Diseases of the Integumentary System

Chapter 42 Diseases of the Integumentary System


As in other animals, the skin of the reptile is the largest organ of the body and is important for protection of the internal structures, to prevent drying, and to prevent invasion by bacterial, fungal, and viral organisms. Normal reptile skin consists of two layers, the epidermis and dermis. The epidermis is covered completely by keratin, forming scales and joints. The dorsal skin of some reptiles may be ornamental or defensive in structure (as in horned lizards). The ventral surface skin is thin in some species and thick in others. The dermis consists of connective tissue and may contain small bones called osteoderms. Normal reptile skin heals more slowly than mammalian skin, with lesions often taking up to 6 weeks to heal, and the speed of healing can be related to environmental temperatures. (Healing is faster at greater temperatures.)

Reptiles shed their skin periodically in a process known as ecdysis. The frequency of shedding is related to species, age, state of nutrition, reproductive status, parasite load, ambient temperature, and humidity. In snakes, the process normally replicates existing skin and replaces the entire epidermis with shedding of the old skin, usually in one piece. The process takes about 2 weeks. The animal may not feed and be cranky, so owners should limit handling during this time. During ecdysis, the skin is much more permeable, and topical medications may be more readily absorbed.


Types of trauma commonly seen in reptile patients include cage trauma (usually to the nose and facial area), prey trauma (due to prey attacking the snake), and thermal trauma (burns from hot rocks or heating lamps). As a result of the snake’s environment, almost all wounds become infected and will require treatment. Bacteria such as Aeromonas, Corynebacteria, Mycobacterium, Pseudomonas, and Salmonella have been associated with both abscesses and superficial lesions in snakes.

Aug 31, 2016 | Posted by in GENERAL | Comments Off on Diseases of the Integumentary System
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