Reptile Virus Epidemic



[This was originally posted because of a local scare. It seems talk spread much faster than any bacteria or virus.. We do not know for sure if it was ever real or not, but still we must remember to always practice safe husbandry, especially when getting new animals.]

This is a public service announcement from Northwest Reptiles. There is a lot of information to read through, but the health of your pet may depend on it. Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.

If you are a reptile keeper, you may have noticed the posts on Craigslist over the last few days stating that a Paramyxovirus virus has been spreading in the Portland/Vancouver area, decimating the collections of several keepers.

We have been unable to find anyone who has had a necropsy performed on any of their deceased animals, so please be aware that Paramyxovirus is not the only risk out there, and that the infection spreading in the Portland area may be something else entirely, though no less deadly. If you have had your animal necropsied or tested, please pass the information on. This is anonymous and will help all of us who work with reptiles or care for him. There are an entire class of viral illnesses that reptiles can succumb to (a famous example would be IBD, which has been in the news recently). Many of those diseases share symptoms, and some of those symptoms can also come from much less deadly illnesses, such as respiratory infections or parasite infestations.

That said, this seems to be a dangerous illness that has been circulating. Viral illnesses in reptiles are not well understood, and there is no known cure. We wanted to share some information on Paramyxovirus with the public, and share some ways that you can lessen the risk to your pets.

Some symptoms of Paramyxovirus include:

  • Respiratory issues (wheezing, excessive sneezing, liquids coming from nose or mouth, gaping)
  • Anorexia (refusing to eat) or regurgitating meals
  • Bad muscle tone, weakness in body
  • Weird poop (mucus or blood in stools, ongoing constipation). You should try to become familiar with what your reptile’s stools look like, so you can watch for changes.
  • The dreaded neurological symptoms: “star-gazing”, twitching, tremors, convulsions, “tying in knots”.

Again, it really needs to be said that these symptoms are shared with several other diseases/illnesses, some of which are totally harmless if caught in time, and some that are just as deadly as Paramyxovirus. The only way to be sure is to take your animal to an experienced reptile vet if he/she is experiencing symptoms. Feel free to email us if you need to know how to find one. More symptoms and info on Paramyxovirus infection can be found at this website: http://www.aussiepythons.com/forum/general-reptile-discussion-42/ophidian-paramyxovirus-information-44092/

We also recommend that people Google Paramyxovirus or ‘reptile viral infections’ and do some more research. Knowledge is power!

Even though these viral infections are not curable, there are many very important things you, as the caretaker for an animal, can do to help keep them uninfected in the first place. None of these things are 100%, and it is very hard to achieve a perfect quarantine in the average home, but you can drastically reduce your risk by following ALL of these tips, ALL of the time:

  • Do not buy an animal who is obviously emaciated or covered in mites. While many people are willing to purchase them and nurse them back to health, now is not the time with an active, deadly illness being passed amongst Craigslist buyers and sellers. You are likely to endanger any other animals you own.
  • If you buy an animal from an unfamiliar source (say, from a stranger online) try to avoid people who have no records on an animal, or who have had them for only a short period of time. Flipping a reptile can infect several collections before the animal finally shows symptoms or is sold to their permanent home. If you can, try to see where the animal was kept and observe the rest of the collection. Do the animals look well-fed and healthy? Are the cages clean or are there feces everywhere? Are the water bowls clean or slimy? Are the animals packed together in a room so that there is no way to follow hygiene practices and avoid cross-infection? Even if you aren’t allowed into their collection, ask for photos of the cage and of the room. Ultimately, you are the one who is making the choice to purchase or adopt, but if you notice that one or more of the above things are true, please give it a second thought.
  • When you bring an animal home, you MUST quarantine it. Three months is good, with more if you can and less if you absolutely have to. Quarantining means that the animal gets a separate cage, as far away from your other animals as is humanly possible. Large breeders use a separate building. You may need to use a different room, or a different floor of your house. Even if you have to keep them all in one room, keep them on opposite ends. Remember that Paramyxovirus has a symptom-free incubation period of at least 6-10 weeks.
  • Care for/clean/hold new animals LAST, after your established animals. That lessens the chance of an infection getting to them. Wash/sanitize your hands and change your clothes before you touch your other animals again.
  • Do not share supplies between animals. That means water bowls, hides, feeding tongs, and un-eaten food. All of these things can carry traces of fluids (or mites) and infect a collection swiftly. If you must share supplies, look below for our info on sterilizing with bleach.
  • Treat all cases of mites IMMEDIATELY. Look up the Nix method for snake mites, or consider using Provent-a-Mite. Follow instructions for all remedies exactly, mite remedies can all be dangerous to your animal if not used correctly. We don’t recommend ‘Mite-Off’, as it is ineffective, nor do we recommend using olive or other oils on your reptiles.
  • Sanitize cages and cage furniture. A 10-20% bleach solution can kill the Paramyxovirus. Soak cage furnishings and wipe down cages with a bleach solution, let sit for half an hour or more, and rinse and dry very thoroughly before returning your pet. Bleach fumes can be harmful to your animal if not cleared well. Do the same thing with cages you have recently bought, both new and used. Even if it comes from a pet store, you can’t be sure that any animals they have there are healthy.
  • If you are visiting someone else who has reptiles, or ESPECIALLY if you are going to a reptile show (like this weekend) bring hand sanitizer. If you handle animals, use it between each animal, for their safety as well as that of your animals. Change your clothes and throw them in the washer when you get home. All it takes is one infected mite or forgetting to wash up before you get in your reptile room, and your collection could be decimated.

We hope that this post has shed some light on the situation and encourages all of you to do more reading, for the safety of your pets. While there is no need for widespread panic, it is extremely important for reptile owners to be proactive and avoid unnecessary risks.
Please feel free to email us if you have any further questions.

Reptile Virus Epidemic was last modified: April 15th, 2015 by Tom
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