In the wild, animals that act sick or injured are the animals that get eaten, so reptiles have become very good at disguising when they’re feeling ill. It is your responsibility as a reptile owner to prevent illness, and be able to tell when your skink gets sick or injured. This is a brief guide to preventing, recognizing, and treating some of the most common illnesses and conditions seen in captive blue tongue skinks.
Some things you can do to keep tabs on your blue tongue skink’s health:
- Weigh them weekly – sudden weight loss often indicates illness.
- Keep a weekly record of weight, feeding habits, behavior, shedding, etc.
- Prepare a reptile first-aid kit so you won’t be left scrambling if your snake becomes sick or injured
Disclaimer: I am not a reptile veterinarian nor a reptile health expert. The contents of these pages are to be used as guidelines, not professional medical advice. If you have an emergency, call an ARAV-certified reptile veterinarian immediately.
Brumation is the reptile version of hibernation, lasting about 3-4 months each year. During this time they sleep near constantly and eat/drink little to nothing, but the specifics vary by individual. They don’t always brumate during winter, either—it could be during summer or whenever their little body says “it’s time.” Just make sure to weigh him/her every week to track weight loss. If your skink loses a lot of weight or sleeps longer than 4 months, you may want to call your vet.
- Caused by: Low humidity.
- Look for: Scales being shed individually rather than in large chunks, stuck shed around toes.
- Fix with: Warm bath, higher humidity, humid hide. Massage with soft toothbrush if needed, but do not forcibly pull off shed.
Metabolic Bone Disease
- Caused by: Vitamin D3 deficiency/excess or calcium deficiency, which leads to bone loss and if untreated, death.
- Look for: Dent in back, kinked tail, softening of lower jaw.
- Fix with: If acting relatively healthy, add 10.0 UVB bulb within 12”, give calcium 2x weekly, take outside if warm enough. If acting lethargic or not eating, take to vet.
If your skink’s nails are beginning to curl or scratch you during handling, it’s time for a trim. Holding the skink very still, take a pair of cat nail clippers and nip off just the tips of the nails, avoiding the dark portion. If the nail bleeds, you trimmed too far. Keep your skink’s nails filed down naturally by including slate, flagstone, and other rough surfaces in the enclosure.
Blue tongue skinks love to eat, and this makes them prone to obesity. Keep an eye on your skink’s weight by regular weighing with a kitchen scale and plastic tub. You can generally tell if a skink is overweight just by looking at him/her. If the head seems small compared to the rest of its body, it may need to lose a few grams.
If your skink is overweight, check your portions. Are you feeding 2 Tbsp of food per feeding, twice per week? Are you feeding 40% protein and 60% plant matter? If yes, reduce portions from 2 Tbsp to 1 Tbsp. You should also encourage him/her to exercise by letting it explore your house or yard (supervised) for 30 minutes/day. Upgrading the size of the enclosure will also help.
If you have tried all the above without result, your skink may have a hormonal imbalance. Make an appointment with your vet.
- Look for: irregular dark patches, irritation/itchiness, raised scales
- Treatment: Use anti-mite soak or oil as directed. Then clean enclosure and decorations with bleach or Nolvasan and hot water, followed by a hydrogen peroxide wipedown.
- Look for: Watery and/or especially smelly poo, unexplained weight loss, lethargy, weight loss
- Treatment: Get fecal exam from your vet and treat as directed.
- Caused by: Poor hygiene, dust, toxic substrate, improper humidity, low temps.
- Look for: Open-mouth breathing, difficult breathing, wheezing, mucus/bubbles in mouth/nose, loss of appetite, lethargy.
- Treatment: Increase night temps to 80 degrees, check humidity, go to vet.
- Caused by: Poor hygiene, low temps.
- Look for: Blisterlike lesions under scales and/or scale loss on underside.
- Treatment: Take to vet.
- Caused by: Malnutrition, MBD, small enclosure, perpetual wall-climbing attempts.
- Look for: “Hunchbacked” appearance, with a dip between the front and back legs. Severe cases may appear “flattened” that area, with the ability to twist into a corkscrew shape or even fold themselves in half backward. Most common in young or undernourished individuals.
- Treatment: Relocate to a larger enclosure, provide more hides and enrichment items, and minimize opportunities for the skink to climb and damage spine further. Encouraging horizontal exercise and weight gain can strengthen muscles and help normalize appearance. However, deformity may be permanent. Keep in mind that this deformity can rearrange internal organs and reduce digestive tract capacity — small, frequent feedings are more effective than the usual occasional large ones.
Unlike geckos, tail loss in blue tongue skinks is fairly uncommon and only occurs with significant trauma. Once lost, the tail can only grow back once. If your skink has lost his/her tail, take it to the vet to make sure the stump doesn’t get infected.
Getting a Reptile Veterinarian
Just like any other pet, if you have a reptile, you need a veterinarian. Veterinarians who treat reptiles are called “exotic” animal vets, and are a little harder to find than dog and cat clinics. The best way to find one is by asking your local reptile community for recommendations. You can also find exotic vets near you via www.arav.com.
If you’re worried about vet bills, the following can help.
- Exotic Pet Insurance — Works like human health insurance, but for your pet. It covers accidents and illnesses, but also checkups, lab fees, medications, X-rays, hospitalization, etc.
- Savings Account — Deposit $10 per month per reptile into a savings account specifically for veterinary care. That much should cover each animal’s annual checkup, plus help offset additional expenses.
- CareCredit — If for some reason either of the above won’t work, you can sign up for a CareCredit card. It works just like a credit card, but for health care services not always covered by insurance. Most veterinary clinics accept CareCredit, making it a convenient resource to get your pet the care it needs in case of emergency.