Snake Illnesses: The Common Ones

Although snakes and reptiles are relatively easy to have as pets, they do suffer from ailments like any other living creature and are susceptible to some conditions and infections. Good care, a clean housing environment and the proper diet will help keep your snake healthy and free of snake illnesses for many years.


1. Septicemia – a bacterial infection that invades the body through wounds, cuts or abscesses on the skin or other soft tissue area, may be a complication of a respiratory, intestinal or reproductive illness. The signs and symptoms of septicimia may be subtle, or can be very obvious:

  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Regurgitating food
  • Redness on scales
  • Bleeding from the skin

An exotic veterinarian can help diagnose this condition by thoroughly examining your snake with the help of a blood sample taken from any suspect lesions, sores or wounds. Although the survival rate is not high, this blood test will help to determine the extent of the infection and whether or not any vital internal organs are involved. If the infection has not progressed too far, treatment generally involves injections of antibiotics and a long term follow-up care plan.
2. Stomatitis (mouth rot in snakes) – a bacterial infection of the oral lining of the mouth. Excessive salivation, or bubbles seen around the mouth is generally the first sign that your snake is suffering from this condition. Close examination will show very tiny areas of bleeding on the inflamed lining. Once pus begins to accumulate in the mouth, particularly around the teeth, the cheekbones will become infected, causing the teeth to fall out. If caught early enough, this disease can be treated successfully. It is important to see a veterinarian immediately if you suspect mouth rot. The sooner the treatment begins, the less damage and discomfort your snake will suffer. Mouth rot treatment involves cleaning the mouth, applying topical antibiotics and administering fluids twice  daily. Snakes exhibiting an excessive amount of pus may require a periodic forced feeding with a stomach tube, although most snakes do not recover from this condition when it has become this severe.
3. Respiratory Infection – which is quite common in snakes is usually associated with septicimia. Some respiratory infection and distress may also be the result of stress from poor care and housing conditions. Symptoms of respiratory infection include:

  • discharge or bubbling from nostrils
  • coughing
  • breathing from the mouth
  • loud respiration

Treatment for a respiratory infection must be started at the first signs of distress and must be continued vigorously until your veterinarian signals the condition no longer exists.
4. Blister disease – affects not only snakes, but most captive reptiles. Generally due to poor housing conditions and maintenance, or constantly damp, filthy environments, this illness generally manifests itself in the form of pink or red coloring on the bottom or underbody scales. If blister disease is left unchecked, the affected scales will swell and become infected by bacteria or fungi. As with stomatitis, treatment involves injected and topical antibiotics. If the unsanitary living conditions are not taken care of, and maintenance of your snake’s housing is not corrected and his environment kept clean and dry, this condition will recur, eventually killing the snake.
5. Viral infection – often results in tumorous growths on skin and scales, digestive, nervous and respiratory systems problems and chronic conditions. As with humans, most viruses are very contagious; therefore, any suffering snake should be quarantined for several weeks from other snakes if you house more than one reptile.
6. Fungal infection – which can involve the skin and respiratory system of the snake. A fungal infection can also occur in the eyes of snakes housed in dirty, damp environments. Ringworm fungi, which are the parasites that generally infects pets, humans and some farm livestock, may also cause a skin infection in a snake. It is important to keep the floor of your snake enclosure clean and dry and free of any material that is conducive to mold growth. A veterinarian specializing in exotic pets will be able to determine if your snake has an infection, if you are unsure.
7. Parasites – include a wide variety of mites, ticks and organisms which can affect many systems of your snake including respiratory, reproductive, vascular (blood) and digestive. Tapeworms can affect the digestive system while flukes usually infect the respiratory and urinary systems. Roundworms, which affect the digestive tract, can cause distress to other organs, such as the lungs, during their migration.
Mites and ticks which migrate to many of the same spots, are generally found inside the mouth, nostrils or vent on the snake. Ticks will not be found in a large number where mites can reach very high numbers. Veterinarians will examine blood, feces and urinary tract debris, as well as excretions from the windpipe to determine the level of infestation as well as the type of parasite affecting your snake.
8. Nose abrasions – are quite common among captive snakes, especially those who try repeatedly to escape their captive environment. If left unchecked, nose abrasions, which can include damage to the scales and skin surrounding the nose, can result in permanent deformity. One way to reduce your snake’s attempts to escape would be to provide a hiding place for your snake where he can go for privacy, which would greatly reduce his stress.


  • Snakes bred in captivity are less likely to stress and become injured due to their living environment.
  • When snakes become stressed, their natural resistance to health problems is greatly reduced.
  • Most snake diseases are not transmittable to humans, but as a safety precaution, always wash hands thoroughly after handling your snake.
  • An obvious change in your snake’s behavior, such as refusing to eat, a drastic shift in their temperature, changes in bathing habits or no longer coiling tightly around limbs or objects provided, may indicate your snake is feeling poorly or weak due to an unhealthy condition.
  • A healthy snake is always round and robust looking the entire length of its body. Any areas which look caved in or bony indicate a problem.
  • Make a note of your snake’s shedding cycle, so that you don’t mistake unusual signs as an illness, rather than part of that normal process.

Do you have a snake for a pet? Do you have any experience with any of these illnesses? Share it with us in the comments!

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