Although blue-tongue skinks are known for their hardiness and toughness, like all animals, they are still susceptible to disease and sickness. Here are the most common diseases in blue-tongue skinks.
Blue-tongue skinks are certainly tough, after all, not too many animals thrive of off eating dead, decaying meat and trampled vegetation. However, they aren’t invulnerable to everything.
Typically, these are the most common diseases and conditions to watch out for as a blue-tongue owner:
- mouth rot
- scale rot
- metabolic bone disease
- respiratory infections
- spine deformities
Please note this disclaimer: I am not a licensed veterinarian. I’m simply a blue-tongue owner that has done quite a bit of research on this topic. This article is to simply be used as helpful advice, not professional medical advice.
I would strongly suggest that you use this ARAV tool to find a licensed reptile veterinarian nearby.
If you are looking for more information on a particular disease or condition, I would suggest that you use the table of contents below to get straight to it, as this article is quite lengthy!
Also known as stomatitis, mouth rot in blue-tongue skinks is almost always caused by a bacterial infection, usually from a very unhygienic and unclean terrarium. It can also be caused by unclean, infected dirty food.
A lot of times mouth rot is brought on because of a weakened immune system that has increasingly become weaker over time due to a lack of UV light and/or warmth.
A combination of a lack of no UV light, little or no warmth and an unkempt and unclean cage is just asking for the development of mouth rot in blue-tongues.
Usually, the first sign of mouth rot is inflammation alongside your bluey’s mouth, particularly the sides.
You might also see inflammation and even bleeding of the gums.
Mouth rot gets worse if left untreated however, so sooner or later you’ll start to notice very visible, inflamed and bloody gums, as well as red spots and even sores developing.
If not dealt with, mouth rot can become so unbearable and bad for your blue-tongue that it will have extreme difficulty, if not being completely unable to, eat! When this happens, it’s bad news.
General symptoms are as follows:
- swelling around the mouth
- reddening and inflammation around the mouth
- inability to eat
- excessive saliva
- cheesy, dark or yellow-covered pus
- bad smell coming from the mouth
What to Do
As I noted above, with mouth rot, early prevention is everything.
The sooner you find and deal with mouth rot, the easier it will be.
The absolute first step is to correct any husbandry (pet care) issues you may have that are or have contributed to the infection. So:
- clean out and disinfect your pet’s terrarium
- make sure your pet has a working UV light bulb
- ensure that your terrarium has a proper temperature gradient
For very mild or less serious cases of mouth rot, typically when you first start to notice it, blueys can often fight them off provided you are able to fix the underlying issue and give it a little bit of “help”.
After cleaning everything, try the following:
- increase the temperature in the cool area of your cage slightly, in order to boost your bluey’s metabolism
- take a Q-top dipped in iodine and gently swab away any leaking blood or pus
Unfortunately, for more severe cases of mouth rot, especially in cases where your skink has difficulty eating (or shows no interest in eating) and more obvious swelling:
You must take your blue-tongue to the vet.
Your vet will be able to take a culture and work out what exact antibiotics to give to your animal. This is because not all mouth rot derives from the same bacteria.
Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic Bone Disease (or MBD for short) is caused by a lack of 2 things in their diet:
- a lack of calcium
- a lack of the vitamin D3
Both of these are crucial.
The calcium is needed for their bones, teeth and maintenance of other bodily processes and the vitamin D3 is needed in order to metabolize and process the calcium.
No vitamin D3 = your animal will not process any calcium that it eats.
MBD in blue-tongues tends to develop from circumstances where:
- pet owners do not have a UV-B light set up in the cage (or frequently take their pet outside in the sunshine)
- pet owners do not provide a balanced diet (dog food, vegetables and calcium supplementation)
A lot of times, bluey owners don’t recognize that their pet has developed MBD until it is in full-effect and the symptoms are extremely obvious.
Some of the first symptoms that you’ll be able to observe are:
- a lump developing on and around the back of the reptile
- muscle twitches particularly on their limbs
The lumps are what you’ll need to check for. They will be squishy and soft, and often near the lower end of their back.
As MBD develops, other symptoms that develop are:
- problems opening and closing their jaw, inability to eat properly, very soft jaws
- having great difficulty walking
- tremors or seizures
- partial paralysis of their limbs or body parts
If left untreated, MBD often results in a crippled animal or death.
What to Do
The overwhelming vast majority of the time, MBD is caused by poor husbandry.
If you notice the onset of some of the earlier symptoms of MBD, you’ll need to correct them as soon as possible.
- adding a calcium and phosphorus-free supplement (preferably with vitamin D3 added) to its food
- ensuring that you have a working UV-B light
- ensuring that your temperature gradient, as well as basking temperature are proper and that your animals is basking
- fixing your pet’s diet (using wet canned dog food, greens and gut-loaded insects as your main foods)
With early symptoms, you can fix metabolic bone disease by simply fixing what you have been doing wrong.
Unfortunately, when you start to notice a lot of the more serious problems, you’ll also need to take the animal to the vet.
Your vet will then be able to ascertain the cause of the animal’s condition as well give you advice on what to do next.
Respiratory infections are not common in blue-tongues, but they do occur enough to warrant including them here.
A respiratory infection typically occurs from an infection of their respiratory tract, usually from bacteria, viruses or fungi.
Common causes are:
- temperature and humidity that is too low inside their cage
- their cage is too wet
- no temperature gradient
- bad diet
In the vast majority of cases however, a respiratory infection is due to the temperature simply being too low. This can be the result of circumstances such as:
- your heat bulb or heat pack losing power without you noticing
- the temperature dropping too low at night
- changes in the seasons affecting the temperature and humidity of the air where the animal is held
Respiratory infections have a tendency to come on pretty quickly in blue-tongues, and so you should be able to notice very obvious symptoms, such as:
- a wet, wheezing sound
- mucus and bubbles appearing in and around their mouth
- gaping mouth (almost as if the animal is starving for air)
- keeping their head tilted upwards
Usually, the most obvious tell-tale sign are the wet, wheezing sounds and mucus and bubbles.
You’ll be able to notice the wet-sounding breaths because they are very distinct and different from their regular sneezes. It will sound “gurgly”. Think of how you sound when you’ve got a bunch of phlegm in your tract.
What to Do:
Respiratory infections are pretty serious. They come on fast and typically last around a week.
If you catch them in the very early stages, you have a shot at eliminating them before they become more serious and before you will need to take your animal to the vet.
- checking your temperature and humidity settings
- bumping up the cool end of your temperature gradient a few degrees, to make the terrarium hotter and boost your pet’s metabolism
- keep the temperatures constant throughout the day and night
- monitor the animal for signs of improvement the next day
In more serious cases, where it is plainly obvious that your animal is having lots of difficulty breathing, is lethargic, uninterested in food and clearly sick, you will 100% need to take your animal to the vet.
Your vet will be able to properly diagnose what particular infection it has, and your blue-tongue will need antibiotics prescribed (usually Baytril, ceftazidime or Flagyl).
For a much more detailed, more in-depth look at blue-tongues and respiratory infections, you can check out this article I wrote HERE.
Scale rot is very similar to mouth rot, except that it affects the animal’s skin/scales. It is also known as necrotic dermatititis.
Scale rot usually develops from:
- bacterial, viral or fungi infections
- wounds or open sores that become infected or contaminated
- a cage environment that is too damp or wet, which exacerbates any lesions, sores, abscesses or wounds the animal may have on its skin
The vast majority of the time, scale rot is the result of bad husbandry, and of not taking proper precautions after the animal has suffered a wound, sore or lesion on its skin and a damp, wet environment.
Scale rot almost always manifests itself first as blisters, usually a bit reddened. It has a habit of forming on and around their stomach and legs, as it is this area that, if cut of infected, is prone to infections in a habitat that is too damp or wet.
Scale rot is fairly easy to spot, you will see:
- lesions, open sores or blisters on the body (usually stomach area)
- affected scales turning a white-greyish or brown color and looking eaten away
- leaking pus
Scale rot is super serious because once your blue-tongue has it, it will spread and eventually cause septicemia if left untreated. This is when the infection makes its way into your blue-tongue’s bloodstream and it becomes an infection of the entire body rather than just a part.
What to Do:
The absolute first thing to do when you suspect scale rot in a blue-tongue, is hopefully catch it in the early stages and move your skink from the wet or damp environment that it is currently in to paper bedding.
This is because it’s the dampness and wetness in your habitat that is really supercharging your bluey’s infection. You need to get your skink to a dry area ASAP.
If you catch scale rot in the very early stages, you can treat it yourself. The treatment is as follows:
- move your skink to an ultra-clean new cage with a paper bedding (it is vital that this area be free of any potential pathogens or bacteria)
- make sure your UV-B light is set-up correctly
- use a Q-tip to apply betadine to the infected area of your skink’s scale rot
- monitor for signs of improvement over the next few days
If your skink’s scale rot doesn’t begin to improve, or if you have a more serious case of it, you will need to take your animal to the vet. This is because your animal will likely need stronger or more specialized antibiotics, and your vet will be able to ascertain exactly what kind of infection it is, as well as the proper procedure for you to deal with it.
Spinal deformities in blue-tongues often start to develop quite early, when they are still babies and juveniles, and can either remain simply as nuisances or degenerate into something more serious.
A deformed spine is very often caused by a skink repeatedly climbing out of its cage.
What happens is that it will climb up, and make a bit of an “L” shape with its body bent near its back and tail. This part of their back will eventually start to form a “dip” that becomes more pronounced as they age.
Spinal deformities are usually made worse by:
- lack of UV-B light
- lack of calcium
- lack of a balanced diet
- a habitat that is less ideal for the skink
The most obvious sign of a spinal deformity developing is the appearance of a “dip” or “hunchback” in your blue-tongue. It’s almost always near their tail, but can be anywhere alongside their back.
It will look very unnatural and be a bit pronounced.
Sometimes, these animals can develop these dips or folds by accidents, often by falling from high ledges.
For some reason, it also appears that these types of deformities develop a lot more often in tanimbar blue-tongues.
What to Do:
If you start to see a spinal deformity developing, you’ll need to realize that it usually took a while to develop, and will take a while to correct or heal itself.
Often, these types of things start to develop through a combination of factors that you should immediately correct, such as:
- a cage that is too small; move your animal to a bigger cage
- a cage that lacks hides or anything for your animal to climb over and onto; if your skink has developed this from trying to climb out of your cage, having a hide or log or large stone, something that your blue-tongue can climb over and onto and “invert” its spine, will also certainly help
- a lack of UV-B light; spinal deformities also develop because of a lack of UV-B light, so make sure that your light is working properly
- a lack of calcium in their diet; blue-tongues need their UV-B light in order to process the calcium in their body, they also need a slight excess of calcium due to phosphorus binding
Unless it is extremely serious, you often do not need to take your animal to the vet for this type of thing.
Correcting your husbandry as soon as possible is what is needed.
These 5 blue-tongue skink diseases are what I have seen keep popping up and recurring with other pet owners.
To summarize the biggest causes of each:
- mouth rot often develops due messy, unclean cages with a lack of UV-B light
- metabolic bone disease often develops due to a lack of UV-B light and improper diet
- respiratory infections usually occur due to a cage temperature that is too low
- scale rot usually develops from a blister, sore or lesion that becomes infected due to a cage that is too wet or damp
- spinal deformities usually develop through a lack of UV-B light, improper diet as well as the animal constantly trying to climb out of the cage