Reptile Worms & Parasites
The best way to protect your reptile is to reduce their chance of exposure to parasites in the first place.
As reptiles are rarely made unwell by a worm burden, unless there is a specific reason to do so, routine worming is not usually recommended in pet reptiles. Instead, the best way to protect your reptile is to reduce their chance of exposure to parasites in the first place.
The main way to protect your reptile is with good husbandry. This includes keeping the cage or environment clean and washing your hands between handling separate reptiles. If you are worried about parasites being transported in on bedding, putting bedding the freezer overnight can kill off most parasites. It is also worth considering screening any introduced reptiles for parasites before mixing them with any current residents, and getting a faecal test on your reptiles done once a year to screen for any parasites.
If you do think that your reptile has worms, getting them to your local vet for a check-up is the best course of action. If your reptile does have worms, then usually a simple deworming program is enough to combat the problem. In advanced or serious cases, reptiles may need more supportive case, especially if they have had an upset tunny or gone off their food.
Although most pet reptiles do not need regular routine worming, if you think your reptile may be at a higher risk of picking up worms, your vet will be happy to talk to you about what preventative treatments are available.
You are very unlike to contract any worms from your reptile, but it is good practice to always wash your hands after handling your reptile. This will get rid of any risk, and will also protect you against other diseases that can be transmitted by reptiles, the most common of which is salmonella.
If you have any concerns about your health, always speak to your local Vets4Pets practice.
Different types of worms
Roundworms that can infect reptiles include Ascaris species, Strongyloides species and Kalicephalus (hookworm) species. Lizards seem most prone to picking up roundworms, although snakes are also prone to infestations of the hookworm Kalicephalus which can enter through the skin and cause lesions. In small numbers these worms may go undetected, but larger numbers can cause weight loss, failure to thrive, respiratory signs such as difficulty or changes in breathing, skin or mouth sores and lack of appetite.
Pinworms are very common in most pet reptile species and can be present in high numbers without any outward signs. They seem especially prevalent in tortoises, bearded dragons and leopard geckos.
Low numbers of pinworm eggs in your reptile’s faeces may be considered normal, but levels should be considered alongside the general health of your pet. In large numbers pinworms may cause an upset stomach, lack of appetite and weight loss and will need to be treated.
Tapeworms have an unusual lifecycle, in which the vast majority of species have to spend time within an ’intermediate host’ before they can infect their target species. These intermediate hosts can range from species as small as fleas to as large as cows! This complex lifecycle is actually good for our housed reptiles, as it helps reduce the chance that they will be affected by tapeworms.
Nevertheless, reptiles can be affected by tapeworms, and it is important to be vigilant. In many cases a tapeworm infestation can be noticed by segments of tapeworm in the faeces – these are often described as looking like moving grains of rice.
Affected reptiles may show weight loss, but many infections are mild and your reptile may not show any physical signs of infection at all.
Also known as trematodes, flukes spend most of their time in the intestines of reptiles, but can also travel to other organ systems such as the lungs, liver and kidneys in some species such as turtles. These are very uncommon in captive-bred reptiles.