Amphibian Red Leg Disease: Causes, Signs, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

Red Leg Disease is a severe, and usually acute, bacterial infection of amphibians. It is termed "Red Leg Disease" because it causes hemorrhages of the leg (often the inner thigh) as a result of septicemia. Other parts of the body and internal organs may also be affected.

What causes Red Leg Disease?

Multiple types of organisms have been implicated in causing Red Leg Disease including Aeromonas, Pseudomonas, Proteus, Citrobacter, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli. It has also been suggested that Chlamydia-like organisms and even some viruses may cause Red Leg Disease. It is associated with poor husbandry conditions such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, spoiled food, fecal-contaminated water, trauma to the skin as a result of poor cage design, housing at too low a temperature, or exposure to toxins such as pesticides. Multiple animals are generally affected if housed in the same area.

What are the signs of Red Leg Disease?

The onset of disease is often sudden. The animal may lose his appetite, appear bloated, and be weak or lethargic. The hemorrhages, which are observed on the limbs and other body surfaces, may be pinpoint in size, up to very large. Ulcers may also develop, and the legs may swell. Convulsions and vomiting can occur as the animal becomes more septic, and finally dies.

How is Red Leg Disease diagnosed?

The examination of the cage and the animal generally make the diagnoses fairly apparent. Bacterial cultures and sensitivities should be performed on the affected animal or his cage mates.

How is Red Leg Disease treated and prevented?

Results of the antibiotic sensitivity test will determine which antibiotics are most appropriate to use for the treatment. Conditions which predisposed the animal to the disease, e.g.; poor sanitation, should be corrected immediately. The affected animal should be separated from the others so he can be more carefully monitored and cared for. Supportive care, such as placing the animal in an incubator, may be recommended. Cage mates of the affected animals may be given antibiotics as a means of prevention.

What is the prognosis for an amphibian with Red Leg Disease?

Even with treatment, many affected animals will die of this disease. It may have such a rapid course, that by the time the animal shows signs of disease, considerable irreversible damage has occurred to the internal organs.

 
References and Further Reading

Williams, DL. Amphibian dermatology. In Bonagura, JD; Kirk, RW. (eds.). Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy XII: Small Animal Practice. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1995.

Williams, DL. Amphibians. In Meredith, A; Redrobe, S. (eds.) British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Manual of Exotic Pets, Fourth Edition. BSAVA. Quedgeley, Gloucester, England; 2002.

Wright, KM. Amphibian Medicine and Surgery. In Mader, DR. (ed). Reptile Medicine and Surgery. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1996.

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