Like any pet, it can be hard to tell if your pet reptile is in pain or experiencing any health issues. Reptiles and other pets cannot communicate with us when they are having these issues and oftentimes display the opposite behavior than we would expect. Reptiles can become reclusive and avoid contact with humans when they are sick. Also, some disease symptoms can be hard to notice, and misdiagnosing can be dangerous. If you are ever unsure, a trip to the vet is always a good start.
Please note that reptiles can pass on some very dangerous diseases to humans, especially those with compromised immune systems. With that children under the age of five, pregnant women, elderly adults, people with cancer, people with HIV/AIDS, and people with a CD4 count of less than 200 should avoid handling reptiles in any capacity.
Precautions and best practices
For the rest of the population, you should still take the following precautions when handling and owning reptiles. Treat all reptiles as though they are known to be contaminated with any of the bacterias or viruses mentioned in this article. Always wash your hands with hot, soapy water after touching a reptile, reptile tank, equipment, or reptile food and feces. Keep reptiles out of the kitchen or any area where food is prepared or eaten.
It is best practice to keep your pet reptile confined to their tank whenever possible. However, if you let your reptile out, make sure to wash any areas your reptile comes into contact with. You should also have a dedicated basin for any reptile bathing, never use a bare sink or bathtub. Always wear gloves when cleaning tanks or equipment.
While it may be tempting to love on your pet reptile, like you do with your other furry pets, you should avoid any contact with your mouth. Do not eat, drink, or smoke when handling your reptile.
Make sure to follow veterinary advice about the feeding and care of your reptile. Any kind of stress to your pet reptile can cause him to shed Salmonella and other pathogens. Also, a healthy diet and lifestyle the best way to avoid any other illnesses and keep your reptile as happy as they deserve to be!
Common Viruses in Pet Reptiles
- Herpesvirus – look for weakness, loss of appetite, discharge from the nasal passage, swollen/swelling eyelids, and regurgitation of food intake. This DNA virus can cause pneumonia and neurological problems in left untreated.
- Adenovirus – commonly seen in bearded dragons and king snakes. Initial symptoms are weight loss and loss of appetite. What you cannot see is an influx in liver enzymes, which cause the visible symptoms and can lead to lesions in the intestines and liver and eventually cause neurological diseases.
- Iridovirus – this illness affects kidney, liver, and spleen tissue. Another DNA virus that can lead to anemia and attack red blood cells if untreated.
- Flavivirus – an RNA virus that is transmitted by insects. It can cause liver disease, encephalitis, stomatitis, and even death.
- Poxvirus – common in tortoises and lizards. Symptoms include skin lesions on the head and body of the reptile.
Common Health Problems of Pet Reptiles
- Metabolic bone disorder – this is an illness seen in reptiles who don’t receive the proper dietary requirements or care for their development. It is especially common in tortoises and lizards as they require supplements like calcium to assist with their growth. It can also be due to a lack of UV light or vitamin D and a diet with too much phosphorous.
- Fungal infections – damp conditions can lead to bacteria growth which can lead to these types of infections. Fungal infections can cause the skin to become damp, weak, and damaged. There are specially designed anti-fungal sprays that can be used to prevent fungal infections. Make sure that you check with your vet before using any of these products.
- External parasites – mites are the most common type of parasite seen in reptiles. These parasites live on the surface of the skin, typically surrounding the eyes and ears, however, they can sometimes hide in skin folds. They appear as red or black dots and can be difficult to treat, and can cause irritation which is understandably very annoying and can cause stress to your reptile.
Pet Reptile to Human Transmitted Diseases
- Salmonella – while this virus is commonly associated with raw meat, it can also be spread from reptile to humans by ingestion of reptile feces. Salmonella symptoms are headaches, fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea and in some cases sepsis.
- Botulism – this illness is caused by toxins found in mud or dirt being released into the body. It is especially dangerous to young children, babies, or people with autoimmune diseases. It can cause paralysis and even death in rare cases. Reptiles who are infected are generally smaller or aquatic reptiles like turtles.
- Leptospirosis – this ailment is not restricted to only reptiles, it can also be found in almost pets, including cats, dogs, and reptiles. Pet urine carries this bacteria and is transmitted to humans when it comes into contact with the mouth, eyes, or any small cuts. Symptoms are similar to flu symptoms and can cause a severe headache that lasts several days.