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Snake - Body Condition

Your Healthy Snake: Body Condition

According to Kasey, Zen Habitats Animal Care Manager and Certified Veterinary Technician, your snake’s body condition can be an indicator of its overall health.

Q: What does an unhealthy snake look like?

Kasey: “The snake may have a respiratory illness with ocular or nasal discharge. Other things to look for include mouth rot (stomatitis), mites, unhealthy weight, bends in the body (osteosarcomas or metabolic bone disease, MBD) or dysecdysis (bad shed).”

Q: What are the respiratory illnesses a snake can have?

Kasey: “Respiratory Illness can present with ocular or nasal discharge, excessive salivation, open mouth breathing, and wheezing. Snakes cannot cough. There are a variety of respiratory illness your snake can get including infection, lung parasites, lung abscesses, and lung cancers.”

Q: What is mouth rot?

Kasey: Mouth Rot (ulcerative or infectious stomatitis) can be of bacterial, viral, or fungal origin. Other causes include trauma and cancer. It can present with redness, discharge, or disfigurement of the mouth or nose.”

Q: What happens when a snake has mites?

Kasey:“Definitely watch out for mites, also called ectoparasites. The most common is the snake mite. It sucks blood and can potentially lead to a life-threatening anemia if it goes untreated. These mites are very small and sometimes difficult to see. Some common places they like to attack on the body are around the eyes and under the chin.”

Q: How do I know if I my snake is a healthy weight?

Kasey:“When palpating a snake with a healthy weight you should be able to feel a layer of muscle over the spine and ribcage, but still able to feel the underlying structures. The abdomen should be soft with no firm masses felt. An underweight snake can have a visibly prominent skull, spine, and ribcage, sunken eyes, and loose folds of skin.

It can be caused by one of the issues we have already discussed or other things including husbandry deficiencies, trauma-related stress, and organ failure. An overweight snake will be more rotund. You may be able to see the soft tissue between the scales where the skin has stretched out, and there may be palpable fat deposits throughout the body that make the snake appear uneven. You may also see physical fat rolls, some people may think this is cute, but it is very unhealthy and potentially lethal.”

Q: What happens when a snake has bone cancer?

Kasey:“Bone cancer (osteosarcoma) can also occur in snakes. It can be one reason they may appear to have an irregular body shape. They can get pathological fractures or even fusions between vertebrae.”

Q: Is Metabolic Bone Disease common in snakes?

Kasey: “Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is something we rarely see in snakes in comparison to other reptiles, but it is still something they can get, mainly insectivorous species or severely malnourished snakes. With MBD the snake’s spine can be swollen, twisted, or crooked. They also can have a soft or misaligned jaw, and stunted growth. In severe cases neurological signs can present in the form of seizures or even paralysis.”

Q: What can I do to help keep my snake healthy?

Kasey:“I like to schedule a visit with an exotic’s veterinarian within the first couple weeks of them coming home. This will help create a relationship in the event your animal is to ever fall ill. Your veterinarian will also be able to establish a baseline for your pet and check for endoparasites (inside) and ectoparasites (outside). Another tip I have is to purchase a kitchen scale, I like to weigh growing and ill snakes weekly and healthy adults monthly. This helps me keep track and potentially notice issues before they are physically visible.”

(This content is informational only and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your veterinary professional)

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