Joy’s pain: a Gila monster’s road to recovery


When I purchased the six Gila monsters, No. 6 (now known as Joy) was the only one that looked a little off; she was skinnier than the rest and her fat reserves in her tail were depleted. I thought it may have been from overwintering but that was not to be the case as it quickly became apparent she was sick. She excreted a red mass of bloody stool, was listless, did not eat and was losing weight. The health of the animal is always paramount and Joy’s breeding prospects are secondary to her well-being (which is a shame as she is the nicest looking Gila of the bunch). I spoke with some knowledgeable friends and read through some of my old reptile veterinary books to see if I could get some guidance but ultimately decided that a trip to the vet was the best bet.

The bloody stool Joy excreted shortly after coming into my possession.

Thankfully I live near the University of Florida that has a vet school and accompanying Small Animal Hospital that is willing to see venomous reptiles. I had been there previously to have two Gilas sexed by ultrasound so I knew immediately where to go in this situation. The doctor that worked with us was the same one that helped with the ultrasound and she was very knowledgeable about reptile diseases. There was the a full course of options including ultrasounds and surgery but I opted for the basics with the idea we would move forward with testing as necessary until she improved. The end result of the initial visit was that I had some medicine to give at home; Flagyl every other day for two weeks and intramuscular shots of Amikacin for a month. If this didn’t work we would move on to the second round of testing and medications.

Giving the medicine wasn’t too tough, but you must always take care when handling Gila monsters. At first Joy sadly did not put up much of a fight when I force fed her the dose of Flagly and gave her the Amikacin shot, but within a week she was improving and after the second week she started to eat again! As of today, she has gained over 30 grams of weight and is eating well. I am nervous the sickness may come back so am trying to keep her stress level to a minimum and for certain breeding is off for this year.

The moral of this story is don’t wait too long to seek help in ensuring the health of your pets, and have a vet set up before a crisis occurs. Reptiles are stoic animals and normally do not show weakness until is is too late. If you think your Gila is sick, keep a close eye on their behavior and track the weight (hopefully you have done this since day one, or at least took an initial weight to see where things go). Check with a vet if things aren’t trending well or if the animal refuses food for a few feedings and is losing weight. Always err on the side of caution and your little friend will thank you for many years to come!

Update 2: The deed is done.

After consummating the pairing, the Gilas take a sweet rest together.

Since switching the females to new males a few days ago it’s been more of the same; a lot of chasing but no observed copulation. That is, until last night last night when I woke up around 4:30am to get a drink of water and found one of the pairs in a love tussle. It is a nice hope that the deed is being done in the wee hours of the night where it is dark and secretive. No one has ever, to my knowledge, seen Gila copulate in the wild as the act is normally performed in a shelter out of sight of prying eyes or opportunistic predators. My terrariums are fairly spartan with only a piece of wood, water bowl, and aspen shavings as I like to see the animals (Gilas will hide most of the time if given the opportunity) as well as monitor their health. Perhaps in future years I can provide a hiding area during breeding season but if this set up works I’ll likely stick with it. Maybe I should set up some CCTV cameras on the cages to see what happens when? Now that I have officially observed copulation my confidence level that I will at least get eggs has risen dramatically. Now, whether or not the eggs will be fertile or viable to full term is a whole different story!

An interesting find

Photo by R. Repp

Thought I would share this article about a construction crew that unearthed a Gila monster nest in Tucson, Arizona, which shed some much needed light on when Gilas hatch in the wild. This discovery launched a scientific paper which is also linked for your reading pleasure.

A work in progress



Over the years, the domain has usually been about Gila monsters. Now a work in progress, I hope to share some thoughts and insights into these amazing animals after having kept them for over 20 years. Keep checking back as the site will be updated soon!