8 Common Pet Reptile Illnesses

This article will cover eight common illnesses found in pet reptiles, their symptoms, and how to prevent and treat them.

Jun 29, 2023By Kristen Chandler
common pet reptile illnesses

Reptiles are becoming increasingly popular as pets. These included bearded dragons, lizards, snakes, and turtles. And just as your dog or cat can get sick, so can your pet reptile! However, some reptile illnesses have hard-to-spot symptoms. What’s worse is some reptile illnesses can be transferred to humans.

It is essential to know your reptile species very well, so you know what behaviors are normal for them. It is also crucial to handle your reptile carefully. Always wash your hands after handling them and keep reptiles out of areas where food is consumed.

8. Botulism


Botulism is a prevalent illness that reptiles often carry. It is caused from a toxin released by the Clostridium bacterium. What’s bad is that it rarely causes any harm to the reptile but can be very dangerous for people, especially young children.

Botulism can cause paralysis and can even be fatal. However, most people have immunity to the toxin that causes botulism. Babies, younger children, and immunocompromised people are the most at risk for catching this disease.

7. Salmonella


Salmonella is another common germ carried by reptiles. Like botulism, it rarely affects the carrier but can make a person very sick. Reptiles usually carry salmonella in their digestive tract.

People can catch salmonella from handling reptiles, touching their contaminated feces, or touching water that may be contaminated. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning in humans include diarrhea, fever, headache, and stomach cramps.

6. Poxvirus


Poxviruses are viral infections most commonly found in lizards and tortoises. The main symptom of reptilian poxvirus is grayish-white lesions covering the reptile's skin, particularly its head. This condition is usually not fatal in reptiles, but the lesions may remain, leaving them permanently disfigured.

5. Adenovirus


Adenoviruses are most common among bearded dragons and king snakes. The virus affects the reptile's GI tract and liver. It is spread through feces, orally, and transmitted by a mother to the offspring. Some reptiles can carry the adenovirus but never get sick. However, once it is contracted, the reptile will likely carry the virus, and spread it for the rest of its life.

Symptoms include diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, weakness of the legs, bacterial and parasitic infections that won’t clear up. There is no vaccine for reptilian adenovirus, but symptoms can be treated with fluids, anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, and antiviral medications. If not treated, adenovirus can cause neurological deficiencies and death.

4. Metabolic Bone Disorders


Metabolic bone disorders are common in reptiles such as lizards and tortoises that don't receive the right nutrition, including calcium supplements, to help them grow. Diets high in phosphorus, lacking Vitamin D, and lacking UV lighting can also cause metabolic bone disorders. Reptiles who only eat insects or plants are more likely to develop this condition because they're not receiving all the nutrients and vitamins they need.

Metabolic bone disorders can cause turtle shells to go soft. It can also cause bowed legs and other deformities, including spinal fractures in your reptile. To help prevent it from getting a metabolic bone disorder, ensure they are getting a diet plentiful in calcium and Vitamin D. Also, installing proper UV lighting in their tank can help.

3. Mites


Mites are a common parasite often found on the surface of a reptile's skin. They hide in the skin folds but are visible around the eyes and ears. They may be either black or red dots. Lizards and snakes are the reptiles that usually get infected by these parasites. Mites can be hard to eliminate in reptiles because they can cause severe skin irritation and stress. The best way to treat mites is to quarantine the infected pet, clean their cage thoroughly, and give them a mite treatment solution prescribed by your vet.

2. Stomatitis (Mouth Rot)


Also known as mouth rot, stomatitis occurs when a reptile's immune system cannot regulate the bacteria in its mouth. Mouth sores will develop, and tissue infections can occur as well. The oral tissue will generally appear red and inflamed, but the tissue can turn black if not appropriately treated.

Stomatitis is often caused by poor diet and improper humidity and temperature levels in their habitat. Ensure your reptile is appropriately nourished and maintain the humidity and temperature in their tanks. If they contract stomatitis and you catch it early, it can be treated with antibiotics. Severe cases may require surgery.

1. Ear Infections


You may not believe reptiles can get ear infections, but they can! They are especially common among turtles. Symptoms include a bulging eardrum, open mouth pain, and pus pockets around the ears. Turtles may also display sensitivity toward their ears or shake their head frequently.

To prevent ear infections in turtles, clean their habitat regularly and maintain the humidity and temperature levels. You should also ensure they get plenty of Vitamin A in their diet.

Kristen Chandler
By Kristen Chandler

Kristen is a content writer, dog lover, and a mom to 3 teenagers and a feisty Schnoodle named Sam. Sam loves barking, running, and spending time with his family. However, he isn't a fan of FedEx and UPS trucks! Kristen likes spending time with her family, rooting for kids in all their activities, reading, and listening to true crime podcasts.