We now provide 24-hour care, 365 days a year on conjunction with Vets Now. Find out more here


Find us: Unit B, Queen Elizabeth Park, Railton Road, Guildford, GU2 9LX, click here for more information.

  • Commonly seen reptile veterinary problems | Alder Vets

    We are open 6 days a week in Guildford

    Find us

Pet Advice Categories

Hypovitaminosis A (Vitamin A deficiency)

This has overtaken metabolic bone disease as the most common deficiency based illness we are seeing.

In tortoises and terrapins this presents as swollen eyes, light sensitivity, lethargy and inappetence. In geckos it presents as sore eyes, often with plugs of shed skin trapped under the lids and impacted (clogged) hemi penile pouches in males. In bearded dragons in presents as lethargy and inappetence.

We seem to see it more commonly in high yellow / orange bearded dragons and leopard geckos.

It can be avoided by offering a broad diet (more variety the better), using a broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement (that is in date) and by gut loading any prey insects with a good variety of foods. Vitamin A absorption is linked to temperature, vitamin D (UV) and calcium levels so it is important that the husbandry is correct in order to avoid it.

Boas and pythons with respiratory infections

An increasingly common problem

This seem to a consequence of inadequate ventilation and sometimes too low ambient temperatures. Commonly large numbers of boas / pythons are kept in rack systems in one air space (room) this allows for easy temperature control but it is important that there is air movement through the room.

Without air movement the air can become stale and saturated with molecules from the snakes excretions and exhalations. Low power fans to move the air are a simple solution although we have to be careful to expose the animals to draughts.

It has been theorised that RIs are more common in snakes kept in smaller enclosures partly due to the smaller air volume concentrating the particles but also due to the reduced ability of the snake to stretch out / move around and adequately stretch out their lung to allow proper air movement to the full length of the lung.

When a respiratory infection is noted it is important to quickly isolate the affected animal/s from the rest of the group to prevent it spreading – I would advise moving the affected animal/s to another part of the house. Treatments are usually a combination of systemic antibiotics and nebulisation with diluted F10 disinfectant / antibiotics. It can be useful to swab the snakes affected to isolate the bacteria involved and select the most suitable antibiotic to treat it with.

Small ill tortoises

We are seeing far too many small tortoises that are in a poor state by the time they are seen. Many of these tortoises are, in my opinion, too small to have been sold as pets. I would suggest that anybody buying a tortoise looks to buy a 200g+ juvenile rather than a sub 100g baby. Smaller cheaper tortoises are a false economy if they then become sick and generate vet bills.

These tortoises are presented with inappetence, lethargy and general malaise. A common factor seems to be tortoise tables and combo lamps (i.e. a bulb providing heat and UV). Whilst tortoise tables offer good ventilation they offer relatively poor temperature control, very young / small tortoises are far less tolerant of temperature fluctuations. I am not a fan of the combination bulbs which seem to do neither job (heat and UV) particularly well.

For small tortoises a large well ventilated vivarium, heated 24 hours per day by a thermostatically (dimming thermostat) controlled ceramic bulb and lit by a UV tube 12hours per day seems to be the safest way to keep them.


Though they make up only a very small proportion of the reptiles kept as pets they make up a significant proportion of our reptile patients.

Even when their husbandry is very good it is rare that we see a chameleon with good bone density. The females nearly always have reproductive problems.

To be frank the very fact that they are over represented would suggest they do not thrive in captivity.

Metabolic bone disease

We are still occasionally seeing reptiles with MBD, most commonly bearded dragons and chameleons.

Common factors are combo bulbs (these only create a small area of UV cover), people forgetting to replace UV bulbs / tubes (these need changed yearly as a minimum), using the wrong uvb percentage tube for the species and not adequately supplementing calcium.

Affected animals are weak and lethargic. Affected chameleons have poor grip strength and often their tongues do not function.

UV tubes / bulbs should be controlled by timer switches – we have seen reptiles struggle when the day length is not consistent.

Bearded Dragons with ovarian follicular stasis

This is not really a consequence of improper husbandry but just something that happens. Usually these are middle aged to older females that have not been previously bred.

These lizards present as a bit listless and with reduced appetite. Symptoms tend to worsen over time. The lizards get stuck half way to producing eggs, the chemicals and hormones released by the follicles make the lizard unwell.

It can be difficult to diagnose as the follicles are often too soft to be palpable and show up poorly on xray, sometimes they can be seen on ultrasound scan but the lizards scales affect the clarity of the image. Treatment is by surgically removing the follicles.

Several of the bearded dragons we have treated for this were thought by their owners to be male – in adults look at femoral pore size for an indication of sex.

Tortoises damaged by dogs / foxes

We see several tortoises every summer with damage from dogs and foxes. Some have lost limbs whilst others have had their shells broken. Any tortoise that is outside unsupervised should be in a fenced enclosure similar to a rabbit run.

Treatment is by suturing wounds, amputating badly damaged limbs (affixing wheels), damaged shells are reconstructed with dental cement. Some very badly damaged animals have had to be euthanised.

Tortoises that are unwell after poor hibernation

Our winters are now too warm and often too variable to safely hibernate tortoises in a shed or loft. We advise using a fridge with a thermostat or Lucky Reptile Herp Nursery 2 hibernator.

Weights should be checked to be adequate before hibernation and females ideally xrayed to check they are not carrying eggs.

Thermal burns

Burns usually occur from unguarded heat bulbs or where water has spilt on heat mats, water conducts heat seven times better than air.

Improper temperatures

We regularly see clients, whose reptiles are failing to thrive, who do not know what temperatures are within their enclosures. The reptiles are wholly dependant on us to provide a suitable temperature for them, too hot is just as bad as too cold.

Thermometers are cheap and are essential equipment for anyone keeping reptiles. Every heating element, with the possible exception of low power mats, should be regulated by a dimming thermostat.

Shedding issues

Most commonly snakes and leopard geckos. Can be avoided by providing a humidity chamber (box packed with damp sphagnum moss) when animal is shedding.

If the animal has already had a poor shed we will treat it by placing in a plastic box with 1-2 cm of warm water and then leaving it somewhere warm such as an airing cupboard for 45min+, this softens the unshed skin allowing it to be gently rubbed away with a damp cloth.

Diseases spreading through collections

We are also seeing infections travel through collections where people are re homing animals from dubious sources and adding them into the collection without sufficient quarantine time.

Be careful where you source animals from and keep them quarantined from the rest of your collection for a minimum of 3 months to see if they present any signs of problems. Also do not build up collections too quickly. Consider testing faeces of new animals for internal parasites.

You may feel sorry for an animal in need of a home but you need to put your existing pets safety first.

Over reliance on one or two food types

The fewer foods types you feed the more likely you are to experience deficiencies. We regularly see tortoises that a failing to thrive because the are only being offered commercial salad bags or fat bearded dragons that will only take meal worms.

In the wild these animals would eat a massive variety of different foods all with different nutrients and trace elements. In captivity it is all to easy for us to become reliant on just a couple of food types.

Offer as much variety as you are able, lists of suitable foods are easily available in books and online.

Reptile mites

Happily this is a less common problem than it used to be. Still occasionally seen on bearded dragons and snakes. Affected snakes are often found soaking in their water bowls for long periods. The mites themselves appear as small dark dots and are often found around the eyes, lips and in the creases under the chin.

Treatment needs to be of the animal, enclosure and furnishings. We recommend frontline spray fortnightly for 3 treatments.

Alder Veterinary Practice

Unit B

Queen Elizabeth Park

Railton Road




Telephone: 01483 536036

Email: [email protected]

Where to find us (click for map)

logo rcvsCFC Silver logo for clinics 2023IIE Bronze logovetsnow logo