Scale Rot in Reptiles

What causes scale rot and what can you do about it?
| Updated: September 21, 2023
Scale Rot in Reptiles Infographic by BuzzPetz

Reptiles are fascinating creatures that can make great pets for those who are willing to provide them with proper care and attention. However, reptiles are also prone to some health issues that can affect their quality of life and even be fatal if left untreated. One of these issues is scale rot, a bacterial infection that damages the skin and scales of reptiles. In this article, we will explain what scale rot is, what causes it, how to diagnose it, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.

What is Scale Rot?

Scale rot is a general term that refers to any problem with the skin or scales of reptiles, such as blister disease, ulcerative dermatitis, bacterial abscesses, or secondary infections from burns or injuries. Scale rot can affect any reptile, but it is more common in snakes, especially those kept in humid and dirty enclosures. Scale rot can cause pain, discomfort, inflammation, infection, and even death in severe cases.

Causes of Scale Rot

Scale rot is caused by bacteria that enter the skin through wounds or abrasions. The bacteria can multiply and spread rapidly under certain conditions, such as:

  • High humidity: Reptiles need a certain level of humidity in their enclosures to maintain their hydration and facilitate their shedding. However, if the humidity is too high or the substrate (bedding) is too wet, it can create a moist environment that favors bacterial growth.
  • Low temperature: Reptiles are cold-blooded animals that rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. If the temperature in their enclosures is too low, it can lower their immune system and make them more susceptible to infections.
  • Poor hygiene: Reptiles need a clean and sanitary habitat to thrive. If their enclosures are not cleaned regularly or properly, they can accumulate feces, urine, food leftovers, mold, and other contaminants that can harbor bacteria.
  • Vitamin deficiency: Reptiles need a balanced diet that provides them with adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. If they lack vitamin A or C, they can develop skin problems that can predispose them to scale rot.


Scale rot is typically diagnosed by examining the skin and scales of the reptile. Some of the signs and symptoms of scale rot include:

  • Discoloration: The affected areas may appear red, brown, black, or otherwise darkened compared to the normal color of the reptile.
  • Blisters: The infected skin may form clear or bloody fluid blisters. These blisters may burst and leave ulcers or open wounds.
  • Raised scales: The scales may become swollen or lifted from the skin surface. They may also feel soft or mushy to the touch.
  • Foul odor: The infected skin may emit a bad smell due to the presence of bacteria and pus.

If you notice any of these signs in your reptile, you should take it to a veterinarian as soon as possible for confirmation and treatment. A veterinarian may also perform some tests, such as a skin culture or a blood test, to identify the type and severity of the infection.

How to Treat Reptiles with Scale Rot

The treatment of scale rot depends on the cause and extent of the infection. In general, the treatment involves:

  • Quarantine: To prevent cross-contamination, the infected reptile should be isolated from other reptiles. It should be placed in a separate enclosure with clean substrate, fresh water, and adequate heating and lighting.
  • Medication: The veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal drugs to kill the bacteria or fungi causing the infection. Depending on the case, these drugs may be given orally, topically, or by injection.
  • Wound care: The infected skin should be cleaned and disinfected daily with an antiseptic solution such as Vetericyn. Any dead tissue or debris should be removed gently with tweezers or scissors. Any blisters or abscesses should be drained carefully by a veterinarian.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be required to remove severely damaged tissue or scales. This may also help reduce scarring and improve healing.

How to Prevent Scale Rot

The number one way to prevent scale rot is to keep your reptiles’ enclosure clean and the temperature/humidity within the normal range for the species. Some things to pay attention to are:

  • Humidity control: You should monitor and adjust the humidity level in your reptile’s enclosure according to its specific needs. You can use a hygrometer to measure the humidity and a humidifier or a mister to increase it if needed. You should also avoid using wet or damp substrates that can retain moisture and cause mold.
  • Temperature regulation: You should ensure that your reptile’s enclosure has a proper temperature gradient that allows it to thermoregulate. You can use a thermometer to check the temperature and a heat lamp or a heat mat to provide warmth if needed. You should also avoid exposing your reptile to extreme temperatures or sudden changes that can stress it or cause burns.
  • Hygiene maintenance: You should clean your reptile’s enclosure regularly and thoroughly. You should remove any waste, food, or water spills as soon as possible. You should also disinfect the enclosure and its accessories with a reptile-safe cleaner at least once a week. You should also change the substrate frequently or use a disposable one that can be replaced easily.
  • Diet supplementation: You should feed your reptile a varied and balanced diet that meets its nutritional requirements. You should also supplement its diet with vitamin and mineral supplements, especially vitamin A and C, to boost its immune system and prevent skin problems.

Scale rot is a serious condition that can affect the health and happiness of your reptile. By following these tips, you can prevent scale rot from occurring or treat it effectively if it does. Remember to always consult a veterinarian if you have any doubts or concerns about your reptile’s health.

Shane Elliot Author Image
Shane Elliot

Shane Elliot is a pet lover and a coral enthusiast. He has been keeping saltwater aquariums for over ten years and enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with other hobbyists. He writes about coral care, fish compatibility, aquarium equipment, and more. He also covers topics related to other animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, and reptiles. Shane works as a freelance writer and editor when his menagerie of pets allows it.

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