Diseases In Snakes

Snakes of any kind are beautiful and exciting animals. Watching alone brings a lot of joy to snake fans and many animals are now so “tame” that they can be picked up without any problems. However, keeping the snake itself is not as easy as many interested parties initially imagine, and the diet should always be individually tailored to the animal. Even if all points are observed, it can still happen that a snake gets sick. In general, snakes are considered to be rather insensitive to bacteria. However, they are very sensitive to cold and could quickly develop pneumonia or diarrhea if the temperature is too low.

Unfortunately, they are among the animals that often show only very mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all when they become ill. For this reason, it is always important to know and observe your animal well. This means that as soon as the snake refuses food for no reason, drinks more than usual, does not molt, appears listless or is more aggressive than usual, it is important to observe the animals closely. Even if the snakes no longer visit their usual resting and sleeping places, an illness can be present. So that the snakes can be helped as best as possible, it is important that the disease is recognized as early as possible. However, snake keepers also know that the behavior of a snake can change quickly due to natural events such as moulting, pregnancy, mating or due to temperature fluctuations. So it is not easy to interpret the snake correctly. The animals are also real hunger artists and can easily eat nothing for half a year, which is not uncommon for snakes that live in the wild. Of course, in the event of illness, a snake should be given medical attention, being careful that not every regular veterinarian treats reptiles, so a specialist must be selected. In this article we want to introduce you to the most important diseases in snakes and their symptoms in more detail and show you what you should do in these cases to help your animal as best as possible.

Intestinal diseases in snakes

Intestinal and cloacal prolapses are a priority, especially in young snakes. These can occur, among other things, due to too little exercise, too much stress or due to indigestion, nerve paralysis and muscle weakness. A non-species-appropriate diet could also be to blame for such a snake disease, for example due to too frequent feedings or prey animals that are too large or unfamiliar. With this disease, a piece of intestine is usually squeezed out when defecation. This can no longer be pulled back, so that the tissue quickly swells. Visually, it looks like a bubble. Of course, it can quickly become dangerous here, as the tissue can become inflamed or even die. In addition, it could be deadly for your animal.

Please proceed as follows:

Of course, the sight is not pretty and many snake keepers panic for the first time. But you can help your snake now, so it’s important to keep calm, because the animals will also tell you if something is wrong. It is important to clean the fabric first. Then you need to sprinkle ordinary table sugar on the prolapsed tissue. This is how you remove water from this, which significantly reduces the swelling. As soon as the tissue has gone down a bit, you can now very carefully try to massage it back with a moistened Q-tip. However, it also happens that the intestine retracts itself and you do not have to do anything. Of course, the opposite can also be the case, so that you don’t manage to massage the tissue back. It can also happen that this disease is discovered too late, which can lead to parts of the intestine already being inflamed or even dead. That would be the time when you should, as a matter of urgency, go straight to a veterinarian. Here it can now be that a part of the intestine has to be surgically removed, which of course would also require follow-up treatment. In the coming weeks, please only feed easily digestible food and therefore only light and small feed animals.

Dehydration in snakes

Unfortunately, snakes have often become dehydrated in the past. This usually happens when the ground temperatures in the terrarium are too high and the animals now have no way of avoiding them. If the relative humidity is then too low, dehydration of the snake is a typical consequence. Furthermore, the reasons can also be excessive warming from the sunbathing area, which can be dangerous, especially for the tree-dwelling snakes. Here the snake can dry out even if the humidity is well adjusted. It is therefore always the case that affected animals lie on a directly illuminated branch for too long. The sun branches for the snakes should therefore never be illuminated directly. In order to avoid dehydration in burrowing snakes, you should use floor heating in the terrarium, because this should always be used indirectly and thus never heat the floor too much. Depending on the species of snake, the temperature of the soil should be between 25-26 degrees. In addition, it is always important to regularly check the humidity in the terrarium. You can regulate with a spray bottle with warm water. There are now helpful devices that can be used continuously to measure the humidity in a terrarium.

Here is how to proceed with dehydrated snakes:

A dehydrated snake can be recognized by the folds, which are particularly noticeable when the animals curl up. In this case you have to act directly and spray the substrate first. If the air humidity is always too low, it is very helpful if the ventilation areas are permanently reduced. If your snake is severely dehydrated, it is advisable to place the animal in a container filled with moist substrate for a day or two. With this “move” you have to make sure that the temperature differences are not too great. If there is no organic damage, the slightly to moderately dehydrated animals recover completely within a few days. Unfortunately, it has also happened that some animals have not recovered. In this case, it makes sense to give the snakes electrolytes, which can be done both orally and intramuscularly. However, experts believe that injection is usually more effective than ingestion of the liquid through the snake’s gastrointestinal tract. By the way, normal drinking water is not particularly suitable in this situation. In the event of a water shortage, the snake organism cannot absorb the drinking water, which has a normal salt concentration, in sufficient quantities via the gastrointestinal tract. However, please do not wait too long to have the treatment. So it can happen very quickly that other problems arise due to dehydration, which can make successful treatment more complicated. In addition, kidney damage can also occur and, in general, dehydrated snakes are of course more susceptible to infections and bacteria.

Inclusion body disease in snakes

Inclusion disease is primarily a viral infection that occurs primarily in larger species of snakes, such as the Boidae or the Pythoniad. The very typical symptoms of this snake disease include disorders of the nervous system, including, of course, balance disorders. Difficulty swallowing or long-lasting tremors are also not uncommon in this disease. In addition, changes in the snake’s digestive tract can occur, such as diarrhea or mouth sores. Pneumonia is also a typical clinical picture. The inclusion bodies can be detected in kidney, esophagus and kidney biopsies, among other things, and they are also visible in blood smears. However, the absence of these inclusions would not directly mean that the affected animal is free of inclusion body disease, or IBD for short.

Molting problems in snakes

Snakes are animals that grow steadily and throughout their lives. However, they have calloused skin, which means that it does not grow with them. Because of this, snakes need to molt at regular intervals, with young snakes molting more often than older animals. Snakes usually shed their skin in one piece. As soon as this is not the case or the eyes or glasses are not skinned at the same time, one speaks of skinning problems. There can be very different reasons for this. The problem can be due to the animals being kept too dry or too wet, or to a diet that is not appropriate for the species. The general condition of the snakes is also crucial here. Many snakes have problems moulting because there is a vitamin deficiency or the temperatures in the terrarium are too low. In addition, it can happen again and again that the animals suffer from ectoparasites or have an illness or old injuries that make moulting problematic. In addition, it often happens that there are no rough objects to be found in the terrarium that the animals can use to help them molt.

Please proceed as follows if the snake has problems shedding:

If the snake has problems molting, you should bathe your darling in lukewarm water and help the animal to molt. To do this, remove the skin very carefully and please be as careful as possible. If your snake hasn’t shed its eyes, they should cover their eyes with wet compresses for several hours. This allows you to soften the old skin before carefully peeling it off. If you do not dare to do this task, you should consult a specialized veterinarian. Moulting problems are usually caused by poor posture. So please think about keeping your animal and check all the important facts so that you can make any corrections afterwards.

Snakes with a prolapsed hemipenis

A prolapsed hemipenis occurs in some male snakes. This happens precisely when the male wants to mate and the lady is not yet ready, or when the female snake flees during the mating process. In such a situation, it is easy for the tissue to become damaged by being stretched or twisted. In this case, the hemipenis can no longer be retracted. The problem should be resolved within a couple of days. You can also try to gently massage the tissue back. If the animal still has problems after a few days, you should consult a veterinarian who is familiar with reptiles. If necessary, the organ must be removed, although post-treatment in the form of ointments or other medication makes sense in any case.

Inclusion body disease in snakes

Inclusion body disease, or IBD for short, is a viral disease in snakes. This occurs mainly in the boa constrictor, although other snake species can of course also be affected. This infection is contagious via excrements from animal to animal and can also be transmitted quickly via physical contact with people or from infected objects. Furthermore, experts suspect that this disease is also transmitted via ectoparasites such as snake mites. Transmission from mother to child is also possible. This disease initially manifests itself with chronic intestinal inflammation. Unfortunately, this gradually extends to the central nervous system of snakes. Unfortunately, it must also be said at this point that the Inclusion Body Disease disease in snakes is usually fatal.

The symptoms of inclusion body disease

The symptoms of this dangerous disease are very diverse. For example, the disturbance of the nervous system of affected animals and motor disorders. Snakes often have twisted pupils and altered reflexes. Stomatitis can also occur and chronic vomiting is unfortunately one of the typical symptoms. Furthermore, snakes often suffer from shedding problems and massive weight loss.

Prophylaxis in Inclusion Body Disease

Unfortunately, inclusion body disease is currently still considered incurable. This terrible disease usually leads to the death of the animals and for most snake species relatively quickly within a few weeks. With the larger boas, on the other hand, it can last for a few months. However, there are preventive measures that you can take as a snake owner. So you should always comply with the strict quarantine times for new arrivals and as soon as a snake even shows abnormalities, separate it from the other conspecifics. In addition, it is very important to always pay meticulous attention to cleanliness and hygiene. Please infect your hands if you have touched another animal. It is important that objects in the terrarium that an infected snake came into contact with could also be infectious. So if you want to be on the safe side, you should remove them or at least disinfect them.

Mouth rot in snakes

Mouth rot in snakes, also known as stomatitis ulcerosa, is a bacterial infection that is found in the animals’ oral mucosa. This disease is mainly seen in snakes kept in terrariums. The bacteria responsible for mouth rot in snakes normally live in the mouths of healthy animals. In the past, stress and various postural errors were cited as triggers for this disease. For example, if the animals are kept too cool. Poor hygiene can also be to blame if the disease breaks out. Deficiency symptoms or various injuries in the snake’s mouth could also be the reason why the snake suffers from mouth rot. The bacteria, which are in the snake’s mouth anyway, can multiply under the circumstances mentioned and thus cause inflammation of the oral mucosa. If it is an advanced mouth rot, it can even affect the jawbone. In addition, inhaling the purulent discharge can also cause pneumonia. Unfortunately, this disease can also be fatal in snakes, as it can quickly lead to severe blood poisoning.

The possible symptoms of mouth rot

Affected snakes can show very different symptoms. For example, the discharge of a slimy and viscous liquid that runs out of the mouth. Many snakes even refuse to eat and can naturally lose weight. Furthermore, necrosis can occur on the gums and bleeding in the mouth is unfortunately not uncommon. Many snakes even lose their teeth from mouth rot.

Here’s how to deal with the snake’s mouth rot:

Before treatment can begin, it is very important to find out the reason for the onset of the disease. In addition, the current life situation of the affected animals should of course be changed as quickly as possible. This includes, for example, improving hygiene or reducing any stress factors. In addition, it is important to consult a vet for mouth rot. The doctor can now disinfect the affected area and treat it with an antiseptic. Dead tissue residues should also be removed. After this, you or your veterinarian must continue to give the snake antibiotics. You can support the healing of mouth rot by administering vitamin C.

Paramyxovirus infections in snakes

A paramyxovirus infection or ophidian occurs mainly in different vipers and in snakes, which belong to the family of the Colubridae, the adders. Cobras, boas and pythons are also more commonly affected. Symptoms of this disease often include abnormal breathing sounds in snakes. A bloody or purulent discharge is now not uncommon. Changes in the central nervous system of affected animals can also be observed again and again. Experts are of the opinion that this disease is probably transmitted as droplet infection, possibly also vertically and via the faeces of the animals. The animals are examined serologically.

The infestation of snake mites

Snake mites are one of the most common external parasites on snakes and almost every snake owner will encounter this problem at some point in their lives. The annoying mites can be perceived as small black dots. They grow to about 0.5mm. Snakes that have a mite problem suffer from severe itching, which you try to relieve by rubbing against objects. It can also be observed that many animals appear nervous and stressed. For this reason, many snakes remain in the water tank for hours, whereby the presence of mites in the water tank itself is usually a clear sign of a snake mite infestation. The small parasites often accumulate in the animals’ eyes, which of course often results in eye infections. In this case, the scales around the eyes visibly swell.

Here’s how to proceed if you have a snake mite infestation:

Of course, it is important to get rid of the mites as quickly as possible. With the snake, for example, you can work with Blattanex or with Frontline as well as with Vapona-Strips. Be sure to tape the vents on the enclosure shut while you are treating your snake. The respective active ingredient, depending on which preparation you have chosen, cannot escape without effect. Animals that have been treated with Blattanex should no longer have any drinking water in the terrarium, as the active ingredient Dichlorvos binds in the water. Even spraying should be avoided during treatment, even for rainforest-dwelling snake species. It is always important to bathe the snakes before each treatment and to repeat the treatment after five days. In this way, you can be sure that you will also eliminate the newly hatched mites and prevent them from laying eggs again. In the cycle of the special snake mites, it ideally takes 6 days for an egg to develop into a sexually mature mite.

Worm infestation in snakes

While snakes that have been bred in captivity rarely have to deal with a worm infestation, things are quite different with wild-caught snakes. These snakes almost always suffer from various internal parasites. There are a number of different internal parasites. However, these are mostly worms, although there are differences here too. Most worms would be the nematodes, which are roundworms, the trematodes, i.e. suction worms, or the cestodes, the tapeworms. Additionally, some snakes often have problems with protozoa or flagellates. For this reason, it is very important that the veterinarian always examines a stool sample for new arrivals and that a new snake is never placed directly with its own species, but is kept in quarantine. A worm infestation is highly contagious for existing animals, even healthy snakes. You can quickly recognize a worm infestation by the fact that your snake gradually loses weight despite eating normally. Furthermore, there are long breaks between the molts, which can even be five months, and apathy and fading of the body colors is now not uncommon to see. In addition, there are often contractions in the gastrointestinal tract and some snakes refuse to eat. In addition to weight loss, other symptoms such as constipation or diarrhea can also occur. Some animals are now even vomiting and in the case of a very heavy worm infestation, some worms are even excreted or appear briefly, but then disappear back inside the animals.

This is how you should proceed if a snake is infested with worms:

As soon as a nematode worm infestation or other parasites can be detected in the animal’s gastrointestinal tract, this must of course be treated urgently. Now there are very different preparations with which the snakes can be treated. This is now selected according to the type of worm and can be given via the feed. It is always important not to stop the treatment too early and to repeat it after a few weeks so that any worm eggs or newly hatched parasites are also eliminated. However, it is important to use the right remedy, since some preparations, such as metronidazole, are very effective but also poorly tolerated and could even be fatal in particularly weak animals. If such an infestation is recognized too late or even not treated, a worm infestation in snakes can also be fatal. Unfortunately, this quickly leads to damage to the organs, with the intestines, liver and lungs being particularly affected. The snake often becomes weak because the parasites naturally also feed on the food they eat.

Our final word on snake diseases

Snakes are beautiful and impressive animals, and keeping these reptiles should never be taken lightly. Because even when buying a snake, you have a lot of responsibility that you should always be aware of. As soon as an animal is ill or the general condition of the snake deteriorates, you should always consult a specialist, who can start treatment if necessary. When buying new snakes, even if the animal appears to be completely healthy, it is always important to keep them in quarantine first and not add them to the existing stock. However, with optimal housing conditions and disinfecting your hands after you have touched other animals, you can avoid some diseases and protect your snake as best as possible.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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