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Exotic Health and Nutrition

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Samantha Goddard

on 25 February 2014

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Transcript of Exotic Health and Nutrition

The causes of ill health in exotic animals: how poor welfare can lead to poor health
It is crucial for the health of all animals that their welfare needs are met, not just exotics. Two of the five animal needs relate to this; the needs for suitable environment and diet. For exotic animals however their are two difficulties, often less is known about their proper husbandry in captivity, and it can be more difficult to replicate their natural environment. The correct husbandry is often found through trial and error, and thus improves over time when more animals of its kind are kept and studied. Animals kept in captivity must be monitored, and any signs of disease or injury (or anything unusual, such as not eating) must be monitored. Record sheets are an ideal way to do this; for each animal symptoms are noted, as well as any action taken such as medication. This ensures details of the condition are recorded, even if they do not seem very relevant. Other care givers are thus kept informed, vets have access to all details, and records can be kept for the future. Mistakes can also be prevented, such as animal care staff changing shifts and each giving a dose of medicine, leading to overdose.
The following factors can affect the health of an exotic animal:
Water pH/salt content/chlorination
Chemicals used in cleaning
Plants in enclosures
Other animals
Substrates .... etc etc

Mental stress
Can lead to illness as well as making the animal unhappy. Inadequate enclosures are an important factor- limited space can lead to boredom if they cannot move around enough, stretch out, climb, fly, dig, bask, hide etc., displaying their natural behavior. Lack of enrichment (things to keep the animal entertained) will leave them bored. This can lead them to harm themselves, such as feather plucking in exotic birds. They may become depressed and stop eating, or overeat, when kept in groups animals could attack each other. Groups can also cause stress, such as if one animal is aggressive to another. They may injure it, or prevent it from eating. Overcrowding could lead to such competition for resources, or it could just be one individual acting in this way towards it's companion. Too many animals in one enclosure also limits the space available to each, and can lead to poor hygiene (eg. fecal contamination of water). Mixing of sexes could lead to competition for a mate, for dominance, or aggressive mating behavior.
Deprives animals of either the total calories or specific nutrients needed for their bodies to function normally. This can cause starvation, immunodeficiency and organ failure, or affect specific functions dependent on nutrients. For example, vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets. Exotic animals may not gain all the nutrients they need from their food alone: supplements may be needed (such as Nutrobal for Calcium) and lighting is also vital. Inadequate lighting can cause malnutrition in green iguanas, and rhinitis or stomatitis in Mediterranean tortoises.
By bacteria, viruses or parasites leads to disease. These are numerous, common examples are salmonella, ringworm and fleas. They can be prevented by proper hygiene measures, ensuring enclosures are regularly cleaned using disinfectants that are not toxic to the animal. For those living in water, this should be filtered and/or regularly changed as required by the species, and additives used if necessary to prevent stagnation and bacterial growth. Special care should be taken with exotic animals which require warm, humid environments, as these are favorable to many bacteria. Live food should be carefully sourced, as they could carry parasites. Bedding should be changed regularly, uneaten food removed, drinking water changed, steps taken to keep vermin out, etc. Wild animals such as rats can injure the animal and cause stress, as well as spreading disease. These can become big problems in captive animals when they are spread to others, including human caregivers, but on the whole can be easily avoided.
(Weil's disease)
Bone Disease
Sarcoptic Mange
Exotic Health and Nutrition
This is a zoonotic disease caused by pathogenic serovars of the aerobic spirochetes
. It can affect nearly all mammals, and is prevalent in warm, moist climates. This is why it is common in tropical regions, and has increased in the UK as more and more exotic mammals are imported from the tropics. In 2005, leptospirosis was passed from Florida to Japan through imported flying squirrels. Some animals can act as asymptomatic carriers, aiding the spread of disease, and spirochetes can also survive a short time in the environment such as soil and water. This, or contact with body fluids of infected animals can pass disease through impaired skin or mucus membranes. Vermin such as mice and rats can spread disease, often when an animal ingests their urine.The incubation period of leptospirosis is normally 5-14 days, beginning with rather non-specific symptoms. In the acute phase, animals may display muscle weakness, fatigue, shivering, vomiting/diarrhea and loss of appetite. Sometimes there is a foul odor from the mouth. The next phase occurs as spirochetes spread to different organs and systems through the bloodstream causing symptoms, eg. conjunctivitis (eye involvement), coughing and difficulty breathing (lung involvement), increased thirst and urination (kidney involvement.
Any of these signs (or indeed other abnormalities) should be recorded daily. This will aid differential diagnosis as well as tracking disease progression. Treatment administered is to be recorded so accurate dosage is given, and any response noted.
The animal should be monitored for worsening of symptoms in particular, as this points to increasing infection levels. For example, worsening kidney infection would see a progression from increased urination to difficulty urinating. Hopefully, monitoring will show a gradual improvement in response to treatment.
To give an accurate diagnosis, laboratory testing can be performed on fluids. These can also be used to monitor treatment response, through a decreasing antibody titer. Usually PCR, serum agglutination, enzyme immunoassay or immunofluorescence are used. Antibiotics are to be given as treatment; streptomycin is commonly used in exotics. penicillin, doxycycline and ceftriaxone are also used.
MBD is a disease resulting from an abnormal calcium to phosphorus ratio, which leads to the softening of bones. This increases the risk of fractures and breaks, as well as deformation. It is the most common disease seen in reptiles. It can be caused by either improper diet (too little calcium and/or vitamin D or too much phosphorus, or substances like oxalates which prevent calcium absorption) or improper husbandry (insufficient UVB light which reptiles need to produce vitamin D, or low temperatures which slow down digestion and thus calcium absorption). A small amount of cases however result from diseases of the liver, kidney or thyroid. Unfortunately this can progress quite far before symptoms are visible, particularly as it is in the animal's nature to attempt to hide signs of illness which would put them at risk in the wild. First symptoms are lethargy, weakness and loss of appetite. As bones soften and deform, visible signs appear. Difficulty walking, abnormal gait, swollen or distorted bones and joints as well as actual fractures are seen. This could be deviation of a snake's spine, or shell pyramiding of tortoises. Radiography shows mineralization of the skeleton (see photos above).
Firstly, it should be noted if the animal is reluctant to move or eat, so it can be observed for further symptoms. If the animal has just been brought into a collection, it should be examined for any lumps or swellings which could indicate MBD and these noted in their records. If MBD is present, any skeletal abnormalities should be recorded, as well as any steps taken to treat disease or alter their diet or living conditions.
The animal should be monitored closely, to check if they are eating without difficulty and moving around as normal. Any skeletal abnormalities should be monitored so action can be taken if they worsen despite treatment. Damage done may never be completely repaired, but if the cause of disease is addressed no further damage should occur.
This centers on changing the diet and/or husbandry of the animal to remove the cause (assuming liver/kidney/thyroid function test come back normal; if not, these should be investigated and treated appropriately). The animals enclosure must meet the needs of the species, eg. have adequate heating with a thermal gradient, and UVA/B lighting. Diet should be changed if lacking, supplements can be given if deficiency is severe, and intravenous fluid can be provided if the
animal is dehydrated.
Sarcoptic mange, or scabies, is an extremely contagious, zoonotic skin disease caused by various species of the ectoparasitic mite Sarcoptes scabei. It is spread through direct contact with the mite, from another animal or the environment. This means that animals housed outdoors are at greater risk of infection, as are those coming into contact with other animals, those in enclosures which wild animals can access, and the immunocompromised. Mites favor hairless areas like the ears. The mites, which can live for 3-4 weeks, burrow into the animal's skin after mating and lay eggs, thus continuing infection if untreated. However, each mite is only infectious for 36 hours. The main symptom is therefore intense itching, causing discomfort and distress in the animal. Scratching and licking of the area seeking relief from the itch causes irritation, fur loss, and secondary infection susceptibility when skin is broken. Allergic dermatitis could also result. Infection tends to be self limiting, but treating will speed up the process. During the infection, the animal must be isolated to prevent infecting others, and their enclosure, bedding etc. must be thoroughly washed and disinfected to remove fomites. A diagnosis can be confirmed by examining deep skin scrapings; skin biopsy can also be performed but these samples are harder to evaluate. Sometimes therapy is simply given and a diagnosis made if the animal responds.
Signs of discomfort or distress in an animal should be noted. Treatment given should be recorded to aid differential diagnosis, and location/movement of the animal too to track any spread infection. The type of medication used should be recorded so it can be referred to in the future, either to repeat a successful therapy or alternate treatments in a collection to avoid mites becoming resistant.
The animal should be examined in particular for skin lesions, as these put them at risk of developing further infection. Treatment of these and the response should be recorded, to prevent them worsening. Signs of inflammation and severe pruritus should be recorded to aid the vet in making a diagnosis where allergy is suspected. The type of treatment and response should be monitored, as this also confirms or disproves the diagnosis of scabies.
Use medicated shampoo (eg. lime sulfur, Selamectin, Ivermectin) to destroy mites on the animal. Fur or hair could be clipped too to help remove mites, and steroids like cortisone can be used systemically in case of allergy or locally on wounds. Anti-itch shampoos can also be used to alleviate the animal's discomfort while these treatments take effect.
Several factors must be taken into account to avoid injuries to exotic animals. Firstly, their environment should be non-toxic, with nothing they might ingest which could be poisonous. Plants should be researched to ensure they are safe for the species concerned, and care should be taken when taking vegetation or wood from the wild as it could contain parasites or mould, and is not easily cleaned. Substrates should be safe if accidentally eaten, and of an appropriate size so it cannot be choked on. Other animals can cause injury; either those kept in the same enclosure (as discussed under Mental Stress) or vermin who may be able to enter if enclosures are not well maintained and monitored. Enclosures should also be properly heated and ventilated and protected from the elements. For those animals spending all or part of their time in water, it's quality is essential. The type of water used depends on the species kept, as many need a particular pH and mineral content. It may need to be filtered and/or heated.
Two zoonotic diseases associated with exotic mammals

This is a rare zoonotic disease with a similar presentation to smallpox, first observed in laboratory monkeys in 1958. It is caused by a virus of the genus
and family
. It seems like any mammal can contract monkeypox, but most cases are seen in tropical areas of Central and West Africa, in primates and rodents. The virus is spread through contact with fluids or skin lesions of an infected animal, inhalation of respiratory particles, placental transfer or contact with virus particles surviving in the environment (enclosures, feeding bowls etc.) The disease appeared in the US in 2003, where native prairie dogs contracted the virus from imported African mammals (Gambian rats) in the same collection. Cases may be fatal, and no specific vaccine is available (although the smallpox vaccination provides a degree of protection). There is an incubation period of around 6-16 days as the virus replicates to a level which produces symptoms.
in animals can begin with lethargy, fever, weakness and loss of appetite (0-5 days). Later they may cough, produce crusty or cloudy pus from the eyes/nose, a bumpy or blistered rash and swollen lymph nodes. Humans display the same symptoms, similar to smallpox but less serious. Presence of swollen lymph nodes helps differentiate between the two diseases.
There is no known
at the moment. Cidofovir and vaccinia immune globulin have been trialed as therapies, but have no proven benefit. Smallpox vaccination can be given a short time after exposure to an infected animal or person, as this may provide protection.The course of the disease is typically 2-3 weeks, and about 10% are thought to be fatal. It can be diagnosed through laboratory tests including cell culture, PCR and ELISA.
centers on controls on importing animals from Central and West Africa, particularly primates and small mammals. Any animals arriving from these areas, as well as those who may have been exposed to, or actually have, monkeypox must be quarantined for 30 days. Barrier PPE should be used in the presence of humans or animals who may be infected, like gloves and overalls. The virus can be killed on bedding etc. by laundering at high temperatures with detergent. The CDC and FDA have prohibited the importation and trade of several susceptible species in the US (see http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2003-11-04/html/03-27557.htm)

Infection with bacteria of the
family (most commonly
C. jejuni
C. coli
) cause gastrointestinal disease in nearly all species, and is zoonotic. Bacteria are shed by infected animals, and disease is contracted when another animal ingests these through contact with their fluids, stools, or the environment (fomites). The main mode of transmission is through ingesting contaminated food and water, but exotic animals are an important potential source of infection as they can be asymptomatic carriers and remain infectious for a long time. Ferrets for example can shed bacteria for 100 days after they themselves recover, and reptiles. Young ferrets or those with nutritional deficiencies are at greatest risk. Once ingested,
can colonize the intestinal tract, leading to GI symptoms.
in animals and humans are predominantly diarrhea and vomiting, with the resulting dehydration, anorexia and malnutrition. Fever and abdominal pain is also common, which could display in exotic animals as increased sensitivity to touch and seeking cool areas. Hamsters and other small rodents can develop 'wet tail'. In prolonged infection damage to the intestinal epethelia can occur, which shows as mucus or blood in the diarrhea. Swollen lymph nodes can also be observed.
centers on antibiotics active against the particular strain of
present, which can be determined through culturing or PCR on stool samples. Many antibiotics are ineffective due to increased resistance, to antibiotic susceptibility on a culture plate is recommended. Some animals can continue to shed bacteria (and so remain infectious) for some time despite treatment due to continued colonization of their GI tract. Fluid loss can be damaging to the animal so plenty of fresh, clean water should be provided. IV fluids and/or electrolytes can be provided in more severe cases.
can be aided by continued fecal testing, to determine whether the animal is still shedding. If so, they can infect people and other animals and so should be kept in isolation. Any animals infected, or possibly infected, should be handled only with PPE which is to be laundered or disposed of afterward. Fomites should be disinfected, and not used for other animals. To avoid new infections, all food given should be thoroughly cooked and adequately stored. Water and food should be regularly changed. Any new animals to a collection should be isolated for a period to minimize the risk that they may carry infection, and vermin should be kept out of enclosures and food stores.

The problem with meeting the feeding needs of exotic animals is that some have not been kept in captivity in large numbers, and so their nutritional requirements are not as well studied. For many species, the National Research Council has published guidelines which can be used to determine a suitable diet, for others it is a matter of trial and error with close monitoring. It can be based on a diet for a similar species. There is a lot of poor information available, and keepers may be ignorant of their species particular needs.
It is often not possible to recreate the diet the animal would eat in the wild. Even if the food itself is correct, there could be other factors affecting their use of the nutrients given such as temperature, humidity and light.
Self selection of food can be a problem in exotics, where they pick out the pieces that they like while rejecting others, which may lead to deficiencies or obesity if selecting high calorie options. Psittacines for example can selectively pick out seeds that are not rich in nutrients. This can be overcome by feeding a pellet diet which contains an even spread of nutrients in each piece. Caregivers should monitor the animals weight; exotics in captivity can easily become obese. This is in fact more common than malnutrition, and can cause complications like atherosclerosis and diabetes. If this is a problem the diet should be examined, amount fed may need to be reduced, or the feed changed to one with a lower fat/calorie content. Activity levels could be improved in some cases by providing more enrichment opportunities in the animal's enclosure.
Supplements of important vitamins can be given when they may be lacking in the diet. Often Nutrobal is given to reptiles in order to balance Calcium and vitamin D3 levels (see MBD). It can be used to dust their live food, making sure it is consumed as it is an appealing food, and can ensure each animal gets the correct amount. Avimix is a similar multivitamin powder used to dust bird food. Supplements should only be given when needed however. Most excesses will simply be excreted, but some can cause nutritional imbalances or build up and become toxic, like selenium, copper and fat-soluble vitamins.
There are specific problems involved in the use of live food. This should be selected according to the size of the animal and their mouth in particular. Those that are too big could stick in the throat of the animal and choke them. Larger and more aggressive live foods like black crickets can attack an animal, and so should not be given to small frogs or salamanders (brown crickets are a less aggressive and smaller alternative). This can also happen when too many live creatures are given as food. Supplement dusting also helps here, as shaking the creatures to distribute powder can daze them. Food animals can also damage the animal internally- such as meal worms. If given to a frog for example, if there are too many present or they are not digested quickly they can chew their way out of the stomach. Crickets in excess can attempt to gain fluid from the eyes of chameleons, causing conjunctivitis and other eye problems. Meal worms could also prove a problem for asthmatic keepers to to their small feces being released into the air. Good live food can also be expensive, like butter worms, but these are very appealing to animals and provide enrichment too for animals who love to pull them apart! If an animal has not eaten, more live food should not simply be put in their enclosure as they could attack the animal, or die and present an infection risk.
Live food must be carefully sourced, and not simply collected from the wild, as wild creatures may carry infection or toxins (like parasites in white striped worms). The best way to ensure quality food is to breed it yourself, but this is impractical for most keepers due to the cost, space and time needed. A quality supplier should also make sure animals bred for food are given a nutritionally balanced diet, not just a cheap feed, or been 'power fed' in order to grow larger. Live foods are often very fatty in content. Live food poses an ethical problem to some people too, these may choose pre-killed but this does not allow the animal to 'capture' it's prey and thus preventing them from expressing a natural behavior (one of their five needs). Live food, and also pre-killed animals like mice and chicks, could present a storage problem. They must be stored correctly to prevent bacterial growth, and not kept in freezers for very long periods.
Live feeding to snakes is less common than using pre-killed, due to the danger of injury to the snake. The correct size of animal must again be used (eg. pinkies, furries), and chickens can be plucked to avoid feathers sticking in the mouth and throat.
Some animals may refuse pre-killed food, particularly if they have previously been fed live animals. To make them more appealing, keepers can grasp them with forceps and wiggle them around to simulate movement (this also prevents bites from enthusiastic feeders!). 'Braining' the animal (breaching the skull) can also make them more appealing by increasing their scent. Scent can also be increased by rubbing the animal with a strong smelling item, like their substrate, warming or moistening them can also make them more desirable.
Food may also be refused if the animals enclosure is at the wrong temperature, if it is too cold their digestion will slow down. Overhandling of reptiles when young could also lead to food refusal later in life. Different foods could be offered in appropriate to increase variety. It could also be that the animal cannot eat the food given, possibly due to it's size. Stress or illness could also be a cause of food refusal, the cause of which should be investigated and treated. As noted in previous sections, anorexia can be a first sign of many conditions.
Competition for food (as well as space, mates, water and other resources) can occur in animals co-habiting, this is particularly common in lizards and turtles. This can mean that dominant individuals gain the majority of the food available, leaving more timid animals malnourished (and possibly obesity in the dominant animals). This will cause stress, with the resultant health risks, and aggression. Individuals fighting over food can cause severe injuries to each other. This can be aided in several ways. Firstly, the offering of multiple food sources. As appropriate for the species this could be multiple bowls of food, or multiple live creatures. Keepers can target particular animals, maybe offering a dominant animal a cricket then giving one to a weaker one while the first is occupied. They could also be split up for feeding. Scattering the food around the enclosure or hiding it can give more opportunities to find food.
Animal groups where one or more individuals shows aggression should be monitored around and after feeding times so keepers can intervene before serious injury occurs. If the problem persists, the group may need to be split up. Aggression can be exasperated by other causes such as mixing of sexes, which can be solved by keeping males and females separate. The giving of excess food does normally reduce competition and aggression, but is not an ideal solution as overeating and obesity can result.
Problems with the Feeding of Exotic Animals
Procedures Used in the Animal Unit of Shuttleworth College to Maintain Health and to Treat and Prevent Diseases
Maintaining Health

All animals at Shuttleworth are regularly checked for signs of ill health. The first of these checks happens when a new animal arrives. An 'Intake Health Check' form is completed, which ensures no checks are forgotten and provides a record which can be kept of their condition including any potential abnormalities, and who performed the check. The animal is scored in the areas of attitude, eyes, ears, skin, nose, mouth, musculo-skeletal, genital/urinary and GI tract. This includes sexing when possible and the condition of urine and stools. Particular checks are performed for common conditions in the species concerned. Snakes will be held in a stretched out position so the handler can run a hand along their spine, looking for lumps or curvature which indicate MBD, so the condition can be monitored (previous problems with diet or husbandry should not apply at Shuttleworth!) and treatment given if needed. Primates previously kept as pets would have their temperament carefully assessed (also taking into account information from the previous owner) for signs that they may be aggressive or unused to socialization with others of their kind, so they can be handled as appropriate (warnings of bite hazard, or to be gradually introduced into the existing social group. These records will stay at Shuttleworth for the life of the animal. They also help trace sources of infection, in the rare case that an animal arrives with no obvious symptoms but goes on to develop a condition.
Feeding and other care procedures are followed as appropriate to the species. A new procedure will be developed based on current knowledge in the field if this is a species new to Shuttleworth, or if the animal has any individual requirements. Otherwise existing procedures for the species, found in the folders in the kitchen, are followed with a new record sheet created for the animal. Hygiene and safety procedures are followed in the kitchen to ensure proper storage and prevent cross-contamination, as well as providing adequate care for animals kept there as live food. Food containers for some species are pre-prepared to ensure the correct amounts and sizes are prepared, and ensuring no animal is forgotten. It reduced the risk of contamination possible from inadequate cleaning of food containers, such as if pinkies were defrosted in a container which was then used for fresh fruit and vegetables. Information on food products and supplements is kept there, on or with the product, with everything properly stored (in it's original container where possible) and labeled. This makes it easy to check the right amounts and mode of administration. On the wall above the fresh produce storage area, an information sheet is present for each item showing which animals can and cannot have it (such as no apple seeds for parrots, they are toxic to them). General information is given, like if a particular foodstuff should only be given in small amounts. Iceberg lettuce may appear to be a healthy choice, but causes diarrhea in many species!
A sheet with information about the animal/s is placed next to their enclosure, giving the species, important information and a colored star indicating who is allowed to provide their care. The star system prevents disease and injury to keepers; scolopendra for example have a red star due to their potent venom to avoid inadvertent handling. Giving the species name also ensures the correct care protocols are followed, and listing the individuals present in the enclusure ensures none are missed during feeding and monitoring
Each animal is monitored on a daily basis (minimum) so any abnormalities are picked up quickly and progress tracked. This information is noted on the 'Animal Feeding Record' and includes a health check, time check was performed (am/pm), what has been fed and how much, if the enclosures has been cleaned (spot/full clean) and who performed the check.

As Shuttleworth is a learning facility, problems could occur from the inexperience of those performing monitoring. A procedure could be put in place for recording routine health monitoring by an experienced member of staff, and also for regular vet checks, to ensure these are performed and keeping a record of their frequency. The monitoring sheets are quite basic, but have to be due to limited space on the page and possibly as staff have limited time to perform more intensive monitoring. I would recommend updating these to include a 'comments' column where any abnormalities/problems can be noted. It could also be useful To add in a requirement to list the cleaning product used during full cleans, to track any possible problems from using incorrect chemicals which could go unnoticed.
Cleaning protocols could be introduced in the kitchen, like color coded chopping boards and knives and a cleaning check sheet. There could also be a procedure for regular checking of expiry dates, although this should be done whenever they are used. The information on the fresh produce is excellent and easy to use. One improvement I would recommend is the separate storage of foods which are harmful to some animals so they are not picked up by mistake. Boxes could be prepared with foods for each species, but it would be time consuming to sort and separate each batch of donated food and wouldn't be of great benefit. It is very good that pictures of the products are printed on the information sheets, for identification and easy location of the desired item.
Intake health check forms are very good, as they provide a thorough list of areas to be checked. They don't give any instruction as to how the checks are to be performed, but this is okay as the checks are performed by or under the supervision of experienced staff, and are very species dependent anyway. One other area that could be added to this record is any laboratory testing performed. It could be useful if time and budgets allow to test for common conditions on arrival, particularly those which are infectious or zoonotic like
The biggest problem with the monitoring procedures is the use of wipe-clean record sheets. Although it is convenient to have a laminated sheet, as paper can easily be dirtied or damaged, it could be inadvertently erased ot smudged by hands or sleeves or when putting into folders. It also means that the records are only kept for a short time. This will be overcome soon as Shuttleworth will be using the ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System) from ISIS. This allows all monitoring procedures to be captured and stored electronically, including information on the animal's history, life stages and environment. This allows records to be kept indefinitely, and transferred when animals are moved to and from other institutions. Removing paper records aids the environment, saves spaces, and makes records less easily destroyed. Problems could still occur through incorrect data entry or incorrect use of the system, particularly when it is new. I would recommend procedures be put in place for secure backup of data, training on use of the system and password protected logins for each individual for traceability and security. Devices used for ZIMS monitoring should be used with care, as electronics can easily be damaged in this environment. They should not be left unattended or logged in, and a system could be put in place for logging them in and out to prevent loss or theft. As tablets or other devices will be introduced for this they could be used in other ways too, such as setting alerts when animals are to be fed or monitored, with a message being sent to a senior staff member if something is missed. Other information could be transferred to electronic devices too, such as detailed information on the husbandry requirements of each animal and how to perform health checks on them or check for symptoms. This would be valuable as a great deal more information can be kept in an easily accessible and searchable format, much of it however would still need to be kept on paper so everyone can access them. It would be a big problem if all check sheets and husbandry information required internet access in case of connection failure, especially as we are in a rural area.
Disease Prevention

Biosecurity procedures are in place to help prevent disease at Shuttleworth. Foot baths must be used before entering the animal unit, and impregnated foot mats are placed at entrances to make this easy and hard to avoid (visitors would have to go out of their way to step around or over these mats). PPE is also required for all areas except classrooms- overalls and steel toecapped boots.These measures reduce the risk of visitors carrying infection into the center from outside. Handwash stations with disinfectant handwash and disposable towels are located throughout the center with signs instructing visitors to wash hands thoroughly when entering, leaving and between tasks and animal handling. This prevents both cross contamination or spreading illnesses between animals, and causing distress possible when handling an animal with the scent on another still on the hands (including animals handled outside the center). Students and staff are instructed in other safety measures like taking off jewelery, keeping nails trimmed and tying up long hair. Animals who must not be handled, such as those who are ill or produce toxins, are labeled with a red star indicating that their care is to be performed by experienced staff only. Finally, procedures for induction of new staff and students ensure they are briefed on necessary safety measures.

These are all excellent procedures for preventing disease, in the animal collection, human visitors and their animals at home. The problem however is enforcement of these. Inexperienced students in particular may either forget to take these measures or not realize their enforcement, and they are often allowed into animal areas without staff supervision. Experienced animal handlers can also become careless or forget to take these steps, or become complacent.
I would recommend regular reminders for students and staff of the procedures required, with explanations so everyone knows how important they are. Staff measures should carry out spot checks on compliance. More signage would be useful, such as instructions at sinks on proper handwash procedures. It would be particularly helpful to have signs at entrances instructing visitors to use foot baths- there is one at the barn entry but not at the classroom entrance. Instructions on PPE should be updated to include the importance of laundering PPE. Possibly staff and students should be told to only wear their PPE in the unit. They could be made to keep them in the College, but this would be impractical as it would require provision of lockers or storage units, taking up valuable space, and use of a costly laundering service. Air dryers could be installed instead of paper towels, which could carry infection, but again the small benefit is not worth the cost.
Finally, although covered in inductions, disease prevention procedures (and the reasons for them) could be put in a prominent place on Moodle, also allowing everyone to remind themselves at any time. If this doesn't already occur, briefing for visitors like on college open days should be made to make everyone aware what to do and not to do to prevent spreading or contracting disease in the animal unit.
Disease Treatment

All treatments given at Shuttleworth are recorded in the 'Vet Log', which is kept on the vet fridge for easy reference. It notes information on the animal involved including species, name (important so the wrong individual is not treated by mistake), weight (so correct dosages can be calculated) and details of the condition (or suspected condition) with symptoms. Regarding their treatment, care and medication given is noted with the date, treatment duration if known and name of the person administering it. If medication is used, its name, storage information, lot number, route of administration and quantity given is recorded. This is extremely important in a college environment with numerous caregivers coming and going, so treatment is not missed or replicated. Route of administration not only shows how the medication is to be given but could allow, for example, changing of injection site to avoid irritation. The example given in the photo tracks treatment of an alpaca with a jaw infection, stating the treatment needed to clean the area as well as recording the drug and dosage given. These sheets are filed in the 'Vet Book', stored in the vet cabinet, and kept for 12 months. The vet book gives information on all the drugs commonly used at Shuttleworth, and records routine treatments, like the marmoset's annual vaccinations against
. This ensures these are carried out and dates they are due can be easily checked, and records of the drug used can be very useful, such as if a particular batch was recalled by the manufacturer, as it can be seen which animals have received it.

The treatment sheets are very useful, as they give a quick and easily accessible record of disease treatment. I would however add a column for comments, such as possible adverse reactions to the drug. A section to record the animal's health status and symptoms would be useful as, although this could mean replicating the same information on daily monitoring sheets, all relevant information would be together. Noting the location of the medication is very good as it prevents the wrong drug being used by mistake, and the medication being put back in the wrong place. It would be better to add both the drug name and the brand/s to avoid confusion, especially if more than one brand of an identical medication is used (brand and generic forms for example). As another safeguard, a special container could be placed into the vet cabinet and fridge with medications currently in use, this would be cheap and easy as something as simple as an 'in use shelf' sign, or a tub with the name of the animal being treated, would work perfectly. Emergency information relating to the treatment and/or condition would be a good safeguard. It could state signs to look for that disease is taking a severe turn, or possible adverse reactions to a drug (like allergy) and their signs, stating what to do if this occurs. It could be necessary to stop a treatment immediately, contact a vet, or simply increase monitoring. Up to date emergency contact names and phone numbers, with back ups in case these people are unavailable, should be placed in an obvious location such as the vet fridge. This should include what to do during holidays and out of hours, like at Christmas when few staff are in college. The person responsible for care or an emergency number could be printed on treatment sheets- it would rarely if ever be needed, but could be added quickly and could be extremely helpful in an emergency. The sheets and vet book have the same problems as monitoring sheets, being wipe-clean, only stored for short periods, and quite easy to lose. This system should be integrated into ZIMS if possible, and on a database installed on the electronic devices if not. This could also have an alert system built into the calendar to remind staff when treatment is due. It is unclear how the drug information in the vet book is compiled and monitored. A procedure should be put in place whereby a suitably qualified person performs a regular (annual?) review, updating information if necessary to take into account new developments like altered treatment recommendations and products new on the market.
Other legislation applies in order to comply with UK and international law, and is not specific to the animal unit at Shuttleworth. These include CITES agreements, the Animal Welfare Act (2006) and the Zoonosis Order (1989).
The Hot Arid Center:
An Evaluation of Housing, Nutrition and Animal Welfare
Snake Housing
Burmese Python- Custard
Bearded Dragon Enclosure
Reptile Housing
Nutritional Requirements of Exotic Species
The best thing about Custard's enclosure it its size, giving plenty of room for such a large snake to stretch out and move around. I think however that more can be made of this space to provide her with more enrichment and exercise (as she could do with losing some weight!). Currently the enclosure holds one shelf (to which Custard has no access) and a bucket of water. I would add more shelving and 'branches' to allow her access, giving her more places to explore and encouraging her to move around. The heat lamp could be moved from the middle of the back wall to the top or ceiling, on one side to give a warmer area. She could then bask on the area below it. If she could get close to the lamp it would be covered with mesh to prevent burns. This structure could also provide an area in which she can hide. Netting with artificial leaves would simulate the natural environment nicely, while being durable and easy to clean. Food could be given in different areas of this structure to encourage her to exercise.The back wall has some decoration but is not natural looking, this could be extended and improved to cover more space and look more natural. The bucket provides drinking water which also regulates humidity, but looks very artificial. This could be replaced by a plastic pool, which would look much nicer and also allow her to partially lie in it. It should remain at the end of the enclosure helping make this area cooler. The other end being heated gives her a thermal gradient, allowing her to move to the temperature she desires. If budget allows, a pump and filter system could be used to keep water clean and fresh, without staff having to step into the enclosure of a potentially dangerous animal. As there is so much vertical space available, the floor could be artificially raised and the water system placed underneath. An access point could be made between this and the outside. If more space in the room itself were available, I would install a double door system for entry into the enclosure, preventing her escape as currently the door has to be opened quite wide to gain access.
Small snakes of different species are kept here in plastic draws which can be pulled out to gain access. They may look small, but in fact snakes only need enough space to stretch out and contain their food and water bowls, too much can cause stress. As well as feed containers, the enclosures have some vegetation and a hiding place made of a cardboard tube. This is ideal- they have an environment which is close to nature, while being cheaply and easily replaced when worn. The lighting in the room is sufficient for their needs, as it gives them hours of 'day' and 'night'. The drawers allow many snakes to be held in a small space, with the advantage of a long pole being utilized to block off drawers of snakes who should not be handled, such as those shedding. This could be knocked over, so it would be helpful to install something to keep it in place, like brackets or holes at each end. A sign could also be attached to say 'no access' so everyone knows why those drawers are blocked off. It's a shame that more vertical space is not available to allow snakes to climb, but not enough space in the room is available to allow this for so many snakes. It would be nice if the plastic at the front of the drawers was clear, to allow people to view the snakes without needing to open them, both for enjoyment and health monitoring. The less the drawers are opened the better to reduce stress and chances to escape. There is also the chance of injury if snakes got caught in a closing drawer, but this risk would exist in other enclosure types too. These drawers do a great job, but if they were to be replaced I would choose racking with a clear viewing panel like the one in this photo. Plastic drawers are a better choice than glass as there is less glare, glass also provides less insulation which can cause temperature fluctuations. This system also has the advantage of solid sides, which would allow the information sheets to be attached more securely. Food and water bowls in these enclosures are just right, they are shallow enough to allow snakes to partially lie inside to cool down, but sturdy enough so they do not allow easy spillage. There is unfortunately no temperature gradient or basking provision (although the rear of the drawers may be cooler). There is not room to put lamps in each drawer; these snakes should be monitored and if they show signs that they may need warmer temperatures (eg. not eating) or UV light (MBD) they could be moved to a different enclosure for as long as needed. It is correct to keep one snake in each enclosure as keeping more than one together causes stress, dominance and aggression.
This enclosure is a great size- bearded dragons prefer a long and wide enclosure. They have vegetation, rocks and food and water containers as well as a heat lamp. The water bowls are tall enough not to spill, but keepers should ensure that when they are fed live food there is a rock in the water to prevent them falling in and drowning (this also applies to the other reptile enclosures). More could be added without overcrowding the enclosure. More artificial rocks and-or branches could be used for enrichment (could make the search for food more varied) and to provide a basking place. It would also encourage exercise. If this brings the animals closer to the heat lamp, mesh should be added so they do not burn themselves. A more closed in hiding place could be constructed to allow them to hide and cool down. Painting the back wall, or adding a backdrop, would be an easy improvement which would make the enclosure more aesthetically pleasing. It is a shame that the full height of the enclosure is not used. If the money was available, we could split this space into two enclosures one on top of the other. This would also mean altering the door so both enclosures were not open at once, and adding the risk that an animal in the top enclosure could fall. Its good that the entrances here are raised above the floor, as this prevents escape and trapping animals in the doors, making it worth the decrease in accessibility of keepers to the far ends of the enclosure. This may not be cost effective however at the new enclosure would have to be given sturdy enough support, and a second lamp would be needed. Temperature gradient in here should be sufficient as the heat lamp is at one end. As with the snakes, the beardies should be monitored for any abnormalities which could be caused by inadequate temperature/light and the reason investigated and corrected. Its fine that they are kept in groups, although they should be monitored in case of dominance developing.
These shelving systems allow the various reptiles housed here to be kept in large enough enclosures, making optimal use of the space by keeping one above another. The animals inside can be viewed without opening enclosures, and sliding doors give easy access to either end. They have rocks, branches and vegetation to provide enrichment, hiding places and basking spots a sufficient distance from lamps. Lamps would have been better positioned at one end of the enclosures, with the water bowl at the other, to give more of a temperature gradient. The only other improvements I could make to these excellent enclosures is to add a strip of darkened plastic or tape along the tops to prevent glare from the lighting in the room, and a natural-looking backdrop to improve their look.
All of the animals in this room receive a great diet, nutritionally balanced and appealing, with supplements as necessary (like Nutrobal dusting). They could have more variety, but this would be too problematic in a college environment. Weekly diet sheets ensure that the correct food and amounts are given, preventing confusion. As long as all animals are eating, introduction of new foods is not needed.
Husbandry is also of a high quality, given by or under the supervision of trained animal center staff following the care procedures mentioned earlier in this report. It could be valuable to limit the size of student groups using this room at a time, to increase instructor supervision. In a busy class it would be easy for a student to open an enclosure, handle an animal they shouldn't, etc. Students should be encouraged to report any accidents they may have, especially possible injuries to animals, without fear so they can quickly be rectified.
Substrates used are safe and similar to those of the natural environment, eg. sand and bark. Newspaper could also be used (this gives the advantage of making feces easy to inspect) but it doesn't look as good in the enclosures. Important considerations of the substrate is that it is not too absorbent (creating damp areas which could harbor infection) and not easily swallowed. Gravel should not be used as it is easily swallowed- snakes often grab substrate along with prey, other reptiles do too if food is on the floor, particularly if they are you
Reptiles are ectotherms, meaning they regulate their body temperatures through their behavior and environment. Incorrect temperatures affect their bodies ability to regulate body functions like digestion and immune responses. This is why the room is kept warm. Their could however be better provision of temperature gradients, allowing the animal the option to move to the area that suits them. The easiest way to rectify this is moving heat lamps to one side of the enclosure and water to the other, although this isn't always possible. Most importantly, the animals here should be monitored for any unusual activities or signs of illness (particularly MBD). Temperature monitors (with minimum and maximum temperatures reached) should be placed around the room, with someone responsible for the monitoring and recording of these. If allowed by the budget, a monitor could be purchased with an alarm which would alert a responsible person in case it falls or rises out of a defined range.
General Evaluation
Common Marmosets
There are many foods that can be fed to marmosets; fruit and vegetables, commercially available biscuits and jelly, live food and various extras like yoghurt, bread, sunflower seeds and nuts. This allows variation to keep them amused and cater to their tastes and any special nutritional needs, as well as allowing substitution if some items are unavailable. Their diet should provide all the vitamins and minerals needed according to their size- as they are a commonly kept species much research has been done on this and information can be found from various resources such as the Merck manual. Pieces of food should be small, maximum 1cm cubed, due to their small size. Food items can be scattered around enclosures or enclosed in balls, sticks etc. to provide enrichment for these intelligent primates and simulate natural foraging activity. They can be fed once a day, or more often if required to stimulate them. Meat is not needed in their diet. Mouse pups used to be commonly fed to captive marmosets but this has been discontinued due to the risk that they harbor diseases like lymphocytic choriomeningitis.
A particular requirement of marmosets is that they need higher levels of vitamin D than other new world monkeys. This can be gained by feeding marmoset biscuits or jelly specially formulated from them, or adding vitamin D powder to their other food. The amount required will be less if they are kept in outdoor enclosure as they will obtain vitamin D from sunlight.
A typical diet, fulfilling these requirements while being interesting, would be 50% monkey biscuits, 25% fresh fruit and 25% fresh vegetables. In addition a small amount of varying treat items can be given. Butterworms and marmoset gum for example are enjoyed while giving enrichment in a manner that simulates natural behavior.
Axolotls are carnivores, eating a variety of small aquatic creatures in the wild like fish, worms and insects. This diet can be quite easily replicated in captivity, or they can be fed pellets. It's important to give them foods which fit into their mouths as their teeth are suited to gripping rather than breaking apart food. Food should be placed in their enclosure with tongs, as axolotls have poor eyesight and may bite fingers by mistake. Jiggling the food with them can help the animals to find it, if not using live food. If food pieces are too large, there is also the chance that they will be regurgitated. It can take several days for axolotls to digest a meal, and the rate of digestion increases with increased water temperature. Fat and tendons should be removed from meat, as they struggle to digest these. Beef liver can be fed, but not pig liver as this causes regurgitation.
Careful sourcing of food is essential. Live or pre-killed creatures can carry parasites and bacteria, this risk is decreased if bred in fish-free water as they can harbor microorganisms.
Axolotls should be fed several times a week- every other day is ideal to allow time for the previous meal to be digested
A mixture of these foods is a good idea to give the axolotls some variety. For example, two feeds a week could be axolotl pellets or bloodworm cubes. These should be true blood worm and not tubifex worms which are not as nutritious. These are an easy option as they are commercially available and easily stored (pellets at room temperature, bloodworms frozen). For the other two feeds a live food could be used to provide enrichment. Good examples are earthworms or tadpoles. The amount given should be calculated according to maturity and size, ensuring that all individuals are eating. If this is a problem, earthworms may be a better choice as keepers can provide a worm to each individual, separating them to feed if necessary. This diet fulfills all of their nutritional needs, while balancing ease of use with simulation of conditions in the wild.

Fat-Tailed Geckos
These small reptiles consume a diet of insects in the wild, including beetles, spiders, crickets and locusts. This is a diet easily replicated in captivity, using live creatures to simulate their natural hunting behavior. They will enjoy pinkie mice and waxworms, but these are very fatty and so should be seen as a treat rather than a complete diet. Black and brown crickets or small locusts are ideal as a basic diet, but it is crucial to use those around half the size of the gecko's mouth to prevent them choking. Crickets and locusts should be removed if not eaten to avoid them causing injury to the gecko, but worms can be left in their enclosure.
If improperly fed, feed insect are not very nutritious. Before being fed to geckos they should be 'gut-loaded'- allowed to feed on nutritious food like fruit and vegetables or a commercially available gut-loading mix. The vitamins and minerals contained within are then passed on to the gecko. Waxworms can be fed infrequently, possibly once a week as in the example. Although very desirable, overuse of these can cause the gecko to refuse other food. It is worth using them sometimes to add variety into their diet. As with other reptiles, they are susceptible to MBD and so benefit from supplemented calcium and vitamin D3. A product such a Nutrobal is ideal used to dust their insect feed, making it palatable (twice a week is sufficient). If sand is their substrate, they may eat it if their diet lacks calcium and this can cause intestinal blockage. Calcium powder can also be left in their enclosure if desired. Feeding every 2-3 days is ideal for adults, allowing sufficient time for each meal to be digested.
Along with their diet, it is important that the correct temperature and humidity is maintained in their enclosure, and a UV lamp is provided. These ensure proper functioning of the digestive system and allow them to utilize the vitamins and minerals in their diet.
Giant African Millipedes
These millipedes naturally reside in the dark, damp environment of the leaf litter and soil. They consume this as they move through it, taking nutrients from it. As they have poor eyesight they cannot easily distinguish food from substrate. This means soil used in their enclosures should be a variety which is not toxic to them if consumed, so not potting compost which contains fertilizers. It should also be kept moist, spraying the enclosure is a good way to do this. Leaf litter can also be provided in enclosures to simulate their natural manner of feeding. Artificial leaves are not a good idea as the animals may try to eat them- real leaves can be frozen as an easy way to rid them of any pests or bacteria.
A great variety of soft fruits and vegetables can be fed to the millipedes. Thus whichever is available each day can be used, eg. some lettuce, cabbage, peach and tomato. They naturally eat food that is beginning to decompose and prefer this in captivity too. It should be peeled, cut into small pieces to make it easier to consume, and left for a few days before use until it begins to decay. This can harbor bacteria if left in the enclosure- keepers should only add the amount they know their millipede/s tend to eat in one day, removing any leftovers the next day.
This diet however is low in calcium, which giant African millipedes need in order to molt and form it's exoskeleton. This can either be added to the daily feed in the form of powder dusting or bone shavings (this could make it harder to ensure all is consumed, or each individual gets enough), or cuttlefish can be left in the enclosure and changed as needed.
These intelligent birds require a varied diet, to provide them with stimulation and give them something to look forward to, and one that meets their nutritional needs to prevent both physical and mental illness.
Feeding twice a day is ideal to provide mental stimulation.
One common problem in cockatoos is the self-selection of only their favorite items from the food offered. This can be discouraged by offering a greater variety of desirable foods. A complete diet such as Optibird, a wheat and corn based food, can be helpful in these cases, as well as when obesity or illness mean fat levels should be reduced. It is important to choose a quality brand of complete food. It should be purchased in a container rather than in loose, and stored in a sealed container. This prevents moisture entering, which creates a favorable environment for microorganisms, and protects it from rodents which could contaminate it with their urine.
The best option, to give variety, is a mixture of complete food, fresh produce and a small amount of treats. Avocado and mushroom must never be fed as they are toxic to cockatoos. A selection of fruit and vegetables can be given, depending on what is available. 2 or 3 of each as a minimum is a good rule. They should be washed (some people peel them to remove possible pesticide residues), cut into pieces according to the size of the beak and fed in a separate container. Not too many seeds should be given, as these are very desirable and could lead to rejection of other items. Peanuts and sunflower seeds are also poor choices as they tend to be high in fat but low in calcium and vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency is common in birds, and gives rise to increased infection from the animal's decreased mucus production. Foods rich in this vitamin should be included in the diet; examples are broccoli and carrots.
A small amount of treat items can be given each day. It should of course be taken into account if additional food is given while training the cockatoo. Cheese, hard boiled eggs, walnuts and millet are among their favorites.
In most cases, supplements are not needed. If the cockatoo is found to be deficient, or has special needs (like extra calcium for egg laying) it can be added as powder to the food, or drops to the water. Calcium can also be provided through adding a cuttlefish to the enclosure.
Branches of willow, beech or fruit trees are often provided, allowing the cockatoo to strip the bark and eat a small amount as they would in the wild. This provides negligible nutrition but a great deal of fun! Nuts and mealworms are other examples of foods which will provide enrichment to cockatoos.
Angel Fish
Angel fish are a cichlid species originating in South America. When feeding them, other fish species kept must be taken into account if keeping a variety of fish together as is common. Mature fish are to be fed once a day, juveniles can benefit from feeding two to four times a day. A good guideline is to feed as much as the fish will eat in 5 minutes.
Overfeeding is a common problem. Angel fish will not digest any excess food they need, but this means the excess contributes to dirt in the aquarium and build up of ammonia. Giving some extra food however can give all individuals a chance to eat in groups where dominance and aggression is a problem. About half an hour after feeding, a net should be used to remove any excess food from the aquarium.
Angel fish can be fed either commercially available fish flakes or live pre-killed food. A mixture of these is beneficial to give them a variety of taste and texture. This could be alternated, one day of flakes and one day of live food. Live foods indicated include bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimp, chopped earthworm and mosquito larvae. Daphnia provide the advantage of consuming algae from the tank. The easiest way to feed these is pre-killed frozen cubes, but they can also be obtained live in bags. In this case, they should be strained through a net and added to the aquarium, the water they come in should not be added. Live foods do however potentially harbor bacteria and parasites. Ground beef heart with gelatine is sometimes given, although this does not really give benefits which make up for the difficulty in preparing it and removing fat. Sponges are sometimes consumed in the wild, and these are a component of some commercial feeds.
A balanced diet like this will provide all the nutritional needs of the angel fish without the need for additional supplements.
Samantha Goddard
BTEC Level 3 Animal Management (Evening)



Alderton, D. (1992) You & Your Pet Bird. 1st Edition, Dorling Kindersley.
Bartlett, R. D. and Bartlett, P. P. (2009) Leopard and Fat-Tailed Geckos, 2nd Edition. Barron's Educational Series.
Boden, E. (Ed.) (2005) Black's Veterinary Dictionary. 21St Edition, A&C Black.
Kahn, C. M. (Ed.) (2010) The Merck Veterinary Manual. 10Th Edition, Merck & Co. Inc.
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