Reptiles are one of the most distinctive families of animals, and they’re definitely a unique pet choice. Rather than the sprains, strains, cuts, and scrapes that are typical of cats and dogs, you’ll be dealing with an entirely new set of potential wildlife obstacles. And isn’t that what makes life interesting?
Keep reading for a better understanding of three of the most common skin (and scale) issues that you’re likely to face in reptile care.
A reptile’s skin health is highly indicative of its overall well-being and can be affected by myriad factors. Some are environmental circumstances, while others are more serious underlying ailments. Dysecdysis, known colloquially as improper or problem shedding, is a tell-tale sign that something isn’t quite right with your wildlife friend.
WHY IT HAPPENS
Dysecdysis is not a medical condition; it’s a symptom of one. There are two major categories responsible for irregular shedding patterns:
- Improper husbandry – This includes malnutrition, incorrect temperature or humidity, or improper handling of the animal-the basic care you provide for your pet.
- Underlying health issues – Bacterial diseases and illnesses can also cause the skin pattern of Dysecdysis, though improper husbandry can be a contributor to the development of these conditions.
WHAT TO DO
*Disclaimer: Always consult with your veterinarian before proceeding with at-home care of our reptile.
It’s essential to diagnose and treat the underlying condition if there is one in the reptile scales. More immediately, though, you should help your reptile properly shed its scaly skin. To do this:
- Soak them in a warm tub for about 30 minutes
- Place them in a wet pillowcase to let them rub off any newly loosened scaly skin
- Remove any large chunks of old skin with tweezers or by hand, as long as they detach easily
- Spray with Vetericyn’s antimicrobial solution to assist in the healing process
After attending to your animal’s urgent needs, you should check and adjust your husbandry practices to ensure an optimal environment for your reptilian friend whether it is a lizard, snake, turtle, or crocodile.
Cutaneous abscesses are small pockets of pus that can occur virtually anywhere on the reptile skin, as the body fights off invading bacteria and prevents infection.
WHY IT HAPPENS
These outer layer skin infections are more likely to occur in younger reptiles for a few reasons:
- A faster, more demanding growing process (like growing pains during puberty) which requires more specific husbandry that is often unfulfilled
- Their underdeveloped immune system makes it harder to fight off infection
- Increased aggression or stress due to poor acclimatization
Despite this increased risk for juvenile reptiles, abscesses and scale rot can occur at any stage of life for two primary (and sometimes interconnected) reasons:
- Poor husbandry – Again, this is probably the single most important factor in a reptile’s health. Malnutrition, a dirty or overly moist environment, and improper handling can result in immune suppression, increasing the risk of infection.
- Trauma – Any outer layer open wound is a potential breeding ground for infectious bacteria, including bites, scratches, or scrapes from cage mates or prey animals. They can also sustain mild trauma from bumping into the cage lid or furniture.
WHAT TO DO
After your veterinarian either removes the abscess or performs a surgical debridement to clean out the wound, they’ll provide follow-up care instructions for your snake species, turtle, gecko, or different species of reptile.
- Antibiotic therapy, which requires a diligent dispensing schedule
- Flushing and moisturizing the surgical site with an antimicrobial wound treatment
- Regularly cleaning their living environment to ensure optimal conditions and avoid bacterial infections
- Carefully monitoring the healing progress, including a follow-up appointment near completion of the treatment
These pesky little creatures live on your reptile’s texture skin and potentially cause harm to them.
Like a dog with fleas or a young child with lice, ectoparasites are usually more inconvenient than dangerous. They do, however, have the potential to cause more severe health problems for your scaly and leather friend.
WHY IT HAPPENS
Surprise: poor husbandry strikes again!
Ectoparasites love dirty, damp enclosures, which is why it’s so important to adhere to a regular cleaning schedule and maintain optimal atmospheric conditions. These pests also occur more commonly in small, overcrowded enclosures.
WHAT TO DO
Getting rid of your reptile’s mites is not as easy as washing your hair with a powerful lice shampoo. Effective treatment requires a dual-pronged attack to the leather skin:
- Environment – Wash and disinfect their cage, including vacuuming in the corners and scraping off any grime. Once it’s clean and dry, place several “No-Pest” strips inside and seal it tightly for at least three hours. The fumes should kill any remaining ectoparasites. Air the cage out with fans to remove any toxic vapors before reintroducing your reptile to their home.
- Animal – It’s slightly harder to treat the reptile itself because the harsh chemicals needed to sanitize the cage will also harm (or even kill) your pet. Place your reptile in a betadine bath to drown any mites. Afterward, apply Vetericyn’s topical antimicrobial spray to clean, soothe, and moisturize any mite bites.
If you possess a collection of reptilian friends that live together, you should always quarantine a newcomer in a separate cage for three to six months, to avoid spreading mites (and other illnesses) to their new housemates.
Common Skin Issues With Simple Solutions
For the most part, these three skin conditions have relatively easy fixes. At Vetericyn, we believe that as long as you maintain clean and appropriate living quarters, a well-balanced diet, and check up on your reptile pets regularly, your scaly soulmate should live a long and happy life.
Reviewed by Dan Richardson, Veterinarian
Dan Richardson has been a practicing veterinarian for over 10 years. He specializes in surgery and orthopedics. Dan is originally from rural western Nevada and attended the University of Idaho for undergraduate study and Oregon State University for Veterinary School. The Richardson Family enjoys camping and spending time on the water fishing, paddle boarding, or digging their feet in the sand somewhere warm.
- Pet Place. Dysecdysis – Shedding Problems. https://www.petplace.com/article/reptiles/pet-health/small-pet-health/reptile-small-pet-health/dysecdysis-shedding-problems/
- Reptiles Magazine. Diagnosing And Treating Dysecdysis aka Retained Shed. https://www.reptilesmagazine.com/diagnosing-and-treating-dysecdysis-aka-retained-shed/
- Veterinarian Information Network. Abscesses in Reptiles. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&catId=102919&id=9003821
- Reptiles Magazine. How to Recgonize and Treat Reptile Ectoparasites. https://www.reptilesmagazine.com/how-to-recognize-and-treat-reptile-ectoparasites/
- The Veterinary Nurse. Ectoparasites in captive reptiles. https://www.theveterinarynurse.com/review/article/ectoparasites-in-captive-reptiles
- Anapsid. Getting rid of reptile mites. http://www.anapsid.org/mites.html