Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention of Lizard Diseases

Lizard diseases are not common, but can be caused by problems such as housing a lizard at the wrong temperature, dietary or nutrition issues such as under or over supplementation, or genetics.

Directory of Lizard Diseases

Lizard Health

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
  • 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 moist
  • 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
Veterinary Tests for Lizard Diseases

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.

Lizards and Salmonella

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 reptile 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.

Lizard Diarrhea

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 usually used.

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.
Lizard 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 below 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 include:
    • Sneezing
    • Lethargy
    • 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 the basking area. As mentioned if you do               not see improvement in one to two days, see the advice of a veterinarian.

Lizard Endoparasites:

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 parasitics include:
    • Roundworms
    • Pinworms
    • Nematodes
    • Tapeworms
    • Parasitic Protozoans
          Symptoms of Lizard Endoparasites

          If there are an abnormal level of endoparasites, symptoms can include:
  • dehydration
  • anemia
  • overall poor health (appetite loss, muscle loss)
  • diarrhea
  • regurgitation         
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 exact dose needed, and length of treatment.  Prescription products vary by type of parasite.

Lizard Ectoparasites (Lizard Mites and Ticks):

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.

lizard diseases mites
Mites area one of the most common Lizard Diseases

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 directions.  These 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 the mites.

For ticks, they are removed in the same manner that they are removed from people. A product called Sevin Powder is helpful in removing embedded mouth parts.  Sevin is dusted first on the tick, and then the tick is removed.  Use tweezers to remove the 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.

Lizard Gout
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 balanced lizard diet.

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.

lizard disease mbd
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 including:
Lizard MBD Symptoms:
  • Soft upper or lower jaw
  • Anorexia (low red blood cell count)
  • Muscle twitches
  • Swollen mid-section (long bone area) front or back legs
Diagnosis 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.

MBD Treatment

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.

Lizard Abscess

Lizards are prone to abscess development under the lower jaw, but it could appear anywhere on the body.

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 on 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 deficiency.

Abscess Prevention

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 dehydration.

Lizard Bladder Stone Symptoms

Symptoms of lizard diseases due to bladder stones:
  • Paralysis of the rear legs
  • Weakness
  • Constipation
  • Runny nose
  • Egg binding
  • Poor appetite
Lizard 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 prevented.

Lizard Impaction

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.

lizard impaction
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)
Lizard Impaction Treatment

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.

Periodontal Disease

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 discoloration 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 product.

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.

  • Neoplastic 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 diseases.

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References:

UC Davis VMTH

West Esplanade Veterinary Clinic

Gastroenterology of Lizards: From Anatomy to Clinical Medicine
M.A. Mitchell
School of Veterinary Medicine
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, USA

Management of Periodontal Disease in Lizards
S.J. Stahl
Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services, Vienna, VA, USA

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