"Common Skin Disorders Seen in Reptiles

"Common Skin Disorders Seen in Reptiles

Reptiles when kept in captivity are sometimes prone to contracting a variety of skin problems and diseases which is why good hygiene is essential. This means regularly cleaning out their environments and always making sure your pet has access to fresh, clean water. It's also crucial to remove any uneaten food which if left in the environment can increase the risk of infection as well as parasite infestation.

Below are 4 common skin disorders which many reptiles tend to contract if they are not kept in optimum conditions:


An abscess is a pus-filled sore which is very painful. The condition is normally caused by a bacterial infection and can occur in any species of reptile. However, an abscess may also be triggered by some some of traumatic injury as well as a bite wound from another reptile or animal, although the usual cause is bad environmental conditions.

You may notice some infected sores just under the skin which appear as small swellings or lumps. With this said there are other conditions which may have similar symptoms, which includes some parasitic infections, tumours and a haematoma caused by some type of trauma or severe bang.

If you notice any swellings or lumps on your pet's body, you should take them to the vet so a correct diagnosis can be made. If the abscess is small, it would need to be cut away so no regrowth can occur – something that does tend to happen. For a larger abscess, this would need to be lanced and then drained followed by the wound being thoroughly scraped out and treated with a topical ointment specifically formulated for use on reptiles. Vets will normally then prescribe a course of antibiotics to help clear up the condition completely.


This is a fungal infection that affects a reptiles' skin or sometimes their nails, and is a condition that can affect all species. In the majority of cases, the fungus enters into the skin via an injury in the form of an open cut, no matter how small it may be. To treat the condition, all dead, damaged and infected skin tissue has to be removed and the areas treated with some sort of antiseptic solution specifically formulated for use on reptiles.

Vets may also recommend a reptile be given an oral anti-fungal drug or an anti-fungal cream, both of which have proved very effective at treating the condition. They may also advise your pet be placed under an ultraviolet light which also offers many benefits when treating a reptile with a skin condition like Dermatophytosis.


This is a condition where a reptile fails to fully shed its skin or when the shedding is abnormal. Dysecdysis often occurs due to low humidity as well as stress. Other reasons for it happening include the following:

  • A decreased thyroid function
  • Skin parasites
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Infectious diseases
  • A lack of suitable abrasive surfaces for them to slough on

All of the above may be contributing factors to an abnormal shed and there are signs to look out for which includes your pet's eye caps or parts of your reptile's tail as well as their digits not having completely shed. The best way to deal with the problem is to very carefully apply a specifically formulated ointment their eye caps at least twice a day over a period of several days until all the skin has been successfully shed.

If you find that skin on their bodies will not shed, the best way to help your pet is to soak them in warm water (77 to 82°F -25 to 28°C) for a few hours and to then very gently pull the skin using a soft sponge. If you have access to a humidity chamber, this is by far the best way to help a reptile shed their old skin without injuring them.

How to Make a Humidity Chamber

You can make a humidity chamber using a 10-gallon aquarium by adding an under-tank heater to it. You would then need to place some wet bath towels in the tank. In order to increase the humidity within the aquarium, all you would have to do is place a light cloth over the top. However, you have to avoid too much heat and you can do this by creating some ventilation in the tank – by leaving a slight gap in one of the covers of the cloth.

However, it is far easier to prevent an abnormal shed than it is to treat it and the best way of doing this is to ensure your pet is free of disease and parasites. Their environment should be kept hygienic with the right humidity levels and your pet should have enough abrasive surfaces on which they can slough their skin.

Skin Parasites

You may find that a newly acquired reptile may carry a few parasites that live on their skin. In order to prevent an infestation, it is crucial to make a thorough examination of a new pet and place them in quarantine until you are satisfied they are in good condition and free of any parasites.

One of the biggest problems when it comes to parasites and one which affects all species of reptiles, are mites. If left untreated, a mite infestation will result in a loss of energy due the reptile suffering from anaemia. The signs to look out for are as follows:

  • Skin appears very coarse
  • Abnormal shedding

Parasitic mites are tiny, measuring less than 1.5mm long which makes them quite hard to spot. However, they usually congregate around a reptile's eyes, in the fold of skin around their necks and face as well as in any other indentation on their bodies.

Treating a reptile with mites is essential to their overall well being and health. If you think there is a mite problem, the way to confirm your suspicions is to place your pet on a sheet of white paper and then gently rub their skin. The mites will fall onto the paper so you can spot them. A good way to get rid of the mites, is to soak an infected reptile in water – this drowns the mites.

However, there are other very effective specifically formulated mite treatments for reptiles on the market. Once your pet has been treated, you would then need to clean out their environments and this includes throwing away any infected substrate, cage furniture, wood, branches and anything else that may still harbour any mites and which may re-infect your pet. You must make sure all food and their water containers are removed from their environments when treating it with an insecticide that's approved for use around reptiles.


Making sure a reptile is healthy both on the inside and out, means creating an environment that's suitable for them to live in. Their tanks, aquariums or enclosures need the correct ventilation, lighting requirements, substrate and hiding places that some species like to spend time in. Hygiene is the key to maintaining a reptile in optimum condition and certainly goes a long way in preventing skin conditions and disorders.

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