Materials for Snake and other Reptile Cages

What kind of materials should you use when constructing a reptile cage? This question was posed to me once by someone wishing to build their own reptile cage. They were particularly asking about pine and cedar as they had heard these were no good. But it did raise the question about what are the best materials.

All-glass, tubs, melamine cages, screen cages, there are many different types of housing systems for herps. Take your pick, depending on the adult size of the animal, how much room you have to spare, and how much money you are willing to

spend!

Aquarium tanks: Good choice for keeping snakes under 6 feet, amphibians, turtles, and basically anything requiring a swimming pool or some humidity. If a screen top is used, there will be enough ventilation to keep a sand boa or leopard gecko or any desert animal in it. If higher humidity is needed, the screen top can be partially wrapped with Saran wrap, and the tank can be treated as a tropical garden; put soil in it and plant some plants to raise the humidity!

Viewing is unrestricted, the tank can be easily cleaned, it will not get scratched, and temperatures are easier to maintain. They are very cumbersome to move around, especially big ones, or fully-loaded ones. They need to be on a solid table or stand and if you do want to move them, the stand will need solid castors. Many lizards such as water dragons should not be kept in glass tanks, as they do not understand glass and will continuously ram into it. Tanks should not be considered for chameleons; cages are better.

Plastic/Rubbermaid tubs: The feeding trough sizes are great for turtles! You can half-fill them with water, pile rocks in a corner for the basking area, put a lilypad or two in it, and have your own indoor pond complete with turtles! For the more common sizes, the sweater boxes and shoe boxes, any non-aquatic herp can be kept in them. In fact, these are used in breeding racks and in households with too many herps to be able to have the amount of tanks/cages to keep them all in. Not good for arboreals, as they cannot climb. Perfect for use during the quarantine period prior to introducing a new animal to an established collection. These restrict viewing, and are generally limited to hatchling animals. Good to use as an emergency/isolation enclosure.

Melamine cages: Melamine is the stuff many countertops are made of. They resist moisture well, so rotting is usually not a problem. They’re easily cleaned as well. Custom-made enclosures are sometimes made of melamine, and you can build

furniture-quality enclosures yourself. These can be made to fit a leopard gecko or a fully grown green iguana. With a glass front, these enclosures hold humidity incredibly well.

Wood [plywood] cages: Same as for melamine, except much cheaper and easier to work with. Both enclosures, if ordered from a custom builder, can cost a great deal depending on size and material.

Screen cages/Reptariums: Excellent for anoles, chameleons, light-bodied snakes, and young water dragons. The major disadvantages are that the largest size is only 29″ x 29″ x 72″, humidity is very difficult to keep up, and strong animals could knock them over or even move them. This is a great idea for an easily-transported cage for small animals.

MDF or craftwood: Same as for Melamine but also much cheaper. Good for use in combination cages ie Melamine base with MDF sides, back etc. It can be painted, has good thermal properties and if used in conjunction with a coating material such as Contact, will hold humidity well. Excellent to work with and has a smooth finish. You can also use thinner sheets as it retains its rigidity. Some people recommend wearing a mask when cutting or routing MDF as it can be dusty.

Pine or Cedar: Neither of these timbers should be used to construct a cage. Making the whole reptile cage from the pine or cedar has potential health problems for the animals. These woods emit aromatic hydrocarbons that can damage the health of the animals and cause various symptoms. There is probably little issue using as the woods in framing, as the wood has often dried out a lot and released much of the volatile material, or at the very least, the rate at which it is released is very slow.

It also is recommended that you do not use pine or cedar as a substrate. Pine and cedar wood shavings used as substrates have a very high surface area and so the hydrocarbons are released much more readily, making them potentially toxic, especially as the animals like to burrow and immerse themselves in their substrate material.

PVC Tubing & Mesh or Plexiglas: These materials make excellent larger cages for animals such as monitors, larger snakes, chameleons and iguanas. They do tend to lose a bit of heat but any large enclosure will require some effort to maintain a higher temperature. Lighting at the top and some at the sides (if needed) will create a sufficient heat gradient. Short of building a large frame with glass and a large door, this is the most economical way to make a larger enclosure if you do not have woodworking tools.

Overall, if you want to construct your own cages for most reptiles, you are probably better off using plywoods, melamine and MDF types of materials for most of the cage. There does not at this stage seem to be any identifiable health issues caused by these materials. Another benefit with these materials is their insulating properties. Glass is not a good material for most reptile cages (except aquatic species) as it loses heat rapidly. Many glass terrariums have an open top with no seal and this also causes a high heat loss. This means the glass cages are more expensive to heat if you use certain types of heat sources.

The front of the cage can be sliding glass, Plexiglas or a constructed glass door. A pine, oak or similar timber frame at the front will give the cage a more professional and decorative appearance.

If you paint your cage, remember to let it dry out for a minimum of 2-3 days to release as much of the volatile material from the paints. 5-7 days would be even better.

It is a good idea to make the base of a wooden reptile cage from melamine and use Silicon to seal around the edges, to prevent moisture penetrating the melamine or plywood sheeting.

There are hints and tips on applying Silicone in the “How to Build Reptile Enclosures” booklet.

A base of vinyl flooring can also be used if you are concerned about water penetration into the timbers. Be sure to seal it with Silicon and seal the holes where temperature probes are passed through.

You can also coat the MDF or plywood interiors of the cage with ‘Contact’, a plastic sheeting with an adhesive backing, in any colors you like, before you assemble the cage. This will remove the need to paint the cage inside, reducing fumes, and also provide a water proof seal for the MDF or plywood. Contact comes in a range of colors and is very easy to apply cut and apply.

There is much to be gained from building your own reptile cage. It is good fun and will give you, as a reptile owner, a great deal of personal satisfaction. Before you do go out and purchase a reptile, take some time to research what is the best sort of cage for your pet. You should be aware that many reptiles will grow considerably over time and you may have to build a number of cages. Good luck and enjoy.

Ataxia – Any Puppy or Dog Can Have or Get It

The word ataxia comes from the Greek. It means lack of order. It can show up in a puppy or dog, from the age of 3-4 weeks old to its senior years. It is a neurological disorder; producing a steady degeneration of a animal’s motor skills and mobility. In essence, it affects their coordination and balance.

Three Types of Ataxia

The three forms of ataxia are interconnected. They include:

Cerebellar Ataxia is the degeneration of the cerebellum’s cortex. It can and usually does affect other motor skills, most often starting with the head and neck then progresses to the limbs. The puppy or dog may position themselves at a wide stance to keep their balance, goose step their front legs (high step), appears to be stepping over things that are not there, they will in all probability have head and body tremors, and torso sways.

Sensory Ataxia occurs when the spinal cord is slowly and progressively compressed. It affects the dog’s ability to sense precisely where their limbs are and how to coordinate them; causing them to be unable to stand and/or walk with a wobbly, uncoordinated gait.

Vestibular Ataxia begins with the central and/or peripheral nervous system. It occurs when messages from the inner ear to the brain are scrambled. Usually the dog has a misleading sense of movement and/or hearing impairment. To compensate they often tilt their head, lean on people or objects to steady themselves, tip over, fall or roll over. The earliest signs is often noticed when the animal changes in how they move their head and neck.

When it affects the animal’s trunk, they may appear to walk just great, in a straight line, but stumble, stagger or even fall on quick, unexpected turns.

Signs and Symptoms to Watch For

A telltale sign there is a problem, is often exaggerated movements and changes in behavior. Other things to note include: head tilts to one side, tripping, falling, unable to get up, unsteady, wobbling (appears drugged or drunk), legs buckle, confusion, lack of coordination, hearing loss, excessive drowsiness to stupor like behavior, seizures, involuntary eye movements, usually up and down, drooling, facial paralysis, exaggerated steps with front legs, depression, when walking, (high-stepping or goose steps), crossing of limbs while walking, vertigo, avoids stairs and dark corners, unable to focus on task, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting (due to motion sickness), and coma.

Most often, when the dog is at rest, or when they can focus visually on something on the horizon, the symptoms are not displayed or are not as pronounced.

Sources and Causes

The root sources of a puppy or dog’s ataxia are believed to be from: a genetic disorder (both parents carry the recessive gene), toxins, trauma, virus, seizures, ear infections, medications such as anti-seizure medications containing potassium bromide and phenobarbital. A growing number of veterinarians believe there may be a connection with dogs that have vestibular ataxia, to those that have received the antibiotics streptomycin, aminoglycoside and gentamicin.

Who Can Get Ataxia?

Puppies can be born with it, particularly should both parents be carriers of the recessive gene that causes it. Symptoms may be obvious in as early as 3-4 weeks of age. Others may develop it a bit later in life, and there are those who get it as late as their senior years, where it is referred to as Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome.

No breed is immune to ataxia. However, it most commonly it appears in: Airedale, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Australian Kelpie, Border Collie, Brittany Spaniel, Chinese Crested, Coton de Tulear, English Pointer, Kerry Blue Terrier, Golden Retriever, Gordon Setter, hounds (all types), Jack Russell Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Miniature Poodle, Miniature Schnauzer, Old English Sheepdog, Parson Terrier, Rough Coat Collie.

Diagnosis

Currently there is no cure for ataxia. There are measures you can take to maintain the quality of your pet’s life, for as long as possible. Depending on how severe your individual case is or how quickly the disease progresses. Interestingly, older dogs seem to respond quite well from their particular version of the disorder. They may not act like puppies again, but they can often regain some of their former self.

Following a physical examination, concentrating on your dog’s medical history, known history of their parentage, the dog’s age, time of onset, how quickly the disorder has progressed, and blood work, your veterinarian will refer you to a neurologist should they believe your dog may have ataxia. The neurologist will most likely do a CT scan, MRI and draw spinal fluid, before offering you their diagnosis and recommendations for further plans of action or that final difficult decision.

What You Can Do To Help Your Dog

If your dog is suffering from ataxia, try to keep them from slippery flooring such as tile and hardwood. Even something as small as a scatter rug or mat, will help them get a grip while trying to stand. In the winter, try to avoid icy areas.

Keeping their muscles toned up is imperative. Make lengths of walks and types of exercise reasonable. Stop often, to give your dog a chance to rest. Swimming is a wonderful way to exercise and tone up your pet, without stressing the limbs. Be sure you’re in the pool to support and encourage them.

If possible, avoid stairs or carry them up and down.

Leave a small light on at night or in darker areas of the house, to help them navigate their way around.

Crate them, if they are to be left unsupervised for any great length of time. It will reduce the odds of them getting injured.

Basically, just be there for them, to assist whenever they need you.

Bottom line: The rate of progression and its severity will be the determining factor on how you treat this disease. Talk to your veterinarian and neurologist. Ask the hard questions.

Whenever possible, find out if a DNA test has been performed for ataxia, on both parents of a prospective puppy. Remember, it is a recessive gene; if both parents have it; odds are eventually you will be faced with this problem.

Neuter or spay a carrier. Do not breed a dog that you know is the carrier of that gene. It will only perpetuate the disorder.

Make life as comfortable as possible, for as long as you can for your dog. It may take a bit more effort and sacrifice on your part, however your pet will appreciate it.

Mosquitoes and Pets: Mosquito Pet Protection Basics

Mosquitoes and pets tend not to get along together. It is important that you take steps to protect you pets from mosquitoes this coming spring. That protection begins now because your cats, dogs, rabbits and other pets are just as susceptible to disease from mosquito bites as you are.

Mosquitoes bite to extract your blood – not to feed on, but to use as a source of protein to create their eggs. That’s why only female mosquitoes bite you. Males are quite happy feeding off the nectar they find in the plants around your yard. They have no interest in you whatsoever – unless you are swatting at them when they will fly away. It’s the females that home in on you.

They don’t care if that protein comes from cat blood, dog blood, horse blood or human blood – it’s all the same to them. Just a source of protein that enables them to reproduce. Your pets do not know how to protect themselves, and are relying on you to do it for them. Here’s how!

Mosquitoes and Pets: Mosquito Control Tips for your Pets

The major methods of protecting your pets from mosquitoes center around separation: keep your pets away from mosquitoes. Where your pets are concerned, mosquito control involves keeping them indoors (the pets!) when mosquitoes are most active: early morning and dusk. Tiddles and Bonzo should be safe during hot, sunny days, although mosquitoes can become active in warm weather with a good cloud cover.

This is particularly the case in areas where mosquitoes are swarming. You can expect this close to rivers and creeks, swamp land, marshes and stagnant ponds. This is the type of water where mosquitoes breed, and as the nymphs turn into adults, particularly in early spring, there can be swarms of these insects around their favorite breeding grounds. Keep your pets away from these areas until the swarms die down. Even then be careful – or even better, have these areas treated to control the production of new mosquitoes.

Mosquito Control in Gardens Yards and Shrubbery

Make sure that your garden or yards are clear of any containers that can hold water over the winter. If you have an old buckets or bird baths that have lain over from fall to spring, you can be pretty sure that they will contain mosquito eggs or even hatched nymphs waiting for spring.

Don’t allow this to happen – the remedy is very simple! Remove all such containers from your yard, and check that there are no old pools of standing water, that your guttering is all clean and free-flowing, and that your drains look clean and tidy. These are common places where mosquitoes breed.

Another potential issue, and often a fairly severe one, is the amount of greenery and shrubbery in your yard. Your pets like to investigate these areas and they are likely to contain colonies of mosquitoes resting over winter, but that are not afraid to attack animals if they are disturbed. A good mosquito control spray is often effective here.

Mosquitoes Do Not All Die In Winter

Mosquitoes do not all die in winter, but can hide in deep grass and under the leaves of shrubbery and trees around your home. Come spring they will attack you and your pets in their desperate hunt for blood. A small point here that many pet owners overlook: if you usually feed your animals outdoors in summer and fall, you may leave the bowls outside over winter.

These are common breeding areas for mosquitoes, so clean them out, or even better – take them indoors. All it takes is a few days: a dog bowl left out for 5 days in a warm climate can produce hundreds of biting mosquitoes.

Use a Non-Toxic Mosquito Spray

If you decide to use insecticide, usually in the form of a mosquito spray, make sure that it is not based on DEET. This substance can be dangerous to small animals. In fact, many are still unsure as to its safety for humans, so use a natural insecticide such as citronella, or picaridin which is deemed safer than DEET. You vet should be able to give you advice on the insecticide to use to protect your pets from mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes and pets do not mix well, and it is wise to take particular care with your dog or cat, or even your horse in warm weather when the insects are active. Check your yard and garden, and the area around your home for potential mosquito breeding areas.

Also check your kitchen, basement and garage because these can be very attractive areas of your home for mosquitoes over the winter. If you take proper care, then your pets should be as safe from mosquitoes as you are.