Mite Infestations in Reptiles
Mites are small parasites that can live on the skin on reptiles and cause disease. Sometimes they can be seen with the naked eye on your pet reptile or in its cage. Other times, a microscope may be needed to see them. Mites can cause clinical signs in your pet reptile such as loss of appetite, inflamed or infected skin, itchiness, restlessness, rubbing on cage decorations, more frequent or longer soaking, and frequent or abnormal shedding.
If your reptile is showing any of these signs or if you notice mites on your pet or in its cage, please contact your reptile veterinarian. Your veterinarian can accurately diagnose the mites and can prescribe appropriate and safe treatments for your pet and its habitat.
There are some anti-parasite products that are available over the counter for mite control, but many of these products can actually be dangerous or deadly for your pet if used on the wrong species or in the wrong manner. For example, reptiles are very sensitive to permethrins, and toxicity can cause neurologic signs such as seizures or even death. Ivermectin is used for mite control in many reptile species but is deadly for tortoises. To ensure that your pet is getting the appropriate treatments, please consult a veterinarian before you treat either your pet or its habitat for mites.
When you get a new reptile, it is best to quarantine (isolate) your new pet away from your other pets for three months (90 days), to practice good hygiene, and to keep all supplies separate and cleaned. During this quarantine period, your new pet should also see a veterinarian for a health examination, parasite testing, and infectious disease testing before it is exposed to any of your other pets. This practice will help keep your other pets healthy and happy, as well as making sure your new pet gets appropriate care. Even animals that appear healthy can be carriers of diseases! We also recommend annual health examinations and parasite testing for all of our reptile patients.
If your pet has mites, treatment will take a minimum of 6 weeks. Affected animals should be kept separate from healthy animals for at least 40 days, and good hygiene must be practiced to avoid transferring mites between animals or cages.
Mites lay eggs in the environment, so all substrate (bedding) and porous cage decoration items should be thrown away. During treatment, disposable substrate (bedding) such as newspaper or paper towels should be used and frequently changed. The cage, lid, and non-porous decorations should be sanitized and cleaned in hot water (120 F) and a dilute bleach solution (mix 1 part bleach with 9 parts water and clean in a well-ventilated area) twice weekly until the infestation has resolved. After using bleach, thoroughly rinse the cleaned items and allow them to dry completely until no bleach smell remains before returning animals to the cage. If possible, allow the cage and accessories to dry out in the sun to help further sanitize them.
Mites can sometimes crawl between cages in the same room. You can surround small cages with a moat of water and dish soap to prevent the spread of mites to other cages. Place the cage inside of a larger, water-tight container. Fill the larger container with a shallow pool of water and mix in a few drops of dish soap. The soapy water will drown mites that escape the cage. If you discover mites on one pet, all of your pets may require treatment and should be examined by a veterinarian.
Reptile mites may also temporarily cause a rash for people who are exposed to them, but the mites cannot complete their life cycles on people. If you are experiencing a rash after handling your pets, please contact your family doctor.
From Left to Right: Green Iguana with mites; Close-up of the crusts associate with lizard mites; Microscopic view of a lizard mite egg ready to hatch