Molesey Vets’ guide to parasitic worms in reptiles
February 21, 2022
Did you know that worms are common reptile parasites? Molesey Vets’ team are sharing this guide on worms to help reptile owners in Surrey understand what to look out for and the problems these parasites can cause.
Reptile Parasites: Worms
Ascaris species, Strongyloides species and Kalicephalus (hookworm) species – Roundworms mostly affect lizards however snakes are also prone to hookworm infestations, which cause lesions after entering via the skin. Often undetectable in small numbers, larger burdens can cause your reptile to lose their appetite and lose weight, have difficulties breathing, and get sores on their skin or mouth.
Pinworms often cause no outward signs even in large numbers. They are extremely common in most pet reptile species but especially in leopard geckos, bearded dragons, and tortoises. If your pet’s faeces contain a low number of pinworm eggs, this may be seen as normal. However, a reptile vet will assess worm levels in conjunction with your pet’s overall health. Large pinworm burdens that cause your reptile to have an upset stomach and a loss of appetite and weight will require treatment.
Exposure to tapeworms is rare for reptiles living in captivity, however, it can occur. The lifecycle of a tapeworm means it must spend time within an ‘intermediate host’ i.e. a flea, mouse, rat, or even a cow, before it can infect a new target host, so it is still important to be vigilant. Tapeworm infection comes from ingesting food or water contaminated with tapeworm eggs or larvae. You may notice small moving segments of the worm in your pet’s faeces, as well as weight loss. Mild infections don’t tend to cause physical symptoms.
Flukes a.k.a. trematodes
Flukes are very uncommon in captive-bred reptiles. They mostly live in the intestines of reptiles but in some species such as turtles, flukes can travel to other organ systems such as the lungs, liver, and kidneys. The severity of health problems caused by flukes depends on the location of them/their eggs but can be listlessness, appetite loss, weight loss, shortness of breath, and mouth gaping.
Preventing worm problems
Our Head Vet Darren Partridge explains that unlike cats and dogs, it is not recommended to routinely worm pet reptiles. Most worms do not pose serious threats to reptiles, so treatment is given when there is a specific need. In cases where symptoms are severe, the reptile may need supportive care, especially if they are suffering from appetite loss or an upset stomach.
The best way to protect your pet reptile from worms is to reduce their risk of exposure to parasites by practicing good hygiene. Darren advises reptile owners to keep their pet’s environment hygienically clean and wash hands after handling reptiles, and between handling different species. Owners are very unlikely to contract worms from reptiles, but practicing good hygiene is always wise.
More ways to reduce the risk of exposure to reptile parasites
- Put bedding of transported pets in the freezer overnight – this should kill off most parasites
- Quarantine and screen new reptiles for parasites before mixing them
- Get a faecal test done on your reptiles annually to check for worms
If you have any advice on caring for pet reptiles, you can help other reptile owners in Surrey by sharing it on our Facebook page.