Date: 13/06/19
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Illnesses to watch out for in reptiles


It’s important to note that although you can’t directly prevent viruses from being picked up and developing in your reptile; to the best of your ability you can provide a stable environment that diminishes the possibilities of such illnesses.

This can be done through regularly cleaning your reptile’s vivarium, food bowls and making sure the temperature of the climate is right for the individual’s needs. Too much heat and this can cause burns which can become infected, too damp and bad bacteria is more likely to grow. It's also good practice to always wash your hands before and after handling any reptile, as we can tolerate a lot more than they can, you could be passing on illnesses and viruses, dormant to us (and vice versa).


Poxvirus – Linked to mostly tortoises and lizards among other reptiles the signs of this virus will include skin lesions all over the body but mostly on the reptile’s head.

Iridovirus – This can affect the reptile’s tissue in the liver, kidney and spleen. A DNA virus that may also cause anaemia if the virus attacks the reptile’s red blood cells.

Herpesvirus – Common signs of this virus include weakness, loss of appetite, discharge from the nasal passage, swelling in the eyelids and regurgitation. This particular illness is an enveloped DNA virus that can lead to pneumonia and neurological problems.

Flavivirus - This is an RNA virus that can be transmitted through infected insect consumption. This virus can affect reptiles causing liver disease, encephalitis, stomatitis and death.

Adenovirus – This illness is more commonly found in bearded dragons and king snakes. The virus will show in signs of weight loss, loss of appetite caused by higher numbers of liver enzymes. It can also cause lesions on the intestines and liver and if left untreated it will cause neurological diseases.


Metabolic bone disorder – This is an all too common problem with reptiles who sadly don’t receive the proper care and dietary requirements for their development. Tortoises and lizards are mostly at risk of this as they require supplements to help them grow such as calcium. Other causes can be a lack of UV light, lack of vitamin D or diets containing too much phosphorous.

Fungal infections – These can happen as a result of bacterial grown from living in damp conditions, for some reptiles this is the correct environment but that doesn’t mean to say it shouldn’t be monitored. The skin will become damp, weak and damaged. It’s a good idea to try an anti-fungal spray which is specially designed for reptiles or consult your specialist exotics vet.

External parasites – Mites are the most common ectoparasite that lives on the surface of the skin. They can mostly be found around the eyes and ears and hide in skin folds around joints. These can be seen as red or black dots; they can be hard to get rid of and cause irritation to the skin and stress in the reptile. They are mostly common in lizards and snakes.


Salmonella – This commonly known virus doesn’t just come from raw meat. This can spread from reptile to human if reptile faeces are accidentally ingested. This infection will cause headaches, fever, stomach cramps and diarrhoea and in some cases septicaemia.

Campylobacteriosis – A common bacterial infection in humans that can cause symptoms of abdominal pain, fever and diarrhoea. This can be contaminated through food or water that has been in contact with the reptile. This infection may not appear straight away however, it can build up for 2-5 days before symptoms start to occur.

Botulism – A very serious illness caused by the release of toxins from bacteria found in soil and mud. This can cause paralysis and even death in some cases, this is more dangerous for younger children and babies as they have not yet developed the protection needed to fight off this illness. Reptiles that are contaminated are usually ones that are low slung close the substrate their living on as well as some aquatic reptiles like turtles.

Leptospirosis – This illness is common in all pets, cats, dogs and reptiles. It’s carried through bacteria in the urine and can come into contact with humans through the mouth and eyes as well as small cuts too. These symptoms are flu-like with a sever headache that will last several days.


If you see signs of any of the above, or other behavioural or physical differences, go straight to your specialist exotics vet. It is unlikely you will be able to make a fully comprehensive evaluation of the reptile’s condition at home, so it’s always best to go to your vet for advice. Not only will they be able to diagnose a condition in your pet, they will also be able to administer medication or arrange an operation or scan that may help identify what’s wrong with your reptile.


For hefty vet bills it’s a good idea to get your pet insured. Just like with a cat or dog we believe that pet reptiles should be allowed the same amount of cover if something went wrong. We offer up to £5,000 cover for vet bills, as well as complimentary treatment among other options, as well as extras which you can opt out of if they don’t suit your needs. This makes the cover completed tailored to your reptile and you. To get your quote click here or give us a call on 01444 708840.
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