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What are Ulcerative or Necrotic Dermatitis?

Necrotic dermatitis should never be left untreated and it is not a good idea to try and treat this condition at home without first consulting your veterinarian. Any time your lizard shows signs of illness, you should consult your veterinarian before attempting to self treat. 

Ulcerative dermatitis or necrotic dermatitis is more commonly known as scale rot in lizards. Skin infections in lizards are common and will present in several different forms. Ulcerative dermatitis usually occurs because your lizard’s environment, or their terrarium, is too damp and/or dirty. A dirty terrarium will allow excessive fungus and bacteria to grow. These conditions can cause undue stress on your lizard. Stress will weaken your lizard’s immune system.

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Symptoms of Ulcerative or Necrotic Dermatitis in Lizards

As part of being a responsible lizard owner, you should be doing daily checks of your lizard. This includes physically putting your hands on your lizard and checking their skin for any changes that could indicate that ulcerative dermatitis or necrotic dermatitis is beginning to occur. As soon as you notice any changes to your lizard’s body, this includes their skin and their scales, contact your veterinarian and set an appointment. Things to watch for include:

  • Crusty skin or scales
  • Blisters filled with clear or bloody fluid
  • Ulceration of the skin or scales
  • Some form of dark discoloration of the skin
  • Erythema or patches of redness

Causes of Ulcerative or Necrotic Dermatitis in Lizards

Direct contact with fungus or bacteria can cause ulcerative dermatitis or necrotic dermatitis. This can easily occur if your lizard’s terrarium is not cleaned and disinfected regularly. Improper humidity levels within the terrarium can also cause an overgrowth of bacteria and fungus. Be sure to research the proper environment for your lizard and adjust your terrarium accordingly.

Ulcerative or necrotic dermatitis is easily spread throughout a reptile collection. If your lizard is diagnosed with ulcerative or necrotic dermatitis and you have other reptiles within your home, be sure to practice good hygiene and thoroughly wash your hands after handling the affected lizard. Also, quarantine the affected lizard from all other reptiles. 

The incubation for ulcerative dermatitis or necrotic dermatitis begins when visible symptoms occur and can last for over a month. Therefore, it will be extremely difficult to find the exact cause of your lizard’s infection. This is especially true for lizards that are newly acquired and you do not have their full medical and environmental history.

Diagnosis of Ulcerative or Necrotic Dermatitis in Lizards

Your veterinarian may have a suspicion when they first examine your lizard that it is ulcerative dermatitis or necrotic dermatitis. Your veterinarian will ask you questions about your lizard’s environment and their diet as well as if there has been any recent injury.

After the physical examination is completed, your veterinarian will take a sample of any fluid present in the blisters or sores on your lizard’s skin. This sample will be cultured and put under a microscope to identify what fungus or bacteria are causing the problem.

Your veterinarian may also want to perform a cytology test. This is where cells from your lizard’s body are collected and placed under a microscope. A complete blood count, or a CBC, will also be done to make sure that the infection has not already invaded your lizard’s bloodstream which can potentially cause septicemia.

Treatment of Ulcerative or Necrotic Dermatitis in Lizards

Once ulcerative dermatitis or necrotic dermatitis has been diagnosed, your veterinarian will implement a treatment plan to aggressively treat this condition. This will include both topical and systemic antibiotics. Sores or lesions may need to be flushed with a chlorhexidine solution to promote healing.

Debridement may be recommended. This is where the skin or scales are scraped to remove any bacteria or fungus that is living on the skin. This can be painful for your lizard, but in order to completely be rid of the infection it may be necessary. Antifungal creams will also be prescribed to ensure that all fungi is removed from your lizard’s skin.

In cases where the ulcerative or necrotic dermatitis has been left untreated for some time, your lizard may require hospitalization to ensure that fluid and nutrition support are being provided along with aggressive antibiotic treatment to stop the spread of the infection and heal the lesions that are present.

Recovery of Ulcerative or Necrotic Dermatitis in Lizards

When ulcerative or necrotic dermatitis is caught early enough and aggressive treatments are given, your lizard’s chances of a full recovery are excellent. However, if the disease is not caught early, your lizard’s chances of a full recovery are greatly diminished. 

Scarring is likely when extensive lesions form or debridement has been necessary. Most lizards will regenerate their skin but there will still be some scarring in certain areas. 

Preventing ulcerative or necrotic dermatitis can be as simple as regularly cleaning and disinfecting your lizard’s terrarium. If you are unsure of the type of terrarium that your lizard requires, ask your veterinarian for advice. Be sure to also ask about the humidity levels that your lizard will thrive.