Your pet snake cannot tell you when it is suffering from any kind of illness. Unfortunately, reptiles generally show no symptoms until the disease has already reached an advanced stage. Consequently, it is important to treat injuries and illnesses promptly, often with the help of a qualified veterinarian, to provide your pet snake with the best chance of recovery.
How To Find A Suitable Veterinarian
Pet snake keepers often find it harder to find a veterinarian to treat the pet snake than to find a veterinarian to treat a cat or dog. Relatively few veterinarians treat reptiles, so it is important to find a reptile-oriented veterinarian before you need it. There are many ways to do this:
- You can search veterinary databases to find one that is local and treats reptiles.
- You can check with your dog or cat veterinarian to see if he/she knows a qualified reptile-oriented veterinarian who can refer you to.
- You can contact a local group or club of reptile enthusiasts. Most of these organizations will be familiar with local veterinarians.
- You can check with local nature preserves or zoos. Most will have relationships with veterinarians who treat reptiles and other exotic animals.
Those who live in major metropolitan areas may find a reasonably close veterinarian, but rural reptile breeders may have to travel considerable distances to find veterinary assistance.
If you do not have a reptile-oriented veterinarian a short drive away, you can try to find a conventional veterinarian who is willing to consult with a reptile-oriented veterinarian by phone
or the internet.
This type of visit can be expensive since you will have to pay both the actual visit and the consultation, but it may be your only option.
Reasons To Visit The Veterinarian
While snakes do not require vaccines or similar routine treatments, they may require visits for other reasons. Every time your snake shows signs of illness or an injury, you should visit the veterinarian.
Visit your veterinarian when:
- First, you acquire your snake. This will allow your veterinarian to become familiar with your pet while presumably healthy. This gives you a baseline against which he/she may consider future deviations. In addition, your veterinarian can diagnose existing diseases, before they cause serious problems.
- When your snake wheezes, it exhibits difficult breathing or produces a secretion of mucus from the nose or mouth.
- Your snake produces soft or watery feces (soft feces are expected when snakes feed on some foods, such as birds. This is not necessarily a cause for concern). Intestinal prolapses also require immediate veterinary attention.
- Your snake suffers any major injury. Common examples include thermal burns, frictional damage in the rostral region or damaged scales.
- Reproductive problems occur, such as not being able to breed. If a snake appears nervous, agitated or stressed and cannot give birth, consult your veterinarian immediately.
- Your snake does not feed for a prolonged period. While snakes fast from time to time, which is no reason for the veterinarian to see a new snake that does not eat for 4 weeks. Snakes that have been in your care, and that normally eat aggressively, may fast for longer without causing harmful effects.
Ultimately, you must make all decisions on behalf of your snake, so you must carefully weigh the pros and cons of each veterinary trip and make the best possible decision for your pet. Just be sure to always strive to act in your best interest.
7 Common Illnesses Of Snakes And Treatments
While a wide variety of health problems can happen to your snake, most will fall into one of the following categories.
1. Retained Or Poor Sheds
From time to time, captive snakes do not shed completely. This is particularly common among snakes that come from high humidity habitats, such as carpet pythons.
With proper breeding, healthy snakes should produce one-piece sheds regularly (if the skin of the shed breaks in one or two places easily detaches, there is no cause for concern). Retained sheds vary in severity. Sometimes snakes fail to shed a small portion of scales, and other times, snakes may retain the majority of the old skin.
Retained sheds can cause health problems, especially if they restrict blood flow. This is usually a problem when a snake retains some old skin near the tip of its tail.
If your snake sheds poorly, you must take steps to remove the old skin and check your husbandry to prevent the problem from happening again. If you are providing the ideal breeding parameters, and your snake still has poor sheds, consult your veterinarian to rule out diseases.
The best way to remove retained sheds is to soak the snake or place it in a wet container for about an hour. After removing it, see if you can gently peel off the skin. Try to keep the skin in as few pieces as possible to make the job easier.
Do not force the skin off your snake if it does not come off easily; Simply return it to its cage and repeat the process again in 12 to 24 hours. Usually, repeated baths or time on damp hide will loosen the skin enough to detach easily.
If repeated treatments do not work, consult your veterinarian. He may feel that the retained shed is not causing a problem, and advises you to leave it attached; It should come off with the next shed. Alternatively, if it is causing a problem, the veterinarian can probably remove it.
2. Retained Spectacles
The spectacles are transparent scales that cover the eyes of your snake. Sometimes, snakes do not shed their spectacles which can lead to serious medical problems in some cases.
Do not try to take off a retained spectacle yourself. Simply keep the snake in a humid environment and take it to your veterinarian, who should be able to remove retained scales with relative ease.
3. Respiratory Infections
Like humans, snakes can suffer from respiratory infections. Snakes with respiratory infections can exude fluid or mucus from the nose or mouth, be lethargic or refuse food. They can also spend excessive amounts of time basking on or under the heat source, in an effort to induce a “behavioral fever.”
Bacteria and fungi or parasites can cause infections. In addition, cleaning products, perfumes and other particles can irritate the respiratory tract of a snake.
Some infectious bacteria and fungi are ubiquitous and problematic when they overwhelm a snake’s immune system. Other bacteria, as well as most viruses, are transmissible and are transmitted from one snake to another.
To reduce the chances of disease, keep your snake in a quarantine of other snakes, keep its enclosure exceptionally clean and make sure to provide the best possible husbandry, especially with regard to temperature and humidity. You should also avoid stressing your snake by handling it too often or exposing it to chaotic situations.
Most respiratory infections require veterinary assistance. Your veterinarian will probably take samples of mucus and analyze it to determine the causative agent. The veterinarian will prescribe medications, such as antibiotics or antifungal medications, as appropriate.
It is essential to carry out the actions prescribed by your veterinarian exactly as directed and keep your snake’s stress level very low while it is healing since stress can reduce immune function. You should also consider covering the front of its cage while recovering.
Many snakes produce audible breathing sounds for a few days immediately before a shed cycle, which does not necessarily indicate a respiratory infection. This rarely causes concern, it will be resolved once the snake sheds. However, if you are in doubt, always seek veterinary attention.
4. Mouth Rot
The mouth rot, properly called stomatitis, is identified by observing discoloration, discharge or cheesy-like material in the mouth of the snake. Mouth rot can be a serious illness and requires the attention of your veterinarian.
While the mouth rot can follow an injury (as happens when a snake hits the side of a glass cage) it can also arise from a systemic disease. Your veterinarian will clean your snake’s mouth and possibly prescribe an antibiotic.
Your veterinarian may recommend withholding food until the problem is resolved. Always make sure that the snakes that are recovering from the mouth rot are kept in immaculately clean habitats with ideal temperature gradients.
5. Internal Parasites
In the wild, most snakes carry some internal parasites. While it may not be possible to keep a snake completely free of internal parasites, it is important to keep these levels under control.
Consider that any snake caught in the wild is parasitized until proven otherwise. While most captive-bred snakes must have relatively few internal parasites, they can also suffer from these problems.
The prevention of the building of parasites at pathogenic levels requires strict hygiene. Many parasites accumulate at dangerous levels when snakes are kept in cages that are continuously contaminated by feces.
Most internal parasites that are important for snakes are transmitted by the fecal-oral route. This means that the eggs of the parasites are released with feces. If the snake inadvertently ingests these, the parasites can develop inside the snake’s body and cause major problems. Such eggs are generally microscopic and rise easily in the air, where they can adhere to the walls of the cage or land on the water dish. Later, when the snake moves the tongue or drinks from the water dish, it ingests the eggs.
Internal parasites can cause your snake to vomit, evacuate loose stools, not grow or reject food completely. Other parasites may not produce any symptoms, which illustrates the importance of routine examinations.
Your veterinarian will usually examine your snake’s stool if he/she suspects internal parasites. By observing the type of egg inside the snake’s feces, your veterinarian can determine which medication will treat the problem.
Many parasites are easily treated with antiparasitic medications, but often, these medications must be administered several times to completely eradicate pathogens.
Some parasites can be transmissible to people, so always take proper precautions, such as washing your hands regularly and keeping snakes and their cages away from kitchens and other areas where food is prepared. Examples of common internal parasites include intestinal roundworms, tapeworms, and amoeba.
6. External Parasites
The main external parasites that affect snakes are Ticks and Mites. Ticks are rare in captive-bred animals, but snakes caught in the wild can be plagued by dozens of small arachnids.
Ticks must be removed manually. With tweezers, grab the tick as close as possible to the snake’s skin and pull with gentle and constant pressure. Do not place anything on the tick first, such as petroleum jelly, or perform any other “home remedy,” such as burning the tick with a match. Such techniques can cause the tick to inject more saliva (which may contain diseases or bacteria) into the snake’s body.
Drop the tick in a jar of isopropyl alcohol to make sure it is killed. It is a good idea to take them to your veterinarian for analysis. Do not touch ticks with bare hands, as many species can make humans sick.
While ticks are generally large enough to be easily seen, mites are the size of a pepper flake. While very bad tick infestations are counted in dozens, mite infestations can include thousands of individual parasites
Mites can affect wild-caught snakes, but, as they are not confined to a small cage, as infestations are somewhat self-limiting. However, in captivity, mite infestations can approach plague proportions.
After a female mite feeds on a snake, she falls and finds a safe place (such as a small crack in a cage or between the substrate) to lay her eggs. After the eggs hatch, they travel back to your snake where they feed and perpetuate the life cycle.
While a few mites can represent little more than an inconvenience for the snake, a significant infection can stress them considerably. In extreme cases, they can even lead to anemia and eventual death. This is particularly true for the small or young snakes. In addition, mites can transmit diseases from one snake to another.
There are several different methods to eradicate a mite infestation. In each case, there are two main steps that must be taken: You must eradicate the snake’s parasites and eradicate the parasites in the snake’s environment.
It is relatively simple to eliminate the snake mites. When the mites get wet, they die. However, mites are protected by a thick and waxy exoskeleton that stimulates the formation of an air bubble.
This means that you cannot place your snake in the water to drown the mites. The mites will simply hide under the scales of the snake, protected by the air bubble.
To defeat this waxy cuticle, you can simply add a few drops of liquid soap to the water. The soap will reduce the surface tension of the water, allowing it to slide under the scales of the snake. In addition, the soap interrupts the surface tension of the water, preventing the air bubble from forming.
Soaking your snake in the slightly soapy water for about an hour will kill most of the mites in its body. Be careful in doing so, but try to arrange the water level and the container so that most of the snake’s body is underwater.
While the snake is soaking, perform a complete cleaning of the cage. Remove everything from the cage, including water dish substrates and cage accessories. Sterilize the entire cage items, discard the substrate and all the porous cage accessories. Vacuum the area around the cage and clean all nearby surfaces with a wet cloth.
It may be necessary to repeat this process several times to completely eradicate the mites. Consequently, the best strategy is to avoid getting mites in the first place. That is why it is important to buy your snake from a reliable breeder or retailer and keep your snake quarantined of possible mite vectors.
As an example, even if you buy your snake from a reliable source, provide excellent husbandry and clean the cage regularly.
You can end up battling mites if your friend brings his/her snake which has few mites to your home
It may even be possible for mites to crawl on your hands or clothes, hop off when you return home and make their ways to your snake.
Practice inspecting your snake and its cage regularly. Look at the crease under the snake’s lower jaw, near the eyes and near the vent. These are the common places where mites hide. It may also be useful to clean the snake with a damp, white paper towel. After cleaning the snake, look at the towel to see if there are mites present.
Chemical treatments are also available to fight mites, but you must be very careful with those substances. Beginners should consult their veterinarian to prescribe or suggest appropriate products to use.
Avoid reusing treatments against lice or other chemicals, as other hobbyists often recommend. Such unplanned use can be very dangerous and often violates federal laws.
7. Long-Term Anorexia
Although short-term fasts of a few weeks are common among snakes, those that last longer than this may be cause for concern. If your snake refuses food, make sure its habitat is ideally configured with ample opportunities for concealment and access to appropriate temperatures. If none of these factors require attention, consult your veterinarian. However do not panic, because snakes can spend a lot of time without eating.
Your veterinarian will want to make sure your snake is in good health, since respiratory infections, mouth rot or internal parasites can cause your snake to refuse food.
Some snakes reject food in the winter or the breeding season, as they would in the wild. While you should consult with your veterinarian the first time this happens, it should not cause you much concern in later years.