Cage Cleaning • Sanitation ISTYT (Part 4) Disinfection

Disinfection

This section is for times when a total tear down of the cage is in order. If you have a cage that sadly has no occupant or the occupant needs to get over some infection and never get it back. Maybe you bought the cage on craigslist or you don't know for sure what happened with your last chameleon was it old age or illness or worse was it something contagious that you never want to experience again.* Maybe all your babies have grown up and been re-homed and you are getting ready for the next batch. If you are ready to make a fresh start you will want to disinfect the heck out of that cage.

I think disinfection is especially important with cages used for babies. Neonates don't have the immune system of adults. Eggs and live births are exposed to the parasites that their mother has in her body as they are expelled. They may also get some immunity to those specific parasites from her. Now you put new babies from a different mother in a dirty cage that had the other babies in it and they may not be prepared for what they encounter. Adults in new cages also tend to be stressed and have weakened immunity from shipping and relocation they don't need to have exposure to new pathogens in this condition.

*I'm going to add a special section at the end of this specifically for disinfecting for coccidia. It is especially hard to to kill and requires severe measures that aren't necessary for other infectious organisms.

First thing throw out anything that is porous, branches, plants, soil, rubber vines, etc. Then toss anything that is cheap and easy to replace feeder cups and the like. It's not worth reinfecting your chameleon by holding on to this stuff. If it can't be scrubbed and immersed in strong bleach it has to go. This is the main difference between deep cleaning and a disinfection. In disinfecting we want to avoid exposing a new animal to anything infectious the previous occupant may have had. It should be a fresh start.

Review the basics of cleaning in Part 1 they still apply. The soap and water scrub down from Part 3 is our next step. Hot soapy water and a thorough rinsing are the foundation of disinfection if you want your disinfectants to work.

Basic Disinfection

Supplies: paper towels, sponge or scrub brush, gloves, eye protection, dish soap like Dawn, chlorine bleach diluted (never ever mix beach and ammonia) or an activated hydrogen peroxide like Clorox Healthcare® Hydrogen Peroxide Cleaner Disinfectant, F-10 disinfectant.
Optional: Hot steam cleaner

No matter what products you use, read and follow the manufacturers directions and pay special attention to the warnings. Used incorrectly they could harm you or your pets. Never ever use bleach and ammonia together.

If you are sure the cage in question has not been contaminated with coccidia or other parasites then bleach diluted 1:20, activated hydrogen peroxide or a quaternary disinfectant like F-10 Disinfectant. Note: F-10 makes different products be sure to use the disinfectant and not the treatment products. Use the products as directed and with the proper amount of contact time.

If you are dealing with CANV I would also dump or disinfect anything that touched the outside of the cage. Replace any cage covers (plastic sheeting) and disinfect the lamp reflectors and cords. Don't immerse electrical equipment but do wipe them down when they are unplugged. I would wipe down the walls in the area of the cage as well. Fungal spores can travel on dust motes so it's best to try to reduce any possible sources.

Coccidia

I have it on good authority, two board certified reptile specialists, that coccidia can be a commensal organism (part of their normal flora) and only needs to be treated if the chameleon isn't doing well. If you have a strain that is causing trouble I will go over some possible ways to eliminate it in the environment. I personally prefer to keep it out of my collection entirely. I would rather treat an animal for parasites when it is healthy than wait until it is debilitated with something else and have to treat then. That is a decision you will have to make for yourself with your veterinarian. Either way an infected animal can continue to reinfect itself in a contaminated cage.

In the official literature there is very little that will kill coccidia oocysts that won't harm you or melt your cage. I found a Korean study on a strain of poultry coccidia. It concluded that a 50% acetic acid solution (vinegar is only 5-9%), a 30% cresol soup(???), 10% NaOH (lye very caustic) and a benzene/xylene combo worked well. I couldn't find these either commercially available in the U.S. or practical.

I know I'm becoming a broken record but it's true to get anything disinfectant to work you will need to remove any organic material with a good soap and water scrubbing and a thorough rinse. Do all of this somewhere that your other cages or chameleons never contact. Any coccidia you fail to kill can remain in the environment for up to 2 years. I used the far end of my yard on the driveway. Avoid splashing the cleaners around as they could carry the coccidia with them. It loves water.

Rumor has it and a VCA website that a 1:15 solution of house hold bleach will kill coccidia. I am not as sold on this method as I only found one source and no confirmation. They don't say how much contact time but I would do a minimum of 20-30 minutes rewetting as needed. When I worked a veterinary hospitals we sometimes used a 1:10 solution. This is the one instance I would ever use bleach this strong. It is hard on your cage and fixtures but it is better than throwing them out. If money is no object you might want to do that but you will still need to use a cage during the treatment phase and it should be disinfected weekly until the infection has been eliminated. A cage should be able to handle 2-3 treatments without showing much damage. At this concentration bleach can eat away at your clothes and splatters will instantly bleach out. Rubber gloves and eye protection should be worn.

I found anecdotal evidence (personal testimony in limited numbers) on this site that 40 volume hydrogen peroxide will kill coccidia. This is not the peroxide from the drug store or the cleaning aisle of the grocery store but a beauty supply product. It is the strongest peroxide solution used for bleaching hair. It comes in a liquid and cream form. Get the liquid it's much easier to work with and rinse. This is a gnarly bleaching agent so gloves and eye protection should be used. It will ruin clothes and fabric, it's that bleaching thing again. Contact time was 10-15 minutes so I would go with 15 to be sure.

I have found more info from the poultry industry that an old way to disinfect for coccidia is with an application of fertilizer and slated lime sprayed with water to release the ammonia and kill coccidia. Not practical for our situation but it does confirm that ammonium hydroxide can be effective against coccidia oocysts. It is also mentioned by people on the forum treating coccidia as a means of disinfection. The strongest commonly available ammonia solution I could find was a 10% solution. It is a commercial grade ammonia solution. Ace Hardware carries it and custodial supply places probably have it also. The fumes from this are very irritating to your eyes and other mucous membranes so gloves, googles and a very well ventilated area are mandatory. Do not use this in direct sunlight or heat as that will make it vaporize even faster and increase the risk and reduce the amount of surface contact time you will get. Contact time was not mentioned so I would try for 20-30 minutes.

ISTYT

So I know what you are thinking "I've read all four parts of this and it's not sexy at all. There were no french maid outfits, not even one feather duster". Well you got me there. What you choose to wear for your cage cleaning is your business. I just think that having a healthy chameleon in a clean cage is really hot.

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