Category Archives: Reptiles

Whew! That feels better!

DSCN2908I got to do a really fun surgery the other day on a Bearded Dragon. The Beardie in question was Kahleesi, a single orange female who decided to form lots and lots of large follicles on her ovaries but not turn them into eggs. This condition, called follicular stasis, is not a good idea. Eventually the follicles start to break down and the critter develops a whopping peritonitis. It’s a medical problem that doesn’t seem to happen to Bearded Dragons in the wild, just to those Beardies inhabiting our living rooms. Clearly, there is something about keeping them healthy in captivity that we haven’t quite figured out yet.

x-ray showing enlarged ovaries

x-ray showing enlarged ovaries

Anyway, Kahleesi’s owner brought her in to see me because she was suddenly getting huge around the middle. Which was true – her belly looked very, very full. It felt very full too. On x-ray we could see that she had lots of rounded masses in her abdomen.

I was concerned that Kahleesi wasn’t going to turn these large follicles into eggs and lay them, but we gave her the benefit of the doubt and waited a few weeks. Unfortunately despite lots of calcium and good care she refused to cooperate, and we had a surgical case on our hands.

After an altercation where she didn’t want to be anesthetized and I had to find a Band Aid, we got our Beardie asleep and ready for surgery. As soon as I looked inside her belly I could see what the problem was. Actually it was two big problems, in the form of two huge ovaries so full of follicles that they looked like large bunches of orange grapes. She lost quite a bit of weight with their removal, a full fifth of her body weight!

the problematic ovaries

the problematic ovaries

after the surgery

after the surgery (still sleepy…)

Our much slimmer and happier Bearded Dragon went home that afternoon a bit sleepy but feeling much better. The next day she gobbled down 35 crickets and hasn’t looked back since. She is back to her happy self, with the added bonus of no more girl troubles in her future.

Hilary Stern DVM 2014

Myxomatosis Outbreak – Bring your Bunnies Indoors!


the culprit, a poxvirus

Myxomatosis is a devastating viral disease that kills pet rabbits. There is currently an outbreak going on in Santa Cruz County, California, where I live. It has been a very dry year, and as a result the streams aren’t flowing quickly, which leads to lots of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can carry this virus from cottontail rabbits to domesticated rabbits. The virus can also spread by direct contact, and by other insects such as ticks and fleas.


swelling and discharge from the eyes is one of the first symptoms

While the myxomatosis virus only causes minor disease in wild cottontail rabbits, it is highly lethal to pet rabbits, with a reported mortality rate of 96-100%. Initial signs are seen three days after infection and can include reddened eyes with a milky discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever. Rabbits that survive this initial stage develop swelling of the eyelids, nostrils, lips, scrotum, vulva, anus, and ears. An opaque nasal discharge and labored breathing will commonly follow, leading to death within 7 to 14 days. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for myxomatosis; our only options are to provide supportive care and hope the bunny gets through it, or to euthanize.

While there is an effective vaccine against this disease, it is not licensed for use in the United States. The FDA won’t allow the importation of this vaccine from Europe because it also vaccinates against Rabbit Hemorrhagic Virus, a disease that we (usually) don’t have here in the U.S.


another reason to dislike mosquitoes

The only way to prevent myxomatosis here in the coastal northwestern U.S., then, is to prevent exposure. Assess your home and environs. Are there mosquitoes around? Are there wild cottontails around? If so, keep your bunnies indoors at all times. If not, it still pays to be cautious. Carefully enclose outdoor hutches with mosquito screens. Make sure that your rabbit is either indoors or behind mosquito netting during the highest mosquito activity time periods, dawn and dusk. It is also wise to make sure that all bunnies that go outside receive a monthly dose of the flea control product Advantage.

Remember, myxomatosis is highly contagious and can be rapidly fatal. If you see any symptoms of myxomatosis in your rabbit, make sure to isolate it from other rabbits and call your veterinarian immediately.

Hilary Stern DVM © 2014

Meet Scar the Snake and his friend Brandyn

I met a new species of snake this week, a Macklot’s Python (Liasis mackloti) named Scar. This snake is a non-venomous python species found in Indonesia, and sometimes in people’s living rooms in Santa Cruz, CA.

Brandyn and her snake Scar

Brandyn and her snake Scar

Scar was aptly named because he has a huge scar running all the way down his belly. The scar is from a very bad burn he received a few years ago from a poorly placed heating element. After his injury he was taken in by the good people at Trop-Aquarium pet store and nursed back to health. He is a gorgeous snake now, his scales full of an iridescence that I tried to capture in this photograph (but couldn’t).

Burns in snakes are actually pretty common. Snakes (and other reptiles) will sometimes cozy up to heating elements and not get off even when they start to sizzle. Why this happens is a mystery – perhaps they don’t have well-developed heat receptors in their skin. No doubt in the wild they don’t come across many 500 degree surfaces, so perhaps evolving a response to such a situation wasn’t a priority. In any case, it is super important that all reptile owners realize this and make sure that their pets can’t come into direct contact with heat bulbs, heating pads, and the like. Heated rocks are just a really bad idea and should never be used for all the reasons stated above.

As I always do when faced with a new species, I rushed to the internet to read all I could before the appointment. I quickly learned that Macklot’s python’s have a reputation for being “irritable”, which isn’t a great feature in a 7-to-9 foot snake whose mouth you need to look inside of 10 minutes from now.

I shouldn’t have worried, because Brandyn (one of the owners of Trop-Aquarium) is a snake whisperer and had transformed Scar from an angry teenage snake to a pussycat of an adult. Scar is so tame that he goes to kids’ birthday parties and gets passed around from sticky hand to sticky hand. Apparently his only bad habit now is that he likes to stick his head in your mouth while you are talking. Which is naughty – doesn’t he know he can catch Salmonella from people?

Pets are not Wildlife (and vice versa)

This is a Stinkpot Turtle. She is very cute.

She should not, however, have been in a local creek here is California. Her species is native to the East Coast of the United States.

Why does it matter? After all, she is still American, right?

It DOES matter. She and her ilk are taking over habitats and driving out our native Western Pond Turtles.

Western Pond Turtles were once plentiful and ranged from as far south as Baja California to as far north as British Columbia. For many years their habitat range has been shrinking and they are currently only found in parts of California and Oregon along with two small populations in the state of Washington. Their shrinking populations are credited to habitat loss, non-native predators and crowding by non-native turtle species.

Please, please! If you have a pet turtle that you have tired of, find it a good home. Don’t dump it in a local stream. Released pets introduce diseases to and take over habitat from local wildlife populations, and can drive them to extinction. And extinction is forever.