Cryptosporidiosis in leopard geckos


donated by Herpetofauna


The leopard gecko is a relatively small lizard that lives in dry mountain regions, steppes and deserts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and is quite often kept in captivity. Larger groups of captive leopard geckos are regularly infected with cryptosporidia.

Cryptosporidia are parasites which can cause a deadly intestinal inflammation in all kinds of reptiles. During this infection large quantities of oocysts (the eggs of the cryptosporidia) end up in the environment via the feces. These oocysts can withstand dehydration quite well. This means that even after a longer period of time, if the oocysts are ingested by a healthy animal they remain capable of causing disease.

An infected gecko often shows no signs of disease. However, they will still secrete oocysts thereby infecting other animal in their surroundings. The first sign that a leopard gecko is suffering from cryptosporidic intestinal inflammation is often loss of muscle and fat in the tail. In addition, the animal shows symptoms of dehydration and will lose weight quickly due to poor absorption and digestion of food components. Eventually the animal stops eating and dies.

The “cryptosporidia” diagnosis can be made by making a smear of intestinal contents or gastric lavage. However, this method is not very sensitive, sometimes resulting in a false negative result. Luckily it is possible to detect the parasites using modern DNA techniques.

This research aimed to get an idea of how often cryptosporid contamination occurs in leopard geckos kept in the Netherlands. For this the feces of both healthy and diseased leopard geckos was tested with DNA techniques.