Emerging Fungal, Parasitic, and Bacterial Reptile Diseases

New reptile diseases and classifications of illness are continually emerging. With that, a veterinarian's knowledge base is constantly growing as they learn more.

Our Animal Care Manager, and Certified Veterinary Technician, Kasey, attended an exotic veterinary conference where she learned about three emerging variations of reptile illness.

Turtle, Terrapin, or Tortoise Fungal Infection

Chelonians are susceptible to various fungi that can cause shell rot. One species of fungi named Emydomyces Testavorans is unusual because keepers found it in both free-ranging and captive aquatic turtles. 

Shell rot, easily identified by the ulcerative and degenerative lesions it causes, is familiar to most chelonian keepers. The Emydomyces Testavorans fungi, recently identified in 2019, has impacted western pond, spiny softshell, alligator snapping, red-eared slider, yellow-spotted river, red-bellied short-necked, Argentine snake-necked, savanna side-necked, and mata mata turtles

Alligator Snapping Turtle

The shells from infected turtles showed signs of cyst growth, non-cancerous changes in the tissue's morphology, thickened tissue, inflammation, and bone death. These signs are not always visible, and further diagnostic testing, such as an x-ray may be needed. When a diagnosis is made, antifungals are used for treatment. 

Cases of Roundworms Causing Respiratory and Gastrointestinal Disease

Snakes are common carriers of various parasites. One case of roundworms (Respiratory Gastrointestinal Strongyloidiasis), previously thought to be benign, shows that it can cause disease and spread as a superinfection in one colubrid breeding facility. 

Garter Snake

The infected colubrids, including garter, milk, rat, and corn snakes, presented with respiratory distress, mouth rot, facial deformities, anorexia, and poor body conditioning. During necropsy (autopsy for animals), prolific numbers of adult and larval roundworms were found in the snakes' oral cavities, upper respiratory tracts, lungs, and gastrointestinal tracts. 

The reptiles were given antimicrobials, but the roundworms became resistant, and reinfection occurred.

Enterococcosis Bacteria in Lizards

In 2014 a multisystemic bacteria infection (Enterococcsis) was found in captive critically endangered Lister's geckos from Christmas Island. These geckos presented with mild inflammation but formed large masses on the skin and internal organs. 

Then in 2019, invasive Brown Anoles were found with poor body condition and large masses on their heads caused by similar bacteria. The Brown Anoles were in central and western Florida. On necropsy, the lesions (or masses) appeared similar to the lesions reported from Christmas Island. 

Brown Anole Lizard

Enterococcus infections, commonly resistant to treatment with antibiotics, are treated with more powerful antimicrobials, sometimes two at a time to kill the bacteria. Bacteria infections have been reported in reptiles for years. How this one is spreading to vastly different areas in the world has yet to be determined. 

For more information on emerging reptile diseases, watch Kasey's video!