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Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis.


Cryptosporidium is often shortened to "Crypto" by hobbyists. This parasite has the potential to wipe out entire reptile collections. There are several different species of Cryptosporidium. You can find them listed below.

Cryptosporidium andersoni, Cryptosporidium bailey, Cryptosporidium bovis, Cryptosporidium canis, Cryptosporidium cichlidis, Cryptosporidium cuniculus, Cryptosporidium felis, Cryptosporidium galli, Cryptosporidium hominis, Cryptosporidium meleagridis, Cryptosporidium muris, Cryptosporidium nasoris, Cryptosporidium parvum, Cryptosporidium pestis, Cryptosporidium reichenbachklinkei, Cryptosporidium saurophilum, Cryptosporidium scophthalmi, Cryptosporidium serpentis, Cryptosporidium suis, Cryptosporidium varanii, Cryptosporidium wrairi

What Is Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium is a coccidian protozoan parasite discovered by E.E. Tyzzer in 1907, in the gastric mucosa of mice.

This parasite has an outer shell that protects it and allows it to survive outside the host for long periods of time. It also makes this parasite resistant to many cleaners including chlorine disinfection.

Left: Cryptosporidium sp. oocysts stained with Ziehl-Neelson modified acid-fast.
Right: Cryptosporidium sp. oocysts stained with safranin.

Cryptosporidium Causes

Cryptosporidium in your pets is caused by them becoming infected with the cryptosporidium parasite. The parasite can be passed by accidental transfer. That means that you could have come into contact with contaminated feces or water and transferred the contaminated waste to your reptile.

Introducing an infected animal to your collection could destroy it. This is why it is prudent that you quarantine all new reptiles following our guidelines posted within our Quarantine Reptiles article.

Cryptosporidium Signs

The most common symptoms of cryptosporidium are diarrhea and strong feces odor. Some reptiles also experience swelling of the stomach. Loss of apetite is common, as is regurgitation in snakes.

How Is Cryptosporidium Diagnosed

A microscopy of a fresh stool sample can help identify oocysts in fecal matter. Microscopically using different techniques such as acid-fast staining, direct fluorescent antibody [DFA] , or enzyme immunoassays for detection of Cryptosporidium sp. antigens have proven reliable. Sometimes the results of several fecal tests will be required.

Cryptosporidium Treatment

Unfortunantly there is no "cure all" treatment for this disease in reptiles. If the reptile is kept stress free, on a nutritional diet, and has the optimal temperatures there is a chance it can beat the disease using its own immune system.

Medicinal Treatment

[1] Trimethoprim-Sulfadiazine: 30 mg/kg PO, SQ, IM q24h; use until cured.
An alternative dose is 60 mg/kg PO s.i.d for 2 months or longer.

[2] However, one study published has found that bovine hyperimmune colostrum could be used to eliminate Cryptosporidium saurophilum from Savannah Monitors (Varanus exanthematicus).

Cryptosporidium Prevention

Practicing good hygiene and Proper Quarantine Procedures are crucial to prevent cross-contamination. If one of your reptiles gets sick, immediately place it in quarantine. This will help prevent the parasite from infecting your collection.

How Is Cryptosporidium Cleaned From Surfaces

Cryptosporidium is resistant to many normal chlorine based cleaners, which include the bleach-based cleaners. Hydrogen peroxide is the preffered surface cleaning solution. Spray surfaces with 3% hydrogen peroxide, which is available at your local drug stores. Do not dilute it! Allow the surfaces to air dry completely without wiping them off. For safeties sake you can repeat this treatment an additional time to ensure that none of the bacteria has survived the initial treatment.


Author: Richard Brooks
[1] Messonnier, Shawn. Common Reptile Diseases and Treatment. Blackwell Science, Inc., 1996 PP.143
[2] Mader, Douglas. Reptile Medicine and Surgery SE. Saunders, 2005. pp.156
Ackerman, Lowell. Biology Husbandry and Health Care of Reptiles. TFH, 1997.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website
Kaufman DVM, Gretchen. Educational Fair Use. Ulcerative Stomatitis Image, 2002
Mader, Douglas. Reptile Medicine and Surgery SE. Saunders, 2005.
Messonnier, Shawn. Common Reptile Diseases and Treatment. Blackwell Science, Inc., 1996.