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Signs of The Most Common Health Problems in Pet Snakes and How To Treat Them.

Updated on September 2, 2016
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Anna has studied psychology, law, English and animal welfare at college. She is a mother of two and aspires to become a vet some day.

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Malnutrition

This is very rare in captive-bred snakes as they are able to be fed regularly on whole prey, therefore gaining all the nutrients etc. that they require. But if you suspect that your snake is suffering from malnutrition and you are feeding normally, there may be another more serious, under-lying cause, so seek professional advice as soon as you can. Another thing to remember is, due to the rarity of this problem, you will have to have tried everything to get your snake to perk up, so offer a whole mouse, fully defrosted and rinsed in warm water (to wash out any unpleasant smells and to make the snake pick up the warmth of its body), also obtain some extra nutrients and vitamins that you can hide in the mouse's mouth prior to giving it to the snake. If this doesn't work, don't hesitate to call the vet.

Refusal To Feed

Snakes in captivity refusing or suddenly going off food is not uncommon, although the reasons may vary. Common reasons in new snakes are either over-feeding (snakes will normally only take food once a month, depending on the species - some may take longer), or reasons such as the snake does not have any interest in its "prey". This can occur when the mouse is not warm enough (meaning the snake loses interests as warmth is how they detect their prey in the wild).

To avoid this problem you should ensure the mouse defrosts for at least 2 hours and then you can rinse it in hand hot water for a few minutes, as well as warming the mouse up and ensuring it is defrosted, this will mean that you wash off any strange smells that sometimes linger on humanely killed rats and mice and this will often put snakes off feeding. You should also check that the size of the mice and rats you are feeding your snake is no larger than the circumference of the largest part of the snakes middle - if the rodents are too large, they will not be fed on, as the snake will know that prey that is too big will cause it problems. See veterinary help if your snake continues to refuse food, but also remember that it may be due to stress or anxiety of either moving home (if you have recently bought your pet this could be a problem), or being in a very noisy setting. Your snake should always have a dark corner where it can hide, completely out of sight, to help combat stress and anxiety.


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Worm Infestations

Tapeworm and roundworm can occasionally get into your snakes system from the food it is eating, this is not usually serious and can be treated by your local vet giving you some powder, pills or injectable medication which you will be shown how to administer. Tapeworms are usually the cause of other problems such as constipation, and round worms are usually the cause of problems to do with the lungs (such as respiratory diseases) and also constipation.


Hidden Parasites

Parasites which hide and manifest inside or under scales of the snake will become apparent if the snake begins losing scales or showing other problems (sometimes including not eating), these, like worms are easily treatable with creams or pills/powders which can be bought in pet shops or given to you by veterinarians (which is the wiser choice). Sometimes, you may be asked to keep the feces of your snake in order for certain parasites to be identified. Some parasitic infections will be more easily spotted than others, if you can see blood in the urine or feces of your snake it may be due to a parasitic infection, and you should contact a vet for further investigations to be under-taken.


Trichinosis

This is possibly the most common parasitic disease in pet snakes. It is a protozoan which is identifiable where there is blood in a snake's feces. This parasite will transfer from a rat or mouse's body to the snakes when it is eaten. Some experts argue that this particular protozoan by itself is unable to harm a snake, especially as usually snakes which are suffering from trichinosis are also suffering from amebiasis. Some pet stores may try to sell different treatments for this illness, but you should never use any without consulting your vet first. Parasitic diseases are usually infectious unfortunately, and so all of your snakes should be checked out, especially if they are kept in the same cage.


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Mites Or Ticks

Mites and ticks are also very common in snakes, and ticks are especially dangerous as they can cause anaemia in snakes, which is often fatal. Ticks should never be pulled off as this will harm your snake (even after the tick's body has been detached, the head goes on sucking the animal's blood!). One very effective way of getting ticks off is by rubbing vegetable or sunflower oil around and on the tick, and eventually the tick will slide off. If the tick is forced in any way, the chances are you will be unsuccessful.

Mites are a lot smaller than ticks and usually come in greater numbers. They will live on the outside of the snake's body, sometimes under the scales, and will usually be white or red, minute creatures that look a bit like spiders. A vet should be consulted before treatments are administered, as there are many different forms of treatment which differ depending on the type of snake, the type of parasite and other factors such as other symptoms of illness that the snake may be showing.

Fungal Infection

Viral Infection Or Fungal?

Viral infections are still vast and quite often not fully understood. Sometimes they may result in tumour-like lumps that form in the snake's body, which may go away or sometimes be removed. Viral infections are very difficult, sometimes impossible to treat, and most are usually fatal, meaning any new snakes should be kept isolated and quarantined for 6-8 weeks. If they begin to exhibit any unusual signs or symptoms they should be taken to a vet immediately and diagnosed before you decide if it is safe to put them with your other snakes. Blood tests will always be taken before a vet can identify for sure a viral infection.

Usually, fungal infections can be spotted quite easily if they are on the outside of the snakes body, such as mouth rot, which can be identified by cheesy deposits, blood and swelling of the snakes mouth. Fungal infections are fairly common, but luckily, they are usually easily treated and the vet will be able to advise you on medications and methods to use in order to get your snake fighting fit again.

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Blister Disease

Blister disease may occur in snakes which are kept in unclean, damp environments. This disease is obvious when the scales on the snakes belly become red, sore and blistered or blister-like. If this happens to your snake he/she should be cleaned out immediately and a vet should be consulted about possibly changing the used bedding (as sometimes this is to blame), or conditions of your tank. If left, this usually harmless (though uncomfortable) illness can be fatal as your snake could pick up other diseases and infections - this will also be more expensive as well as dangerous in the long-run to treat. One particular disease which can be contracted when blister disease is left untreated is septicemia, which may result in regurgitation of food, abscesses, lumps on the body, refusal to eat, dehydration and lethargic behaviour. Septicemia can kill many animals, and needs to be diagnosed and treated quickly if your snake is to survive.

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Mouth Rot

Although mouth rot is relatively common in snakes, if left untreated, it could be fatal. Mouth rot affects the jaw and sometimes bone in a variety of animals. You can find symptoms inside the mouth before they begin to show on the outside. These symptoms include: excess saliva, cheesy deposits in and around the mouth, bleeding from the gums or blood around the mouth, swelling of the inside and/or outside of the mouth and jaw and thick mucus.

Your snake will be in significant discomfort and it is likely it will take to holding its jaw open, though this is not always true. If you see any signs of swelling and/or pus near or in the mouth you should take your snake to the vet as soon as possible - waiting could cost the animal its life.

If it is only a very mild case of mouth rot (very little swelling, no bleeding and very little pus), you may be able to treat it with an anti fungal cream, which can be obtained from some pet stores and most veterinarians, although you should certainly seek professional advice with which one to go for as guess work could fail and result in your snake dying. Always follow the instructions carefully on the packet. The medication will usually be in powder form and you will need to mix it with a small amount of water (see packet for exact amounts), if you can, use an eye drop to wash out the snakes mouth and repeat this at least once every day until the symptoms disappear.

As soon as you suspect the symptoms are getting worse you should seek the attention of a vet, who will be able to administer blood tests to investigate how severe the mouth rot is. Sometimes, in very serious cases, your snake may need to be operated on: this is a fairly tricky procedure, where the tissues that are infected are removed. It is unusual that this operation is unsuccessful, although this will depend on the severity of the infection in the snake.

Your snake will then need further check-ups until the vet is secure in the knowledge that the snake is back to full health and has recovered (sometimes not all the tissues are removed and the infection can re-occur). Your snake may also require injected treatments. Although this sounds intimidating and difficult, your vet will either do it once in a while him/herself, or show you how to do it, if you are comfortable doing so.

Mouth rot is extremely common in all reptiles, including lizards and tortoises as well as snakes, and this is due to the warm temperatures the animals are kept in. As mouth rot is actually a fungi, the mouth is obviously warm and damp and the preferred part of the body in reptiles. It can also be caused by feeding live prey to animals (which should never be done in the case of snakes), as it can mean the snake is scratched or bitten around the mouth and this will mean the infection is more direct to the bloodstream and thus more serious.

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