How to safely transport a reptile
Reptiles should be transported to the surgery in secure containers. The requirements depend on the ambient temperature. As a general rule, reptiles being transported should not be exposed to temperatures above 30 degrees or below 17 degrees centigrade. If the journey is short a hot water bottle or similar may suffice to keep the ambient temperature within the container suitable. Another good way to keep your animal warm is to fill a tube sock with uncooked rice. Tie the end of the sock to keep the rice inside the sock. Warm the sock/rice mix in the microwave. This will generally stay warm for 1 to 2 hours. Whichever method is used to maintain the temperature should be wrapped in a towel to ensure that there is no direct contact between reptile and the heat source, which might otherwise cause burns.
In colder conditions an insulated box will be required for transport. Polystyrene boxes commercially made for this purpose are available or alternatively DIY insulated transport boxes can be made from cool boxes.
In hot conditions an insulated box is also recommended to prevent the temperature rising above 30 degrees.
When multiple animals have to be transported each should ideally be in a separate cloth bag, in a separate rigid container with adequate ventilation, several of which can be placed in one insulated box. The cloth bags must be checked that they are free from holes and that there are no loose threads in which the animal could become entangled and injured. A thermometer should be placed in the container so that the temperature can be monitored. This is especially critical during hot conditions. They must never be left in a car in the sun as dangerously high temperatures can be reached rapidly in this environment. When a number of reptiles are transported together, the individual bags should be labelled to identify each animal.
Tortoises must be transported singly, inside a rigid box. They need to be in an upright position and cushioned to prevent undue movement and jarring, and so that they will not end up upside down which could be fatal in an animal with pneumonia.
Snakes are most commonly transported singly in a cloth bag which is sealed by knotting or by twisting folding and securely taping, This should then be placed in a rigid container kept at a safe temperature as described above.
Lizards are most commonly transported in a rigid box as described for tortoises. However, they are sometimes transported in a cloth bag as described for snakes, however larger lizards will need stronger bags made from materials like jute or canvas as they may tear lighter fabrics.
Reptiles carry a smaller number of organisms that can potentially cause disease in people than mammals, due to the fact that they are less closely related to man. Thus reptile zoonoses come third in frequency after mammalian and avian zoonosis.
Salmonella is the most important reptile zoonosis. Salmonella live in the intestinal tract of carrier animals, (mammals, birds and reptiles). Transmission is by the faecal oral route (usually contamination of food). The prevalence of salmonella in reptiles varies widely depending on the species and the husbandry conditions.
Mitchell and Shane (2001) presented a comprehensive review of salmonellosis in reptiles. Salmonella in people, as in reptiles, can give rise to an inapparent infection, carrier state, enteritis, septicaemia or combination of the three. If a human case of salmonella is suspected to arise from a reptile then the serotype in both the human patient and the reptile should be identified.
The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more at risk. Children under the age of five are at an increased risk due to their propensity to put their fingers in their mouths. Salmonellosis can be a life threatening disease in people.
Mycobacterial infections in reptiles may cause cutaneous granulomas, gaining entry through small breaks in the skin as has been reported from fish mycobacterial infections. Immunocompromised people may be at a higher risk. This is not a serious disease in people.
Pentastomiasis is the reptile parasitic zoonosis of importance. It is very rare and is only seen in wild caught reptiles.