Cryptosporidiosis: killer of Leopard geckos

This article is tagged to be infromative to veterinarians too. The information is not a substitute for advice from your veterinarian.

Cryptosporidiosis is a common, but devastating disease in Leopard geckos. It is mainly caused by a parasite called Cryptosporidium varanii and often ends with death or euthanasia.

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Introduction

Cryptosporidiosis (krip-toh-spore-id-ee-OH-sis(45)), also called “crypto”, is a worldwide disease that is caused by a group of single-celled protozoans called Cryptosporidium. They are coccidian parasites that belong to Cryptosporidiae family. Although there are many others too (at least 27), the main concerning species in reptiles are Cryptosporidium varanii and Cryptosporidium serpentis. Reptiles other than Leopard geckos that have been reported to have cryptosporidiosis include snakes, chameleons, Bearded dragons, monitors, turtles, tortoises and probably many more.

Some Cryptosporidium species can infect more than one host. All Cryptosporidium spp. should be considered potential zoonoses (animal diseases that can infect humans).

Cryptosporidiosis is an important, but complicated disease. This is an extensive article discussing the Cryptosporidium life cycle, cryptosporidiosis in Leopard geckos, the diagnosis and treatment of cryptosporidiosis in Leopard geckos and management and prevention of cryptosporidiosis in Leopard geckos.

Cryptosporidium varanii (also known as C. saurophilum) is mainly found in Leopard geckos and other lizards. Although they primarily infect the intestines(25), Cryptosporidium has also been found in other locations including the gallbladder and bile ducts, ear canal and pharynx of Leopard geckos(24).

Leopard geckos with cryptosporidiosis typically suffer from wasting syndrome. Clinical signs include progressive weight loss, failure to grow, anorexia and abdominal swelling. Leopard geckos infected with C. varanii often die (~50% of clinical cases(25)). Although it has also been found in Leopard geckos, Cryptosporidium serpentis mainly causes disease in snakes. It is a gastric parasite that that causes anorexia, postprandial regurgitation, lethargy, midbody swelling and weight loss. Lizards infected with C. serpentis are usually asymptomatic. C. serpentis has been shown to infect humans and has been detected in cattle. It is often reported that it is likely for lizards to be infected by many other Cryptosporidium species.

C. varanii and C. serpentis are both highly contagious and are mainly transmitted through ingesting food or water that came in contact with infected faeces.

Cryptosporidium life cycle

Cryptosporidium life-cycle in Leopard geckos

By looking at the typical life-cycle of Cryptosporidium, owners and veterinarians can have a better understanding of its effects, clinical signs, diagnosis, treatment and management. Image Gino Barzizza (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Hosts that are infected with Cryptosporidium excrete immature oocysts (microscopic eggs) in their faeces (referred to as the infectious stage off Cryptosporidium). The main route of transmission is faecal-orally — usually through infected stool contact with food and water. After being ingested, mature oocysts ruptures (called excystation) and releases sporozoites into the gastrointestinal system (small intestines of lizards and the stomach of snakes).

Sporozoites will then attach themselves to the brush border (microvilli) of the epithelial cells (the cell lining the intestinal tract) where they will be surrounded and gradually become intracellular, but extracytoplasmatic. Here, sporozoites will turn into trophozoites.

Trophozoites will form a parasitophorous vacuole around them and start to go through a process called schizogony (asexual reproduction by multiple fission). In turn, this will produce multiple merozoites which are then released back into the gastrointestinal tract.

Lower down the intestinal tract, merozoites will attach themselves back onto the brush border of the intestinal cells and, once again, enter them. From here, merozoites can do one of two things:

  • Become trophozoites again, which continues the asexual reproductive cycle
  • Become gamonts which undergo fertilization (sexual reproductive cycle)

Gamonts can either differentiate into macrogametocytes or microgametocytes (which produces and releases microgametes).

Microgametes then fertilizes the macrogametocytes forming zygotes. From here, depending on how far the process is happening from the end of the intestines, zygotes can sporulate (through meiosis) into one of two types of oocysts:

  • Thin-walled oocysts (i.e. those that fail to form a wall — about 20%) which release sporozoites while still inside the intestines (called autoinfection)
  • Thick-walled (immature) oocysts (i.e. those that form a wall) which are excreted with the faeces.

The development stages of Cryptosporidium happens inside its host and start with mature oocysts and ends when they are excreted as thick-walled oocysts again. Thin-walled oocysts can ‘reset’ the development stages when they release sporozoites.

Tests used to diagnose Cryptosporidium organisms (see later) depends on the stage of its life-cycle. Some tests are used to diagnose Cryptosporidium while it is in the infectious stages (e.g. stool samples), while others test for the developmental stages and its effect on the gastrointestinal tract.

Leopard gecko cryptosporidiosis

Cryptosporidiosis is a common disease in Leopard geckos. The main cause of cryptosporidiosis in Leopard geckos is Cryptosporidium varanii. Other Cryptosporidium spp. (e.g. C. serpentis) has also been identified in Leopard geckos, but although infective oocysts can still be shed, their presence is usually asymptomatic. Cryptosporidium varanii, on the other hand, often has devastating signs and causes Leopard geckos to become critically ill.

The disease-causing process of Cryptosporidium varanii in Leopard geckos stems from inflammation and hyperplasia (thickening) of the intestinal tract. This is mainly due to epithelial apoptosis (the destruction of cells) during the organism’s developmental stages. The physical attachment of the organisms to the endothelial cells also prevent food and water from being absorbed. This, in turn, causes malabsorption/maldigestion (less food being absorbed) perpetuated by diarrhoea and less food being consumed — ultimately leading to dehydration and cachexia. Malabsorption/maldigestion in Leopard geckos is seen as foul-smelling, ‘cottage cheesy’(30) faeces and passing of undigested food.

Early signs of cryptosporidiosis are regurgitation (bringing up/vomition) of shed skin and decreased appetite and weight loss. As the disease progress, regurgitation of undigested food will start to happen(30). Because a Leopard gecko’s tail stores fat reserves, thinning of the tail is very often among the first signs observed (hence the name “stick-tail”). The tail can thin up to a point where it can have a boney appearance. The thinning of the tail and other body parts is called wasting syndrome. Other signs of cryptosporidiosis include abdominal swelling lethargy and death.

If any of these signs are observed, the Leopard gecko should be quarantined and owners should be waring disposable medical latex gloves during handling. Diagnosis and treatment of cryptosporidiosis are best done under the guidance of a reptile-friendly veterinarian.

Although cryptosporidiosis is among the most common causes of wasting syndrome in Leopard geckos, there are other causes too. They include poor diet and husbandry, viral, bacterial, helminth (worm) and flagellate protozoa infections, intestinal obstructions, kidney disease and tumours.

Diagnosis of cryptosporidiosis in Leopard geckos

Although there are various tests available, it remains challenging to diagnose Cryptosporidiosis. This is mainly because oocyst excretion is intermittent, its small size and the fact that some Leopard geckos might be asymptomatic carriers. Other causes/diseases that can also lead to wasting syndrome might also have to be investigated. Testing can be performed on live or dead Leopard geckos. Cryptosporidium infections often go undiagnosed. In some countries, Cryptosporidium is a controlled and/or notifiable disease.

As mentioned before, the first signs of cryptosporidiosis in Leopard geckos are weight loss, failure to grow and unwillingness to eat. A presumptive diagnosis of cryptosporidiosis can be made when these signs, together with a suspicious history and the presence of other related clinical signs are present. With the identification of oocysts in stool samples, a well-educated diagnosis of cryptosporidiosis can be made, but in many cases, this will be considered definitive.

A scientifically proven way to tests stool samples for Cryptosporidium oocysts is by using a sugar flotation technique whereafter the sample is prepared with the modified Ziehl-Neelsen stain and evaluated using light microscopy. Other staining methods can be used too. If oocysts are present in the sample, they will stain red with a blue or green counterstain. Stool samples should also be tested for other parasites that can also cause poor appetite and weight loss in Leopard geckos (e.g. helminths and flagellate protozoa).

The problem with identifying oocysts using light microscopy is that it is not always possible to identify the exact species of Cryptosporidium. Leopard geckos might also be the asymptomatic host of other Cryptosporidium species with a concurrent disease that causes wasting syndrome.

In addition to this, the absence of oocysts does not exclude cryptosporidiosis. Multiple, consecutive (as many as seven(20)) stool evaluations might be required to be able to identify oocysts. Where multiple Leopard geckos were housed together, pooled stool samples can be used.

Even if oocysts have been visualised, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is recommended to identify the exact species of Cryptosporidium. Some clinicians rely on PCR testing as the first test for Leopard geckos with wasting syndrome. A small percentage of PCR tests are falsely negative (meaning they miss the disease). In addition to faecal samples, sputum and cloacal swabs can also be used. PCR tests are non-invasive and are becoming more readily available in some countries, but it is done in specialised laboratories and is expensive.

Other specialised laboratory tests that can be used to diagnose Cryptosporidium include immunochromatographic tests, enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA) and immunofluorescence (IF). There exists no single laboratory test for Cryptosporidium that is 100% accurate. Some tests will give false positives, while in others the organisms will only be identified in a percentage of positive samples. Not all of them will be able to diagnose Cryptosporidium up to the species level.

A diagnosis of cryptosporidiosis can also be made by using histopathology (microscopic examination of tissues). Although histopathology is also limited by not being able to distinguish on species level, it is considered to be the most accurate way to see if oocysts are present. This, together with a suspicious history, weight loss and hyperplastic or proliferative, lymphoplasmacytic enteritis there are no other diseases but cryptosporidiosis to consider.

  • While the patient is still alive, intestinal biopsies can be used, but the collection technique is very invasive and dangerous. General anaesthesia is required and due to the small size of the patient, biopsies are not practical.
  • It is more practical to collect tissue samples from patients that died. When a post-mortem examination (autopsy) is performed, tissue samples of the stomach and intestines can be submitted for testing. Autopsies are often done where deaths occurred in large reptile collections.

Asymptomatic carriers

Some Cryptosporidium infected Leopard geckos will be asymptomatic (show no clinical signs). Because these Leopard geckos basically ‘hide’ the disease, Cryptosporidium organisms often go undiagnosed. It is suspected that high levels of stress and/or a compromised immune system can contribute to higher parasite burdens, leading to more severe clinical signs(25).

Although studies have shown that the shedding of oocysts was lower in asymptomatic carriers(25), the disease can still be transmitted through faeces. Cryptosporidium positive Leopard geckos with a good body condition have fewer oocysts in their intestines and shed fewer oocysts in their faeces(25). When compared with baby and juvenile Leopard geckos, adults are more often asymptomatic.

Treatment and control of cryptosporidiosis in Leopard geckos

As if it is not complicated enough to diagnose, cryptosporidiosis is also complicated when it comes to treatment. Having a definitive diagnosis is desirable, but treatment is also indicated when a tentative diagnosis of Cryptosporidium has been made. Critically ill patients need to be stabilised/rehydrated first (see later).

Without treatment, up to 50%(25)of sick Leopard geckos will continue to lose weight until they die. Death can happen suddenly (unexpectedly), within a few weeks or may take months. Considering the devastating effects and the patient’s quality of life, euthanasia will often be recommended or given as an option. One study suggested that, although some animals can recover from a clinical infection, severely emaciated Leopard geckos (i.e. has lost more than 20% of its body weight and/or has reached a body condition score of 1) should be euthanized(5).

Various medications have been tried and tested. Up to date, there is no completely effective medication to rid Leopard geckos from Cryptosporidium. Toxicity and effectiveness of medication should be considered on an individual patient basis. Patients should be adequately hydrated before medications are to be administered. Concurrent diseases also need to be considered. In most cases, the aim will be to control the Cryptosporidium parasite (not to cure it) and prolong the life of the Leopard gecko.

Medications that were used in the past, but is either dangerous and/or had varied results include Aprinocid and azithromycin, Ionophores, Metronidazole, Spiramycin combined with Paromomycin, and Trimethoprim/sulphonamide combinations.

Paromomycin is widely used and is reported to have good clinical results at high doses.

Studies have shown that hyperimmune bovine colostrum had promising results in Leopard geckos, Savanna monitors and snakes(20). Hyperimmune bovine colostrum (HBC) that has been administered at 1% body weight showed clearance of the parasite on histology and reduced oocysts from stomach washes and faecal samples in clinically affected snakes. One study, where treatment was once a week, showed promise in gastric cryptosporidiosis in Savanna monitors while another has reported a significant reduction in oocyst shedding in Leopard geckos(36). Treatment needs to be carried out over a period of several weeks. The use of Colostrix (commercially available in some countries) is, therefore, a possible treatment option.

Secondary protozoal and bacterial infections are commonly seen in patients with cryptosporidiosis. These need to be addressed too. When inpatient (in hospital) treatment is indicated, supportive treatment will include fluid administration, nutritional support and antibiotic treatment.

At some point, especially if finances are a concern, the Leopard gecko is too debilitated, there is no response to initial treatment or aftercare is impractical, many owners opt for euthanasia.

Paromomycin

Paromomycin (“closely resembling neomycin”) is an oral aminoglycoside that was first used in the treatment of intestinal amebiasis and tapeworm infestation. It is more recently been used for the treatment and control of cryptosporidiosis. It is possibly more active than neomycin, and being a large-sized molecule, it has minimal systemic absorption. Paromomycin has been associated with renal failure in cats. Rehydration, precise stomach feeding and owner education are advisable.

The medicine will only suppress Cryptosporidium, not eradicate it. Some studies have reported that treatment with high doses (360 mg/kg) of paromomycin can possibly be curative in snakes, but it is widely reported that it will only help to keep the Cryptosporidium organisms at low enough numbers for a Leopard gecko to recover. Clinical signs will likely return soon after its use is stopped.

Paromomycin is given by mouth, using a syringe and a stomach tube [See ref. 23 for dosages]. A typical treatment protocol for paromomycin is to initiate a treatment course for several weeks and then to continue with a less frequent dose, life-long. Depending on the condition of the Leopard gecko, in-patient (in hospital) or outpatient (at-home) treatment might be recommended.

The initial treatment course can range from two to up six or eight weeks(24), after which the patient is re-evaluated to see if the treatment was effective. Treatment frequency will either be daily or every other day. Some cases warrant frequency reduction to once or twice a week. Depending on the initial response, the treatment course can either be continued, repeated as needed or treatment will have to continue life-long. The response to treatment can be measured by body condition score, weight, habitis (activity level), appetite and visual appearance of faeces.

Some clinicians have seen good control of clinical signs with precise stomach feeding plans and paromomycin every 48h at 300mg/kg(20).

Addressing dehydration and anorexia

During the initial phases of treatment, emaciated and anorectic Leopard geckos (i.e. those that are not eating) will need nutritional support. Even though desert reptiles can withstand significant levels of dehydration, hydration will also need to be corrected. Using the correct methods, volumes, types and frequencies can be life-saving.

Dehydration is classified as mild (<5%), moderate, (5-<10%) or severe (≥10-15%). Signs of dehydration in Leopard gecko include flexible (nonrigid) eyelids, sunken eyes, dry/sticky/tacky mucous membranes (lining of the mouth), the tenaciousness/dry ropiness of saliva, loss of skin turgor (elasticity) — especially seen on the sides of the body(42). Moderate to severe dehydration can be assumed in cases where weight loss occurred over a prolonged period of time(38). Additionally, blood tests such as packed cell volume (PCV), total proteins (TP), blood urinary nitrogen (BUN) and plasma sodium and chloride are also evaluated(38).

The volume of fluid that needs to be given is calculated as maintenance fluids plus replacement fluids(38)(42). The replacement fluids need to be given over a period of 2 to 4 days(38)(42). The maintenance fluid requirement for reptiles are calculated as either ~10-30 ml/kg/day(23)(37)(42) or 2.5-3.5% of BW per day(40). Replacement fluids (that needs to be given over 48-96 hours) are calculated as(42):

hydration deficit (percentage decimal) x body weight (kg) x 1000 ml

A 50-gram adult Leopard gecko with cryptosporidiosis that is 10% dehydrated will need about 1 ml of maintenance fluids per day and an additional 5 ml replacement fluids over 2-4 days. This means the daily requirements will be about 2 ml for the first 4 days.

Calculated daily requirements should be divided over 2 or 3 evenly spaced boluses(40) when CRI is not available or impractical. Fluids should be sterile and pre-warmed (using a fluid incubator) to the mid-range of the optimal body(42)/environmental temperature of Leopard geckos (i.e. 25–30 ºC / 77–86 ºF(23)). Hydration needs to be addressed before feeding is to commence(38) — even if it takes days.

Leopard geckos with diarrhoea and regurgitation can be treated with crystalloids such as isotonic balanced fluids (e.g. 0.9% physiologic saline, Plasma-Lyte A, Normosol-R and Lactated Ringers solution)(38). A 50:50 mixture with 5% glucose in water can be used in hypoglycaemic Leopard gecko patients (Glc ~< 4.3 mmol/l)(39).

Hydration methods in Leopard geckos are limited to assist drinking, orogastric tube-feeding and subcutaneous (SC), intracoelomic (ICo) and intraosseous (IO) fluid administration. As of yet, the author was unable to find any authoritative literature supporting the, often reported, the fact that lizards (and other non-aquatic reptiles) can absorb water through their skins. There is also no support for, the so-called, ‘cloacal-drinking’(38).

With Cryptosporidiosis patients, hydration methods that rely on a functional gastrointestinal tract (such as assist drinking and orogastric tube-feeding) will be less effective. Subcutaneous fluid injections are effective in lizards with mild (<5%) dehydration(37). In moderate to severe cases of dehydration (>8%), non-irritating ICo fluids or IO fluids can be given(37)(38). Intraosseous fluid administration (fluids given into the bone canal) has the added advantage of being more secure but requires heavy sedation, local anaesthesia or general anaesthesia in combination with premedicated analgesia(42).

Tube-feeding a Leopard gecko

Leopard geckos with cryptosporidiosis are often emaciated and need some sort of assist feeding. Tube-feeding a Leopard gecko. Stomach feeding is done by injecting liquidised food directly into the stomach. For more information, see Nutritional support for Leopard geckos. Image © Renier Delport

In cases where assist feeding (see managing hydration and body condition below) is unsuccessful, precise stomach feeding will be required for Leopard geckos that still refuses to eat for several days after rehydration(38) and the initial treatment. By feeding, hydration requirements will also often be met. Important nutritional factors to consider include the stage of feeding, type of food given, energy requirements (calories), concentration and volume. Leopard geckos are considered insectivorous, but carnivorous diets can also be used.

The energy required for maintenance (aka “standard metabolic rate” or SMR) is calculated as 10 x (BW[kg])0.75) per day. For example, a 50 g Leopard gecko has an SMR of 1 kcal/day. The SMR also needs to be adapted for additional energy requirements (illness, growth, etc.). This is done by multiplying the SMR by an estimated illness factor of between 0.2 and 4.0(38). Although objective, a reasonable illness factor for a Cryptosporidiosis patient to gain weight, and to gain weight and grow, would be 2, and 3.

When it comes to the volume of nutrition, guidelines include ~15-30 ml/kg/day (1.5-3% BW). It is preferable that the TER is appropriately diluted, initially using electrolytes and later water, to meet the volume criteria. The daily volumes are best divided into several small meals spaced evenly over 24 hours(38).

For feeding guidelines see Nutritional support for Leopard geckos.

Stomach and assist feeding might have to be continued after discharge. If hydration and nutritional support need to be continued at home, the treating veterinarian will be able to assist with the equipment needed, type and amount of food and frequency.

Management of Leopard geckos with cryptosporidiosis

For Leopard geckos that return home after seeing the veterinarian, strict management will be required. Once a Leopard gecko has been infected with Cryptosporidium chances are that it will never completely rid itself from the parasite. This means that, apart from giving the prescribed medicine, infected Leopard geckos should be isolated, general hygiene precautions should be followed and disinfection of enclosures and furniture needs to be done routinely and thoroughly. The success of treatment and management will largely be determined by the improvement and maintenance of a good body condition. Hydration and body condition also need to be managed. Follow-up veterinary visits will be advised. Management will need to continue life long.

To prevent the transmission of Cryptosporidium between different Leopard geckos, from one Leopard gecko to other reptiles and/or from Leopard geckos to humans, owners should be mindful and cautious when there’s any form of contact. General hygiene precautions should always be followed. Disposable latex medical gloves should be worn and/or strict hand sanitisation principles should be followed when any contact is/was made with an infected Leopard gecko, its enclosure or anything inside the enclosure.

As a summary, these are good hygiene principles for Leopard gecko owners:

  • Do not touch your face while, or directly after, handling a Leopard gecko, the enclosure furniture, the inside of their enclosure, feeder insects or their substrate.
  • Protect any open sores or wounds you might have on your hands before touching or handling a Leopard gecko.
  • Wash and disinfect your hands (or in-contact skin) before and after handling a Leopard gecko.
  • Wash and disinfect your hands (or in-contact skin) after handling enclosure furniture, the inside of the enclosure, the substrate and/or feeder insects.
  • Do not kiss a Leopard gecko or bring it close to your face.
  • Do not eat while in the proximity of Leopard geckos or feeder insects.
  • Use safe, but proven disinfectants to wash, wipe or spray your hands.
  • Use disposable medical latex gloves if possible.

For more information, also see our Leopard gecko owner hygiene article.

Hand washing
Hand washing
  1. Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
  2. Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces, including under the fingernails.
  3. Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse hands well under running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a disposable paper towel or a hand dryer.

It is also recommended to wash your hands before and after using protective gloves.

Note: These measures should be routine but are especially important while managing sick Leopard geckos.

The further spread can be prevented by isolation from other reptiles. Asymptomatic groups of infected Leopard geckos can be isolated together. Items should not be moved from the room where isolation takes place. The isolation enclosure and enclosure furniture should be easily accessible and easy to clean and disinfect. Disposable paper towel, non-printed paper, newspaper or brown butcher paper will make cleaning a lot easier. Daily cleaning of faeces and effective disinfection of food and water bowls are required. The supply of food and mineral/vitamin supplements should continue as usual.

It is believed that stress is a predisposing factor and it may induce cryptosporidiosis. Cryptosporidium positive Leopard geckos should not be used for breeding. Other that should be avoided include shipping, lack of heat, overcrowding, irregular photoperiods, excessive periods of darkness, poor diets and unhygienic environments.

Sterilisation and disinfecting

Because of their thick walls, Cryptosporidium oocysts can last in the environment for years. Effective sterilisation or sterilisation techniques need to be used to rid enclosure and enclosure furniture from Cryptosporidium. This includes the original enclosure and the isolation enclosure. Disposable and in-contact items (cleaning and feeding equipment, the old substrate, non-cleanable enclosure furniture, etc.) should be discarded after they are not being used anymore.

Routine disinfection and cleaning do not kill oocysts. Cryptosporidium oocysts are mostly resistant to quaternary ammonium compounds (e.g. F10 products), biguanides (e.g. chlorhexidine), sodium hypochlorite (bleach), glutaldehydes (formalin) and alcohol and chlorine-based disinfectants(26).

Disinfectants that can be used to sterilise Cryptosporidium include 6% hydrogen peroxide and full-strength household ammonia. Items need to be drenched for 18 hours in the case of ammonia and 20 minutes in the case of hydrogen peroxide(26). Note that hydrogen peroxide is corrosive and is broken down (becomes less effective) when exposed to sunlight. Ammonia releases fumes that are toxic to humans and animals and needs to be used in a well-ventilated area.

Effective sterilisation methods that will kill oocysts include boiling (for three minutes), steaming (e.g. 80°C / 176°F for two minutes(26)) and desiccation (drying out). Washing and proper sun drying is an effective way to kill Cryptosporidium oocysts.

Before disinfection commences, all areas should be scrubbed and excess dirt should be removed.

Managing hydration and body condition

For management to be viable, it is important that affected Leopard geckos maintain their hydration status and weight. Assist feeding will be required for Leopard geckos that are poor eaters. This will help to gain the weight that was lost, allow growth and to maintain hydration. It is done either by using feeding tongs or forceps to hold food items in front of the Leopard gecko’s nose or by placing small volumes of liquidised food into the mouth using a small syringe or syringe attached to a feeding tube(38). The tip of the syringe/feeding tube should be smooth/blunted. The treating veterinarian will be able to assist with the equipment needed, type and amount of food and frequency of feeding.

At home, hydration can also be improved by assist drinking and supplying a proper humidifying shelter. Many Leopard geckos will drink voluntarily when placed into a shallow water bath for 10 mins.(38). The water temperature needs to be similar to that of the enclosure (i.e. 25–30 ºC / 77–86 ºF(23), use a thermometer) and the soaking container needs to be deep enough to prevent escape.

Leopard gecko water bath

Juvenile Leopard gecko placed in a shallow water bowl. This often stimulates drinking. In the case where the water bath is used for drinking, the water level does not have to be above the level of the body. Image by adyn02llee

The correct humidifying shelter will supply additional moisture to aid in hydration. Popular hide box substrates include peat/sphagnum moss and vermiculite that is wetted with an equal amount of water. Misted/sprayed paper towel can also be used. The substrate should not be soggy wet, but feel moist by touching it.

Prevention of Cryptosporidium in Leopard geckos

The best way to prevent Cryptosporidium is by preventing it from entering a collection in the first place. The first step is choosing only healthy-looking Leopard geckos from reputable breeders and clean facilities. It is worth asking breeders about their ‘Cryptosporidium policy’. The adoption of Leopard geckos that has signs of Cryptosporidiosis should be avoided.

All newly acquired Leopard geckos should be quarantined for at least three months. Signs to look out for include regurgitation, soft stools and weight loss (the weight should be recorded). During the quarantine period, multiple stool samples should be tested for the presence of Cryptosporidium oocysts.

Many breeders have a test and euthanasia policy where Cryptosporidium positive breeders are euthanised. To prevent the spread of the parasite, hatching facilities should be completely isolated from breeding and other facilities. Hatchling and baby Leopard geckos should be housed individually before they are sold. Biosecurity measures for breeding facilities include the restriction of viewers, education of staff, proper and regular disinfection and strict hygiene.

Conclusion

Cryptosporidiosis is a disease that affects many reptile species. It is seen quite common in Leopard geckos with devastating consequences. The best way to prevent cryptosporidiosis in Leopard geckos and other reptiles is proper quarantine. The disease can be managed in some cases, but will likely be required for the remainder of the Leopard gecko’s life.

References

Cited references

For URL links, see the Reference article page.












39) Knotkova, Zora; Morici, Manuel; Oliveri, Matteo; Knotek, Zdenek (2019). Blood profile in captive adult male Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius). Veterinarni Medicina 64, 172–177, April 2019