Respiratory Infections in Reptiles

PetMD Editorial
November 25, 2008
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Pneumonia

Pneumonia and most other respiratory infections in reptiles are caused by bacteria. In some cases, however, viruses, fungal infections, or parasites may be to blame. Treatment varies depending on the microorganism involved, so take your pet to an experienced reptile veterinarian for diagnosis if it begins to exhibit signs of a respiratory infection.

 

Symptoms and Types

Typical symptoms of a respiratory infection include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Mouth held open while breathing
  • Unusual wheezes, crackles, or other sounds while breathing
  • Discharge from the mouth and/or nose
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

In severe or untreated cases, bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause a potentially fatal condition called septicemia.

Causes

Respiratory infections are very common when reptiles are kept in dirty environments or do not have access to proper temperature gradients and/or humidity levels. Poor diet, parasitism, illness, and in turtles, a lack of vitamin A in the diet, can also play a role.

Diagnosis

A veterinarian will tentatively diagnose a respiratory infection based on an animal’s history, clinical signs, and physical exam. Determining the severity of a pet’s condition, which types of microorganisms are involved, and the appropriate treatment regimen may require blood work, X-rays, fecal exams, and bacterial sample taken from the reptile's respiratory tract.

Treatment

Antibiotics given by mouth, injection, or via inhalation are an essential part of treating bacterial respiratory tract infections. If parasites or fungi are involved, different medications will be prescribed. In all cases, an area within the terrarium should be heated to the upper end of the species’ normal temperature gradient and any husbandry issues addressed. Turtles also often require vitamin A injections before their condition can improve.

Living and Management

A well-functioning immune system is necessary if a reptile is to avoid infection with the bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses that it can come in contact with throughout its life. The combination of stress from improper diet, humidity levels or temperature gradients, and a dirty environment will often weaken and overwhelm a reptile’s immune system, which can lead to respiratory infections and other disorders. Therefore, consult your veterinarian as to a proper diet for your reptile and keep the reptile's environment clean and habitable.