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Common parasitic diseases of reptiles & amphibians (Proceedings)

May 01, 2011

Goal of presentation

In this presentation we will discuss the various groupings of parasites seen infesting reptiles & amphibians, how to identify them and thoughts on proper treatment to rid the hosts of these parasites.

It is believed that most if not all reptiles and amphibians living in the wild harbor parasites. The delicate balance between parasite and host in the wild tends to vary dramatically from the relationship between parasite and host in captivity. In the wild, where an animal is not confined within a small space, the environmental concentration of parasites is not high. As a result, the parasite burden to any given host is usually low. However, in captivity, especially in poor sanitary conditions, the concentration of parasites may be much higher, and therefore more dangerous. Couple this higher parasite concentration with the stress from poor husbandry (i.e. Improper: temperature, nutrition, light exposure, overcrowding, etc.) and these stressed captive animals with heavy parasite loads are more likely to succumb to the parasite infestation.

Parasites affect their hosts in many different ways. The parasites can be external (e.g. ticks and mites) or internal (e.g. gastro-intestinal worms). Parasites appear to have an effect on all aspects of captive rearing. In general parasitized reptiles and amphibians have a shorter life span, tend to be more susceptible to disease, and have a generally unthrifty appearance. Also, studies have demonstrated that heavily parasitized reptiles have poor to no ability to reproduce. And, of those that do succeed in producing offspring, the offspring may die at a young age, can be stunted, or have very slow growth rates.

As will be presented there is a wide range of protozoal and metazoan organisms found in close association with reptiles, and the relationship between reptiles and such organisms is often unclear. Many are parasites and their presence in or on reptiles is to the detriment of the host. Other may be commensals or symbionts that are adapted to the host and not associated with known pathology. The line between commensalism and parasitism may be a fine one, and captivity may easily alter the dynamics between such organisms and their host. A captive setting may provide an environment that would allow for usually benign commensals to reach a high enough burden as to become harmful. It behooves the clinician to objectively assess each case individually and determine whether treatment is warranted, or at least justified. Further, pseudoparasites are commonly seen in the feces of reptiles and may be mistaken for true parasites. So it is for these reasons that it is strongly recommended to accurately diagnose and treat for all observed parasites in captive reptiles and amphibians. Concerning proper treatment of reptiles and amphibians, each animal has to be treated on a case by case basis. In the literature and formularies there are several different doses as well as different treatment schedules listed – again, it behooves the veterinarian to evaluate each dose and regimen individually for each particular animal.