Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention of Lizard Diseases
Lizard diseases are not common, but can be caused by problems such
housing a lizard at the wrong temperature, dietary or nutrition issues
such as under or over supplementation, or genetics.
Directory of Lizard Diseases
Any veterinary exam
will start with a check of the lizard's physical condition including
the following characteristics of a healthy lizard:
Signs of Lizard Health
Veterinary Tests for Lizard Diseases
- Lizard eyes should be free of discharge and clear
- Oral cavity examination for tooth defects
- Back of the internal nose area free of swelling and discharge
- Space between the vocal folds and throat free of discharge and
- Skin free of injury and ecotparasites (external parasites such as
mites and ticks)
- Lung and heart sounds are normal
- Touching of the body for any abnormalities
Like other animals, a veterinarian can test the blood count and plasma
chemistry to detect illness. For example, digestive tract diseases are
detected by elevated levels of leukocytes (white blood cells). The
feces will also be examined for parasites.
Listed below are the more common lizard health problems and the related
treatment options available.
Salmonella is a normal part of the lizard digestive system. It is found
in 90% to 100% of some lizard populations. Problems result from
poor hygiene. It is not typically found in lizards caught in the wild.
In captive lizards it rarely causes disease. When it does, symptoms of
salmonella (in lizards, not people) include:
- Gastrointestinal disease (diarrhea)
- Skin abscess
- Bone infection, pain and inflammation
Asymptomatic lizards (showing no salmonella symptoms) are not treated
with antibiotics. Lizards that have salmonelosis are treated. If
your reptile has salmonella, the biggest risk is the spread from
to human. To avoid the spread of salmonellosis be sure to wash
hands with soap and water immediately (within 15 seconds) after handing
any reptile. Children should be supervised and those with an immune
system problem should not have any contact with lizards. Never handle a
lizard where food preparation takes place. Also never bathe a lizard in
an area also used by humans for washing.
Diarrhea in lizards is commonly caused
by a bacterial disease (gram negative bacteria). The bacteria enters
the lizard's body from the cage or environment.
Diagnosis of Lizard Diarrhea
To determine the exact type of bacteria causing the lizard digestive
tract disease and to identify the best antibiotic, a veterinarian will
order a test called a antimicrobial sensitivity assay.
Lizard Diarrhea Treatment
Medications referred to as potentiated sufla or flouroquinolone are
Thermal Lizard Skin Burns
If a heat lamp or other lighting
fixture comes in contact with the lizard skin, thermal burns can occur.
Lizard Thermal Burn Symptoms
Symptoms of skin burns include:
- Thick, black skin that may peel on belly or back
- Dead skin in a thick layer. If peeled back, reveals raw skin.
Skin Burn Diagnosis:
A veterinarian will review the lizard's history, including the type of
furniture or heating elements used in the cage. The absence of any skin
mites also indicates a problem.
Lizard Thermal Skin Burn Treatment:
Skin burns are first treated by cleaning any burned skin areas with an
antiseptic soap. Oral antibiotics are provided to address and prevent
any skin infections. Tropical burn cream can also aid healing.
Lizard Respiratory Disorders:
Lizards that are kept in temperatures
what is required can be subject to respiratory diseases caused by
bacterial infections or viral infections. Other common causes include
lungworm, allergies or tumors. Lizard respiratory symptoms
- Rapid breathing
- Rasping (advance cases)
- Bubbling (advance cases)
To treat a lizard
respiratory disease, raise the temperature
in the basking area of the cage to 100F (37.8C). Only do this in
basking area. As mentioned if you do
not see improvement
in one to two days, see the advice of a veterinarian.
Many lizards naturally have parasites
in their gut
as a way of aiding digestion. In cases where the parasite population
gets to large, medical treatment will be needed. Common lizard
- Parasitic Protozoans
Symptoms of Lizard
If there are an abnormal
level of endoparasites, symptoms can include:
- overall poor health (appetite loss, muscle loss)
The most common endoparasitic lizard
diseases are Cryptosporidium saurophilum and coccidia.
Treatment for a lizard parasitic
disease requires a prescription
from a veterinarian. Treatment can be challenging due to the lack of
scientific research. Often, the protozoa are not eliminated, but
reduced to manageable levels. He or she can also prescribe the
needed, and length of treatment. Prescription products vary by
type of parasite.
These parasites which affect the
outside of the
lizard are easier to treat than internal parasites. The most common
type are mites that situate near the lizard eyes. Mites can also appear
as a black area of skin anywhere on the body or small red spots between
the lizard's scales.
Mites area one of the most common
Ticks are another
ectoparasite that is problematic for lizards.
Lizard ectoparasites are diagnosed by a veterinarian who will examine
examine a skin scraping using a microscope.
Treatment for External Lizard Parasites
Treatment for mites
involves the use of an insecticide. Over
the counter invermectin based reptile mite sprays such as DeFea
are available. To apply, follow the manufacturers
products contain Ivermectin, a substance that should only be applied in
the exact recommended dosage.
There is also an oral medication available which is repeated every 2
weeks. Using an anti-septic soap to wash the skin will remove most of
For ticks, they are removed in
the same manner that they are removed from people. A product called Sevin
is helpful in removing embedded mouth parts. Sevin is dusted
the tick, and then the tick is removed. Use tweezers to remove
tick after applying the powder.
Lizard Parasite Prevention
Have your veterinarian examine any lizard just after purchase. Keep the
lizards cage clean, particularly before and after a mite or parasite
diagnosis is made.
Lizard Articular Gout
Gout is caused by a change in
metabolism. It is caused by a problem with proteins in the diet,
resulting in the abnormal usage and expulsion of uric acid.
Enlarged Joint Due to Lizard Gout
Lizard Gout Symptoms:
- Enlarged joints, joint pain
- Difficulty moving
- Enlarged kidneys from the increased levels of uric acid
Lizard Gout Treatment:
A veterinarian will suggest dietary change to a different or more
Lizard Metabolic Bone
Disease (Lizard Calcium Deficiency)
Anyone that cares for a lizard has to
be aware of the potential for calcium deficiency, particularly among
herbivores (plant eating) and insectivores(insect eating
lizards). The disease occurs when the calcium to phosphorus ratio
fails to stay at either 2:1 calcium/phosphorus or 3:1.
Iguana with the MBD Lizard Disease
(Lizard Calcium Deficiency) Caused by Poor Diet or a Lack of UVB Light
Source: West Esplanade Veterinary Clinic
There are one ore more causes of a calcium deficiency in lizards
- Soft upper or lower jaw
- Anorexia (low red blood cell count)
- Muscle twitches
- Swollen mid-section (long bone area) front or back legs
of Lizard MBD
A calcium deficiency in lizards is diagnosed with an X-Ray and a blood
test to detect the ratio of calcium to phosphorus.
A veterinarian will recommend methods for restoring calcium levels in
the blood including dietary change. In the case of Iguanas, increased
levels of UVB light for at least 1 to 2 hours.
Lizard Calcium Deficiency Prevention
To prevent future calcium related lizard diseases make sure a lizard
receives a balanced diet, exposure to UVB light (replace bulb every 6
months) and annual exams by a veterinarian.
Lizards are prone to abscess
development under the lower jaw, but it could appear anywhere on the
Lizard Abscess Symptoms:
Symptoms of this lizard disease include swelling beneath the lower
jaw. Other common locations include the torso, feet, and as
mentioned, the bottom jaw.
Diagnosis of a Lizard Abscess:
A bacterial culture of any surface mass can be taken and analyzed in a
lab. The lab report can indicate the cause of the problem such as
bacteria, whether is is mycrobacterial (chronic lizard skin infection
the surface and deep into the skin layers) or a Vitamin A deficiency.
Lizard Abscess Treatment:
A veterinarian can surgically remove any developing mass. After removal
the area where the abscess was removed will be cleaned. Antibiotics are
used to address any infections. The diet is corrected for dietary
Keep the lizard cage
as clean as possible. Feed a veterinarian recommended balanced diet to
avoid any of the lizard diseases.
Lizard Bladder Stones
If the ph balance of the urine has
excess urates, bladder stones can crystallize resulting in pain and
blockages. Bladder stones in lizards is caused by a dietary problem or
Lizard Bladder Stone Symptoms
Symptoms of lizard diseases due to bladder stones:
- Paralysis of the rear legs
- Runny nose
- Egg binding
- Poor appetite
Bladder Stone Treatment
A veterinarian will remove the stones and suggest dietary change to
reduce the urate levels in the urine.
Prevention of Bladder Stones in Lizards
With a balanced diet and access to clean water, bladder stones can be
Any of the digestive tract related
lizard diseases require a complete physical exam by a veterinarian.
Impaction or a blockage occurs when a lizard ingests a substrate
(material used on the bottom of lizard cage) such as sand. This is a
natural process called geophagy where reptiles look for nutrients such
as minerals by ingesting the material. Owners should avoid substrates
that lizards can consume including products such as calcium carbonate
sands (sands infused with calcium) that claim that they are 100%
digestible. According to a paper published by M.A. Mitchell, this type
of substrate results in stomach and pylorus (opening into the duodenum
in the stomach). The condition can also be caused by food that is too
large and dehydration.
X-Ray of Lizard Digestive System
Impaction Which Can Be the Cause of Gastrointestinal Lizard Diseases
Lizard Impaction Symptoms
Symptoms of Lizard Impaction Include
- Abdominal bruising
- Lethargic behavior
- Appearance of being bloated
- Pain is experienced when the veterinarian touches the lizard
- Overall loss of condition (appetite loss, muscle loss)
Isolate the lizard on a paper towel to avoid further ingestion of
substrate. Dice food into small pieces. If conditions do not
immediately improve, take the lizard to the veterinarian. A
veterinarian may recommend the use of mineral oil or a binding agency
to help ingested sand move through the digestive tract. If the
gastrointestinal tract has been perforated, then mineral oil cannot be
used. Surgery can also be used to remove any foreign object or sand if
other approaches fail to work.
Impaction Prevention in Lizards
To prevent lizard digestive system impaction, change the substrate to a
material that is either not loose or that cannot be ingested. When
providing food, dice into smaller pieces.
Some lizards are prone to periodontal disease including bearded
dragons, Asian water dragons, frilled dragons and old world chameleons.
Lizard Periodontal Disease Symptoms
Symptoms include inflammation on the lining in the mouth and swelling
along the jaw bones. Bones may have a green or black-brown
along the surface.
Lizard Periodontal Disease Diagnosis
A veterinarian will diagnose periodontal disease using X-Rays to
determine the amount of bone involvement. They are also used to
determine if the specific treatment approach is successful.
Lizard Periodontal Disease Treatment
Treatment starts by warming a Lizard to their high end temperature.
Fluid therapy is also provided to rehydrate the lizard if needed.
Antibiotics are then used to address any bacterial infections.
Success depends on how far the periodontal condition has advanced.
After treatment, lizards will need to continue use of a oral cleansing
Rare Lizard Diseases
- Mineralization of
Internal Organs (hypercalycemia): This disease
is due to an overdose of calcium. An expensive two week treatment
option is available. This disease can be fatal.
- Lizard Hypoglycemia (diabetes
mellitus): Hypoglycemia is low
blood sugar. It can be caused by a problem with the lizard's pancreas
or if the lizard is stressed. Like in humans, a veterinarian can treat
this disease with insulin.
Gastrointestinal Disease: Neoplasms (cancerous tumors)
in the digestive tract are rare. If a mass is discovered, and cannot be
identified, then a neoplasm should be considered as a possible cause.
Approaches used to treat cancerous tissue such as chemotherapy,
radiation therapy and surgery are all treatment options. They
have been successfully used in the treatment of cancerous lizard
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