Respiratory disease is a common issue found in captive reptiles and in most cases is completely avoidable.
Respiratory disease is a common issue found in captive reptiles and in most cases is completely avoidable. This article will help you identify a respiratory infection, explain what may have caused it, and will help offer ideas on how to treat it.
If you believe your reptile may have a respiratory infection you should visit a reptile vet immediately.
What Is Respiratory Disease
Respiratory disease can be bacterial, fungal, parasitic or caused by an introduced virus. Essentially it is an infection of some sort that causes issue with the respiratory functions of the host. Accumulated respiratory secretions that have not been expelled cause erratic breathing and poor oxygen intake.
Respiratory Disease Causes
Most cases of respiratory disease are directly related to improper husbandry. There are many different ways in which this disease can be contracted. Improper quarantine procedures can cause an infected animal the ability to introduce pathogens into an existing collection. A compromised immune system as a result of inadequate temperatures, poor husbandry techniques, inadequate humidity, improper diet, excessive stress, and unsanitary living conditions allow pathogens to infect the host.
Respiratory Disease Signs
Symptoms include audible respiration (gurgling, wheezing or clicking sounds), gaping or open mouth breathing, lethargy, discharge from the mouth or nostrils, raised head (similar to star gazing), or stringy mucous around the mouth. These are some of the more common and noticeable signs of a respiratory infection that a typical hobbyist may notice.
How Is Respiratory Disease Diagnosed
A physical examination will be required by a qualified exotic vet. In addition to looking for the physical signs of a respiratory infection, blood work and a bacterial culture of the mouth or windpipe may be required. This will allow the vet to isolate the bacteria causing the infection, which in turn will allow them to aggressively treat the infection using the appropriate antibiotics.
Respiratory Disease Treatment
Treating respiratory infections should be aggressive as this ailment is life threatening. Each treatment will be catered to each individual case and the type of species being treated. This is also true for the antibiotics that are prescribed.
Respiratory Disease Treatment
 The following information is for treating an iguana and is used as an example to display what type of treatment may be required.
It is here as an educational reference only and is incomplete.
Intracoelomic fluids (15-25mL/kg per day) for hydration
Antibiotics therapy, pending C&S results:
Amikacin: 2.5mg/kg SQ, IM every 72 hours for 5-7 treatments* (2,4)
Piperacillin: 200-400 mg/kg IM q24h* ** (4)
Cephalothin: 40-80 mg/kg dd b.i.d.* **m (2)
Trimethoprim-Sulfadiazine: 30 mg/kg SQ, IM q24h for 10-14 treatments* (4)
Nebulization using amikacin or gentamicin may be indicated.
This is an incomplete treatment plan example. Use this as a guide to visualize how serious this disease can be.
How Is Respiratory Disease Prevented
Prevention begins with good husbandry. It is essential that hobbyists practice proper quarantining procedures as well as sound husbandry. In order for your reptile to thrive and remain healthy in captivity you must be providing it with the proper elements of its natural habitat to maximize the efficiency of its immune system. An animal that is stressed as a result of improper husbandry is susceptible to varying pathogens and illness, including respiratory disease.
Author: Richard Brooks
 Medicinal Treatment - Iguanas: Messonnier, Shawn. Common Reptile Diseases and Treatment. Blackwell Science, Inc., 1996 PP.62
Messonnier, Shawn. Common Reptile Diseases and Treatment. Blackwell Science, Inc., 1996.
· Ackerman, Lowell. Biology Husbandry and Health Care of Reptiles. TFH, 1997.
· Mader, Douglas. Reptile Medicine and Surgery SE. Saunders, 2005.
* Any of these agents is a rational choice for first-time antibiotic selection.
* Save enrofloxacin for the more serious cases.
** Combine with amikacin.