Failure to thrive thresholds

M_surinamensis

Shillelagh Law
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This is a subject that I saw the edge of hinted at in another thread a couple days ago, but cannot recall seeing discussed specifically on this site. It's an interesting subject and something I believe all pet owners (and especially prospective breeders) should be aware of and have considered.

I have some of my own opinions (of course) but I'd like to start with some generalities that define the topic and see what others have to say.

The basic idea goes like this:

In the wild, a lot of reptiles never make it to adulthood and never enter the breeding population. They fall prey to predators, they starve or dehydrate, they do not find sufficient shelter, they are infected by diseases, injured or are simply less successful than the ones which make it. The less obvious ones are generally grouped under the term "failure to thrive." This is a cornerstone of how evolution works (spontaneous mutation and rapid changes are rare), since those successful animals pass along their genes and each subsequent generation is a representation of the strongest and most fit elements of the previous.

In captivity, a lot of the things which make an individual animal successful are radically different than the kinds of things that wild animals face. Hiding from a predator and being an aggressive breeder are less important than nice colors and a docile response to being handled. We, the people who keep the reptiles as pets, impose a new set of standards for genetic success. We completely alter the conditions the animals will experience throughout the course of their life and this redefines what it means to thrive.

The breeding efforts of the animals will still sometimes produce failure to thrive individuals. Incubated properly, kept in ideal conditions, provided with all the necessary things for success but the individual animal shows signs of things which, in the wild, would be a death sentence. Slow feeders, animals which do not grow well even when supplied with ideal nutrition, animals that are prone to illness or injury, despite being cared for properly.

I think everyone will agree that the first step is usually to look for causes, things we can control and manipulate, make sure the environment is correct, take the animal to a veterinarian to check for infections or parasites, make sure it hasn't been exposed to toxins... but failure to thrive cases are distinct from those with reasons we can identify and fix. They are the rare animal that just doesn't do as well as others no matter how well we provide for its needs.

So the questions I'd like to discuss, to hear the opinions of others on (and let's be honest, express my own at some point) are;

At what point do you define failure to thrive? What kind of problems showing up to what degree do you draw the line at?

What do you do with failure to thrive animals? Do you personally take additional measures beyond basic husbandry concerns in order to address their problems or do you allow them to succumb (or euthanize them, so that they do not suffer in the process)? Do you force/assist/tease feed? Do you see a veterinarian for regularly administered supplementary injections? Do you try to work through the problem or do you allow the animal to die?

Do you keep records of potential failure to thrive symptoms?

Does a history of failure to thrive types of issues come into play as you select your breeding stock? (Hint: this question is an obvious trap, only included here so I can yell at someone)
 

robin

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At what point do you define failure to thrive? What kind of problems showing up to what degree do you draw the line at?

What do you do with failure to thrive animals? Do you personally take additional measures beyond basic husbandry concerns in order to address their problems or do you allow them to succumb (or euthanize them, so that they do not suffer in the process)? Do you force/assist/tease feed? Do you see a veterinarian for regularly administered supplementary injections? Do you try to work through the problem or do you allow the animal to die?

Do you keep records of potential failure to thrive symptoms?

Does a history of failure to thrive types of issues come into play as you select your breeding stock? (Hint: this question is an obvious trap, only included here so I can yell at someone)
an animal that i think has succumbed to failure to thrive group in my opinion have a loss in quality of life compared to a healthy example of the same animal. what do i di? let's says after coming to reealize there is no longer anything i can do. i will euthanize it. i will not force feed, assist or tease feed. lets says it was a dog with diabetes. if i had to go in weekly to get shots i would but if it came to the point, no matter what i did was making it better or the injections were failing to work and that the dog was going downhill. i would euthanize it.

i had to put down a cat of ours a few weeks ago. she had some kind of diabetic/gal bladder/pancreatitus problem and she could not kick the infection. i was not going to have her linger or suffer. maybe this is different because i am talking about a mammal vs. a reptile
 

M_surinamensis

Shillelagh Law
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1,166
i had to put down a cat of ours a few weeks ago. she had some kind of diabetic/gal bladder/pancreatitus problem and she could not kick the infection. i was not going to have her linger or suffer. maybe this is different because i am talking about a mammal vs. a reptile
It's an excellent example actually. Illnesses happen, a failure to thrive scenario would be one in which an illness cannot be cured (when it should have been after a course of treatment) or when an individual animal seems extra-susceptible to becoming sick. A generally weak immune response.

Others might be... an animal which never feeds on its own, an animal which grows slowly even when it's given a good diet and optimal conditions, dwarfism and other conditions that are a bit borderline to call deformities and so on.

Edit: it's an animal with a problem when no other reason for that problem exists. So an animal that is kept too cold and doesn't eat isn't failure to thrive, it's a husbandry failure. An animal that is the right temperature, is parasite free and is not being unduly stressed that refuses to eat might be an example of failure to thrive. Knowing the difference can sometimes be tough and is sometimes a judgment call because it can't always be proved one way or the other.
 
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Russ S

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At what point do you define failure to thrive? What kind of problems showing up to what degree do you draw the line at?
I don't think there is any one good answer to this question.
Different criteria would be used depending on the species involved.

What do you do with failure to thrive animals? Do you personally take additional measures beyond basic husbandry concerns in order to address their problems or do you allow them to succumb (or euthanize them, so that they do not suffer in the process)? Do you force/assist/tease feed? Do you see a veterinarian for regularly administered supplementary injections? Do you try to work through the problem or do you allow the animal to die?
I do my best to find and correct the reasons for the failure to thrive.
I have personally spent several hundred dollars in an effort to find the cause in a rather inexpensive reptile, only to finally have it euthanized. I felt it was money well spent if to only prevent the same thing from happening to my other reptiles.
I will assist feed, and have had supplements given by injection.
Euthanizing is preferable to suffering.
A necropsy should be performed when possible to find undetermined causes.

Do you keep records of potential failure to thrive symptoms?
Yes, especially in offspring of specific pairings.

Does a history of failure to thrive types of issues come into play as you select your breeding stock? (Hint: this question is an obvious trap, only included here so I can yell at someone)
See above answer.
 

Tony C

Wayward Frogger
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I doubt it will shock anyone to hear that I take a pretty aggressive approach. While I no longer breed leopard geckos, I culled any that showed any sign of a deformity, no matter how slight, and also culled offspring that showed less obvious signs like a persistent inability to properly shed.
 

M_surinamensis

Shillelagh Law
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1,166
I was thinking in terms of reptiles and amphibians, but I think as a generalization the same concepts can probably apply to both. The specific scenarios that would define a failure to thrive situation will be different, since mammals mostly go through a period where they are taken care of by their parents and reptiles and amphibians mostly do not; how, when and what kind of signs of failure to thrive manifest will be a little different but... Same general idea. I think anyway, if someone disagrees I'd love to hear why.
 

robin

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I was thinking in terms of reptiles and amphibians, but I think as a generalization the same concepts can probably apply to both. The specific scenarios that would define a failure to thrive situation will be different, since mammals mostly go through a period where they are taken care of by their parents and reptiles and amphibians mostly do not; how, when and what kind of signs of failure to thrive manifest will be a little different but... Same general idea. I think anyway, if someone disagrees I'd love to hear why.

would you go the same distance in trying to figure out what was wrong with a reptile vs. a mammal?

should domesticated animal (dogs /cats/etc) get more of a chance because they have "personalities" and "feelings"?
 

Alex G

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Phoenix, AZ
I had a corn snake that failed to thrive. Despite my best efforts and two trips to the vet, she was constantly sick with something and refused to eat. She just was not growing at the rate my other corn snake, her brother, was, despite them being kept the exact same way. I was new to the reptile hobby and knew I should cull her, but I kept telling myself "next week she'll eat, next week her URI/mouth rot/diarrhea will clear up, next week she'll be better" on and on for several months. One day I came into my room to find she had drowned in her water dish. She could have been culled in a humane way but because I was nervous about doing what needed to be done, she suffered tremendously over her short life and died in a horrible way.

Food for thought.
 
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fl_orchidslave

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I would rather cull a struggling animal than find it dead, knowing it suffered needlessly. While some things are treatable, everything is not. It's important, as an animal breeder, to know the difference. For instance, a hatchling gecko that has not eaten for its' first solid week, becomes weakened and other functions begin to fail. Personally, I will not do any more than dangle a little worm on it's nose to invoke a feeding response. Beyond that, it is failing to thrive.

We know when our animals are suffering, if we know them as a species at all. It isn't caring for a pet to prolong a life of misery for our own selfish purposes. Rather it is our responsibility to do the humane thing.

Just my two cents worth.
 

Golden Gate Geckos

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We, the people who keep the reptiles as pets, impose a new set of standards for genetic success. We completely alter the conditions the animals will experience throughout the course of their life and this redefines what it means to thrive.
One of the things we need to consider is all the 'god-like' genetic inbreeding that goes on with leopard geckos. This makes for weak and non-robust offspring. In nature, most albino forms perish for the reasons Seamus stated above. Mother Nature can be considered cruel by some, but it is survival of the fittest. Also, we could NEVER hope to duplicate the optimum natural environment, diet, or supplementation of captive bred (non-domesticated) animals, reptiles specifically.

Culling an animal (reptile or mammal) is an ethical dilemma that is bound to have polarized opinion and practice. When to throw in the towel on a non-thriving animal is a very tough decision. Some of us will struggle over making that choice, others may see it as the obvious.

Personally, I will give an animal every opportunity to thrive on it's own... even if it means tease-feeding it's first meal or two. Geckos are not meant to eat from a bowl, and some will need to learn where the food comes from. Snakes are not meant to eat frozen-thawed rodents from tongs, but it's safer for the snake to do so in a cage where a live rodent has no alternative than to fight back when there is no escape. Under the unnatural conditions we keep them, we do need to make exceptions and provisions for them. We could really not know if they would thrive or die in the wild under these abnormal circumstances.

Outcrossing genetic traits helps keep the already shallow gene pool more diverse, and helps produce more robust animals. If it's a known genetic problem that could be perpetuated, or a quality of life issue, then the most humane and ethical option is to humanely euthanize the animal.
 

robin

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when does it come to over doing it and trying to save an animal for your own selfish reasons?
 

T-ReXx

Uroplatus Fanatic
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I think there's a lot of factors that can change how a situation like this is dealt with, including the personality of the owner. Defining failure to thrive can be somewhat tricky, IMO. There are plenty of snake species that as hatchlings require some trickery to get eating; tease feeding, scenting, trying live/ft/different prey species. And there are many lizards who can take similar measures to start feeding regularly. So if the husbandry is spot on and a young animal isn't feeding well on it's own yet maintains decent body condition I say keep trying until it either is obviously declining physically or eats something. I also think that in the case of more "rare" species it makes sense to put a bit more effort into getting hatchlings started well than say, a hatchling leopard gecko that is just generally not right. I for one know that if I had to push a hatchling Uroplatus to establish I'd damn well be doing my damnedest and be absolutely sure it wasn't going to make it before throwing in the towel.
Now, I am a fan of aggressive culling of commonly bred species. Leopard geckos, Ball Pythons, Cornsnakes, Crested geckos, Bearded Dragons, etc all are in no danger of falling out of the hobby if every single breeder of these species aggressively culled any hatchling that failed to act "normal." In fact, I'd say with these animals and others like them serious culling of defective offspring should be encouraged; the gene pools are all relatively weak and maintaining animals that aren't stellar examples of their species or morph is contributing to that.

Personally, I think if you have a failure to thrive, you should cull it. Euthanize, feed it off(my preferred method), kill it. Remove it from the population and you remove the threat it poses to the genetic pool as a whole. And allowing an animal to live a life that is less than natural due to a physical imperfection is a cruelty of its own, imo.

Domestic animals are different, IMO. Dogs cats, etc that have debilitating diseases or injuries and deformities that are can be managed with medications/therapy/amputation can be sterilized and that will guarentee they won't reproduce. If the quality of life is good(mammals are fairly obvious in this sense, anyone with any amount of animal empathy can tell when a dog is suffering) and the owner is willing to put the work in and some amount of positive time is added to the animal's life span then go for it. If any of those don't apply euthanize. Deciding when it's "time" isn't as hard as people make it out to be if you remind yourself to look at things from the animal's POV. With reptiles and amphibians it's different. They are instinctual, wild animals and don't enjoy human interaction. If they cannot live their lives as what they are they will constantly be in a state of panic and confusion because their instinctual "codes" tell them one thing and their body can't make that thing happen. They cannot learn to cope in the same respect as most mammals and therefore should not be lumped in with them.

Personally I keep records of everything. If a pair produces sub-par offspring repeatedly(2 seasons) they are no longer bred. Simple as that.
 

Golden Gate Geckos

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when does it come to over doing it and trying to save an animal for your own selfish reasons?
Sometimes I think there might be selfish reasons, but for the most part I feel that most of us don't want to give up hope that an animal will rally and thrive. We want to give them every chance and exhaust all efforts before making a life and death decision. But when there is no hope left, and there is no quality of life, the most unselfish choice is to humanely euthanize. It's the same reason we don't want to 'pull the plug' on a person who is on life-support until we come to terms that there really is no hope.
 

Tony C

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I also think that in the case of more "rare" species it makes sense to put a bit more effort into getting hatchlings started well than say, a hatchling leopard gecko that is just generally not right. <SNIP>
Now, I am a fan of aggressive culling of commonly bred species.
Don't you think it is even more important to cull "rare" species? If the captive population is small, that one weakling that was pampered to adulthood has the potential to do much more damage than a leopard gecko whose contribution to the gene pool is a drop in the bucket by comparison.

My philosophy is that by breeding these animals in captivity, we are accepting the responsibility of playing the role natural selection would play in the wild. Predators do not show any mercy in feeding on the weak, deformed, and otherwise unfit, therefore I do not either. It is never fun to put down an animal, but carrying out a responsibility is rarely fun.
 

robin

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Sometimes I think there might be selfish reasons, but for the most part I feel that most of us don't want to give up hope that an animal will rally and thrive. We want to give them every chance and exhaust all efforts before making a life and death decision. But when there is no hope left, and there is no quality of life, the most unselfish choice is to humanely euthanize. It's the same reason we don't want to 'pull the plug' on a person who is on life-support until we come to terms that there really is no hope.
quite often people unfortunately have to make the "right choice" first and come to terms with it later. you can not stretch out the potential suffering just because you can not handle the situation. doing all that you can may be doing more than you should have done.
 

stevehiss

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In the zoo field there has been a long standing battle, if you will, between the veterinarians at the zoo and the departmental curators. Most of the zoo vets I have dealt with over the years want to keep an animal going as long as they can, as a learning experience. To try and learn as much as they can as to why or what is causing the problem. Curators on the other hand, and keepers as well, tend to rely on the quality of life. Like mentioned earlier, if the animal is suffering, a poor doer, or is generally in bad health, it should be euthanized.

It is frustrating sometimes when we send an animal down to the zoo hospital with the understanding that the specimen is to be euthanized, only to find out that it is being kept alive and allowed to suffer.

Unfortunately, I can see both sides of this dilemma. We do need to learn for future reference, but we also feel for the animal and do not want them to suffer.

Just my two cents worth.
 

T-ReXx

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Don't you think it is even more important to cull "rare" species? If the captive population is small, that one weakling that was pampered to adulthood has the potential to do much more damage than a leopard gecko whose contribution to the gene pool is a drop in the bucket by comparison.

My philosophy is that by breeding these animals in captivity, we are accepting the responsibility of playing the role natural selection would play in the wild. Predators do not show any mercy in feeding on the weak, deformed, and otherwise unfit, therefore I do not either. It is never fun to put down an animal, but carrying out a responsibility is rarely fun.
What I meant was that the amount of effort I personally would put into establishing a hatchling of a less common species compared to one that is already firmly established in the hobby differs. I believe that every single individual of a rarer species should be pampered to adulthood if possible, the simple fact is in smaller gene pools every body counts. Look at Cheetahs, for example. Their population is so small that every single one lost is damage to the existence of the species. And yes they are struggling with genetic problems as they have a small pool. I'm not saying that if the animal in question completely fails to develop into a healthy adult individual that it should be added to the breeding population, however every effort should be made to get that animal to that point. Again, it can vary quite a bit between species, some are more fragile as youngsters than others, but until captive propagation of a species is down to a science and those animals are firmly established as a population you can't count out any potential individual animal. The fact is information on rare species in captivity is much less concrete than that of commonly bred, hardier animals and I'm not confident that in all failure to thrive cases anyone can be 100% sure the animal wouldn't make it just fine if something was done differently. It comes down to priorities, yes you want an established population with genetic variation and you want all producing animals in that population to be of the best vigor possible, however if you cull off everything that you deem weak early on you may not ever get to that point. Natural selection cannot be replicated in captivity, it is a process beyond human capability. "Directed" selection is more along the lines of what happens in captive populations.
 

Golden Gate Geckos

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I think we are wandering off the original post's topic of discussion, "failure to thrive". There is a difference in an animal getting sick or getting old and making an ethical decision to euthanize when we perceive that there is suffering and no hope or quality of life, and the sometimes ambiguous definition of 'failure to thrive'.

My personal opinion is that the term "failure to thrive" in many cases is simply a catch-all for not knowing what is wrong with an animal, or not caring to find out, when they won't eat, won't grow, or otherwise instinctively do what is necessary for them to survive. It could be a hatchling that simply will not eat. Do we assist-feed? Do we force-feed? Some people would, others not. It could be a matter of the hatchling learning where the food bowl is, or there may be an underlying inherent problem where in nature they would simply die... thus eliminating the possibility of any weakness or deficiency being passed on that could potentially weaken the specie as a whole.

When we keep and raise non-domesticated animals, we are manipulating their natural environment and therefore the natural course of their survival. This responsibility lies in our hands, and the choices we make for them. In reality, euthanizing them is really not the 'natural' thing to do. Simply letting them die naturally would be. But we are compassionate and nurturing by nature, so we keep trying to help them thrive... and end their lives if they do not.

I think part of the original topic is discussing just what the threshold is between not doing enough and/or doing too much. These perceptions are as individual as each person and each situation, and some might consider another's choice to be a good one or bad. At what point to do this is simply not cut-and-dry.
 

M_surinamensis

Shillelagh Law
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My personal opinion is that the term "failure to thrive" in many cases is simply a catch-all for not knowing what is wrong with an animal, or not caring to find out, when they won't eat, won't grow, or otherwise instinctively do what is necessary for them to survive.
It definitely is a catch-all for ambiguous difficulties. Although I am sure there are some people who may just not care, I'd like to think that most of them simply aren't able to gather the information that might be needed to tell exactly what is happening. A lack of access to the equipment that would be required to run the tests, analyze the results and possibly come to an understanding.

I think part of the original topic is discussing just what the threshold is between not doing enough and/or doing too much. These perceptions are as individual as each person and each situation, and some might consider another's choice to be a good one or bad. At what point to do this is simply not cut-and-dry.
Which is why I find it interesting to hear what others decide.

With regard to the species question, species being treated differently or with different amounts of effort put in (and specifically common versus rare), I'd like to toss out the following thought for consideration; how common and well represented a species is in the pet trade is often linked to hardiness and ease of care as practical prerequisites to popularity.

I'm going to set aside the geckos for a moment and use two species of snake I personally keep as examples. I keep some garter snakes and I keep some viper boas. The garter snakes are aggressive and opportunistic predators that will normally go after anything edible with no hesitation. The viper boas are pretty specialized predators who evolved in an isolated environment with a small number of lizards and frogs as their natural prey. If I had a neonate garter snake that was refusing food, I'd give the environmental conditions a once over, try a little bit of diversity, give it one shot with my veterinarian and then label it as a failure to thrive. If I had a neonate viper boa that was not eating, I would put in much more effort when it came to feeding tricks scenting and teasing and manipulation of environmental triggers and prey presentation because the species itself has a different expected set of behaviors.

The defiance of expectation is, to my mind, part of defining failure to thrive. It's a lot easier to know that the ambiguous "something's wrong" is manifesting in a species which is usually hardy. More delicate or trickier animals usually introduce more of a burden on the owner to check additional variables.
 
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