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What are the most common diseases of pet snakes

What are the most common diseases of pet snakes

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Before adopting a reptile, it is important to know that living in captivity in a terrarium can lead to various health issues for your beloved snake. The causes can range from poor hygiene of the enclosure to infections and lack of care.

Discover the 8 most common diseases of pet snakes: anorexia, burns, retained shed, digestive problems…

  1. Retained shed: dysecdysis

    Your snake may experience what is called retained shed. This occurs when the animal does not shed its skin smoothly in one piece but rather in multiple pieces or patches. It is a painful and frustrating process for your snake!

    The causes can be multiple, including:

    • Nutritional deficiencies
    • Lack of humidity in the terrarium
    • Dryness of the skin
    • Lack of rough surfaces, such as rocks, in the terrarium to aid in shedding

    An incomplete shed can lead to other conditions such as abscesses, dermatitis, and the presence of mites.

    What is the solution? You can give your snake a warm bath at 26°C for about twenty minutes. The goal is to soften the old shed (known as “exuvia” in scientific terms) and gently remove it using a clean cloth.

    Also, check the humidity levels in your terrarium. It may be too dry! If you don’t have one already, install a hygrometer to monitor the humidity of the environment. If there are scales stuck around the eyes or if your snake is not cooperative, it is better to let a professional veterinarian handle the situation.

  2. Respiratory problems

    If your snake appears to have been running (or rather, slithering) a marathon, opens its mouth frequently, and makes wheezing sounds, it may be suffering from respiratory problems!

    This condition can be a reaction to its environment and may be caused by stress or improper humidity levels. Just imagine being in a very humid steam room for too long… You wouldn’t have a pleasant experience either!

    If all conditions in its living space are ideal, the respiratory issues may be due to lung problems. Therefore, it is important to contact your veterinarian to get a clear diagnosis.

  3. Feeding disorders: anorexia or bulimia

    Like us humans, snakes can experience feeding disorders, which can be attributed to several causes:

    • Intense stress
    • Lack of space in the terrarium
    • Reproductive or nesting period
    • Inappropriate lighting in the terrarium
    • Inadequate food (e.g., prey that is too large)
    • Illness

    Therefore, your cold-blooded pet may lose its appetite if it is unhappy or if its needs are not being met. And as you may already know, a lack of appetite leads to anorexia. It is important to quickly identify the cause of its distress in order to initiate the healing process:

    It could be a treatable physical cause such as parasites or burns, or an adjustable environmental cause such as improper heat or humidity parameters in the terrarium, or lack of space.

    You will also learn that a snake can become bulimic and gain weight to the point of becoming “obese.” Two possible causes can explain this change in body shape:

    • The terrarium is too small, preventing the snake from moving and exercising as it would like
    • Overfeeding, which results in excess calories and increases the risk of liver or heart problems

    In both cases, it is necessary to reduce and space out the snake’s food portions and move it to a larger terrarium that is suitable for its size. Perhaps you adopted a juvenile snake that grew too quickly in your eyes!

  4. Stomatitis in snakes: oral infection

    Contrary to what the name suggests, stomatitis is a bacterial infection in the mouth that occurs in reptiles captured for domestic breeding.

    This inflammation of the oral cavity is caused by mistreatment, intense stress, and generally poor living conditions. Symptoms can range from mild redness in the gums to the presence of purulent abscesses. Not a pretty sight!

    You will also notice that your snake has difficulty keeping its mouth closed, which is another sign to watch out for.

    If you have been careful about the origin of your companion, you are not necessarily spared. If you feed live prey to your snake, it is also possible that while struggling, the small rodents can cause injuries in its mouth, which can develop into abscesses and become infected if not treated promptly.

    The solution? Opt for pre-killed prey that needs to be thawed or canned insects. This way, there is no risk of injury!

  5. Burns related to lighting

    Like Icarus in Greek mythology, snakes love the heat and light coming from heat lamps, sometimes to the extent of burning their scales (not wings).

    They may bask under the heat for too long without realizing the harm it is causing. To prevent such problems, simply place your heat sources and lighting elements outside the terrarium!

    If you notice a first-degree burn, apply a cold compress to relieve your snake’s pain.

    For deeper second or third-degree burns with the appearance of blisters or even necrosis, seek immediate veterinary attention! Especially if these blisters are located close to organs such as the eyes, mouth, or nostrils.

    Only antibiotics can treat these blisters or ulcers if they have become infected.

  6. Egg retention

    If you are involved in breeding snakes, your female snake may have difficulty laying its eggs. This condition is known as egg retention and can be caused by several factors:

    • Large or misplaced eggs that are difficult to pass
    • A stressful environment, such as being in close proximity to other snakes or lack of a dedicated nesting area
    • Poor physical condition, such as undernourishment or dehydration

    If providing a nesting area or a warm water bath at 28°C and gently massaging its belly does not trigger egg-laying, it is time to consult your veterinarian! Your snake may be physically too weak to lay eggs and may need some assistance.

  7. Internal parasite infestation

    Captive reptiles can become infested with internal parasites through the ingestion of contaminated food or from an unsanitary environment.

    The symptoms of an infestation include diarrhea, constipation, the presence of worms or blood in the stool, and weight loss. Not very pleasant, as you can imagine!

    To prevent this, it is essential to deworm your snake and thoroughly clean and disinfect the terrarium to avoid the proliferation of bacteria.

  8. External parasite infestation or mites

    Have you ever noticed small black dots on your snake’s scales or on the surface of its water area? Well, that’s bad news… Your terrarium is infested with mites and ticks.

    In that case, you will need to put on gloves and thoroughly clean the terrarium! These little creatures didn’t magically appear there. They may have nested in the substrate or bedding through an infested prey, for example.

    One very effective biological parasiticide against these parasites is using predatory mites. They are available in the form of granules, which are actually harmless mites for your reptiles. Their main function is to destroy unwanted larvae and parasites, similar to how ladybugs eliminate aphids in your bean plants!

    Disperse the contents of the granules on the floor of your terrarium and on your snake’s scales. You will see results within a week.

    Before that, it is a good opportunity to thoroughly clean the terrarium and its accessories (water bowls and feeders, decorations, various decor) with white vinegar.

mahatma gandhi portrait

- Mahatma Gandhi

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

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