TV vet: 'Don't let your iguana die of ignorance'

Britain's vets, familiar with the ailments of cats, dogs, hamsters and rabbits, are struggling to cope with a boom in ownership of exotic pets such as iguanas, pythons and boa constrictors. There is concern that ignorance among owners about how to care for such animals, and the expense of doing it properly, is causing widespread suffering.

RSPCA vet Bairbre O'Malley, one of the team at the Harmsworth Memorial Hospital in north London which features on BBC1's Animal Hospital, said: "Films such as Jurassic Park and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have fuelled a demand for reptiles among children which new 'pet supermarkets' have been only too happy to supply. And the sort of men who might in the past have bought an animal with a macho image, such as a Rottweiler, may now choose a reptile or snake instead."

Last month Ms O'Malley attended a course at Whipsnade Zoo aimed at bringing vets up to date with the latest treatments for exotic animals. She said: "The main problems we see are down to bad housing and malnutrition which result from ignorance on the part of owners. People with no experience whatsover can buy a reptile or a snake over the counter, on impulse."

Nearly all the iguanas brought to the Harmsworth had brittle bone diseases, due to dietary deficiencies, and often had broken limbs, Ms O'Malley said.

Most reptiles were dehydrated because of poor diet. Snakes were frequently brought in with burns after lying on incorrectly adjusted heat mats (a condom slipped over the affected area makes an effective lubricated bandage, apparently).

The craze for unusual pets extends beyond reptiles. North American chipmunks - cute, stripey, squirrel-like creatures - are increasingly popular as presents for children. Unfortunately they are very sensitive to high- frequency sounds and can go into shock or suffer heart failure when a TV remote control or burglar alarm is operating. They should therefore only be kept outdoors, said Ms O'Malley.

Dermod Malley (no relation), a vet at Wickford, near Chelmsford, Essex, said: "There has been a phenomenal increase in the past 10 years. I now see at least one reptile, usually an iguana, every day. People can go along to a pet shop and buy a 'starter kit' which consists of a box with a lamp and a reptile in it. This is a hell of a different environment from the canopy of the Central American jungle, which is what these creatures actually need to thrive.

"When people say they are considering buying an iguana I'm tempted to repeat Mr Punch's advice to those about to marry - 'don't'. Certainly don't get one without doing a lot of homework, including reading some expensive books and joining a club such as the British Reptile and Amphibian Society.

"Then you may need to shell out pounds 200 or pounds 300 on a decent vivarium (reptile house) and be prepared for veterinary fees of perhaps pounds 100 a time if the animal gets sick."

Mr Malley said people imagined iguanas to be sleepy, docile creatures because most of those living in Britain were in poor condition. "The healthy adult iguana can be an aggressive bugger," he said. "They can make very engaging pets, but it really does involve a lot of effort on the owner's part."

Mick Powell, secretary of the British Reptile and Amphibian Society, currently shares his house in Barking, Essex, with 30 snakes and reptiles waiting to be re-homed, including a 14ft Burmese python. Most are brought to him by the RSPCA. He gets eight to 10 enquiries a day from worried pet owners.

"Most of the blame lies with the pet shops," he said. "Most of them haven't a clue what they are selling. It's irresponsible to sell a cute 18-inch snake for pounds 60 or pounds 70 which is going to turn into a 10ft python in a couple of years."

The British Reptile and Amphibian Society, 85 Devon Road, Barking, Essex

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of her eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments