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VICSD in the News:

Ailing reptile is a medical rarity

Gecko’s thyroid problem uncovered with CT scan

By Susan Shroder, Union-Tribune Staff Writer

Originally published March 18, 2010 at 8:15 p.m., updated March 19, 2010 at 1:01 a.m.

GirlieGrrrl  is believed to be the first gecko to be treated for   hyperthyroidism,  which was recently diagnosed with a minuscule CT scan.

Dr. Thomas Boyer

GirlieGrrrl is believed to be the first gecko to be treated for hyperthyroidism, which was recently diagnosed with a minuscule CT scan.

GirlieGrrrl is believed to be the first gecko to be treated for    hyperthyroidism, which was recently diagnosed with a minuscule CT scan.


GirlieGrrrl, a 13-year-old leopard gecko belonging to Erik Fields of Santa Barbara, is in San Diego for treatment of hyperthyroidism. A CT scanner was used to confirm the diagnosis of the 6-inch lizard.

SAN DIEGO — Say gecko and most people think of the wisecracking green reptilian mascot in the Geico insurance company television commercials.

They don’t picture a 6-inch-long leopard gecko getting a minuscule CT scan as a pet owner tries to save his ailing longtime companion.

But that’s what brought Erik Fields from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and the result was a success story that two local veterinarians believe is the first reported treatment of a gecko for hyperthyroidism in the world.

It started last July when Fields, who works in ocean research at the University of California Santa Barbara, was concerned about his gecko of more than 13 years, a female named GirlieGrrrl. She began to lose weight, was shedding frequently and had diarrhea. He tried to feed her with a tube, but that did not help. Last fall, Fields’ veterinarian was at a loss, and he referred the gecko to San Diego veterinarian Dr. Thomas Boyer of Pet Hospital of Penasquitos, who has a special interest in reptiles.

Boyer did tests for bad bacteria, parasites and other things typical for the gecko’s symptoms.

When those results were negative, he suspected the gecko might have hyperthyroidism: excessive activity of the thyroid gland. He then referred the gecko in November to Veterinary Imaging Center of San Diego. The center’s founder, Dr. Seth Wallack, believes it is the only freestanding imaging center in the country that serves only animals.

The imaging center has one of only five CT scanners in the country that is designed for the smallest animals, including mice.

The scan confirmed the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism.

Because there are no published reports of a gecko being treated for hyperthyroidism using radioactive iodine, Wallack had to determine how much to give by downsizing doses given to cats and other animals.

After one month of treatment with radioiodine therapy, GirlieGrrrl’s thyroid values returned to normal. A recent three-month checkup showed she is still doing well.

“Hyperthyroid has never been reported in a leopard gecko,” Boyer said. “It’s the first treatment probably of its kind in the world.”

Wallack said that not a lot of people would be willing to go to the lengths that Fields did. And he probably didn’t think a gecko would be a client when he founded his veterinary imaging center in 2005. At the time, he said peers were skeptical.

“In the veterinary world, they thought it was a little crazy to have an imaging center just for pets,” he said.

Now, the center’s clients include animals from SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo.

And, of course, one lucky gecko.

Fields, 46, said he prefers not to discuss the costs of treatment because he wants to focus on the science instead.

Fields said when he read online about a gecko that is 26 years old, he felt the investment was worth it.

He said he gets teased by people who say he should have a pet “that loves you,” but he added that his friends have been exceptionally supportive and helped him feed the gecko when she was sick. He put updates on Facebook.

“I don’t know if I get any love from her, but I really like having her around,” he said.


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