Jiminy Crickets! (A Dehydrated Gecko)

Filed Under: Reptiles, Practice Stories

It was already late in the day and appointments at the clinic were winding down. The technician Debbie and I had just completed the evening treatments when the receptionist Rebecca burst forth through the swinging door to the treatment area: “Hey doc, will you see a dehydrated gecko?” she asked. “I have a client on the line who feels that they have a gecko emergency and would like you to see their pet this evening.”

By that time of night we were one of the last veterinary clinics still open. Never being fond of mornings, I always preferred to work just a little later in the evening, preferring to catch my beauty rest in the morning hours, or to put it in other words, I have always been somewhat allergic to mornings.

I have never fancied myself as being knowledgeable in the reptile field. I was located in a geographic area where there were not any veterinarians that specialized in exotics, and most preferred not to handle them at all. We did not yet have an emergency clinic in the area and I knew that I was their only chance for the pet to be seen that evening. Resignedly I replied, “I’ll try.”

Rebecca returned shortly, informing me that they had indeed made a decision to come to the clinic and would be at the hospital shortly.

Up to this point in my career I had been fortunate to work with a number of associates who had taken an interest in exotics. The number one rule I had learned from them was that there was no such thing as a reptile medical emergency. Reptiles went down slowly, or so I was told. I reasoned that in a worst case scenario I could find another veterinarian to transfer the case to in the morning. In the meantime I needed to find out where best to give fluids to a gecko and some common disease differentials in regards to what a possible diagnosis could be. I figured an IV was out of the question and that with such tightly fitting skin, subcutaneous fluids would be an equally unavailable alternative. In fact, I wasn’t even sure how much in the way of fluids to give them.

I had worked off and on with Dr. Castro over the years. She had recently had a set of twins, bringing the number of children she had to four. Since her husband had a great job, she had stopped working all together. When she worked with us part-time she was our walking encyclopedia of sorts. She had attended veterinary school in the Caribbean Islands, only to find that her native state of Florida did not recognize her Caribbean degree and would not let her sit for the National Boards necessary for licensure in the United States. After struggling with the State of Florida and losing her battle with them, she was accepted to Mississippi State University where she attended veterinary school for another four years. Having had a double helping of all things veterinary related, I was sure she would have all the answers!

I dashed to the computer for the number and dialed. Thankfully Dr. Castro was at home and answered the phone. I asked, “Ileana, can you help me with a case?” “I have a dehydrated gecko en route to the clinic and I’m not sure how to help this lizard.” I barely had a chance to relay what I knew about this case before Debbie the technician came up to me fidgeting in place.

Debbie said, “The owner of the gecko is here.” I motioned to her and waved her off with my left hand. “I’ll be there in a few minutes,” I responded. “Dr. Castro is on the phone and I need to get some hints on how to deal with a dehydrated gecko.” Debbie stood her ground, stating “you really need to see this pet now!” Sensing the urgency in her voice I decided it was best to resume this conversation after examining the pet.

“Well Ileana, it sounds urgent. Will you be around later so I can pick your brain on how to proceed with this case?” A baby started crying in the background as I bade her a hasty good-bye. Debbie had lingered near the corner of my office allowing us to walk hastily up to the exam room together.

I had always been told by veterinarians that had experience with reptiles that since reptiles are cold blooded, medical changes would occur slowly. I reiterated that fact to Debbie but it was largely ignored. Debbie was typically not a fast mover and it was unusual for her to be so emotional and so speechless. “You just have to see this!” she huffed.

By that time I had just rounded the corner to the third exam room and glanced through the door. The owner, dressed in a business suit, must have just returned from work and had his 8-year old boy by his side. They were both peering into a shoe box with the lid removed. I approached quickly and eyed the hapless creature lying near the center of the box.

As I focused closer on the poor creature, I found to my amazement that the diagnosis would come quite easily. There had been no need to panic. I had fretted on the how, where, and why to give fluids to a gecko, and in the end it would be of no use at all. This poor gecko had left this world days, if not weeks, before. The lifeless lizard was so dried out that the skin on his forelegs was retracted, exposing the tiny bones underneath. The entire body was frozen into a solid position, characteristic of advanced rigor mortis. The deceased lizard did, however, have the company of 3 very healthy adult crickets which were trying as they might to escape the confines of the container, totally ignoring the lizard within.

Gently, I told the owner and his son that indeed the lizard was beyond our help and had probably been that way for some time. Fluids would not be of assistance in his present state. The owner looked at me with a puzzled expression. Once again I tried to get the point across: “It appears that your lizard left this world a few days earlier.” I still did not detect any acknowledgement that he understood the diagnosis. Having to take a blunt approach I stated, “He’s dead!"

Finally I received a note of recognition with the eight-year-old bursting into tears. The gentleman looked up and peered into my eyes never questioning the diagnosis, but commenting as he looked up, “the crickets did it!” By this time I could not help but crack a smile. One thing I did know about geckos, in captivity at least, is that many survived on a diet of crickets. Turns out these were some lucky crickets, indeed.

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