Endoscopy in reptiles

Frank Pasmans DVM PhD
Clinic for Avian and Exotic Animal Diseases
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Ghent University
Salisburylaan 133
B-9820 Merelbeke

Definition and indications

Endoscopy means that tissue and organs can be directly visualized with the aid of optical equipment ( the endoscope ). An example of this is sexing lizards. Particularly with lizards (for example many varanids), sexing on the basis of external characteristics may be very unreliable. With an endoscope the presence or absence of sexual organs (testicles or ovaries) and also their condition can be assessed. The procedure is explained further in the text. In addition, endoscopy of the body cavity can also be used to assess the condition of the internal organs such as the liver, kidneys and lungs.


The complete procedure takes place at a body temperature that approaches the optimum temperature of the animal in question. At these temperatures most of the physiological and immunological processes will happen most efficient, like for example recovery from anesthesia. The animal is brought under anesthesia using an intravenous injection. For short-term procedures this injection can be enough. If the animals however must remain under anesthesia for a longer period of time, anesthetic gas (for example isoflurane) will be added to the breathing air by means of a probe (tracheotube) in the trachea and lungs. The place where the endoscope is inserted is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Then, the skin, the underlying muscles and body wall membranes are cut and the endoscope is inserted. Because free space between the optics (the endoscope) and the examined organ is always necessary for good visualization, air or CO2 is blown in the body cavity under pressure. Through the so-called "work canal" it is also possible to insert other instruments such as biopsy forceps. This way, it is possible to take a biopsy from an internal organ with a very narrow body wall incision. After examining the organs and taken possible biopsies, the abdomen is closed using stitches and the animal can recover in a climatized incubator. The biggest enemy of endoscopy of the body cavity in reptiles is an exuberantly filled body cavity: full intestines for example or very strongly developed fat-bodies. For example, many varanids are exuberantly fed (for example savannah monitors get canned cat-foods or mice instead of insects) and get fat really rapidly. With these animals, it is hard to get a clear view at the organs. If you therefore offer a reptile for sexing using endoscopy, take care that the animal has not eaten for a long period of time (this can be like 10 to 14 days with a larger monitor) and that the animal is not too fat.