Pet reptiles are more exotic and, consequently, more demanding than your classic and more widespread pets. Reptiles can experience a variety of health problems and infections for a variety of reasons. These include improper environmental parameters, unfit diets, continuous stress, and even genetic predispositions to certain conditions.
Treatments aren’t always effective, especially if the disorder is too advanced. In that case, euthanasia may seem like a proper solution to end the animal’s suffering. However, you should only use euthanasia as a last-resort approach since most reptiles can recover with proper care and timely assistance.
This brings us to an interesting perspective: properly diagnosing your reptile’s condition. If you don’t see yourself as well-equipped for the job, contact a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and proper assistance. You may just be able to avoid euthanasia.
If not, at least you know you’ve exhausted all other options before that.
Assessing the Need for Euthanasia
Reptiles are incredibly resilient animals. Just because they look in bad shape doesn’t mean that they can’t recover with proper care. This can leave you in an impasse, making it difficult to realize when euthanasia is the proper response. Here are some good general tips to help you decide:
- Skeletal deformities – If your reptile is experiencing skeletal deformities (twisted legs, bent spine, crooked tail) combined with difficulties moving and climbing, the situation is pretty grim. This condition bears all of the signs of Metabolic Bone Disease, which has no cure and only leads to a painful death process. Your reptile will no longer be able to move properly, will become stressed, and will experience constant pain and suffering. The disease will progress despite any treatment you might attempt, in which case humane euthanasia is the adequate solution.
- The reptile is dying – This is more difficult to assess, but there are signs to tell the story. Reptiles can die for a variety of reasons, including nutritional deficiencies, infections, improper parameters leading to various diseases, and even old age. You can tell that your reptile is not well by the visible lethargy, lack of appetite, and difficulty breathing, among other things. Make sure you investigate your pet’s condition more intensely for an accurate diagnosis. For instance, you don’t want to euthanize your pet just because it hibernates.
- The overall quality of life decreases visibly – A happy reptile is a healthy reptile. If your reptile pet shows a decreased quality of life and nothing appears to correct that, euthanasia may be the last resort. Remember that this scenario only applies to sick pets who have already been diagnosed. You can’t decide to euthanize your pet just because it looks stressed without investigating further to assess the causes and determine the animal’s general health state.
To reaffirm my first point, most reptiles are incredibly adaptable and can overcome most of their health problems, provided they are being addressed in time. You should always consult with your reptile vet, even in mild cases; most health problems, including the more severe ones, begin with innocuous or no symptoms.
Euthanasia Methods for Reptiles
There are several euthanasia methods you can choose from, but be wary, they all have their ups and downs. Aside from the natural death when you discover the animal dead (which is ideal), here are the other means by which you can provide your reptile with a humane passing:
This is an obvious one because all creatures die when decapitated. Well, most creatures. Cockroaches can live several weeks without their heads, and many worms live independently when cut in half or decapitated (which is close to being the same thing.) This isn’t the case with reptiles, as they cannot survive decapitation, so they will die fairly fast.
The problem is that recent studies have shown that the brain, sensory organs, and the nerve endings above the cut can remain active for minutes or even hours after decapitation. So, the reptile isn’t really dead until after a while, during which it will experience the pain and agony associated with the decapitation itself. This makes the decapitation technique not quite humane.
Consider sedating the animal heavily before the procedure. This will render the animal unconscious and avoid the torment. You can also pierce the brain to destroy the nerve impulses completely, which is a euthanasia method in and of itself.
This is another euthanasia method that makes sense at a first glance. It doesn’t make sense in general, but it does in the case of reptiles. Reptiles are cold-blooded animals that rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. If the temperature is too low, they will instinctively lower their metabolism and enter a state of torpor.
This is similar to hibernation, except that the animal isn’t rendered unconscious. Instead, it becomes more lethargic, eats considerably less (or not at all), and only moves to drink water occasionally. Theoretically, the freezing process sends the reptile into a torpor-like state, lowering its metabolism and causing it to experience loss of consciousness and a swift death.
The problem is that that isn’t always the case. Not all reptiles can enter torpor at the same rate or parameters or even to the same degree. The freezing process leads to the formation of ice crystals in the bloodstream and muscles and causes gradual nerve death. These are known to inflict considerable suffering, and death is never instant.
You should only resort to death by freezing if the reptile already appears unconscious. Sedation is also a good tool to mitigate suffering during the process.
– The Stun-and-Stab Method
In short, you either bash the reptile’s head with a hard object, in the middle of the skull, right behind the eyes or stab it. The stun works better, and many reptile keepers also stab the skull following the blow to ensure the complete brain destruction. The blow will instantly disable the nervous center, destroying the nerves and preventing any pain in the process. It is meant to be a swift killing method.
There isn’t any problem with the procedure itself. But there is one with its actual application. That’s because there’s the risk of missing the blow and hurting your reptile in the process. You want the actual blow to hit perfectly and with maximum effect; any miss can cause more suffering than necessary.
Find a way to render your reptile immobile before the blow. Sedation is one way, especially if your reptile is too large to hold it still by hand. If it isn’t, you can simply immobilize it yourself.
Keep in mind that this is a messy and savage euthanasia method, so not everybody has the stomach for it.
Gassing your reptile is also a fairly popular euthanasia method. The method consists of placing the reptile in a secure gassing chamber that you will fill with carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, chloroform, or any other chemical fit for the job. You may want to consult with your vet in this sense.
The main problem is that, while gassing is effective in general, it’s less effective for reptiles. Sure, it will kill them eventually, but you want the gas to kill them fast and humanely, which isn’t the case. That’s because reptiles are extremely adaptable and have different respiratory systems.
Not only can they hold their breaths for longer periods due to their slower metabolisms, but can also divert their blood flow from their vital organs. This means that it takes for a longer exposure for the chemical agent to work on them.
Sedatives are always a good addition to the mix, so long as you dose them properly and use the right ones.
As you can see, no euthanasia method is 100% pain-free. Some are, but only depending on the circumstance. For instance, all of the methods are considered humanely if the reptile is already unconscious, but that’s rather difficult to assess.
I recommend contacting the vet for a professional euthanasia session instead. The expert will resort to the most reliable euthanasia method depending on the circumstance and use sedatives to ease your pet’s passing.
Preparation and Logistics for Euthanasia
I would say you have several aspects in this sense:
- Diagnosing the pet properly – We’ve already discussed this point. You want to ensure that your pet is euthanasia-worthy (excuse the cynicism.) Too many inexperienced reptile keepers euthanize their pets undergoing torpor, despite nothing wrong with them.
- Protect yourself – Reptiles always carry a variety of viruses and bacteria that can infect humans. This stands true for captive-bred species as well. Always use gloves during the process and clean and disinfect yourself after everything’s done.
- Minimizing stress and discomfort – As you’ve seen, a lot of variables can go wrong during the euthanasia process. I recommend speaking to a vet before doing anything to make sure you’re on the right track. You don’t want to cause your reptile pet more pain and suffering than it’s already experiencing. Not to mention, some euthanasia methods don’t work as intended on some species (as is the case with gassing.)
Reptiles are generally hardy, resilient, and adaptable, but they’re not impervious to health issues and death. Things may sometimes get out of hand, despite all your prevention efforts, in which case euthanasia may be the only option left.
I hope today’s article has shed some necessary light on the process and how to complete it properly. For the umpteenth time, don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help from your reptile vet.