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What is Oral Inflammation?

Young lizards or those that are young and/or have compromised immune systems are more susceptible to mouth rot.  This is a serious condition that must be treated by a reptile veterinarian.  If left untreated, oral inflammation will spread to other parts of the lizard’s body and can be fatal.  The earlier oral inflammation is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis will be for your pet.

A common condition in pet lizards is oral inflammation (mouth rot).  Oral inflammation (mouth rot) is also referred to as ulcerative stomatitis. This is a secondary condition caused by an infection.

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Symptoms of Oral Inflammation in Lizards

Symptoms may include:

  • Excessive salivation
  • Resting with mouth open
  • Decreased activity
  • Redness of the gums
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased water consumption
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Swollen gums
  • Loss of teeth
  • Caseous exudate (cheesy material equivalent to pus)
  • Head becomes disfigured
  • Swelling in the face
  • Depression
  • Change of behavior
  • Severe infections can spread to the eyes and lungs

Causes of Oral Inflammation in Lizards

Oral inflammation (mouth rot) is a secondary condition.  The primary cause is an infection, which may have been caused by:

  • Trauma to the mouth
  • Infected by mites and/or ticks that carry bacteria
  • Bites inflicted by live prey
  • Fungal infection
  • Jaw fracture
  • Foreign body
  • Poor nutrition
  • Incorrect housing temperature and humidity level
  • Housing that is too small for the reptile

Diagnosis of Oral Inflammation in Lizards

The reptile veterinarian will want to know what symptoms you have observed and when they commenced.  Let the veterinarian know if you are aware of any trauma the patient has experienced.  The veterinarian may want to know what type of housing and lighting is used for the reptile.  He may also want to discuss what the lizard’s current diet is. 

The reptile veterinarian will perform a physical exam which may include checking limb strength and movement, temperature, eyes examination, listening to the patient’s lungs and an oral exam.  A mouth swab may be taken.  The swab will be smeared on a slide, stained and evaluated under in microscope. An oral culture may also be recommended to rule out a fungal infection. 

The veterinarian may want to have blood drawn.  In larger lizards, blood may be drawn from the ventral tail vein.  Blood in smaller lizards sometimes is taken with a capillary tube used against a clipped nail. Blood work will determine the level of the infection and organ function of the liver and kidneys. The veterinarian may want x-rays of the head and mouth. X-rays can help evaluate whether the infection has spread into the bones.  The patient may need to be sedated for this procedure.

Treatment of Oral Inflammation in Lizards

Once oral inflammation (mouth rot) is diagnosed the veterinarian will want to start the patient on oral or injectable antibiotics. Your lizard should be kept in a quiet atmosphere. If he shares his housing with other lizards, they should be separated. The patient should be placed in quarantine until the infection is gone.

If your reptile is dehydrated he will be started on fluid therapy.  Caseous debris will be removed by the veterinarian. The veterinarian may recommend the topical application of diluted iodine or chlorhexidine, to be administered twice daily. Supplements and vitamins A and C may be recommended, to be added to the patient’s diet.  If your lizard was diagnosed with mites or ticks, he will be treated with a topical and injectable medication. Reptiles with severe cases of oral inflammation may require surgical debridement, the removal of dead tissue. General anesthesia will be required. 

While your reptile is receiving treatment it is imperative for his housing to be kept cleaned and disinfected.

Recovery of Oral Inflammation in Lizards

Recovery of oral inflammation may take three weeks, in mild cases.  Patients with more severe mouth rot may need to be treated for several months.  Please follow the veterinarian’s treatment plan for your reptile. 

Follow-up visits will be necessary to monitor the patient’s progress. The veterinarian may want to have blood work retaken to ensure that the infection has cleared. Patients with bone infections will need to have additional x-rays taken.  Reptiles diagnosed and treated in the early stages of oral inflammation have a very good recovery prognosis.  Patients with severe cases have a guarded prognosis.