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What is Scale Rot?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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Scale rot is a disease that can affect reptiles. Its primary causes are infection with bacteria, contamination of infected areas with animal feces, and having reptiles in warm and humid environments, especially moistness in bedding, where bacteria can fester. Even in very clean animal enclosures, a snake or lizard can develop scale rot. It does need to be taken seriously though, as failure to treat the illness can lead to the death of the animal.

In technical terms, scale rot is called ulcerative or necrotic dermatitis. It may begin mildly, with one or two scales looking brown, or the skin appearing flaky. These areas eventually turn into blisters and then open lesions, at which point the condition may be very difficult to treat. If you note brown or unusual areas on a lizard or snake’s body you should consult a vet right away because the condition is best treated early.

Standard treatment for scale rot means removing the animal to a completely cleaned environment without water for bathing. Allowing the reptile to bathe will likely make the condition worse. The regular enclosure for the animal should be dumped, cleaned, and all bedding matter should be completely removed and replaced with new substrate.

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A veterinarian may want to prescribe oral antibiotics for your snake or lizard, and most suggest either prescription or over the counter topical antibiotic ointments to treat the affected areas. It is essential to keep your animal’s housing extremely clean and dry during treatment so that the condition doesn’t worsen or so that the animal doesn’t reinfect itself.

When treated, most scale rot will resolve within a few weeks, but you should keep an eye out for recurrence. Note too, that some bacteria on the animal’s scales is transferable to people. Snakes and lizards often carry versions of salmonella, so you should plan to wash you hands in any case after your handle your reptiles.

The best preventative methods to avoid scale rot is to keep your reptile’s environment very clean, changing bedding as needed and making sure to keep the humidity levels low. That being said, even the cleanest cages and the best-kept snakes and lizards in the world occasionally develop the condition. As long as you address the problem immediately with veterinary care, the condition tends to pose no problem and can be easily resolved.

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Axeleye
Post 1

Is it possible for scale rot to spread from one reptile to another reptile sharing the same cage or enclosure? Are there any other topical remedies that help alleviate this infection?

It also seems as though this infection only occurs with reptiles who are kept as pets or in zoos. Does scale rote occur in the wild at all?

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