Amphibian Emergency Care and Supplies

Apr 8, 2014
The Reptile Report
by Editor in Chief

The Reptile Report -  

By: Jason Juchems of

It is common to keep medicine, first aid equipment, and other supplies in your home in case of sickness, injury, or a family emergency.  As you would prepare for the needs of your family, it is just as important to be prepared to help your animal collections too.  When keeping a larger collection, it is essential to have a Medical/First Aid Box and other supplies available to treat your animals. While there are several items that can be included in a medical kit, I will discuss the items I keep on hand or readily available to treat my collection. My herpetcultural collection primarily consists of amphibians, while I also work with geckos and chelonian. In addition to preparing a medical kit, you also need to establish a working relationship with a veterinarian. A trusted veterinarian will guide and direct you in dosages and treatment levels for over the counter remedies in addition to other pharmaceuticals on the market available by prescription only. To find a veterinarian with a background in reptiles and amphibians in your area please visit:  The Reptile Report Vet Directory.

Amphibian medicine article picClick pic for full-sized image.


Symptoms that require attention include decreased or lethargic movement, lowered body posture, soaking in water, inability to feed correctly, unusual behavior (examples: out in the open or nocturnal species out during the day), bloated body/endema, cloudy eyes, discoloration, red belly, shakes/spasms/seizures, labored breathing, or prolapse. Other issues to be aware of that typically require fecal exams, or fecals, are reduced to discontinued feeding, decreased body weight, or inability to gain weight.


One of the first items to have on hand is a hospital tank set up as a quarantine area. Any new animals added to your collection should spend time in quarantine before they are introduced to your general collection. Animals showing signs of distress may also need to be quarantined for treatment. You can use an extra aquarium with a lid, a modified storage tote, a Kritter Keeper container, or a 190 oz. large deli cup style plastic container for your hospital tank. If a specimen needs treatment they should be isolated from the rest of the population and housed in your quarantine area. For some health concerns you may find yourself breaking down an entire vivarium to sanitize and rebuild it, treating all the inhabitants. Your quarantine area should be in a separate room of your home or facility, use separate materials, and be the last area you work in for the day when working with animals. Sterilization should be done daily to prevent retransmission of disease. Keep the set up simple, such as using damp paper towel substrate and a baked leaf or two as hiding areas. Vinyl or Nitrile gloves should be worn while treating animals in quarantine. When treating more than one quarantine area, dispose of gloves and put on a new pair between working with each quarantine container. All equipment should be sanitized using a cup of bleach to a gallon of water mixture, or by using a commercially available product.


For animals with signs of health issues, fecal samples should be taken immediately. For newly acquired specimens, the second to third week of quarantine is a good time to a collect fresh stool samples since many freshly imported specimens may not show signs of imbalances or infection in the first week. A good stool should look like a little sausage and be brown to dark brown in coloration. To collect a sample, use a plastic spoon to extract feces from the terrarium. It is best to find a freshly defecated sample. Once collected, place the feces on a damp paper towel and place it in a plastic zipping sandwich bag. Samples need to arrive at a facility to be tested within 48 hours. Fecals are best examined by those who are trained to prepare the sample and find pathogens. I use commercially available sodium nitrate flotation solution, and have used home produced saturated sugar solution when examining samples myself. A high quality microscope is needed to examine fecals. If you lack experience, take your animal’s sample to your veterinarian.

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis/Bd/Chytrid Testing:

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is a type of chytrid fungus that infects the skin of amphibians. It is easily transmitted to other amphibians through spores. The spread of Bd is one the largest environmental crises in amphibian population decline. Diagnoses are completed through a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test completed though a laboratory, although visible symptoms can be present such as discolored skin, excessive shedding, abnormal posture, or unnatural behaviors such as a nocturnal species that is active during the day. Testing and treatment is extremely important. Some essential items to have on hand in order to test for chytrid are gloves, sterile swabs, and sample containers/plastic test tubes. Wearing gloves and using a single sterile swab, gently swab the ventral (bottom) surfaces of the skin. Swab the following area by rubbing the swab 5 times on each area: left side, belly, right side, left thigh, right thigh, left foot and webbing, and right foot and webbing. Once completed the swab should have 30-40 swipes across the amphibian. Place the swab in a test tube and then cap; it is ok to cut the handle of the swap to make it fit the test tube/sample container. Label each sample. I send my labs to Research Associates Laboratory ( I also have them test for Ranavirus, an incurable infection. Bd is only transmitted to other amphibians while Ranavirus affects amphibians and chelonian. If you receive positive test results, chytrid can be treated with a bath/soak treatment.


Fenbendazole (Panacur) is used in a granule form to treat gastrointestinal parasites of Amoebas, Ciliates, and Flagellates (Protozoan) along with Nematodes (Metazoan). Diagnosis of the parasites is found through a fecal exam. One of the typical treatments is a regimen of dusting your animal’s food with Panacur. It is considered a very safe drug to use.

Sulfadimethoxine (Albon) is an antibiotic that can be used to treat coccidia. Liquid suspension given orally is commonly prescribed, with an alternative of granules dusted on food.

Metronidazole (Flagyl) is an antibiotic used to treat bacteria and protozoal infections (Amoebas, Ciliates, and Flagellates) with diagnosis through a fecal exam. Typically given orally by dusting food, it can also be absorbed through amphibians’ skin by letting them soak in it or as a mist when using fish grade. Animals that are eating little to nothing have used this drug as an appetite stimulant.


Silver Sulfadiazine Cream is an antifungal and antibacterial topical treatment originally designed for burns and to prevent bacterial infections. It is my drug of choice when treating open wounds.

Triple Action Antibacterial (Neosporin) without pain relief can be used on open sores for amphibians just as it is for humans. It is important to treat open wounds as quickly as possible to avoid infection and this topical can be purchased over the counter.


Before treating any amphibian in a bath, allow liquid to warm to room temperature.

Enrofloxacin (Baytril) is a broad spectrum antibacterial. Typically it is administered by a drop on the back or diluted in amphibian safe water for a 5 minute soak. Care needs to taken when using as it can be easily overdosed.

Hydrochloride Solution 1% (Lamisil AT) has been proven as a Bd (chytrid) treatment in captivity. This was taken off the market for a short time, but has reappeared online and in stores. Treatment is 1mL to 200mL of amphibian safe water, soaking the amphibian for 5 minutes. Use a pipette to make sure the solution covers the entire body of the animal.

Methylene Blue has a few options for use as an antifungal and antibacterial treatment. The most common use is 2 drops to a gallon of water for tadpole use. This fish medication can also be used to add a drop to eggs to prevent molding or can be applied using a cotton swab to treat amphibians with rub nose.

Calcium gluconate can be diluted from the 23% stock solution to a 2% solution and a drop placed on the animal’s back. Amphibians typically have seizures when they have low calcium levels which can be fatal without intervention.

Amphibian Ringers Solution is the ideal soaking solution for weak, dehydrated amphibians. It can be purchased online through Carolina Biological Supply or formulations can be found online. If you need a solution quickly Pedialyte can be used diluted in amphibian safe water, however it is not safe in hypocalcemia (low plasma calcium levels) amphibians. If ringers solution is needed quickly, a compounding pharmacy may be able to provide assistance. If used with paper towels in a quarantine setup, paper towels and solution must be changed daily as the solution quickly grows bacteria.


There are times when hard choices need to be made. Certainly euthanasia is not something to be taken lightly, but the suffering of the animal cannot go on. Placing the animal in the freezer is not a humane or acceptable choice. Placing Oraljel on the belly of the amphibian and then soaking in vodka is the humane treatment.

If you choose to keep supplies on hand, I recommend storing items in a locked tool box or cabinet kept at room temperature. This will prevent children or guests from gaining access to dangerous items. Being prepared is the most important part of keeping a collection. While you cannot be prepared for all situations, it is important to know how to protect your collection and what resources are available.


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Pessier, A., & Mendelson, J. (2010). A Manual For Control of Infectious Diseases in Amphibian Survival Assurance Colonies and Reintroduction Programs. Apple Valley, MN: IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. (

Whitaker, B. & Wright, K. (2001). Amphibian Medicine and Captive Husbandry. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.


Bowerman, J., Rombough, C., Weinstock, S., & Padgett-Flohr, G. (2010). Terbinafine Hydrochloride in Ethanol Effectively Clears Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Amphibians. Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery, 20(1), 24-28.

Klingenberg, R. (2007). Understanding Reptile Parasites (2 ed.). Irvine, California: Advanced Vivarium Systems.

Juchems, J. (2011). Poison Dart Frogs: A Guide to Care and Breeding. Pekin, Illinois: Herpetological Publishing.

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Whitaker, B. & Wright, K. (2001). Amphibian Medicine and Captive Husbandry. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.

Wright, K. (2009). How I Treat Nematodes in Frogs. Proceedings of the 2009 North American Veterinary Conference, 1826.

Wright, K. (2009). How I Manage Wounds in Frogs. Proceedings of the 2009 North American Veterinary Conference, 1827.

©Jason Juchems 2014 All rights reserved. Permission granted for distribution through The Reptile Report.

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