For minor issues, small wounds in reptiles like superficial cuts, scrapes or tail nips often will heal on their own. Reptile wounds heal more slowly than mammals or birds because they have a lower metabolism and variable body temperature. There is no best treatment for minor wounds in reptiles, but the following topical disinfectants and balms can be useful for minor issues. Some skin infections, like stomatitis (AKA mouthrot) or other inflammations of the mouth will also require topical treatment.
Keep an injured animal in a clean environment. A hospital tank or quarantine setup is best as long as it does not cause undue stress for your pet. It should be appropriately sized, but can be smaller than normal as long as the temperature range and thermoregulation needs of your reptile are met. Provide sterile substrate such as paper towels and replace as soon as you see wastes or spilled food which can breed bacterial nasties. Adequate humidity without being wet is suitable for most reptiles; amphibians of course need a wetter environment so frequent water changes are a must. Always keep in mind the POTZ (Preferred Optimal Temperature Zone) for the species you care for.
For major injuries, like deep cuts and broken bones, proper vet evaluation is necessary. If oral antibiotics are necessary, please take your pet to a qualified reptile vet!
There are two benefits of using a topical treatment: to disinfect the wound and to cover it to keep out dirt, irritants, germs and keep it moist for faster healing. In humans, the best advice is to not irrigate minor wounds. Very little information is available on most wound treatments in reptiles, so caution is necessary when selecting a product that has not been studied or used long-term by veterinarians.
We generally feel that superficial wounds will heal better untreated, but some situations require the use of an antibiotic, such as the presence of infectious diseases in your reptile collection, or in a weak individual.
Commercial Wound Care Products
Betadine, povidone-iodine, is a common veterinary formula for irrigating wounds and disinfecting wounds, burns, ulcers, etc. It’s notable for its brown coloring, from the iodine component. It’s used to disinfect wounds and to prep the skin for operation. A post-operative application prevents future infections in the wound area. PVP-I formulas come in concentrations of 7.5–10.0% as liquids, sprays, surgical scrubs and ointments.
Silver sulfadiazine (Silvadene) cream is great for burns, but also treats bacterial skin infections and some fungal infections. It helps seal in moisture and keep protect from further damage and infection.
A properly diluted (0.05%) chlorhexidine solution is great if you have it, just be sure it is very diluted as it has the potential to harm the skin at higher concentrations. There are two forms you can get: chlorhexidine diacetate, sold as Nolvasan, a 2% cleaning spray and wound irrigation treatment at .05% concentration, and chlorhexidine gluconate, the generic version, a 4% (variable) disinfecting topical treatment.
At .05% it has been shown in mammals to be more effective than Betadine in disinfecting and wound healing over time. It doesn’t appear to irritate human or reptile skin at normal surface disinfection dilutions. We have used it at that strength on tail nips and saw no negative reaction. However, you might want to abide by the directions and go for a .05% dilution.
Neosporin Original ointment may kill germs and keeps the wound moist. Be sure the Neosporin (or other triple antibiotic ointment) you use does not have any painkillers, which can be deadly to herps. The over-use of antibiotic ointments can lead to resistant bacteria such as MRSA, and this could be true for strains affecting reptiles as well.
Honey can be used in wound care, but keep in mind it is high in sugar and could potentially harbor organisms that feed on sugars, or attract flies and ants to the wound. Honey is great for keeping the wound moist and covered, but there’s little confirmed scientific evidence that it has compounds that kill germs or speed healing. Similarly, petroleum jelly will also protect the wound but will not kill germs. Petroleum products may have some properties that slow wound healing in reptiles, but this is not well documented.
Some old-school reptile keepers, vets, rehabilitation and rescue workers use Listerine for for reptile wound cleaning, but there isn’t much evidence of it being better than the products specifically made for human or animal wound care. It can do in a pinch to kill germs, but it certainly ins’t the most gentle on broken skin! Ethanol and other alcohol can dry the skin and kill healthy tissue along with the germs. Same for hydrogen peroxide. Only use original Listerine for this purpose (surface disinfecting), as it has been shown to kill bacteria, but we don’t recommend it.
As a disinfectant, there have been several tests that show that Listerine and chlorhexidine gluconate were good at killing mouth bacteria (chlorhexidine was better though). Listerine can kill certain virus types, but not all. As for bacteria commonly found outside the mouth, there was one study that ranked Listerine last out of several different mouthwashes in efficacy.
Note: Most other mouthwashes aren’t antiseptic at all and only freshen the breath (in humans, not recommended for gecko-stank-mouth). Many have anti-cavity chemicals, sticky substances, artificial fragrance, flavor and dyes.
Hydrogen peroxide, ethanol, isopropyl other rubbing alcohol formulas can dry the skin and kill healthy tissue along with the germs.
The best course of action is to keep the wound clean and ensure your reptile is comfortable. Both oral and topical antibiotics may be necessary, depending on the severity of the wound and overall health of the animal.
Slideshow: First Aid True or False http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/wound-care-10/slideshow-wound-care-dos-and-donts
HONEY: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings – WebMD http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-738-HONEY.aspx?activeIngredientId=738&activeIngredientName=HONEY
MRSA in U.S. becoming resistant to over the counter ointment http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/14/mrsa-in-u-s-becoming-resistant-to-over-the-counter-ointment/
Effects of chlorhexidine diacetate and povidone-iodine on wound healing in dogs. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3232321
Care of Insect Eating Lizards http://www.vet.purdue.edu/vth/sacp/documents/careofinsecteatinglizards.pdf
Beautiful Dragons: Disinfectants http://www.beautifuldragons.com/Disinfectants.html