Common Diseases of Snakes
What are some of the common diseases of pet snakes?
Common conditions of pet snakes include stomatitis (mouth rot), parasites, respiratory disease, difficulty shedding, and septicaemia.
What are the signs of these diseases?
Stomatitis (mouth rot) is seen as pinpoint haemorrhages on the gums or an excess amount of thick mucus, often like cottage cheese, in the mouth. In severe cases, the snake will exhibit a severe swelling of the mouth and exhibit open-mouth breathing. While it often involves infectious agents such as bacteria, most cases are secondary to underlying husbandry problems.
Internal parasites may be an important cause of weight loss, anorexia, diarrhoea or regurgitation. It is important to have regular faecal checks for parasites. External parasites (especially mites) are also common. They may be a cause of shedding problems, skin irritation or failure to thrive. They may also be responsible for the spread of Inclusion Body Disease (IBD) of pythons.
Most respiratory infections are caused by bacteria, and in snakes are often seen in conjunction with mouth rot. Snakes with respiratory infections may have excess mucus in their oral cavities, nasal discharges, lethargy and loss of appetite, and possibly open-mouth breathing and wheezing. Again, most cases are due to underlying husbandry problems – especially low temperature, inadequate space and inadequate climbing provision.
"Snakes with respiratory infections may have excess mucus in their oral cavities, nasal discharges, lethargy and loss of appetite, and possibly open-mouth breathing and wheezing."
Some snakes have difficulty shedding (“dysecdysis”). Often this is due to improper environmental temperature or low humidity. Skin mites may also be a cause. A special concern is the snake with retained spectacles (eye caps). The spectacles are normally shed during the shedding process. When they are not shed but rather retained, your veterinarian should be consulted about removal as improper removal can result in permanent eye damage and blindness.
Septicaemia is a condition where bacteria invade the blood stream and other body organs. Snakes with septicaemia are critically ill and are often near death. They exhibit lethargy, lack of appetite, open-mouth breathing, and often have a red discoloration on the scales of their bellies.
How can I tell if my snake is sick?
Signs of disease in snakes may be specific for a certain disease, such as a cottage-cheese type discharge in the mouth of a snake with mouth rot, or non-specific, such as a snake with anorexia (lack of appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases. ANY deviation from normal should be a cause for concern and requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.
As there are many potential causes and underlying factors, your veterinarian may want to do many tests including radiographs, blood tests, and bacterial cultures to determine the cause of the infection.
Sick snakes require intensive care, including fluid therapy and force feeding, in the hospital and may need extended periods of supportive care.
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