Skin and Shell Infection in Reptiles

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Pet lizards, snakes, turtles, and tortoises are frequently diagnosed with infections of their skin and shells. If left untreated, these infections can cause permanent damage or spread into the animal’s blood stream, which is often fatal.


Skin and shell infections in reptiles have many different names depending on their location and characteristics:

  • Cavities containing pus in or under the skin are called abscesses.
  • Fluid-filled pockets within the skin are the hallmarks of blister disease.
  • If the blisters rupture or red/raw sores, which are slow to heal, develop, the disease is called scale rot.
  • The shells of turtles and tortoises affected with shell rot will often have soft or pitted areas that may lift away from the rest of the shell and reveal underlying bony structures.
  • Septicemic cutaneous ulcerative disease (SCUD) is a form of shell rot that also spreads into the blood stream and internal organs.

Foul-smelling fluid may sometimes drain from the infected areas. Severely affected reptiles are often lethargic and do not eat well.

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4 Diseases Your Pet Reptile Can Give You

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All pets have the potential of spreading zoonotic diseases, not just reptiles. These illnesses can be spread by bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites entering the mouth; they can also be spread through the air, or by a break on the skin. Infants, young children, pregnant women and the infirm or elderly are at greater risk of infection and should use extra caution when in contact with pet reptiles or their habitats.

Here are 4 zoonotic diseases that are frequently associated with reptiles.


It’s important to first note that good hygiene is the most effective way to prevent the spread of illness between your family and pets – whether they are dogs and cats or reptiles. Thorough hand washing with soap and water after handling your pet, or cleaning your pet habitats, is essential. Additionally, many experts recommend that homes with children under the age of five forgo keeping reptiles as pets to minimize the risk of zoonotic infections.

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What to Feed Lizards

Can Lizards Eat Fruits and Vegetables?

Lizards are omnivores, which means their diet consists of both animal and plant matter, including fruits and vegetables. However, some fruits and vegetables are more beneficial for lizards than others. There are even certain fruits and vegetables that can be toxic to lizards. Here are a few fruits and vegetables commonly given to lizards. Discuss if they are appropriate for your particular lizard (and in what quantity) with a knowledgeable reptile expert or veterinarian.

1. Apple

Cut it in small, bite-sized slices and remove the seeds, as they can be toxic to lizards.

2. Lettuce (Dark Green)

Avoid iceberg lettuce, as it has little to no nutritional value for lizards. Instead, you can offer dark green lettuces such as romaine, Boston, and red leaf lettuces.

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I was lecturing to a herp group a couple of weeks ago. Afterward, a couple of hardcore herpers with big collections approached and wanted to know the best antibiotic to use to treat really bad infections in their snakes. They had used Baytril, even using a higher dose than usually prescribed, but their animals weren’t getting better. When I asked them if they knew for a fact that they were treating a bacterial infection, I got one of those deer-in-the-headlight looks back from them both.

Bacteria, as a group, are just one of many causes of disease in herps. Fungi and viruses are two other common infectious agents that cause serious disease and, potentially, death. It is not uncommon for an ill herp to be affected by more than one pathogen at the same time. You may think you are treating a bacterial problem, only to find out that it is actually a serious viral infection that has secondary bacterial complications (a common occurrence in humans with the flu virus). For example, the patient has a viral disease that weakens the immune system and they get a secondary, severe bacterial pneumonia on top of it.

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