Burns in Reptiles

By PetMD Editorial on Mar. 7, 2016


Although reptile owners take care in protecting their pet reptiles from all possible traumas, accidents may still happen. A little inattentiveness can lead to injury, and in some cases may even lead to serious burns to your pet reptile.


Burns are usually attributed to various kinds of heat sources. As a reptile owner, you know reptiles require supplemental heat sources. Some of the most common are hot rocks, undertank heating pads, and overhead lights. While these sources of heat are important for your reptile's thermoregulation, they may sometimes burn the reptile as it tries to get closer to the heat source. Burns often occur when the heating elements are placed dangerously close to the reptile, or when substrate is not used as a buffer above the undertank heat pad.


Burns may be quite serious if proper attention is not given immediately. The breaks in the skin caused by burning can leave your reptile at risk from bacterial and fungal infections, which can quickly become systemic and life threatening. It is difficult to determine how deeply tissue has been burned, therefore, taking your reptile to a veterinarian to get supportive care is essential. Veterinary treatment can include antibiotics, pain management for the burns, and feeding techniques for the the animal, who may have lost a lot of fluid.

The burned area will need to be cleaned and treated with topical ointments and/or cleansing baths. Your veterinarian may prescribe daily povidone-iodine soaks and an antibiotic ointment specifically for healing burned skin.

In cases of severe burns, a lot of fluid can be lost, leading to severe dehydration. The reptile may need fluids that can be given by enema or via injections. Your veterinarian will guide you in the best ways to help your reptile to heal from the burn. 


You can protect your reptile from burns by not having certain light bulbs in the containment space, such as halogen lamps, as they tend to stay hot even after they are turned off. Reptiles do not need heat to be close to their skin—remember that in nature, reptiles thermoregulate using the sun's heat, which is a very distant source of heat. Overhead lights should be outside of the tank entirely, with a tank lid betwen the lamp and the reptile, or placed high enough that the reptile cannot reach it. In the case of hot rocks, reptiles may stay too long on a hot rock, burning the skin. An undertank heat pad can make the tank floor hot enough to burn, so using an adequate substrate or buffer is necessary to prevent the reptile from lying too close to the heat. 

Also, do not allow the reptile to roam freely in rooms where there are open heat sources, such as radiators, space heaters, candles, fireplaces, heated potpourri pots, or other similar sources of heat that can be attractive to your reptile.

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