ISSN 2398-2985      

Frost damage

Jreptile
Contributor(s):

Sarah Brown

David Perpiñán


Introduction

  • Cause: exposure to temperatures below 0°C/32°F. Usually in species kept outdoors, particularly when kept outside of their natural range. Most commonly seen in Mediterranean tortoises kept outside in the UK with no access to appropriately heated accommodation or if hibernated inappropriately.
  • Signs: dependent on the body system affected by freezing. Often central nervous system signs such as blindness or vestibular disease, or frostbite affecting extremities.
  • Diagnosis: clinical signs noted after exposure to temperatures below 0°C/32°F.
  • Treatment: gradual warming with nursing and supportive care for neurological signs. Analgesia and peripheral circulation stimulants such as isoxsuprine to attempt to prevent vascular necrosis in cases of frostbite. If extremities slough, antibiosis, dressings and potentially surgery can be required to allow full healing.
  • Prognosis: variable depending on the degree of damage due to freezing and duration of freezing. Neurological signs and blindness may resolve with time; some cases take a long time to recover or never recover completely, which can affect quality of life. Frostbite may lead to sloughing of extremities with the resultant effect on mobility in some individuals.

Pathogenesis

Etiology

  • Exposure to temperatures below 0°C/32°F.

Predisposing factors

General

  • Reptile species kept outdoors in areas outside their natural range where temperatures may drop to below 0°C/32°F.

Specific

Pathophysiology

  • Exposure to temperatures below 0°C/32°F can cause ice crystal formation within the body (particularly within the brain and eyes) and damage to surface vessels, causing frostbite and poor extremity vascular supply.
  • It has been suggested that additional predisposing factors may include hepatic lipidosis or sepsis and microabscessation within the brain.
  • Blindness may be central due to CNS damage, or peripheral due to cataract formation from cell disruption.

Timecourse

  • Variable and likely dependent on individual, species, rate of temperature change and body system affected.
  • Frostbite lesions may not be immediately evident and can take 7-10 days to develop.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Spielvogel C F et al (2017) Use of positive pressure ventilation in cold-stunned sea turtles: 29 cases (2008-2014). J Herpetol Med Surg 27 (1-2), 48-57.
  • Anderson E T et al (2011) Evaluation of hematology and serum biochemistry of cold-stunned green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in North Carolina, USA. J Zoo Wildl Med 42 (2), 247-255 PubMed.
  • Goodman G (2007) Common dermatoses in reptiles. In Pract 29 (5), 288-293 VetMedResource.
  • Gerle E, DiGiovanni R & Pisciotta R P (2000) A fifteen year review of cold-stunned sea turtles in New York waters. Proceedings of the 18th International Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC 436, 222-224.

Other sources of information

  • Fraser M A & Girling S J (2019) Dermatology. In: BSAVA Manual of Reptiles. 3rd edn. Eds: Girling S J & Raiti P. BSAVA, UK. pp 257-272.
  • Girling S J (2019) Neurology. In: BSAVA Manual of Reptiles. 3rd edn. Eds: Girling S J & Raiti P. BSAVA, UK. pp 353-364.
  • Platt S R (2019) Neurology. In: Mader’s Reptile and Amphibian Medicine and Surgery. Eds: Divers S J & Stahl S. Elsevier. pp 805-826.
  • Chitty J & Raftery A (2013) Ocular Opacities and Blindness. In: Essentials of Tortoise Medicine and Surgery. Eds: Chitty J & Raftery A. Wiley Blackwell. pp 242-247.
  • Weber III E S & Merigo C (2006) Medical Management of Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles. In: Reptile Medicine and Surgery. Ed: Mader D R. 2nd edn. Saunders Elsevier, USA. pp 1001-1004.

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