Reproductive Disease in Reptiles

Presenter: Sean McCormack BSc (Hons) MVB MRCVS, Richmond Vets

Reproductive disease in reptiles is not frequently encountered by most in practice but with an increasing trend towards keeping reptiles there is a real niche in the market for a vet with a keen interest in this species. The practice I work in also covers out of hours work for surrounding practices, one of which happens to see a lot of exotics, so I am appreciative of any advice on reptile conditions and last week’s webinar led by Sean McCormack delivered exactly this on a very practical level.

Sean explained that reproductive disease is seen on a seasonal basis and with spring upon us a lot of reproductive changes will take place in reptiles, making this an excellent time to participate in this webinar.

Calcium disorders including metabolic bone disease(MBD) and hypocalcaemia were covered initially and with calcium being intrinsically linked to the reproductive system, this should come as no surprise. The follicular phase of the reproductive cycle in female reptiles puts a huge demand on calcium along with foetal and egg production. This makes reproductive females particularly prone to calcium disorders and Sean advices to consider this in any reptile presenting with signs of MBD or hypocalcaemia. The question has to be asked is this is a reproductive female and, if so, X-rays should be taken to assess if a clutch of eggs is present. If this is the case, signs of MBD and hypocalcaemia are likely to recur even after treatment.

Egg binding in reptiles also formed a significant part of this webinar and Sean was keen to stress the differences between the two types of egg binding: Pre-ovulatory, aka follicular stasis; and post-ovulatory, aka dystocia. Pre-ovulatory egg binding is the development of mature follicles which do not progress to ovulation. Many will resorb without illness but in some cases many follicles will persist leading to inflammation and infection and eventually coelomitis and death.

Affected animals present with anorexia, lethargy and a distended abdomen and an X-ray will reveal multiple spherical masses of a soft tissue opacity (a good analogy would be a bunch of grapes). If reptiles have been chronically ill due to follicular stasis the prognosis is poor without vet intervention. Spaying and removal of the ovaries will be necessary but great care must be taken as the ovaries lie close to both the vena cava and adrenal gland. Owners must always be warned there is a 5-10% chance of recurrence as removal of all the ovarian tissue can be difficult.

In comparison, post-ovulatory egg binding (dystocia) is the difficulty in giving birth or laying eggs which can be either obstructive or non-obstructive. Differentiating between pre and post egg binding can be achieved by taking an X-ray where instead of seeing spherical masses of a soft tissue opacity you would see masses which are calcified. Treatment of dystocia depends on the underlying cause but care needs to be taken when manipulating eggs in obstructive disease as often fibrinous adhesions will be present and rupture of the oviduct is a possibility. Ovocentesis via the cloaca or abdominal wall can prove useful in reptiles harbouring large eggs.

Sean went on to discuss cloacal, oviduct, hemipenile and penile prolapses and delivered more detail on the underlying causes and treatment options for all the above conditions. ‘The Webinar Vet’ has organised yet another veterinary webinar which provides practical information that is often a struggle to find from other sources. I now look forward to the next egg bound reptile walking through the consulting room door, especially armed with a lot more knowledge than I had a week ago.

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

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