Gout in Reptiles
What is gout?
Gout occurs because of a buildup of uric acid in the blood. This can result in being deposited in the joints, which is called articular gout, or in the organs, which is called visceral gout. This can occur either because of the body producing too much uric acid or from the body not being able to get rid of the uric acid.
What causes it?
Giving too much protein to a plant-eating animal increases the risk of your lizard developing gout. A very common reason that reptiles develop gout is from feeding too many dubias. Dubias are occasionally a good treat, but they are very high in protein, so it should NOT be the only thing that your reptile is getting as a food source. Another common reason is from feeding dog or cat food which is extremely high in protein.
Primary kidney disease is another reason that gout can develop. The kidneys are not able to properly process uric acid, which causes a buildup in the blood. Secondary kidney disease can also occur due to dehydration from too low of humidity in the enclosure or not providing a suitable water source. The kidneys are not able to function properly due to the lack of fluids in their body, which means that they are not able to properly process uric acid.
Who gets it?
All types of terrestrial reptiles such as lizards, tortoises, snakes, and crocodilians.
What does it look like?
Signs of articular gout include a decreased range of motion of the limbs, painful joints, and/or swelling of joints. Visceral gout can present by animals looking depressed and weak. They are often thin, dehydrated, and unwilling to move or eat. White to cream-colored deposits called urate tophi can sometimes be seen in the mouth. This disease comes on slowly, but the early signs are often missed by owners so it appears as if the animal suddenly gets very sick very quickly.
How do we diagnose it?
We take a sample of the joint fluid and look at it under a microscope to see if there are gout crystals present. Blood work should also be done to determine if primary kidney disease is present. If there is severe kidney disease, then your veterinarian may be able to feel large, misshapen kidneys on physical exam in some species.
How do we treat it?
We can give fluids to correct dehydration if it is present, which can be done by soaking or fluid injections depending on how severe the dehydration is. Pain medication is also indicated which will help your reptile feel more comfortable and be able to move around more. A medication called Allopurinol which decreases the production of uric acid could be prescribed as well. Your veterinarian will talk to you about corrections to the diet to ensure that your reptile is receiving the correct diet
How can you prevent it?
Excellent husbandry is the best way to prevent gout. This can be done by providing an appropriate water source, appropriate amount of protein in the diet, appropriate thermal and humidity gradients, and appropriate lighting and calcium supplementation.