!) Traditionally, methylated spirits is applied and the tick GENTLY eased out with tweezers (forceps) which are held as close to the buried head as possible. Sometimes the tick may back out by itself (remember you will still need to kill it if this happens.)
More recently, it's thought better to use an insecticide containing pyrethrin or a pyrethroid, such as insect repellent. Lyclear, a scabies cream containing permethrin will also work, as will cat and dog anti-flea preparations such as Frontline. Dab them on with cotton wool and leave the tick for up to 24 hours to see if it will drop off by itself. By not touching or disturbing the tick in any other way, there is less chance of it disgorging its toxic stomach contents. If the tick remains, it should be gently removed with tweezers in the way described.
Because of the shape of the mouthparts, it's often not possible to remove the tick's buried head. Some say this isn't a problem because without the body the pathogen can't get into the host, and the head can be left to simply slough off with the skin. Others believe bacterial infection may occur and that the site should be washed with a disinfectant such as iodine.
I have successfully removed ticks from wild T. scincoides found in suburban Sydney gardens using combinations of the above methods. It's easiest with 2 people, one holding the skink firmly and the other treating the tick. It's testimony to the docile nature of BTS that even wild ones will usually put up with this indignity stoically! (Although gloves are a good idea, just in case.) I then apply disinfectant and keep the animal for observation before releasing it.
Written by Susan Latch (Kiwisue) @ bluetongueskinks.net
Whether a stately exotic reptile owner, a young child, or even just a curious observer, we all own and appreciate these animals for the same reasons—they are unique, fun, and fascinating. Hopefully after reading this caresheet you will have a better insight and understanding into the care and husbandry of these unique animals. If we all do our part, and continually fight the practice of illegal wild exporting, this is an animal that should continue to thrive for generations.
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