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UK REPTILES & AMPHIBIA:

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Common Findings and Reasons for Presentation

This section provides a general indication of the COMMON conditions seen with UK Wildlife Casualties. It is NOT an all-encompassing overview of the diseases / conditions recorded in those species. Further diagnosis and treatment of disease may require the veterinary clinician to familiarise themselves with the diseases, agents and treatment protocols from external texts and other references, or to take further advice.

If mass mortality events are suspected, advice should be sought from organisations such as Environment Agency, Froglife and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

Physical/Clinical Examination

  • When examining a wildlife casualty animal, as with any animal, it is important to be systematic.
  • Bilateral structures should always be compared with one another for asymmetry.
  • Remember that "common things occur commonly"; in wildlife casualties trauma (physical damage) is a common reason for presentation.

BODY TEMPERATURE:

  • Reptiles and amphibian species are poikilotherms (commonly referred to as "cold-blooded"). The body temperature will give a indication of whether lack of movement is due to low temperature or injury / disease. Warming the animals by providing an environmental temperature around 20C will allow this assessment to be made.

PULSE, HEART & RESPIRATION

  • Respiratory rate in reptiles and amphibia is usually almost imperceptible. Evidence of mouth breathing or obvious respiratory effort is usually abnormal. Lung problems can be caused by a variety of agents and is commonly associated with virus, bacterial, fungal and parasitic agents.
  • Heart rate may be measured by auscultation with a stethoscope.
  • Pulse rate may be measured by placing the fingers over the heart on snakes and lizards.
  • The pulse rate and the heart rate should be the same if the heart is functioning correctly to pump blood around the body.
  • The heart/pulse rate is typically higher in smaller animals than in larger species.
  • The heart/pulse rate is likely to be elevated in wildlife casualties due to stress.

SKIN & SCALES:

  • Particular attention should be paid to abnormal patterns and lifting of scales, ulceration, reddening, cutaneous discharges, and swelling.
  • Careful examination for puncture wounds should be made in all casualties with a history of possible cat bites.
  • Check for the presence of external parasites.
  • Garden strimmer injuries may be evident as cuts.
  • The skin of amphibia is particularly sensitive and can be easily damaged by handling.

HEAD & NECK:

General:

Mouth:

  • Examine for fractures and evidence of malocclusion. Moisture or dried mucus around the mouth may indicate oral infection, ulceration, or irritation from a foreign body.
  • Colour of oral mucous membranes should be noted, particularly if there is evidence of cyanosis, paleness and congestion.
  • Petechiae, ulcers and any mucus or solid cheese-like (caseous) exudates should be noted. These may be particularly evident around the choanae.
  • Blood in the oral cavity, instability of the mandible and / or asymmetry of the jaw may indicate trauma to the head.

Eye & Periorbital Area:

  • Eyes should be shiny and the cornea clear.
  • Check for the presence of surface lesions. Corneal scratches and ulcers can be identified using fluorescein dye. In reptiles they can be covered by thick caseous plaques.
  • Check snakes for retained eye-scales.
  • The anterior chamber should be clear of blood or exudate.
  • The colour and shape of each iris should be compared.
  • The eye may appear dull and sunken in dehydrated animals.
  • Increased ocular discharge (epiphora) may be caused by irritation, trauma or infection.
  • Check for inflammation of the eyelids and conjunctiva, e.g. due to the presence of a foreign body.
  • Check for swelling (unilateral or bilateral) just above/below the eye which may be caused by sinusitis, seen with e.g. various respiratory infections.
  • Note whether the shape and degree of protrusion of the eyeball is similar for the two eyes. Eyeball (globe) rupture commonly occurs following concussive trauma. A protruding eye on one side may be caused by an abscess behind the eye, tumour or trauma. An eyeball decreased in size could be caused by orbital injury.

Nares:

  • The nares should be clear, without dried discharges or mucus. Ulceration or loss of skin colour can indicate a chronic nasal discharge problem.

Top of head and ear:

  • The temporal muscles should be full and slightly rounded. Sunken muscles could indicate weight loss or severe dehydration. Asymmetrical swelling could indicate infection, trauma or neoplasia.
  • Tympanic membranes should be checked, particularly for swelling underneath which may indicate infection with caseous exudate.

LEGS & FEET:

  • Palpate and manipulate legs carefully for fractures or dislocations.
    • Check the whole length of each long bone.
    • Palpate and manipulate each joint.
    • Check for deviation, normal range of motion, crepitus ("crunching" sensation) and instability.
  • Legs should also be held out together and compared for symmetry.
  • Note any discoloured areas (pale and cold, reddened and swollen or dry and necrotic) which may indicate e.g. frostbite (Frostbite).
  • Check for joint swellings indicative of osteomyelitis (bone infection), articular gout (Gout), arthritis etc.
  • Palpation of the pelvis for evidence of fracture and dislocation is important. Following pelvic trauma, consideration must be given as to the subsequent likelihood that adult female mammals may have difficulties giving birth (dystocia).
  • Gentle palpation of the vertebral column for evidence of deformity or pain is important for casualties with a history of trauma and neurological signs.

BODY:

  • Palpate body gently for any surface masses.
  • Check major muscle masses are symmetrical.
  • Examine abdomen for signs of generalised distension (e.g. ascites, obesity, haemorrhage) or localised masses (e.g. retained eggs / young, abscess, pregnancy).
  • Snakes and lizards are easily damaged by rough handling which can result in rib fractures.

Radiography is particularly useful with small animals that are difficult to examine, and should often be used as a routine part of examination.

Examination of faeces, haematology and other clinical samples is also often an important part of diagnosis.

(B23, B117, B501, V.w5, V.w6, V.w26)

Common Findings and Reasons for Presentation - Reptile Considerations
(The species-specific sections should be read in association with the general physical/clinical examination section above)

Reptile considerations

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Coronella austriaca - Smooth snake, Natrix natrix - Grass snake, Vipera berus - Common viper, Anguis fragilis - Slow worm, Lacerta agilis - Sand lizard, Lacerta vivipara - Viviparous lizard.

These species are from the families Colubridae, Viperidae, Anguidae, Lacertidae.

Common findings and reasons for presentation:

Other important diseases:

  • Salmonellosis and other bacterial infections (important as a zoonosis).
  • Mycobacterium spp. infection. Cold-water Mycobacterium species (e.g. Mycobacterium xenopi and Mycobacterium marinum) have been recorded in captive reptiles, and in association with "aquarist's nodules" (skin lesions) and lung lesions in humans.
  • A number of viruses have been found in reptiles.
  • Parasites are common in reptiles, and a variety of roundworms, tapeworms, flatworms, flukes,ectoparasites and protozoans have been found.
  • Fungal infections are recorded, particularly those fungi usually present in the environment which can produce disease in reptiles that are already debilitated.
  • Nutritional deficiencies, burns, trauma, abscesses, scale-rot (dermal ulceration), mouth-rot, stress-induced regurgitation, egg (live-young) retention and neoplasia are common problems in captive reptiles.

(B117, B501)

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Common Findings and Reasons for Presentation - Amphibian Considerations
(The species-specific sections should be read in association with the general physical/clinical examination section above)

Amphibian Considerations Triturus cristatus - Northern crested newt, Triturus helveticus - Palmate newt, Triturus vulgaris - Smooth newt, Bufo bufo - Common European toad, Bufo calamita - Natterjack toad, Rana esculenta - Edible frog, Rana ridibunda - Marsh frog, Rana temporaria - European common frog.

These species are from the families Bufonidae, Ranidae, Salamandridae.

Common findings and reasons for presentation:

  • If the animal is severely injured / diseased - careful consideration must be given to the appropriateness of treatment and likelihood of survival; euthanasia should be considered. See: Wildlife Casualty Euthanasia
  • If a number of animals are affected, consideration must be given to:
    • the possibility of environmental pollution (e.g. pesticides, chemical and biological wastes, oil etc.). Amphibia are quickly affected by toxic compounds in the environment which are readily absorbed through the skin.
    • infectious agents such as Iridovirus infection (see below) and the possible spread of disease agents not previously seen in the UK (see Chytridiomycosis below).
    • If either of the above are suspected, advice should be sought from such organisations as Environment Agency, Froglife and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
  • May present as road traffic accident victims. Fractures usually heal if left alone, although jaws may need stabilisation.
  • Topical salt poisoning has been recorded, particularly affecting toads crossing roads which have been recently salted. These should be washed in clean water (B151).
  • Garden mower/strimmer accidents, particularly for frogs. These can sometimes be sutured. General anaesthesia is usually indicated.
  • Cat bites, mainly frogs and toads. These are often untreatable, but antibiotics will usually be indicated.

N.B. Newts rarely present as casualties.

(D24, B151, B199)

Other important diseases:

  • Redleg.
  • Mycobacterium spp. infection. Cold-water Mycobacterium species (e.g. Mycobacterium xenopi and Mycobacterium marinum) have been recorded in laboratory amphibia, and in association with "aquarist's nodules" (skin lesions) and lung lesions in humans.
  • Viral infections:
    • Iridovirus infection (Iridoviridae).
      • Ranaviruses within Iridoviridae family are often highly virulent and can cause systemic disease (which may be associated with haemorrhages), resulting in death. Tadpoles appear to be particularly susceptible. (J84.5.w1).
      • Iridovirus has been isolated from common frogs (Rana temporaria - European common frog) involved in group mortality incidents in the UK. Post mortem findings included skin ulceration with necrotic lesions, varying degrees of emaciation and systemic (liver) haemorrhages (J3.137.w4).
    • Adenovirus-like and poxvirus-like particles have been found in frogs examined in mass mortality events. Their significance is uncertain.
  • Chytridiomycosis. (Phylum / Division - Chytridiomycota)
  • Parasites are common in Amphibia, which are intermediate and final hosts for a variety of roundworms, tapeworms, flatworms, flukes and protozoans. These may affect a wide variety of body organs and have been implicated with developmental deformities (B117, B501, J84.5.w1).
  • Worldwide, leeches, parasitic crustaceans such as Argulus spp. and flies (Diptera) has been recorded to affect Amphibia (B501).
  • Fungal infections are recorded, particularly those fungi usually present in the environment which can produce disease in amphibia that are already debilitated (B501).

For further advice on wild UK amphibians, contact Froglife.

(D24, B151, B117, B199, B501)

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UK Contact Organisations and Published Guidelines for Further Reading (Electronic Library)

ORGANISATIONS
(UK Contacts)

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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Authors & Referees

Author Debra Bourne
Referees Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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