As a kid, I was always bringing home bugs and lizards, much to my mother’s dismay,” shares Veterinarian Dr. Louisa Asseo who has always had an affinity for reptiles.
Far from being a passing childhood phase, she continued her interest in college.
“I’ve had a Blue Tongue Skink since 1994. His name is Dude. He was my start in reptile medicine. When I got him in 1994, the prognosis for his health was poor. The literature says they live to around 15 years, but here he is, going on 27. He taught me how much we still needed to learn about captive reptiles and inspired my desire to improve their health and happiness while in our care.”
Dr. Asseo serves as the medical director at Oasis Veterinary Hospital in Martinez, California. She’s also active in the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV) and currently serving as the President-elect.
Dr. Asseo says there is a common misconception that reptiles and amphibians don’t need veterinary care: “That’s not correct. Our goal with ARAV is to bring public awareness to the need for professional care for these animals.”
Reptiles as pets are growing in popularity. According to a recent report,1 reptile product sales are in growth mode from $495 million in 2019 to reach between $550-$650 million in 2024.
“We’re here to help. Each reptile you get is a commitment. It’s a long-term commitment, and we want to help people take care of these animals and make sure that it’s for more than the ‘cool’ factor,” Dr. Asseo continues. “We make sure to ask the right questions to match a reptile with a good home. Questions like, ‘Are you going to have the space for that tortoise or monitor lizard? If you have a long-lived animal, put them in your will.’ We want to make sure we’re doing our due diligence to set them up for success.”
There are practical reasons for people welcoming reptiles into their homes as pets. As Dr. Asseo says, “Many require less space than a dog or cat, and once their habitat is set up well, they can require less daily maintenance. You can leave them for a night or two if you have to travel.”
Dr. Asseo sees both experienced reptile owners, like breeders and long-time collectors, as well as inexperienced people. “Some just inherit a bearded dragon and have no idea what to do with it.”
One of her goals as a veterinarian is to educate people on the importance of husbandry. “What’s good for an iguana is not the same for a bearded dragon. For example, an iguana needs 80-95 degrees and 70-90% year-round humidity. They also like to climb, so they need height to be happy. A bearded dragon needs it between 80-110 degrees, but 20-30% humidity. We want to mimic their natural habitat.”
Dr. Asseo doesn’t work exclusively with “companion exotics” or “odd critters;” as a veterinarian, she knows them all. She does work with cats and dogs, too.
“One of my biggest mentors said to me, ‘To be excellent in reptile medicine, you have to be a great dog and cat veterinarian. That’s where the most cutting-edge medicine is happening,’” she shares.
When she’s not working, she keeps a full schedule. “I get bored if I’m not either learning or working on something,” Dr. Asseo says.
She has a husband, three cats, two dogs, several reptiles and a Meyer Parrot at home. She also scuba dives, kickboxes, runs and tastes wine. +