Digestive Disorders in Reptiles

Digestive Disorders in Reptiles

Health & Safety

Over recent years, keeping reptiles as pets has increased in popularity with more and more people showing an interest in sharing their lives and their homes with some pretty exotic species. However, not all reptiles are that easy to care for with some of them needing specific environments and specialist food which can work out quite expensive. If you are keen to know more about how to look after a reptile correctly, you also need to know about the illnesses and diseases that commonly affect them, some of which could be due to them not getting the right amount of light and the correct food.

A reptiles' digestive system can be upset by a variety of things in a variety of ways which includes them catching viral infections, protozoal infections, bacterial infections and parasitic infestations. Below are some of the more common digestive disorders found in reptiles some of which are hard to treat if not caught early enough.


Adenoviruses in reptiles can cause severe liver damage as well as gastrointestinal diseases. They are conditions which often affect certain species of snake and this includes Ball pythons and rat snakes to name but two. Lizards like the Bearded Dragon and Jackson's chameleons can also be affected with the adenovirus being transmitted from reptile to reptile through contaminated animal droppings which reptiles touch with their mouths.

The signs to watch out for are more often seen in young Bearded dragons although adults too can be affected albeit to a lesser extent. If you notice your pet is lethargic, weak and has lost weight as well as suffering from diarrhea, the chances are they are suffering from the condition and if not treated as soon as possible, it could prove fatal.

Often the signs seen in Bearded Dragons are very similar to a condition called coccidia as well as some nutritional disorders which is why it's so important to have a correct diagnosis made by a qualified vet before treating your pet. The normal test would be a liver biopsy and if your pet survives, they would need to be quarantined for a minimum of three months. Any reptile that's suffered from the condition should not be sold or traded either.

Treatment is Essential

The only way to treat adenoviruses is to offer as much supportive care as possible to a reptile suffering from the condition. This includes administering fluids and antibiotics for any secondary infections that may be taking hold. Reptiles with the condition would need to be force-fed to increase their chances of survival.

Infectious Stomatitis

Infectious stomatitis is often seen in turtles, lizards and snakes and is an inflammation of mucous tissue that lines the mouth. There are early signs which are quite noticeable which includes very small purple/red spots in a reptile's mouth. As the condition progressively gets worse, firm, dry and diseased tissue starts to form along the tooth row and if very severe cases, this infection can spread into the bony structures found in a reptile's mouth.

The culprits for the infection are more often than not the bacteria that is commonly found in a reptile's mouth, and if the condition remains untreated, this leads to a respiratory or gastrointestinal infections developing.

Treatment for Infectious Stomatitis

The most effective treatment for the conditions involves removing all dead, damaged and infected tissue from any of the wounds so that healthy tissue is exposed. This allows the wound to heal correctly but it would need to be cleaned and treated with antiseptics and/or antibiotics at the same time. On top of this, a reptile suffering with the condition would need to be treated with general antibiotics and be given a lot of supportive therapy for them to make a full recovery.

In very severe cases, surgery may be required and this is especially true where the healing is too slow or the growth if very inflamed. It's also crucial for a reptile suffering with the condition to be given vitamin supplements and more especially vitamins A and C during the recovery period.

Intestinal Parasites

Reptiles when kept in closed environments often suffer from heavy parasite infestations. Many of the more common internal parasites that affect reptiles can live an entire life cycle on the same host, laying their eggs in the host's intestines which are then passed out in their droppings only to then reinfect the host again.

Internal parasites can multiply at an alarming rate with poor hygiene often being a contributing factor. All reptiles with a heavy parasite burden need to be treated as soon as possible and their environment cleaned thoroughly to get rid of anything that might cause them to be re-infected.

Lizards can suffer with roundworm and if the infection is severe, it can lead to painful stomach ulcers. There are a number of snakes that can be infected with hookworms which live in their upper gastrointestinal tracts and which cause nasty wounds where they attach themselves to the tissue. Another problem related to a hookworm infestation is in the large mineral deposits they leave which can cause an intestinal obstructions.

Many reptiles can also be infected with roundworms called ascarids and if a snake has a heavy burden of them, they will regurgitate partially digested food or will show very little appetite. Again, these worms leave mineral deposits in the reptiles gastrointestinal tracts which cause painful wounds. These wounds then become inflamed and infected, filling with pus which if left untreated will eventually make holes in the reptile's intestinal wall. A thorough and close examination of a reptiles droppings usually reveals evidence of a worm burden should there be one. Treatment is essential using prescribed products specific to the species.

Protozoal Diseases

Protozoa organisms can affect many animals and reptiles. They are a single-cell organism that if left to take hold can prove fatal. Two of the most common found in reptiles are as follows:

Entamoeba Invadens

Entamoeba invadens is one of the most serious protozoon diseases to affect reptiles. Signs of the condition are a loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea and if a reptile is not treated quickly death usually follows. This particular protozoan disease can spread quickly in enclosures where a lot of snakes are kept. However, reptiles that eat plants seem to be less susceptible to the disease than meat eating ones, but with this said, some reptiles may not be affected by the disease, but they could still be carriers. This includes box turtles and garter snakes amongst others.

Reptiles that appear to be resistant to entamoeba invadens include Eastern king snakes and the majority of turtles, bar box turtles. However, reptiles which are highly susceptible include most species of boas.

Treatment for Entamoeba Invadens

There is an effective antiprotozoal drug which most vets prescribe for a reptile suffering from the disease. However, any reptile with the condition would need to be kept in isolation and a strict hygiene routine put in place due to the fact the disease may be passed on to humans and therefore should never be taken too lightly.


Cryptosporidiosis is a highly infectious condition that's caused by a protozoa of the Cryptosporidium species. Signs a reptile may be suffering from the condition include severe weight loss, regurgitating food and lethargy. A vet can usually feel if there is a problem when examining a snake but an X-ray will confirm their suspicions, although an endoscope examination will do so as well.

A lot of lizards including chameleons, and Savannah monitor lizards can be affected with this disease which attacks their intestines. Vets usually take samples of the reptiles droppings in order to determine if they are suffering from cryptosporidium.

Treatments for Cryptosporidium

Unfortunately there are no consistently effective treatments for the condition although intensive supportive care of an affected reptile often proves to stabilise the condition. This supportive care has been seen to help prolong the life of a reptile that is suffering from the condition.


Deciding to keep any pet is a big decision that often requires a long-term commitment. Keeping exotic pets like reptiles, does require a certain amount of specialist knowledge when it comes to setting up the correct environment for them and the same can be said for what to feed them so they remain healthy and fit. Learning about the different diseases and disorders may affect your pet, means being able to catch a health problem early which naturally means the right veterinary treatment should do the trick and get them back to full health sooner rather than later.



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