Hillside Veterinary Centre

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146 Crewe Road, Nantwich, Cheshire, CW5 6NB
Telephone: 01270 625310





Snakes and lizards should be kept in a terrarium at 50-70% humidity; up to 80% for rainforest spp. However the Leopard Gecko, a desert dwelling lizard, should be kept at 20%, with a small chamber with high humidity to enable it to shed. Tortoises should have an outside enclosure (4 sq. metre/ animal) with water that enables them to submerge their head to drink. Ideally a south facing grassy bank and a brink built shelter. Inside, they should be kept at 30oC, dropping cooler during the night, with infra red and UVb light sources. Tortoises are vegetarian, requiring a calcium and vitamin supplement, and a little dog food weekly. Box tortoises need a slightly deeper trough, 5cm, to sit in and leaf litter to bury in. Handle carefully, their shells can hurt. Males tend to have longer tails.

Terrapins require a pond, 20-22oC, with a filtration system. They need a separate feeding area and a haul out area. They are carnivorous as young becoming more omnivorous as they age.

There should be a primary heat source that warms the air. This can be a ceramic bulb or a heat mat on the rear wall. This must be on at all times. A secondary heat source provides a hot spot during the day. A 50-75W bulb will do; this may be combined with a UV light source. A min max thermometer should be used to confirm the correct temperatures. Hot rocks are bad. No animal sits on a hot rock to get warm: they're getting their warmth for the air. Hot rocks often lead to thermal burns.

The reptiles require a 12-14 hour day. UVA & UVB are required during this period for Vit D production and environment enhancement. Reptile can see UV light; it will show the ripeness of food. It is important to ensure that the food source is nutritional. Dehydrated starved crickets have negligible value. It is important to care for your food source and take the opportunity to 'gut load' them with vitamins and minerals.

As a rough guide the approximate values below give a comparison between some live prey. Feeding a 'favourite' food as a sole diet will lead to dietary imbalances.

Food water crude fat crude protein chitin carbohydrate
Wax worm
Fruit fly

Temperate species tortoises require hibernation as they mature. This encourages breeding and thyroxin regulation.

Snakes and Lizard problems

Anorexia can be the first sign of disease. Ensure not environmental. Check heat cycle, humidity, type and presentation of food. Shy feeders may respond to a box with holes to mimic a pray burrow. Slowly increase day light period to mimic summer- many fast through winter.

Calcium deficiency causes weakness, leg deformities, spinal collapse, fits, piano playing, and tremors. A toe missing can be a sign of metabolic bone disease as can swollen limbs, bloat, cloacal prolapse, swollen mandible, and stunted growth.

Hypovitaminosis A causes swollen eyes, deformed beak, and can lead to secondary respiratory infection.

Hypovitaminosis B causes neurological problems. Garter snakes on sea fish diets are high in thiaminase (dipping briefly in boiling water will inactivate thiaminase), or frozen fish diet, low in Thiamine (Vit B). Signs include twitching, in coordination, apparent blindness, tort Collis, spinning, circling, convulsions, and death.

Gout can take a visceral or particular form. Signs are lethargy, anorexia, lameness, and/or urate tophii seen through skin. This is common in Iguanas fed cat food (herbivorous). It is the result of excessive protein intake [cat or/dog food], severe dehydration and renal disease.

Hypoglycaemia - subnormal levels of blood glucose - can be caused by starvation, stress, disease and septicaemia. Signs are tremors, torpor and non-responsive dilated pupils.

Mouth rot - initially presents as swelling of the soft tissues in the mouth with stringy saliva, progressing to ulceration and frank pus. It is usually environmental, possibly due to trauma (nose banging). Scurvy/and Hypovitaminosis A will predispose to it.

Periodontal disease occurs in reptiles that do not replace teeth e.g. chameleons and agamas. Tartar build-up helps to exposed bone allowing abscesses and osteomyeolitis. Can't use an ultrasonic scaler on lizards! To correct or prevent increase chitenous foods and avoid too much soft food

Septicaemia may show as a darkening of tail and toes or a red blush to tortoise shell. Respiratory disease is quite often set off by low environmental temperature and high humidity.

Fatty liver disease is caused by sudden starvation or anorexia in fat animals, but is normal before hibernation. Inappropriate diet may be the cause.

Dysecdysis is slough retention. All reptiles slough their skin, snakes in one piece. Over 4-7 days the skin becomes dull, then clears as it separates from underlying skin, 4-7 days later is shed. Causes of not shedding may be low humidity, heavy mite infestation or skin infection (scale rot or blister disease). Desert lizards require a slough box. Aquatic chelonian require a dry hotspot. Treat the underlying cause first, then put in a tub of wet towels or soak in warm water 30 minutes, gently rub off dry skin with wet cloth. Failure to shed over toes and tail can result in strictures causing loss of extremities.

Egg binding in lizards can be due to calcium deficiency, renal disease or environmental factors; in snakes it is usually associated with infection, abnormal eggs or uterine inertia.


Tortoises and terrapins can suffer from similar conditions as other reptiles. Viral rhinitis, post-hibernation anorexia and egg-binding (possibly caused by not having a suitable nesting area) are the more common presenting conditions in tortoises at this practice, terrapins present with Hypovitaminosis A or septicaemia. Vitamin A deficiency causes a thickening of the lining of the airways resulting in bulging eyes.

Beaks and claws may require trimming. Soft shells in hatchlings are the result of nutritional osteodystrophy. This may also show as pyramidal shells, beak deformity and bowed legs.

Only hibernate temperate species tortoises. Weigh your tortoise at least twice yearly, before and after hibernation. Tortoises live by mobilising fat reserves during hibernation, after that protein will be broken down and the glycogen required for post-hibernation energy will be used up. Therefore underweight or ill tortoises should not be hibernated. Prior to hibernation withdraw food for two weeks to empty the gut and prevent fermentation of intestinal contents. Do not withdraw access to fresh drinking water. Drop temperature to 10'C. Place in well bedded box or refrigerator (allowing air to circulate regularly, this has a controlled temperature) - monitor, maximum 3 months. Very cold winters will cause icicle formation in the extremities and blindness.

Post hibernation tortoises have a glucose surge to provide energy to start feeding.

Post hibernation anorexia. When the temperature is above 10 - 12'C, they will start stirring. Resume eating in 1-2 days. If not ate within 1 week - need to see a vet. The initial glucose release will have worn off: they will become hypoglycaemic. The cause may be rhinitis or frost damage (causing retinitis).

Tortoises are prone to trauma - dog bites, lawn mowers, and clumsy adults. Rodents may gnaw them during hibernation.


Trade / movement of reptiles can be found at:

Dangerous wild animal act 1976 details at:

Useful organisations

Tortoise Trust

British Chelonian Group

Helpful suppliers


Petzoo for Bug Grub


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