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Leopard Gecko Parasites

Leopard geckos can get parasites along with most other reptiles. They are prone to intestinal parasites. Unfortunately at some stage in your reptile journey, you will most likely encounter this.

The signs and symptoms that might come with a parasite are usually pretty obvious and can be diagnosed through tests. Leopard gecko parasites are not only treatable but also preventable.

Rather than trying to diagnose your leopard gecko yourself, you might want to just take them to your reptile veterinarian. After all, it is best practice to take them for an annual check-up to make sure that they are healthy and parasite-free.

In this article, we will go through the most common leopard gecko parasite, we will look at ways to identify parasitic infections, as well as the prevention and treatment of these parasites. As leos have grown in popularity, it has become necessary that reptile enthusiasts know how to identify, prevent, and treat these parasites.

Leopard geckos are susceptible to a variety of different species of intestinal parasites. Here are some of the few you should be aware of:

Common Leopard Gecko Parasites

Leopard geckos are susceptible to a variety of different species of intestinal parasites. Here are some of the few you should be aware of:

Pinworms

Pinworm caught under a microscope
Pinworm caught under a microscope. – Source

Your leopard gecko’s gut flora will normally have pinworms, but the numbers they come in are what you want to look out for. Depending on the numbers, it may or may not be necessary to prescribe treatment.

This is why it is best to have a vet do a fecal examination to properly make sure they are correctly diagnosed. That way, they can also be treated accordingly.

Pinworms are common in leopard geckos and should not cause issues with yours if they are healthy, but only when they are in larger numbers in a less healthy leo.

It is essential that a vet performs a fecal examination and determines if your leo requires treatment or not as well as the level of treatment needed. If your leopard gecko looks and is healthy then it may not require treatment.

Symptoms of Pinworms

Here are some symptoms to be on the lookout for:

Appetite Loss

Your pet gecko may start to eat and drink less, while some individuals may not eat at all. A loss of appetite might be one of the first hints that your leopard gecko is not feeling well so keep a close eye on them if you start to see their appetite diminish.

Diarrhea

Some individuals affected may have diarrhea or runny stool.

Difficulty Keeping Eyes Open

Some affected individuals may keep their eyes shut most of the time.

Lethargy

Affected individuals will be lethargic. Leos are generally active in nature so if your leo sleeps a lot and moves slowly, it may be suffering from a pinworm infection.

Presence of Pinworms in Stool

You may be able to notice the presence of the pinworms themselves.

Refusal to Drink

Infected individuals may stop drinking altogether. This will lead to dehydration.

Runny Stools

This is a big symptom to watch out for at all times.

Regurgitation

Your lizard may throw up.

Possible Causes of Pinworms

The most common cause of infestation is an unclean enclosure and poor environmental conditions such as adequate heating. The enclosure of the Leo has to be clean.

It is important to remove fecal matter as soon as you notice them. You also have to change the substrate regularly.

Prevention Methods for Pinworms

Prevention is usually easier and cheaper than treatment. With a clean enclosure, you can easily rid the enclosure of pinworms.

Spot cleaning is essential. You need to remove all uneaten foods and fecal matter as soon as you see them.

Additionally, you also need to clean the tank using a cleaning solution once every 3 to 4 months. I recommend cleaning the enclosure using a 5% chlorine bleach solution (30 parts water and 1 part bleach).

Treatment for Pinworms

While a mild case of pinworms isn’t an issue, severe infestations need to be treated right away. If you suspect that your reptile is infected with pinworms, you need to see a reptilian and amphibian veterinarian.

Hopefully, this is a vet that knows you and your lizard. It is also important to have a vet examine your pet when you first acquire it.

The vet will proceed to do a fecal examination. Here the vet will check for the presence of pinworms and pinworm eggs in the fecal matter.

Treatment will depend on how severe the infestation is as well as how severe the weight loss of the gecko is. In severe cases, the vet may also recommend a high-calorie diet and vitamin supplement.

Pinworms are treated using dewormers. Several rounds of deworming may be needed to rid your reptile of pinworms.

Hookworms

Hookworm under a microscope
Hookworm under a microscope. – source

Hookworm infections are much less common. Hookworms are aptly named as they have hooks on their head which they use to attach themselves to the gastrointestinal tract of the reptile. 

Symptoms of Hookworms

Here are some symptoms of cryptosporidium infection:

Weight Loss

This may also be a sign of malnourishment. As the hookworm siphon nutrients from your reptile, it can lead to weight loss.

Poor Appetite

When a leopard gecko is not feeling good,

Lethargy 

Affected individuals will typically be lethargic. Leos are generally active in nature so if your leo seems to be sleeping a lot or moves more slowly, it may be suffering from a hookworm infection.

Abnormal Stools

This includes runny stools.

Regurgitation

For an infected leopard gecko, it can be very hard to keep food down.

Causes of Hookworms

The main cause of Cryptosporidium infestation is poor husbandry. An unclean enclosure will breed these parasites. An unclean enclosure will become a hot spot for the spread of the parasite.

Prevention Methods for Hookworms

Prevention is as simple as keeping your leo’s enclosure clean at all times. Additionally, get a yearly fecal screening at your reptilian and amphibian veterinarian to ensure that parasites are discovered early on.

The enclosure for the lizard must also be appropriately sized. Additionally, the heating and lighting have to be adequate.

You also need to feed your pet lizard well. A well-fed and comfortable lizard will be less stressed which means that its immune system can better fight off infestations.

Treatment for Hookworms

Hookworms are treated using dewormers. Of course, you will need to book an appointment and see your reptilian & amphibian veterinarian.

Using over-the-counter medication for humans, dogs, or other animals isn’t advised as these may not be appropriate for the lizard. The dosage and medicine need to be determined by a qualified vet.

Coccidia

Coccidia under a microscope
Coccidia under a microscope. – source

Coccidia refers to single-celled protozoa that can often be found in low numbers in otherwise healthy leopard geckos. However, they can also cause illness and can infect the intestines and tissues of your leopard gecko.

Again, regular checkups can ensure that the presence of this cellular organism isn’t causing any adverse health issues. You must take your leopard gecko for these checkups to have a reptile vet do a full examination of their stool and overall health.

This will be your best bet in keeping your gecko happy and healthy.

The symptoms of coccidia infection are similar to those of pinworm infection.

Symptoms of Coccidia

Here are some symptoms to be on the lookout for:

Appetite Loss

Your gecko may start to eat and drink less. Some individuals may not eat at all. 

Diarrhea

Some affected individuals may have diarrhea.

Weight Loss

Individuals suffering from coccidia infection will lose weight, especially in their tails.

Lethargy

Since leos are active reptiles, lethargy is one of those signs that are quite easy to notice. 

Runny Stools

Frequent runny stools are usually a symptom that something is severally wrong. 

Regurgitation

Your gecko may have trouble keeping its food down.

Causes of Coccidia

The cause of coccidia infection is poor husbandry and an unclean enclosure. It is essential that conditions within the enclosure are right and that the gecko’s tank is clean.

It is necessary to remove uneaten food and fecal matter. Also, you should replace the substrate regularly.

Prevention Methods for Coccidia

Prevention of coccidia infection is the same as prevention of pinworm infestation. A clean enclosure will significantly reduce the chances of your lizard suffering from coccidia infection. 

Spot clean as often as you can. This includes removing all uneaten foods and fecal matter. You should also clean the enclosure using a bleach solution out once every month. This will ensure that the parasite numbers are kept at a manageable number. 

You also need to clean the water and food dishes, and all stones and decorations. Change the substrate within the enclosure regularly as they get dirty with time. 

Treatment for Coccidia

The coccidia protozoa is common and can be found in almost all leopard geckos. The presence of the parasite is usually not a cause for concern.

The only time you need to worry is when numbers are high. Once you notice symptoms, you have to contact your vet.

The vet will proceed to do a fecal examination. Here the vet will check for the presence of coccidia and in the fecal matter. Once the severity of the infection has been determined, dewormers will be administered to the reptile.

In cases of severe weight loss, the vet may suggest high-caloric diets. These are diets that are composed of plenty of protein and fat. This ensures that the lizard gains the weight it has lost.

The vet may also recommend vitamin supplements and additional fluids.

Cryptosporidiosis

Example of a Leopard Gecko with an extreme case of Cryptosporidium.

Also known as “stick tail”, this mutant of coccidia is a one-celled parasite called Cryptosporidium Varanii that causes leopard geckos to lose an extreme amount of weight.

Leopard geckos keep most of their fat in their tail, which keeps them healthy. With Cryptosporidiosis, you will see that the fat deposits in their tail will diminish very quickly, which can kill them if untreated.

The cryptosporidium is a protozoal parasite that resides in the gastrointestinal system of the gecko. It can be found through a stool sample.

Your leopard gecko will need to be taken for an examination of the Cryptosporidium DNA as soon as possible. If you suspect your lizard has a parasite at all, take them for a fecal test and vent swab immediately.

Some leopard geckos diagnosed with Cryptosporidium may already have underlying issues. Your vet will be able to help diagnose and give the appropriate treatment to your gecko for them to live a healthier, longer life.

Keep in mind that a crypto-positive gecko will have to go through a life-long recovery from this parasite. It cannot be reversed but through prescribed medication, such as paromomycin, you can keep the numbers low enough for recovery.

Your Cryptosporidium-positive gecko will still be contagious to other geckos though and you must keep it separate from other reptiles.

Cryptosporidium may come with other diseases that your leopard gecko could be suffering from as well, so you want to make sure to keep communicating with your vet in order to properly care for your pet.

Not everyone will have the means or awareness to care for a Cryptosporidium-positive leopard gecko. You should discuss with your reptile veterinarian how to give your leopard gecko a fulfilling life while going through treatment for Cryptosporidium, even after recovery.

Symptoms of Cryptosporidiosis

Like any other intestinal parasite, your leopard gecko may be able to contract it from other infected reptiles or through contaminated objects in their environment, including food infected with the parasite.

If your leopard gecko is acting differently or has abnormal eating habits and stools, you might want to check its symptoms to make sure it is not an intestinal parasite.

Here are some common symptoms that leopard geckos with an intestinal parasite might exhibit:

Intestinal Difficulties

The first place to look for symptoms is in their stool. It may be very runny with a foul odor if there is a parasite using them as a host.

You should be checking and paying attention to their stools. It is possible you might even find small organisms in there as well. A suffering leopard gecko may even vomit and might have trouble keeping its food down when it is infected with a parasite.

In more extreme cases, you may even find a little bit of blood in their feces and their intestines might prolapse. Leopard geckos suffering from diarrhea will become very dehydrated, which can stunt their recovery even more.

These are just some signs of intestinal difficulties that you should be aware of to properly care for your leopard gecko and lessen their suffering.

Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss

In a lot of cases of intestinal parasites, your leopard gecko will refuse to eat or just stop eating altogether. This is a huge hint that they are not well and that they may be stressed out.

Parasites will impair your leopard gecko’s appetite. Over time they will also cause your leopard to lose weight, which will be most obvious in their tail because that is where they store the most fat.

Weight loss is a symptom that comes with a parasitic infestation. That is why leopard geckos suffering from Cryptosporidium can be seen with skinny tails, hence the disease’s nickname of the “stick tail” parasite.

Whatever is bothering them and causing them to not want to eat, you should take them for a health check-up to find out the root of the cause.

Lethargy

After dealing with a parasite for a while, your leopard gecko will start to become weaker and malnourished. This will cause them to wallow around and act sluggish even during their active hours.

A lethargic leopard gecko will not want to come out of its hide, even after its lights have been turned off. Leopard geckos will usually be more active at night, so keep an eye on their behavior when you’re about to go to bed to see if they are acting in their natural ways.

Try your best to pay attention to any changes in your leopard gecko. This includes any off or strange behavior in their day-to-day routines as well as how they act in general.

Possible Causes of Cryptosporidiosis

More often than not, the main cause of Cryptosporidium infestation is poor husbandry. An unclean enclosure is the perfect breeding ground for these parasites.

Try your best to pick up all waste and feces in your pet’s tank at the end of the day.

Prevention of Cryptosporidiosis

When you take your leopard gecko in for treatment, your vet may put an extra emphasis on keeping their tank cleaner than you usually do it. This is because a clean enclosure will make for a healthy gecko.

The key to preventing parasites is cleaning up their feces as soon as they are passed, as leaving these droppings around can cause a build-up of parasites.

You should also make sure that the insects you feed them should not have any larva or defects in them as well. When gut loading crickets, or other feeders, take the time to get a good look at them, making sure they are without infection.

It is usually common knowledge amongst owners not to house two or more leopard geckos together in the first place. Some leopard geckos may already have contracted the parasites and are contagious to other geckos.

Making sure your leopard gecko has its own enclosure away from other leopard geckos is the best idea. They like their space anyway and they will be less stressed out on their own.

On that note, it is essential that you obtain the reptile from a reputable breeder. To begin with, this will ensure that the lizard is healthy.

You will want to quarantine the lizard and a vet appointment when you first acquire the lizard. The quarantine period gives potential infections plenty of time to exhibit symptoms.

This way, if the lizard is infected, it wouldn’t infect others.

The enclosure you choose for your gecko, the lighting, bedding, how you feed them, and how you typically care for your gecko will definitely have an impact on their stress levels. A stressed gecko will normally have a weaker immune system.

You want to ensure that your gecko is as healthy as it can be, and you can definitely start by creating an enclosure they can be happy in with as little stress as possible.

Treatment for Cryptosporidiosis

It is essential to book an appointment and see a herp or exotic vet if your reptile is suffering from stick You will definitely need veterinary aid to properly treat your leopard gecko. Your reptile veterinarian will be able to best assist you in diagnosing and treating your sick lizard.

To get an accurate diagnosis, your vet will need to determine which parasites might be infesting your leopard gecko’s body. They will perform some health tests and analyze their stools.

After determining what is infesting your leopard gecko, your vet may prescribe a dewormer that you can administer yourself at home. They might prescribe a course of antiparasitic medication that will reduce the population of parasites in your leopard gecko.

The dosage and medicine need to be determined. Interestingly, while some geckos will exhibit little to no change even though they carry the parasite, other geckos will exhibit frightening symptoms.

At the vet’s, they will be able to prescribe anything else they might need as well as give you any tips to help you prevent issues like this from getting worse. Your leopard gecko will have the best chances of survival with a reptile vet’s help.

You should use this chance to also educate yourself on the cleanliness of their environment and what steps need to be taken to keep them healthy for the remainder of their life.

Conclusion

All in all, it is best that you know and understands the many types of parasites that could infest your leopard gecko to quickly catch the issue before it becomes an extreme case.

Leos are quite popular pet reptiles and for good reason. These reptiles are relatively easy to care for and come in a wide range of colors and morphs.

Caring for your leopard gecko is to quickly spot symptoms and take them in for treatment before it becomes a more painful issue for them and an expensive issue for you.

Keep your beloved pet lizard healthy and make sure you pay extra close attention to the little things they do, as it might be a warning sign for you, as their owner.

Additionally, parasitic infections are relatively common. While you can reduce the chances of parasitic infections by maintaining a clean enclosure that is properly lit and heated, parasitic infections can still occur.

Instead of trying to diagnose the problem yourself, it is always best to see a professional vet.

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