Reptiles, like horses, often have "worms" (intestinal parasites) that are completely normal and don't cause any issues. But when a reptile is sick, isn't eating well, is losing weight, or isn't defecating normally, there may be too many of these normal parasites for your herp's system. When the worms and your reptile have a peaceful relationship there is no need for alarm if your reptile is found to have intestinal parasites. But once they start making your reptile sick or cause problems, it is time to get them back under control or eliminate them all together.
How Do I Know If My Reptile Has Worms?
You may see worms passing in your reptile's stool but more often than not you won't see any kind of worm. Many intestinal parasites that people commonly refer to as "worms" aren't worms at all. Amoebas, protozoan, flagellates, and other kinds of microscopic parasites are more commonly seen under a microscope than actual worms. Therefore, the only way to know what kind of parasites your reptile has is to look at a sample of their stool (poop) under a microscope. Your exotics vet will perform a fecal stain, direct smear, or fecal flotation (or all three) to find out if your pet has a parasite problem and prescribe appropriate dewormers if they are causing a problem for your reptile.
What Kinds of Intestinal Parasites Can My Reptile Get?
There is a long list of possible kinds of "worms" your reptile can have or be infected with. Some cause a problem (in larger quantities) while others can be completely normal for your pet to have (in smaller quantities). Your reptile should only be treated for the parasites he has if they are causing a problem for him or are not a normal parasite that he should naturally have.
- CryptosporidiumOffering water contaminated with this protozoan or feeding wild caught prey items are the two most common ways your reptile can get cryptosporidium. This tiny parasite is also zoonotic, meaning you can get it as well. It causes terrible diarrhea and weightloss, as do most intestinal parasites, and does not produce a worm that you will see in the feces. This type of coccidia unfortunately doesn't offer a good outcome to most pet reptiles and typically cannot be seen under a normal microscope. If you or your vet suspects a Cryptosporidium infection a special test should be performed to check for it.
- PinwormsAlso known as the threadworm or seatworm, this is a common kind of nematode worm that you cannot see with the naked eye. It can be completely normal for your reptile to have pinworms since they typically contract them from eating infected mice or insects. Your vet may not treat your reptile for the pinworm infection unless it is causing a problem for your pet, such as a decrease in appetite or a fecal obstruction. People can also get these worms so it is always important to wash your hands after handling a reptile.
- AmoebasThis is another microscopic parasite that is transmitted through contaminated drinking water. It will cause problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and even bloody stools. It can only be seen microscopically.
- CoccidiaA very common parasite in pet reptiles, this protozoan does not always show up in fecal samples. It does not always shed eggs to visualize so it can be difficult to diagnose but can be safe for your reptile to have in small numbers. A stressful situation may cause it to overpopulate and cause an issue for your pet. As previously mentioned, Cryptosporidium is a kind of coccidia that is more serious.
- RoundwormsThese worms can actually be visualized in the feces of your reptile. They look like long spaghetti-like worms and are easily treated by your exotics vet.
- HookwormsYou won't see these worms in your reptile's feces but they usually cause bloody stools due to the nature of the parasite. These worms "hook" onto the lining of your reptile's intestines causing the blood you see in the stools. They are typically easily treated as well.
- TapewormsThese little worms look like pieces of rice. They may be connected to form a worm or more commonly you may just see the rice-like segments of the worm in the stool. Like most other parasites they can cause weightloss.
- FlagellatesParasites like Giardia are a kind of flagellate. Reptiles can harbor many kinds of flagellates, most of which are normal in small amounts. But if your reptile is showing any symptoms of a parasitic infection your vet should prescribe a dewormer.
In addition to these parasites, your pet reptile can get other intestinal diseases like Salmonella and E. Coli infections therefore you should always wash your hands after handling any reptile. At least once a year you should take your reptile to the vet, have him checked out, and have a fecal checked, even if you think your pet is fine.