Identifying and Treating Scale Rot

If you have a warm place in your heart for your cold-blooded pet, you do not want them to suffer needlessly from scale rot. They need you—and a warm, dry environment to survive and thrive. Cleaning up after your reptile can be tough, especially after an exhausting day when the last thing you want to do is empty their enclosure and ensure it’s not damp. To keep your reptile healthy, you must check their scales for any unusual symptoms. But doing these menial tasks can save you and your beloved pet from scale rot.


“Bearded dragon showing tongue” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0.

What is Scale Rot?

Scale rot works as a catch-all term to describe many conditions that can impact your reptile’s skin or scales. Also known as Blister Disease, scale rot is a bacterial or fungal infection that grows on your pet’s body. Scale rot can result from poor husbandry or an environment that produces too much moisture. The wide array of skin issues that fall under “scale rot” can be dangerous if left untreated. In fact, it can become fetal.

Many well-meaning owners can confuse scale rot with a burn or another condition and apply an incorrect at-home treatment. Consulting your herpetologist for a diagnosis will save you from headaches and will alleviate your pet from any further sicknesses.

So, if you suspect that your herp has scale rot and they’re in an enclosure with another herp, immediately isolate them. Scale rot is contagious and trying to mitigate the spread can help save you and your pets a lot of discomfort. 

What Does Scale Rot Look Like?

Early signs can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Blisters that begin as clear and can evolve into inflamed, red pustules
  • Swollen and inflamed scales
  • Discoloration of the skin near the abdomen or tail

What Causes Scale Rot?


“Iguana named King Kong” by -Cy- is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

Scale rot does not have one root cause. It’s often the result of a combination of conditions. Furthermore, because scale rot refers to multiple conditions, it’s best to cover all of your bases to prevent any of the infections reptiles can contract.

A contaminated or unhygienic living condition

To begin, pet enclosures should be inspected every day. Cleaning out food and water bowls then scooping out any feces is part of the daily routine for reptile owners.  Enclosures should be thoroughly cleaned once a week, as well. This includes changing the substrate, wiping off toys, and disinfecting the walls of their home to ensure they stay healthy after all of your efforts.

Oftentimes, reptiles are purchased as pets for children. Teaching and guiding your child on how to clean an enclosure will be a wonderful bonding experience, and ensure the pet is well cared for. 

Poor ventilation

Finding a good amount of ventilation, but not too much can be tricky. Consider the environment you live in. If you live in Florida, for example, too much ventilation can cause draft or dehydration. 

Too much humidity or heat

Reptiles need a heat lamp to ensure that they stay warm. However, you want to ensure the heat isn’t overwhelming or creating an overabundance of humidity in your reptile’s enclosure. Adequate ventilation helps facilitate a good combination of heat, humidity, and air flow. Snakes require additional humidity as they shed their skin.

To keep your reptile at a comfortable temperature, install a habitat thermometer and check it often.

Lack of Vitamin C or A

A deficiency of Vitamin C can cause poor wound healing or rot in reptiles. Having a Vitamin A deficiency weakens the immune system and increases the chances your pet has of contracting a fungal or bacterial infection, even when their enclosure is well-kept. 

How To Get Rid of Scale Rot Before it Worsens

Isolate and provide fresh bedding

In superficial cases of scale rot, you might notice signs of infection early on. Occasionally all you need to do is place your herp in a clean, dry, healthful environment to negate the infection. Putting your pet in an isolated area with fresh substrate will help keep them isolated and it will allow you to see if their condition improves.

Clean the site of infection

Cleaning the site of an infection or wound, after disinfecting their enclosure, will help facilitate healing. Be consistent with this treatment. Apply herp-certified wound care to your pet several times a day and ensure their bedding is kept dry and warm, with adequate humidity and ventilation.

Visit the vet

Small lizards or snakes can succumb to scale rot in a matter of days. Whereas, larger herps can withstand infections for weeks or months—although it’s dangerous to “wait and see” for a prolonged period.

If your pet doesn’t begin showing signs of improvement within a couple of days, take them to your herpetologist.

How To Treat Scale Rot That’s More Severe

In more severe cases, where your herp hid their condition for a long period of time, your veterinarian could prescribe an antibiotic therapy to rid your pet of their bacterial infection. They may also supplement this treatment with an antibiotic cream and or a silver sulfadiazine, povidone-iodine solution.

If they don’t prescribe a topical solution, consult your vet about supplementing antibiotic care with over-the-counter wound care to get your pet on a fast track to recovery.

Keep Your Reptile Healthy and Free of Scale Rot


“0.1 High Yellow Albino Ball Python (Python Regius)” by Viper76 is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Pets, no matter the species, are family. You never want them to suffer or be uncomfortable, especially if you can help treat and prevent it. Looking over your pet for any signs of illness and ensuring they always have a healthy appetite and adequate skincare will keep your herp healthy for years to come. 

Have a pet dog in addition to your reptile? Learn how to keep your dog’s skin healthy and free of hot spots.