Why Should You be Concerned About Reptile Parasites?

The word “parasite” alone is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. But parasites (like worms) are actually pretty common in pet reptiles. The problem arises when parasitic infection spins out of control and affects your beloved beardie or gecko’s health and wellbeing.

In this blog, we’re going to give you the 411 on:

  • What causes reptile parasites
  • The top 6 signs of parasites in lizards
  • The 4 most common reptile parasites
  • What you should do if you suspect your pet has parasites
  • And, finally, how you can take some simple steps (like switching from crickets to dubias) to prevent parasites in the first place

What Causes Reptile Parasites?

Reptiles can become infected with parasites in several ways. The most common way is by ingesting feces containing immature forms of the problematic organism. Parasite larvae have also been known to burrow through the skin of a reptile in some cases.

The following situations can contribute to reptiles becoming parasitized: 

  • Contact with other infected reptiles

How to prevent this situation: If you’re planning on adding another reptile to your enclosure, it’s always a good idea to have them screened for parasites before combining them with any current residents. Having your veterinarian conduct a fecal test on existing reptiles isn’t a bad idea either.

  • Contact with contaminated environments and objects

How to prevent this situation: Regularly cleaning your dragon’s enclosure is an excellent way to keep your pet parasite-free. If you are worried about parasites being transferred in on bedding, you can put bedding in your freezer overnight to kill them off.

  • Eating infected food items

How to prevent this situation: As mentioned above, a yearly fecal screening for parasites is always a great way to stay on top of your pet reptile’s health, as are de-worming treatments. But remember, diet cannot be overlooked when it comes to preventing reptile parasites.

>>If you’re regularly feeding your leopard gecko or bearded dragon feeder insects like crickets – you may want to switch to dubia roaches instead.

Why? Because dubia roaches are not only much more nutritious for your pet reptile, but they don’t carry the numerous parasites that crickets do. <<

Photo of a cricket carrying the reptile parasite pinworm sitting on a twig
Crickets are THE #1 source of pinworms in beardies and other reptiles. Opt for a pinworm-free feeder insect, like dubia roaches, instead.

The Most Common Reptile Parasites                                                                  

Worms are the most common intestinal parasites in reptiles; that’s not to say there aren’t others (like mites) to be concerned about. Let’s take a look at the 4 most common parasites reptile keepers encounter with their pets.  

  • Pinworm – Crickets are THE #1 source of pinworms in beardies and other reptiles. If you want to keep your pet reptile safe from these nasty little guys, avoid crickets all together and opt for dubia roaches as a live feeder insect instead.
  • Hookworm – Aptly named for what they are, hookworms have tiny hooks affixed to their head, which they use to attach themselves to the gut walls of your pet. They then siphon nutrients from your reptile, leading to illness and wasting.  
  • Flagellates – Flagellates are typically found in the intestinal tract of an infected reptile. A low concentration of flagellates in a reptile is relatively common. Illness occurs when these parasites get out of control.
  • Mites – Mites burrow into and irritate your dragon’s skin and scales. But bearded dragons aren’t the only ones to get mites! Snake mites, reptile mites, and lizard mites are all concerns for reptile keepers.  

Top 6 Signs of Parasites in Lizards

Reptiles with intestinal parasites frequently exhibit the following symptoms:

  1. Abnormal stools
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Muscle wasting
  4. Poor appetite
  5. Vomiting or regurgitation
  6. Weight loss/ signs of malnourishment

If your reptile has an infection of intestinal parasites, they may be visible in their feces or vomit. But even if you don’t spot them, they can still be there – making the need for yearly parasite screenings essential. When left untreated, the larval forms of some parasites migrate through the lungs and can cause respiratory symptoms and pneumonia. With severe infections, death is possible – particularly when certain types of microorganisms are involved.

5 Signs your reptile may have mites:

  1. Change in movement (think lethargy, agitation, or rubbing)
  2. Changes in shedding
  3. Mite dust can be seen floating on the water’s surface after bathing your reptile
  4. Poor skin or scale health (think crusts and blood)
  5. They won’t eat

Basically, keep an eye on your reptile for any noticeable changes in their health and behavior. If you suspect a parasitic infection is to blame – it’s time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Photo of two bearded dragons basking in their enclosure, looking relaxed.

Planning on getting your bearded dragon a friend? It’s always a good idea to have the newcomer screened for parasites before combining them with any current residents.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Reptile Has Parasites?

Treatment of reptile parasites is best left to professionals. Understanding the difference between different parasites, identifying them, and treating them is not an easy task. Typically, your vet will use anthelmintics or de-wormers that destroy or help the reptile’s body eradicate the parasites. While some medications and antibiotics are effective against certain microscopic parasites, others do not respond well to any treatment (once again, you should consult a professional to be sure).

Lastly, we’d like to mention the option of over-the-counter powders. We advise you to exercise caution when using these products with bearded dragons because they often contain walnut shells (which dragons are allergic to). Closely follow the directions on all medications your vet prescribes you, and remember it is sometimes necessary to administer two rounds of medication to eradicate the problem.

But if you take some easy steps to keep parasites at bay like:

  • Regularly cleaning your reptile’s enclosure
  • Getting yearly fecal screening for parasites at your veterinarian’s office
  • And skipping the parasite-riddled crickets in favor of dubia roaches

You can rest assured you are doing everything you can to keep your bearded dragon, leopard gecko, crested gecko (and more!) safe and healthy.

Ready to make the switch to dubias and keep your pet safe from parasites? Click the link below!