Evaluation of the use of anesthesia and analgesia in reptiles

Matt R. Read DVM, MVSc, DACVA1,2
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  • 1 Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.
  • | 2 Present address: Veterinary Emergency Clinic, 920 Yonge St, Ste 117, Toronto, ON, Canada M4W 3C7.


Objective—To determine anesthetic techniques and the drugs used to provide anesthesia and analgesia to reptiles.

Design—Mail-out questionnaire.

Sample Population—367 members of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians.

Procedure—1,091 members listed in the 2002 directory of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians were asked to complete a questionnaire regarding anesthesia and analgesia.

Results—367 of 1,091 (33.6%) individuals completed the questionnaire; 88.8% used inhalants (particularly isoflurane) for anesthesia, and ketamine, propofol, and butorphanol were the most commonly used injectable agents. Intubation, fluids, and having a dedicated anesthetist were most commonly used for patient support, and pulse oximetry and Doppler ultrasonography were most commonly used for monitoring. Respiratory depression, difficulty monitoring anesthetic depth, prolonged recovery, and hypothermia were the most frequent complications. Nearly all respondents believed that reptiles feel pain, but analgesics were used infrequently for many reasons.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Providing anesthesia in reptiles is difficult, especially regarding anesthetic depth and vital parameters, and methods of support are used less frequently than in domestic species. Provision of analgesia is uncommon. Research regarding pain and its assessment, response to analgesics, and drug pharmacokinetics is needed. Dissemination of this information to practitioners needs to be improved for enhancement of the standard of care for reptiles. ( J Am Vet Med Assoc 2004;224:547–552)