Lizard Illnesses You Can Diagnose With the Naked Eye

The best way to prevent illness of your lizard pets is to take proper care of them. Even so, living space, climate, and nourishment of exotic lizards in the terrarium can never completely simulate the conditions of living free in the wild.

Lizard with Parasites

Mites (Ophionyssus)

Symptoms: Gray-white feces of the parasites on the skin of the lizard, especially around the eye area. Mites themselves will often be seen later as barely pinhead sized, black, moving life forms. The parasites live on the blood of their host and prefer to bite the softer parts of the skin under the scales. Consequences: general weakness and stress from the constant itching. Perforations of the skin may lead to molting problems, and even, in the case of bad mite infestation, to skin necrosis and death. Treatment: If the mite infestation is already present at the time of purchase, bathe the lizard in its transport bag in a 0.2 percent Neguvon solution (0.04 ounces per quart [2 g/L]). The animal should then remain in the well-dampened bag (from which water is, however, evaporating) for several hours.

If mites appear on the animals in your terrarium, you must not only treat the lizards in the manner described above but the terrarium as well. Spray the cage and the decorations with a 0.2 percent solution of Neguvon. Use as fine a spray on the spray bottle as possible. Be particularly thorough, because mites often conceal themselves in the decorations. Treatment of both the lizards and the terrarium must be repeated after two weeks. You can also fight mites with a Vapona Insect Strip, which is hung in the terrarium. The Vapona strip is cut to deliver the correct amount of vapor as follows: 1/4 inch (6.4 mm) of the narrow edge of the strip is cut for each 10 cubic feet (.28 m^3) of cage volume. It is suspended from the top of the cage so that the lizard(s) cannot reach it. A hanger made from a bent paper clip works will for securing the strip to the roof of the cage. The strip is left in the terrarium for two to four days.

Caution: (1) Do not handle the strip with your bare hands; use rubber or plastic gloves, or place your hand inside a plastic bag and dispose of your protective hand coverings after they have been in contact with the pest strip. A drawback to this method is that all food insects will be killed too. (2) Geckos with large skin wounds should not be treated with Neguvon because many species will not tolerate this preparation.

Ticks (Ixodidae Family)

Symptoms: Ticks bite the host animal, hold fast, and suck blood. The highly flattened arthropods, up to 0.12 inches (3 mm) in size, attach themselves firmly under the scales, preferring the soft skin parts between the shoulder and the hip joints.

Treatment: The parasites should not be pulled out because the mouth parts are usually left behind and can lead to infection. Treat with a 0.2 percent Neguvon solution as for mites. If the lizard is very badly infested, Neguvon should not be used because the presence of many perforations of the skin makes poisoning a danger. In that case, lubricate the lizard with mineral oil. This treatment is lengthy and messy, so the animal must be kept in a quarantine terrarium while it is being treated. Hanging a Vapona Insect Strip can also help with a bad tick infestation.

External Wounds

Symptoms: Bite wounds. Broken-off tail. Crushed toes.

Treatment: Care for a damp wound with antibiotic powder; if the edge becomes hard, apply antibiotic cream. Do not use adhesive tape or bandages. Wounded lizards should be kept in as sterile a terrarium as possible. Do not place an injured lizard in a sand or earth-filled terrarium because particles of soil may enter the moist open wounds.

Molting Problems

Faults in maintenance, disturbance of general health, or an attack of external parasites can produce molting difficulties, as can vitamin deficiencies. Abnormally frequent shedding carries the danger of exhaustion; the cause may be an over-administration of vitamin preparations.

Treatment: Check the terrarium conditions, and especially the climate controls. Increase or decrease the vitamin dosage according to the problem.

Eyelid Swelling

Vitamin A deficiency and/or infections of the eye or the area around the eyelids can result in eyelid swelling.

Treatment: If there are UV lights installed, check their intensity. Wash sticky eyes with sterile eyedrops. Instill 1 drop of sterile ophthalmic solution into the eye four times daily. Consult your veterinarian on the advisability of administering vitamin and/or antibiotic drops orally.

Convulsive Trembling

Symptoms: In the early stages, only insignificant vibration is noticeable. In the middle stages, the limbs and the tail tremble if the lizard feels itself disturbed. This can be the case if you merely bump into the terrarium without actually injuring the animal. Don't confuse the cramping movements of the extremities with the “waving” of the agamas during courtship. To be certain, take the animal in your hand. If the lizard is really suffering from convulsive trembling, you will feel the animal's body vibrating. In advanced convulsive trembling, the lizard lies flat on the ground, has long since refused nourishment, and when turned on its back just lies there, without being able to turn again. In such circumstances the lizard cannot, as a rule, be healed. Convulsive trembling is most often observed in iguanas.

Treatment: Administration of vitamin B is successful only if you use high doses and intervene in time. The veterinarian will inject thiamine hydrochloride intramuscularly, 25 to 100 mg per 2 pounds (25 to 100 mg/kg) of body weight, into the extremities daily for three to five days. During this time he can also alternate between the daily injection and the same dosage of thiamine tablets. After that, thiamine tablets, 100 mg per 2 pounds (100 mg/kg) of body weight, are alternated with a multivitamin preparation, 0.004 ounces per 2 pounds (1 ml/kg) of body weight, daily until complete disappearance of symptoms.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Insufficient deposit of calcium in the skeleton caused by too little calcium or vitamin D or too much phosphorus in the diet, too little UV irradiation; wastefully accelerated growth periods induced by excessively high temperatures can produce the illness. Usually not all the animals in a group display rachitic deficiencies; therefore it can be caused by disturbances in the particular lizard that is ailing.

Symptoms: Curvature or swelling of the spine, the limbs, and the tail, as well as deformities of the jaw. Appears most often in the growth phase.

Treatment: Check for the possible causes listed above. Massive administration of vitamin D is not advisable, because it is easy to overdose. A multivitamin preparation is helpful. Vionate, a supplement that is readily available and acceptable to most lizards, can be lightly dusted on fruit and vegetables before feeding them to herbivorous lizards. For lizards that are insectivorous, lightly dust on crickets or other feed insects.

Jaw Suppuration, Mouthrot

Following traumatic injury or chronic malnutrition, the mouth of some lizards may become inflamed and/or infected.

Symptoms: White to pinkish-gray patches, small hemorrhages, loose teeth, and sometimes a foul-smelling breath odor are characteristic. Affected lizards will refuse to feed and excessive mucus may be seen on the lips, which may be held slightly open.

Treatment: Disinfect with 3% hydrogen peroxide, then paint the affected tissue with full-strength Betadine Solution (do not use Beta-dine-Scrub). Often systemic antibiotics must be used. Ideally, your veterinarian should obtain a specimen of mucus or secretion from your lizard's mouth so that the exact type of bacteria and its sensitivity to specific antibiotics can be ascertained. Multivitamin drops may be of value, but you must not overdose them. All manipulations of the jaw must be performed with special care because a jaw weakened by chronic mouthrot may fracture and the lizard can no longer accept its usual nourishment by itself.

Skin Necrosis

This ailment is usually caused by bacterial infections.

Symptoms: Abscesses (pus-filled places) in the skin.

Treatment: The veterinarian lances the abscess and disinfects the wound with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution. Antibiotic salve or powder is applied. If there is no improvement after a week, the antibiotic preparation must be changed. Food compounds must be checked to be sure they are of high quality. Make sure vitamin levels and UV lighting are sufficient and that the cage hygiene is adequate.


Infection caused by bacteria, which is promoted by constantly overheating the terrarium and not lowering the temperature at night. Too cool a cage temperature also can stress lizards and make them more susceptible to infection.

Symptoms: Considerably decreased activity, bubbles at the nostrils, foamy mucus in the mouth, sneezing, not to be confused with sneezing of the iguana, which secretes salt from the nasal salt glands, jerky opening and closing of the mouth, usually combined with rattling breath sounds.

Treatment: A six- to seven-day course of antibiotic or sulfa therapy. Terramycin, 6 to 10 mg per 2 pounds (6-10 mg/kg) of body weight by mouth divided into two doses per day for six days. Alternatively, Trimethroprim-sulfa at an intramuscular dose of 0.1 cc per 2 pounds (0.1 cc/kg) of the 24% suspension given daily for six days is usually effective. In addition a daily dose of multivitamins is recommended. To avoid recurrence of the infection, the medication should be continued until five days after the complete disappearance of symptoms. If the medication does not prove successful during the specified time period, the microbes are resistant to the drug and the medication must be changed.

Inflammation of the Intestinal Tract

Symptoms: Considerably decreased activity, most of all decreased appetite. Runny, foul-smelling feces — though in monitor lizards this is normal — and, occasionally, a reddened cloaca.

Treatment: Through previous fecal examinations the possibility of worms and amoebic dysentery should be ruled out. If there has been no fecal examination, treatment must be begun at once because otherwise valuable time may be lost. Therapy is the same as for lung inflammation.

Skin Fungi

A variety of fungi, whose spread is promoted by unfavorable climatic conditions (mostly too low a temperature and too high a humidity), produce this illness.

Symptoms: Various large, flat skin changes without the development of pus.

Treatment: Difficult, since the fungus is already widespread in the deeper tissue layers before it becomes visible on the skin. Besides, many fungi are similar in appearance so that often the proper medication will not be found on the first attempt. Conofite is a fungicidal preparation that can be used with success on reptiles. It may take about two weeks for any reaction to the medication to occur. Therefore do not change the medication any sooner.

Intestinal Prolapse

Only rarely seen in lizards. The cause is not always clearly ascertainable. It is often induced by hard, dry feces, which are expelled with tremendous pushing. Intestinal parasites may also cause an intestinal prolapse.

Symptoms: Noticeable changes in the cloaca.

Treatment: If you discover the prolapse early enough, the veterinarian can usually, after careful cleansing with Betadine solution, massage the extruded portion of the intestine back again using antibiotic ointment or cream. An older prolapse, which has already begun to show inflammatory changes, will be massaged back with an antibiotic ointment or cream, which is applied daily. To give the unsettled intestine segment support, the cloaca is closed with a ball of cotton and taped with a small length of adhesive tape. The animal receives no food for two weeks so that the intestine will remain unstressed.


The causes are not clearly established. Disturbances during the egg-laying process can have egg-laying trouble as a consequence.

Symptoms: Females with misshapen, swollen bodies. Eggs that can be clearly discerned as bumps in the body cavity or can be felt. (Though with geckos the eggs are always visible.) Futile pressing against previously dug holes.

Treatment: Injection with the labor-inducing drug oxytocin, 1.5 to 2.0 I.U. (international units) per 4 ounces (1.5-20 I.U./ 100 gm) of body weight intramuscularly. If there is no improvement, the eggs must be removed by surgical intervention. Eggs that the lizard can't lay decay in the womb; the animal will die.

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