Mouth Rot or Infectious Stomatitis in Reptiles

Filed Under: Reptiles, Diseases

Inflammation of the tissues in the mouth is defined as infectious stomatitis, more commonly known as mouth rot. The initiating cause may be stress or trauma, both of which lead to an infection of the oral cavity by opportunistic pathogenic bacteria. Common types of bacteria isolated from this area include Pseudomonas, Aeromonas, Klebsiella, and Salmonella. In some cases, mycobacteria, and some species of fungi, or some viruses may also become involved.

Stress may be induced in a variety of ways. Poor husbandry practices especially a cold captive environment and poor diet will suppress the animal’s immune system allowing the reptile to be at risk of secondary opportunistic infections. Trauma, another frequently encountered cause of mouth rot, occurs when captive reptiles continuously rub their noses on an enclosure surface. Once superficial abrasions occur on the skin, the door is left open for secondary infections.

Early clinical signs of disease may be seen as a lack of appetite and excessive salivation. As the disease progresses, the reptile will develop swollen and cracked gums. The gums may become so friable (easily crumbles) that they bleed. When the condition deteriorates, caseous (white cheesy material) may develop along the dental arcade. The condition may progress to the point that teeth become loose. The oral cavity may be observed by using a kitchen spatula to gently pry open the mouth. Severe infections may spread causing osteomyelitis (bone infection), pneumonia, sinusitis (infection of the sinuses), and ocular (eye) inflammation.

Mild cases may simply be corrected by merely warming the animal’s environment to its optimal temperature, thereby encouraging top performance from the animal’s immune system. In superficial infections, topical antibiotic, antiseptic creams and solutions may be effective. With moderate to severe infections, it is best to obtain bacterial culture and sensitivity testing. Through culture and sensitivity testing, the type of bacteria infecting the area and the best antibiotic to control the infection will be determined. Systemic medications may then be administered to combat the infection, most commonly aminoglycosides such as gentamycin. Medication is typically given by injection especially since the administration of oral medication may further damage the inflamed tissues. Deep abscesses may need to be surgically drained. Supportive care including force feeding and fluids should be administered in anorexic (not eating) individuals.

Refractory cases may be the result of mycobacteria or fungal infections. Complicating disorders such as osteomyelitis or metabolic bone disease may also delay recovery.

It is important to identify and correct the initiating cause of the stomatitis. When the inciting cause of the illness is not determined, the condition is likely to return once the therapy is discontinued.


Mader, Douglas DVM. “Reptile Medicine and Surgery”. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadephia. Pp. 421-422.

Kahn, Cynthia Editor: The Merck Veterinary Manual. 9th Edition. p.1606.

Topics: gums, infection, reptiles

Symptoms: loss of appetite, salivation

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