Snake diseases

Top 3 Most Common Snake Diseases

Today we look at the 3 most common Snake Diseases. It’s not a fun subject, but for us snake keepers it is an important one.

Today we look at the 3 most common Snake Diseases. It’s not a fun subject, but for us snake keepers it is an important one.

Like most animals, snakes can catch a wide range of diseases. In captivity, however, most of them are due to husbandry issues. Out of these sicknesses, Mouth Rot (Necrotizing Stomatitis), Scale Rot (Necrotizing Dermatitis) and Respiratory Infection are the most common. Keep reading for a quick rundown of the three.

Can snakes pass diseases to humans?

Before we get into it – let’s answer a really common question. Snakes can indeed pass certain diseases to humans. Nonetheless, this is very unlikely, especially if you maintain good enclosure hygiene.

In fact, dogs and cats are much more likely to transmit diseases given their, shall we say, questionable, toilet habits…The main disease that has been proven to pass from reptiles to humans is Salmonella.

In case you don’t know, Salmonella is a bacterial stomach infection that can be serious in the elderly, children, and those with compromised immune systems.

For healthy adults, Salmonella is a little like food poisoning, and can in fact be quite mild, depending on how much contaminated food the individual ingested and the strain of Salmonella present.

If you want your pet snake to be safe for you and your family, follow the same steps you would when cooking. Wash your hands after handling them and maintain a high standard of cleanliness in the area where they are kept. It really is that simple!

1. Snake Mouth Rot

Mouth rot is an inflammation of the mouth that can occur in all reptile species. This condition is also known as necrotizing stomatitis. A variety of infectious agents can cause Mouth Rot, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Bacterial infections are the most commonly seen and usually involve an overgrowth of bacteria normally found in a snake’s mouth. This includes Aeromonas and Pseudomonas spp. However, other bacteria such as Salmonella, Klebsiella, and Mycobacterium have also been associated with mouth rot.

In most cases, mouth rot is a secondary disease resulting from stress, trauma, poor hygiene, or husbandry practices. These situations can impair a snake’s immune system and make them more susceptible to mouth rot and other infections.

Symptoms

The general symptoms of mouth rot include anorexia, weight loss, and dull mentation (sluggishness). A closer examination of the animal may reveal excessive salivation, inflamed or swollen gingiva, and discharge from the mouth.

The oral discharge is usually white or yellow in appearance. Some people describe it as a “cottage cheese” consistency and color.

Because of the inflammation in the mouth, snakes may exhibit other signs of discomfort and begin open mouth breathing. In severe cases, the infection can spread to the bone. The term for this condition is osteomyelitis.

Osteomyelitis of the jaw causes lesions in the bone and can make the jaw more fragile. A veterinarian can use skull X-rays to help visualize the severity of any bone changes.

Additionally, bacteria from the infection can lead to respiratory or gastrointestinal disorders. If the bacteria enter the bloodstream, the animal can become septic and quickly die.

How do you treat snake Mouth Rot?

Treatment of this condition is dependent on the severity of the disease. The mouth should be thoroughly cleaned using appropriate antiseptics. Topical antibiotics such as silver sulfadiazine are applied once the mouth is clean.

In the vast majority of cases, systemic antibiotic therapy is also highly recommended. Bacterial culture and sensitivity testing are helpful when selecting an appropriate antibiotic regimen. In severe cases, surgical debridement may be necessary to remove severely inflamed tissue and granulomas. 

During the recovery process, additional supportive therapy may be necessary. This can include fluid therapy and nutritional support. Some studies have suggested supplementation of Vitamins A and C as a possible treatment.

While this may be beneficial, it does not always alter the course of the disease. As such, vitamin supplementation should be used in combination with other therapies. 

How does a snake get Mouth Rot?

Keeping your snake healthy is an essential part of preventing mouth rot. Snake habitats should maintain an appropriate temperature for the snake species and provide adequate humidity. 

Husbandry requirements vary based on the species and individual animal. If you are unsure of the specific requirements for your snake, it is essential to consult with a professional. 

Additionally, regular health screenings and veterinary exams are an essential part of mouth rot prevention. Underlying health conditions can compromise an individual’s immune function and put them at greater risk of contracting an infection.

2. Snake Scale Rot

Scale Rot is a skin disease in snakes that usually involves bacterial infection. Scale rot is also commonly referred to as Blister Disease and Necrotizing Dermatitis. The most common cause of scale rot is poor husbandry practices. This can include environments that are too wet, dirty habitats, and improper temperature control.

Diagnosis of scale rot is typically based on physical exam findings and a thorough review of the snake’s habitat. The bacteria responsible for scale rot are usually gram-negative bacteria. However, the presence of multiple types of bacteria is common. 

How do you know if your snake has Scale Rot?

In the early stages of infection, pustules or blisters may be visible. When these lesions rupture, they can cause painful open wounds. Lesions may be localized to a single focal area or extend across the body.

In some cases, symptoms can resemble fungal disease and burns, so an accurate diagnosis is critical.

How do you fix scale rot in snakes?

Initial treatment includes a thorough cleaning of the infected area. Antibiotics are a critical part of the treatment plan and may include both systemic and topical therapies. For very mild cases (just a couple of lesions) silver sulfadiazine or Betadine applied daily can work. This will only work long term if you make sure to address any husbandry issues, however.

If some of the pustules have ruptured, your vet can use a sample of the fluid for bacterial culture. This will help your veterinarian prescribe the most appropriate treatment and reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Severe infections may require veterinary treatment under anesthesia. Anesthesia allows the veterinarian to perform a thorough surgical cleaning of deep wounds and remove dead or necrotic tissue. 

Prevention

Overall, the most critical step in preventing scale rot is ensuring your snakes habitat is clean and suitable to their environmental needs. Hygiene, humidity and temperature need to be correct if you want your snake’s immune system to function well.

Another consideration in preventing scale rot is to ensure your snake has no underlying health conditions that may be compromising their immune system.

3. Snake Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections in snakes are caused by bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infections. Aeromonas and Pseudomonas bacteria are commonly isolated in snakes with respiratory infections.

Nonetheless, multiple causative agents may be present. In theses cases, diagnostic testing is essential to determine the cause of the infection and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Respiratory infections can be contagious and spread between snakes in a collection. Early detection of disease is critical and you must quarantine sick individuals to reduce potential spread.

Symptoms

The first symptoms of respiratory infections in snakes include nasal discharge, lethargy, and loss of appetite. As the infection persists, it may become difficult for the snake to breathe.

Signs of this include abnormal respiratory sounds, wheezing, and open mouth breathing. Because of this difficulty, snakes may also exhibit abnormal posturing of the head and neck. In some cases, the throat area can become swollen or distended. 

How do you treat respiratory infection in snakes? 

Treatment of respiratory infections is highly dependent on the cause of the illness and the severity of the disease. Diagnostic testing may be necessary to determine the origin of the infection. Appropriate therapy usually involves the use of oral and injectable antibiotics.

Some studies have recommended nebulization of antibiotics with sterile saline. However, you should always consult with a veterinarian before initiating antibiotic treatment. In severe cases, snakes may require fluid therapy and nutritional support. 

Without proper diagnosis and treatment, severe respiratory infections can result in pneumonia, sepsis, or even death. 

Prevention

Humidity and temperature are critical factors in the development of respiratory disease. Inappropriate husbandry practices can result in the overgrowth of bacteria and fungi that put snakes at increased risk of respiratory infection.

Take care to ensure enclosures remain clean, have adequate ventilation, and are appropriately regulated. 

Proper quarantine and testing protocols are also critical when dealing with any form of infectious disease. Anytime you introduce a new animal to your collection, they should go through a strict quarantine process. You should also isolate sick animals as soon as they start showing symptoms. 

Conclusion

Snake diseases

Like I said in the introduction, this isn’t a fun topic. Notwithstanding, it’s our responsibility to look after the health of our animals. Personally, I aim for my pets to have a much easier and healthier life than they would in the wild. After all, they’re our companions – we owe it to them.

If you think one of your snakes has symptoms of a disease we’ve talked about today your first steps should be to contact both other keepers (on forums, for example) and a vet. Get all the advice you can!

The goal is to quickly determine whether your pet needs the help of a specialist reptile vet. If it does, getting it there will be the difference between it surviving or not.

Whilst some conditions can be treated at home when very mild, the truth is that many snakes will not recover without systemic antibiotics.

If you were looking for information on Ball Python hygiene, click here. Or, if you’re looking for care information on other species. check out the Popular Pet Reptiles category.

Other resources related to snake diseases:

Common Problems in Pet Snakes – VCA Animal Hospitals

Snake Health 101 – Reptiles Magazine

common health problems found in pet snakes 3 min read – My …

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