Veterinary Basics: Equipment

Reptile mites are a constant menace to reptile keepers because of the speed with which they spread.

Nix lice control spray ($5.99) contains 0.25% permethrin as an active ingredient, is widely available at drugstores, and has been used safely and successfully for many years at the Reptile World Serpentarium for mite control. When used properly to spray cage bedding and furniture, it effectively kills snake mites without harming the snakes. Snakes may be lightly sprayed from a distance of 18" with their heads covered. Do not spray a snake's mouth or nose. Water bowls should be removed before spraying and left out of the cage overnight, until the spray is thoroughly dry. Do not contaminate food or water with this product or permit your snake to ingest any. Permethrin is highly toxic to fish, arachnids and insects. Any aquarium fish, pet insects or spiders should be removed from the room before spraying. You can buy this inexpensive product now, or go to your local drugstore and pick up this or any other dilute (0.25% or 0.5%) permethrin-only spray that has no other active ingredients and is sold for safe use on human bedding or hair. Read the package insert with oral toxicity warnings here. A more extensive paper comparing the toxicity of various chemical preparations in snakes is available here.

Permethrin is most effective after it has dried and remains effective for weeks to months on wood, cloth, or paper. Getting rid of snake mites is not a matter of more or stronger insecticide, but making sure that a light coat is applied to every possible crevice of refuge—did you remove any sponge-like shredded bedding and replace it with newspaper with both sides sprayed? And you have to do all of your reptile cages at once. If you coat the environment thoroughly, it is generally not even necessary to spray the snake at all. A bad case can be treated with an overnight stay in a pillowcase that has been sprayed (on the inside) and allowed to dry.

Black Knight roach killer, although hard to find, has an active ingredient (phenothrin) even less toxic than permethrin, and has some ardent supporters.

Red rubber catheters are very useful for delivering medications and nutritional slurries for assist feeding. If thoroughly smoothed they can also be used successfully as endotracheal tubes. Cut the tube to fit snugly on the end of your syringe and keep in mind that the volume of the catheter itself should be compensated for by drawing up extra air or water in the back of the syringe. Here are two articles on oral gavage and assist feeding with instructions. The cheapest price I've found on these is at Revival Animal Health, though you can also find these at your local specialty pharmacy. Ask for the human incontinence supplies.
Other useful supplies for basic reptile veterinary care include syringes, ball tipped steel feeding needles, Nolvasan (chlorhexidine), povidone iodine, gauze sponges, vet wrap, and tissue glue (Tissumend is just high-quality cyanoacrylate; regular "super glue" can be used sparingly in a pinch). If you can get your hands on some, Silver sulfadiazine cream (Silvadene, Thermazene or SSD) is great for nose rubs and other superficial wounds. Otherwise, just use generic triple antibiotic cream.
If you plan to do any drug dosing at home, you will need an accurate scale to measure your animal's exact weight before you can calculate an appropriate dose. One that measures in grams directly will save you a conversion step. Here is an article on weighing venomous snakes and calculating their drug doses. Here are several good scale choices which are recommended by the venomous snake experts at Midwest. Many office supply stores will charge you as much for a postage scale with 5g resolution and 1000g capacity as Midwest's 1g/6000g scale.

The most frequently used drugs are antiparasiticals. Fenbendazole (Panacur or Safeguard) and metronidazole (Flagyl) are the two mainstays. Praziquantel (Droncit) is sometimes useful, but expensive. Sulfadimethoxine (Albon) is useful for coccidia, and levamisole (Levasole) or ivermectin (generic) can be used with caution if you have to deal with pentastomids.

Liquid or injectable forms are best, as they can be administered in small doses more easily that trying to give 1/23 of a pill. Unfortunately, liquid flagyl is not sold in the U.S., although it is available over the counter in Mexico. If you know anyone going to Mexico, ask them to get some for you. (If customs asks, they forgot and drank the water.)

Antibiotics are the next step up. You can really make a mess of things using these improperly, so be sure you know what you're doing, give enough, and for long enough. (Oxy)tetracycline powder (Terramycin) is good for soaking an injured animal. With a veterinarian's prescription you can also purchase enrofloxacin (Baytril), ceftazidime (Fortaz) and amikacin (generic). Valley Vet and Vet Med Direct are good places to put a large order of supplies together, but you can also search on the Web or ask your vet for a supplier he or she recommends. If you only want a few items (you aren't buying in bulk for a major collection), you'll be better off purchasing a few items here and there from a local veterinarian.
These slightly tacky (but not sticky) thin rubber mats are sold as shelf liner, grip liner or rug runner. You want the close-weave product, not the one with big holes in it that looks like a coarse net. They are excellent pinning surfaces and will harmlessly slow down even the slipperiest little elapids. I like to roll them out over a second soft surface such as a foam camping pad. They can be washed and scrubbed with bleach solution between uses or simply discarded. The inexpensive foam camping pad can also be discarded if it becomes soiled. One roll of liner and one camping pad can be cut into a number of pieces of sufficient size to cover your pinning area, so this is actually a fairly cost effective approach. I have seen the shelf liner at discount stores for as little as $1 per roll and the cheap camping sleep pads for $5.

Fecal exams can be had for $15 at any vet's office, but if you do enough over a year, it may be worth getting a microscope and learning to do them yourself. The Celestron 4030 is an inexpensive educational microscope that is quite sufficient to examine fecal samples. This is a monocular microscope with a vertical eyepiece. Binocular microscopes are easier to use but much more expensive. This model comes with two eyepieces (10x, 12.5x) and three objectives (4x, 10x, and 40x) on the turret, giving powers from 40x to 500x. A fecal exam is mostly done at 100x. The lack of a condensor (you need a desk lamp or the sun to aim at the mirror to provide illumination) isn't too big a handicap at low magnification. This type of microscope can be bought many places, such as here for $99.

In addition to the textbooks, there's plenty of information on the web about about how to do fecal exams and identify the parasites you find.

The LW Scientific Revelation III is a fancier microscope (angled binocular eyepieces, 100x oil-immersion objective for cytology, built-in illuminator and condensor) that is very nice to work with. In particular, it has a mechanical stage, which makes it very easy to systematically scan the slide looking for parasites. This can be found at a great price ($455) from, and there are other retailers (such as and who will price-match.

For more about microscopes, try the Microscopy UK website. You will also need some supplies such as flotation solution, microscpe slides, and cover slips.

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