Reptile handling 101
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Reptile Handling 101. ...presented by. Common Reptiles in Captivity. Legal Considerations. PLEASE NOTE: Be aware of the Provincial and Municipal bylaws in your location, as some of the animals you are rescuing may be prohibited.

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Reptile handling 101

Reptile Handling101

...presented by

Common reptiles in captivity

Common Reptiles in Captivity

Legal considerations

Legal Considerations


Be aware of the Provincial and Municipal bylaws in your location, as some of the animals you are rescuing may be prohibited.

A Captive Wildlife Permit may be required or the animal may need to be placed with caregivers in a different region or province.

Zoonotic considerations

Zoonotic Considerations

  • Parasite and protozoan infection

    • Coccidia

    • Flagellates

    • Entamoeba

    • Cryptosporidium

    • Tapeworm and roundworm

    • Mites





  • Series of gram negative bacteria

  • Causes gastroenteritis (nausea, cramps, diarrhoea) in healthy adults

  • Serious and potentially fatal in young children, elderly or immunosuppressed

  • As high as 90% of reptiles are carriers, harbouring strains specific to reptiles without any symptoms

  • CDC estimates that 74,000 cases per year are associated with exposure to reptiles or amphibians

U k daily express february 1 2010

U.K. Daily Express – February 1, 2010

Experts have warned that youngsters locking lips with amphibians in real life risk catching salmonella.

The advice comes after 50 children were taken ill in America after copying the heroine of Disney’s latest film, The Princess And The Frog. The children were rushed to hospital suffering with the disease, which causes sickness and diarrhoea.

Doctors blamed the cases in 25 US states on youngsters kissing frogs after seeing the film. Most were under 10, with half being girls.

Experts in the US and UK urged parents not to allow their youngsters to copy Princess Tiana after seeing the animated film, which is out on Friday. Trevor Beebee, president of the British Herpetological Society, said: “Kissing frogs is not hygienic and they also have various toxic things on their skin, which are unpleasant.”

The Health Protection Agency advises against kissing any reptiles, saying: “All should be presumed to carry salmonella in their gut, even if they do not show any signs of infection.”

Pathogenic considerations

Pathogenic Considerations

  • Viral infection

    • Adenovirus

    • Enterovirus

    • Herpesvirus

    • Retrovirus

Before you begin

Before You Begin…

  • ALWAYS wash your hands or use a non-citrus hand sanitizer both before and after handling

  • Especially important before handling snakes. Smell is their primary sense and they know if you have eaten meat for lunch!



Lizard communication

Lizard Communication

  • Dewlap / beard

  • Puffing up or posturing

  • Tail whipping

  • Open-mouth posture

  • Eyes open vs. closed, small or large pupils, staring or eyes averted

  • Pacing and nose rubbing

  • Voiding or defecating when handled

  • Head bobbing, either fast or slow

  • Tongue flicking

  • Hissing or huffing

Which beardie would you trust

Which Beardie would you trust?

Head bobbing

Head Bobbing

Special considerations

Special Considerations

If you know or suspect that you are rescuing an Iguana:

  • Do NOT wear a hat, scarf or any other item on your head

  • Wear dark or neutral colours if possible; especiallyDO NOT wear red, orange or green!

Procedure for handling

Procedure for Handling

…Do NOT be afraid!

Reptiles do not sense fear, but they can interpret your behavior.

Handling techniques

Handling Techniques

  • If a large lizard, wear welding gloves or have a large towel ready to cover

  • Have pet carrier open and ready to receive reptile, warming device under a towel to provide some heat

  • Remember to cover the face with a towel or blanket; never allow the reptile to breathe cool air as can cause respiratory infection (RI)

  • Keep stress level to a minimum

Handling techniques1

Handling Techniques

  • Seize from behind. Never handle a lizard from face on!

  • Support whole body, holding upper torso just behind forearms and sliding other arm under base of tail if large lizard

  • Do not grab the tail, although you can place it under your armpit when holding large lizards. Some species can drop their tails!

  • Geckoes are small and can be very fast! Be careful not to get bit, as looks can be deceiving.

Handling techniques2

Handling Techniques

Handling techniques3

Handling Techniques

  • Lizard leashes - beware of “alligator rolling”. Must use a pet carrier to contain animal

  • Never place around lizard’s neck or constrict abdomen to harm vital organs, best placed in front of hind legs or use a harness

  • Can easily break tail

Tricks and special handling

Tricks and Special Handling

If socializing pet Iguanas, including males NOT in breeding season:

  • ALWAYS keep your head above theirs (also during rescues and seizures). NEVER allow a lizard to stay above your line of vision!

  • Hold animal securely to prevent escape or retaliation

  • Head bob SLOWLY until reptile closes eyes. NEVER head bob quickly or abruptly – states your intent to fight

  • NEVER attempt with males during breeding season – futile and you will get bitten

  • Special Note: Never pet or touch a monitor lizard on its head, especially if a female. You are dominating or “bullying”. Males do this to females in the wild when greeting or mating.

Large or aggressive lizards

Large or Aggressive Lizards

  • Monitor lizards and Iguanas especially, approach with caution

  • Have VERY powerful bite, claw, tail whip

  • Remember - rescues are often afraid or hostile due to hunger, neglect, abuse or injury

Large or aggressive lizards1

Large or Aggressive Lizards

Large or aggressive lizards2

Large or Aggressive Lizards

  • Beware of claws - can cause serious damage to skin!

  • Trim with nail clipper (only clip the tiny tip off the end, too much can bleed)

  • Use cornstarch to stop bleeding

Large or aggressive lizards3

Large or Aggressive Lizards

  • Pet Flex bandage (also called veterinary wrap) or hockey tape can be used for short term to wrap around mouth and eyes, has calming effect and lizard is unable to bite

  • Do NOT cover nostrils, ensure reptile can breathe!



  • Pet flex bandage (vet wrap) or elastic hockey tape

  • Pre-heated heating disc, hot water bottle or magic bag (REMEMBER - if it is too hot for your hand, it is too hot for the reptile! Always keep it insulated.)

  • Nail clippers and cornstarch

  • Disinfectant and antiseptic cleanser

  • Appropriately sized pet carrier

  • Towels and 1 or 2 blankets

  • Welding gloves

Frogs toads

Frogs & Toads

Turtles & Tortoises

Frogs and toads

Frogs and Toads

  • Frogs streamlined with smoother skin, toads fatter and have a bumpy or warty appearance

  • Some species can be toxic to humans

  • Do not handle if possible, use rubber or latex gloves – safer for amphibian also

  • Seize from behind

  • Wash hands afterward!

Turtles and tortoises

Turtles and Tortoises

  • Turtles mainly aquatic, tortoises are terrestrial

  • Both species can BITE!

  • Pick up by the carapace (shell) at least halfway down body to prevent injury, use rubber or latex gloves and seize from behind

  • Place on a clean towel inside of a Rubbermaid container or pet carrier

  • Wash hands afterward!



Snake communication

Snake Communication

  • Snakes are not completely deaf, even though they have no ears and cannot hear sounds!

  • Have middle ear bones (malleus, incus and stapes) same as in humans, but attached to the jaw so they can sense vibrations

  • Poor eyesight, not the same as in humans

  • Rely heavily on sense of smell – Jacobson’s Organ

Snake communication1

Snake Communication

Snake communication2

Snake Communication

  • “S” stance

  • Hissing

  • Tongue flicking fast or slow

  • Relaxed or fast movements, highly alert and excited behavior

  • Tail vibrating

  • Defecating or musking

    * Can do temperament testing with pet snakes *

    (touch nose with palm to test recoil)

Handling techniques4

Handling Techniques

  • If unsure of species or temperament, wear welding gloves and/or use snake hook

  • Have pet carrier open and ready to receive reptile, warming device under a towel to provide some heat

  • Tie in a pillow case or cloth bag and place inside pet carrier; never allow the snake to breathe cool air as can cause respiratory infection (RI)

  • Keep stress level to a minimum

Handling techniques5

Handling Techniques

  • ALWAYS seize from behind. Never handle a snake from face on!

  • Hold with 2 hands, grasp fingers

    firmly just behind head to

    prevent bite

  • Snakes can strike lightning fast, often with no warning. They are nocturnal and cannot close their eyelids so they can be startled from sleep during the daytime

Snake bite

Snake Bite!

  • Some snakes have fangs; vast majority kept locally are non-venomous

  • Teeth curve backward into mouth in some species

  • DO NOT pull away, push into mouth until teeth are out of the skin, then pry mouth open to remove finger or limb

  • Citrus or pure whiskey poured onto nose will cause snake to release immediately, may also regurgitate

Snake bite1

Snake Bite!



  • Pillow cases or cloth bags of various sizes

  • Pre-heated heating disc, hot water bottle or magic bag (REMEMBER - if it is too hot for your hand, it is too hot for the reptile! Always keep it insulated.)

  • Disinfectant and antiseptic cleanser

  • Appropriately sized pet carrier or vented container

  • Snake hook or tongs

  • Welding gloves

  • Towels and blankets

  • Lemon extract or whiskey (pour onto snake’s nose, causes it to release if you are bitten)

In conclusion

In Conclusion…

  • Be aware of federal, provincial and municipal bylaws in your area

  • Research most common species of pet reptiles

  • If unsure of species or temperament, use extra precautions and handle very carefully

  • If you are the rescuer or first responder, some reptiles can be imprinted negatively by your scent

Herp resources

Herp Resources


  • Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Care Collection:

  • Nova Scotia Herpetoculture Society:

  • Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC Canada)

  • Ssafe Haven Society for Reptiles and Amphibians:

  • The Merck Veterinary Manual:

Herp resources1

Herp Resources


  • Green Iguana-The Ultimate Owner’s Manual – by James W. Hatfield III

  • Iguanas for Dummies – by Melissa Kaplan

  • Manual of Exotic Pet Practice – by Drs. Mark Mitchell and Thomas Tully Jr.

  • Reptile Medicine and Surgery, 2nd Ed.- by Dr. Douglas Mader

  • The Reptile Keeper’s Handbook - by Susan M. Barnard

Any questions

Any questions?

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