Reptiles can have normal and abnormal parasites. Internal parasites or "worms" are very common and can be normal and safe in wild and pet reptiles (in small quantities) while external parasites, such as mites, are not considered normal.
- Mites and Chiggers - These are very tiny external parasites. Most reptile owners don't even know their pet has mites until they see large groups of them on the skin or notice them on lighter pigmented areas of their pets. They are usually red but can also be black or gray and are six-legged, bloodsucking parasites. Your pet can get mites or chiggers from bedding, being outside, another reptile that has them, or even you if you recently handled an afflicted reptile. They can be seen when they group together around your pet's eyes or in any crevice like an armpit or the cloacal opening. They can be a huge pain to get rid of and as you can imagine, are quite painful and annoying to your pet. If you aren't sure if your reptile has mites your exotics vet will be able to tell for you.
- Ticks - These are larger external parasites that you should be able to see fairly easily on your reptile. They are also bloodsucking parasites and can also attach onto people. Your reptile can get them from being outside or being caged with a new wild caught reptile. There are different species of ticks but all of them hurt your reptile and can also transmit diseases. Multiple ticks can be on a single reptile and care must be taken when removing them to be sure the entire head and mouth parts are extracted from your pet.
These parasites are commonly referred to as "worms" even though most of them aren't worms and don't produce worms. Some kinds of internal or intestinal parasites are completely normal in small numbers in your pet reptile. Others can cause serious issues even in small amounts. To determine whether or not your pet has a problem with intestinal parasites you should have a fecal sample tested at your exotic vet clinic on a yearly basis. Read "Reptile Worms" for more detailed information on intestinal parasites and which ones you can get. Pinworms, coccidia, and ciliated amoebas are common findings in fecal samples.
Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and he was right. It is much easier (and safer) to prevent your reptile from getting parasites then it is to treat them. One easy way to help prevent an infestation is to freeze all reptile bedding overnight before putting it in the enclosure. This will kill any eggs or parasites that are hanging out in there. You can also make sure you wash your hands between handling reptiles, get yearly fecal tests performed, and don't allow your pet any contact with wild or wild caught reptiles.