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Common Health Problems in Pet Snakes

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Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises, and other exotics since 2003.

Pet snakes are also usually pretty robust and healthy, but like all animals, they are subject to several common health conditions.

Pet snakes are also usually pretty robust and healthy, but like all animals, they are subject to several common health conditions.

Signs of a Healthy Snake

Snakes are pretty simple to keep as pets, which makes them very attractive to the reptile owner. They require minimal handling, feeding, and overall care, which is a plus in many people's books.

Pet snakes are also usually pretty robust and healthy, but like all animals, they are subject to several common health conditions, even if you keep them in optimal conditions.

Remember that depending on what species of snake you keep, the husbandry and overall care are going to vary, so make sure that you fully understand the husbandry of the particular snake species you have. Proper husbandry and care can be the biggest factor in preventing health concerns, although they don't eliminate them 100%.

Healthy Signs

First, you'll want to be aware of the signs of a healthy snake, which include:

  • Clear eyes
  • Clear nose and mouth
  • Rounded and full body
  • Alertness and activity
  • Regular eating
  • Healthy skin

Unhealthy Signs

Next, understand the common signs of health issues:

  • Wrinkled or rubbed skin
  • Vomiting
  • Discharge in nose or mouth
  • Lethargy
  • Abnormal feces or urine
  • Decreased appetite

Here are the common illnesses of snakes, in alphabetical order.

Mouth abscess

Mouth abscess


Abscesses are generally caused by a previous injury that gets infected by bacteria. An abscess usually appears as a lump that protrudes from underneath the skin and sometimes extends into the internal organs. Abscesses are commonly confused with tumors, un-laid eggs, or constipation. Leave it to an experienced vet to determine whether the lump is truly an abscess. If it is, let the veterinarian treat it, which tends to involve lancing and draining the abscess, with at least one follow-up appointment for cleaning and changing the dressing. The vet may also opt to treat the abscess with an antibiotic.

Blister Disease

Blister disease can be avoided with proper husbandry. Fluid-filled blisters will usually form on the underside of a snake housed in a dirty, moldy, or overly moist substrate. Blisters may be few at first, but then quickly grow in number and become life-threatening, especially if they spread near the mouth, nose, or cloaca.

The best treatment is to prevent blister disease from developing. Keep the substrate clean and dry. Make sure to remove feces and urates. Change the bedding frequently.

You can treat one or two blisters at home by sterilizing a needle and piercing the blister; use a clean cotton swab or a bandage to absorb the fluid. Make sure to swab the blisters twice a day with betadine or hydrogen peroxide, and apply an antibiotic ointment. House the snake in a quarantine tank on paper towels until the blisters have healed.

If there are multiple blisters, or the blisters are in sensitive areas, consult a reputable vet as soon as possible.

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Depending on the size of your snake and his metabolism rate, it may take longer than you expect for him to complete the digestion process, but if you notice that his defecation schedule is way off, your snake may be constipated. A constipated snake may appear bloated and lethargic and have a decreased appetite. Make sure to check the cage thoroughly just to make sure that you didn't miss anything. If you are sure there are no feces in the enclosure, you'll want to soak the snake in warm water for about 15 minutes a day. Usually, the warm water will stimulate excretion; if not, and you notice that your snake is swelling in the abdominal area, you'll want to visit a vet as soon as possible.

Built-up feces can become so impacted that surgery may be the only option to keep the snake from dying. You snake may have ingested a foreign object which could be blocking him from defecating.

Rat bite

Rat bite

Cuts and Abrasions

Treat any type of cut on your snake just as you would on yourself. Keep it clean and put a small dab of antibiotic ointment once a day until the wound has healed. You can try to bandage the snake, although this may be nearly impossible; you may want to consider a waterproof band-aid. Not all cuts need a bandage. Set the snake up in a quarantine tank with paper towels so that nothing can irritate the wound.

Try to find out what cut the snake, so that you can prevent it from happening again. If it was a rostral abrasion, caused by the snake rubbing his face on the wire of the cage while trying to escape the enclosure, you want to either cover the screen or change the type of enclosure you're using. The other common cause of a cut or abrasion is rat bite, so switch to frozen feeders or pre-killed food.



Inclusion Body Disease

IBD is probably one of the most serious diseases of captive snakes. It is only found in the boid family, and most common in Burmese pythons and boa constrictors. Although the signs are varied, you'll want to look for neurological disturbances (such as not righting itself when on its back, "star-gazing," unresponsiveness, regurgitation, asymmetrical dilation of pupils, and paralysis) and for tumors and other illnesses. If you think that your snake has IBD, isolate it immediately, and consult a reptile vet as soon as possible. Although there isn't any treatment for the disease, you need to quarantine the snake away from other snakes and either bleach or discard the enclosure so as not to pass the disease to other snakes. This illness is just one of many reasons to quarantine new snakes for at least 90 days.

Internal Parasites

Usually, you'll encounter internal parasites among wild-caught individuals. A snake can pick up internal parasites from its prey or from contact with another infected reptile. This is another great reason to quarantine new individuals. Common signs of internal parasites include regurgitation, lack of appetite, and an overall unwell appearance. If you think that your snake has parasites, take a fecal sample to your vet. He may prescribe a treatment or refer you to an over-the-counter worm treatment for cats and dogs. But NEVER use these without the supervision of a reptile vet.

Two ticks around a wound

Two ticks around a wound

Mites and Ticks

Mites will appear as tiny, fast-moving dots on the outside of your snake and within his enclosure, and can be either red, black, or white. Getting rid of mites is a bit complicated. Soak the snake in a warm bath for a few hours, or until you are sure that all the mites have fallen off and drowned. While you wait, completely disinfect the enclosure and everything that you had inside it. You may have to do this a few times before you are able to successfully get rid of the mites.

Ticks are larger, and usually fewer in number; they tend to remain attached to the snake's body, usually buried between the scales. The safest way of removing ticks is to smear petroleum jelly thickly over the entire tick, especially the head, as this will suffocate it enough to make it let go of the snake. Don't remove a tick with tweezers because you could 1) damage the snake's skin or 2) leave the head still attached, which leaves the snake open to infection.


Regurgitation is commonly caused by stress, handling too soon after a meal, improper husbandry, or an undiagnosed illness. Wait at least two days after feeding your snake before you try to handle it; moving it from a feeding cage to its permanent cage is fine, but do nothing else. Make sure that your snake has a nice warm spot to lie in after eating, to aid digestion; low temperatures can cause regurgitation. Food that is too large is also commonly regurgitated, so make sure not to feed prey items that are larger than the girth of the snake.

If you think that your snake may have some other illness, take him to a vet. You shouldn't take regurgitation lightly, especially if your snake has regurgitated his meals on multiple occasions, as this can lead to a psychological problem that causes the snake to avoid that particular type of food.

Retained eyecap

Retained eyecap


Respiratory Illness

For the most part, respiratory illnesses can be prevented as long as you follow proper husbandry requirements and provide a clean, warm, stress-free environment. But, if you notice signs of coughing, wheezing, open-mouth breathing, runny nose, clicking noises when breathing, and lethargy, a respiratory illness may be the cause. In this case, immediately raise the temperature in the enclosure to stimulate the proper immune responses, move the snake to a quiet room (if it's in a busy area of the house) away from other snakes or reptiles, setting it up in a quarantine enclosure with paper towels. If it's a minor infection or illness, the snake may overcome it on its own; otherwise, if the condition worsens, consult your vet as soon as possible.

Shedding Problems (Retained Eyecaps or Tail)

When there are shedding concerns, usually hydration is the problem. If the snake is not properly hydrated, he may suffer retained skin on his eyecaps or tail. Make sure that you raise the humidity at the first sign that your snake is going to shed. When you notice that your snake's eyes are turning a blue shade, either 1) mist the enclosure twice daily, 2) put a larger water bowl in the enclosure, or 3) begin soaking the snake in warm water once a day.

Some snakes will always have shedding problems because they require a dry environment or because of an old injury. When these snakes shed, check the skin to make sure that it all came off in one piece. If the tip of the tail is not shed, it can restrict blood flow, and the tail may need to be amputated. So if the tip of the tail is still stuck after a few sheds, you need to remove it. You also need to make sure that the eyecaps were properly shed, as retained eyecaps can cause infection. Usually, if the snake retains his eyecaps during one shed, they will come off on the next shed, but that is not always the case.

To remove an eyecap, you can take a piece of tape and remove most of its stickiness by pressing it onto a clean surface and removing it over and over again. Then, lightly touch the tape to the snake's eye and gently try to remove the eyecap. You may want to moisten the eyecap with a dab of water or mineral oil first. If you have any problems, or you're nervous about removing the eyecap yourself, consult your vet.

Mouth rot

Mouth rot


Stomatitis, more commonly referred to as mouth rot, is pretty common among captive reptiles. It's caused by bacteria in the mouth that get into an open wound, causing infection within the lining of the gums and mouth, and potentially the entire digestive tract. Signs of mouth rot include swelling or color change in your snake's mouth and gums, gaps in the snake's mouth when it is closed, or frequent rubbing or opening its mouth.

You want to keep the bacteria in the enclosure to a minimum so to prevent infection, so make sure to clean the entire enclosure regularly, provide fresh water, and eliminate any source of injury to the mouth or the surrounding area.

Put the snake in a quarantine enclosure with paper towels and clean the mouth with a cotton swab dipped in 1% Betadine solution. Make sure that the snake doesn't swallow any of the Betadine or any infectious material by keeping his head downwards while flushing out his mouth. If the condition doesn't improve within one week, consult a vet.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2008 Whitney


Leah ellenson on May 27, 2020:

My snake hasn’t poop yet and is producing white discharge that dose not look like pee from his cloacal and I’m very worried. Please help

Michellé on April 07, 2020:

Hi i have red tail boa i gave it only two rats and 3 days after that it came out hole.what could be the reason for that.please i need advise for it.


ACF-76 on January 08, 2020:

HI. I am a very new Snake Mum and my beautiful corn had a lump / swelling when I rescued her. However this seems to be growing and I'm not 100% but I think her scales are parting as it's growing. I am currently looking for a fully qualified exotic vet near me but they seem to be lacking. Does anyone know what this might be please? I so worried :0(

ilassahara on December 06, 2019:

My snake has been in his cubby hole for the past few days and I don't think he has come out at all. Every time I check on him he is still in the same spot. I know its not temperature and I know he is alive still. He went in there shortly after I fed him. does that have anything to do with it? either something is wrong with him or he is just inside it when I'm home, which is in the morning and late afternoon/evening.

Sammy on November 02, 2019:

I have a cornsnake thats having tremors and wont eat and when i looked up what it is i was taken to this and now i have no clue what to do because there is no cure meaning my first snake is going to die from this because he wont eat and im keeping him warm (winter where i live)

Jamie73 on September 12, 2019:

Hi I have a 2yr old Bredli he's never had a bad shed until now 90% is off eyes r clear but mid of under belly is so dry & has gone a greyish colour I've soaked him for 3 days 15/20min at a time but still nothing can anyone help me plz

Josh Hull on June 06, 2019:

I just had a 27 year old ratsnake pass away

LizIzz on April 30, 2019:

Ive had my pet corn for about 4 years or so, she's around 6 years old now. Ive never had any issues with her feedings, we always give her small to medium sized live rats and shes always really quick at getting the job done.

Well this afternoon we gave her a rat and she didn't get it properly, she had it by the top of the head by its ears and struggled for quite some time then let it go. I had noticed blood in her container i feed her in, so I thought it was the rats but it wasn't, the rat got her on the body. Im not so worried about that now because as shes in her tank i noticed her opening and closing her mouth consistently so i sat and watched for a bit.

Her tongue is coming out from under the hole where it should come out, I've never seen anything like this and I'm not sure what i can do for her.

I'd appreciate some insight if anyone has any, thanks.

thomas wright2006 on April 26, 2019:

my snake that is usually very energetic, isn't moving much at all

Their is two of them

It's 2 of them one of them is called stormy, aged ~3 I think and the other is called army and he is around the same

Extra information about them

They are cornsnakes and haven't been fed in a while, they are usually fed a mouse every 2 weeks and they seem fine but they ain't been fed for a little bit more than 2 weeks, also they were let go roam around on the grass in the garden for a little bit just over a week ago

Please help me

thomas wright2006 on April 26, 2019:

my snake that is usually very energetic, isn't moving much at all

Their is two of them

It's 2 of them one of them is called stormy, aged ~3 I think and the other is called army and he is around the same

Extra information about them

They are cornsnakes and haven't been fed in a while, they are usually fed a mouse every 2 weeks and they seem fine but they ain't been fed for a little bit more than 2 weeks, also they were let go roam around on the grass in the garden for a little bit just over a week ago

Please help me

Tanner Younker on April 22, 2019:

I have a 4 year old Corn Snake Monty about 3 weeks ago i fed her a mouse that was a litttle to big well she never did swallow it. After that i tryed feeding her a normal size mouse for her she killed it never swallowed it.. so i did some researchand i thought maybe she was frightned from getting a big mouse then i tryed feeding her pinkie she wouldny touch them she still hasnt ate well i started noticing Randomly she would open her mouth like she was yawning and sometime i notice her like (whiping her nose on her skin) i can deffinately tell something is wrong Any Ideas that maybe someone xould please help me? Figure out the best solution please ?

Ruby on April 12, 2019:

I fed my snake yesterday and I was holding him the next day and he was fine . He got a little dirt on him from my brothers hands so I put him in a tub with breathung holes in and filled it with warm water but only a little water and he was fine soaking and drinking the water he was in there for about 5 minute s and when it came to taking him out he went all quick and jumpy and now I'm worried that I've done something wrong... have I ?

Luke on March 04, 2019:

My dads snake is suddenly very jittery, please tell me if this is abnormal in any way

ALEX BALDUCKIE on November 22, 2018:

I have a 15 year old corn snake. It has dwveloped a lump on the past year that has now become discoloured. He has stopped eating for the past month. I had him to a reptile vet in the summer. Blood work was done and he was given a shot of antibiotics. I administered the next 2 shots at home with a followw up visit. He started eating again for about 3 months but has now regressed with the swelling getting larger and darkening.

Sha on September 21, 2018:

I just recently purchased a female ball python from someone. She is 9 months old. When I got her she was in a tank with a sheet. She hadn’t eating in three weeks, and I know the habit that she was living in wasn’t good for her. The problem is her tail has a white tip and it looks swollen. Her spine is a tad bit visible, and she has a few small healed wounds on her . She won’t eat . She looks like she wants to shed , but she hasn’t had the chance to. My girl and I are trying to make her as comfortable as possible to do so. Is their anything else that we can do to get her health back on track, and how long will that take.

OgVic on September 17, 2018:

I overfed My Ball Python And now her Betty has swollen! What should I do?

OgVic on September 17, 2018:

I overfed My Python now her Betty is swollen, what should I do?

robert on July 28, 2018:

my common. boa has pure black eyes now an then im very new too a snake her age an longness i took her in as in good fath ive spent loads on her not noing much about her but i wanted to be better than the last owner

mimi on July 18, 2018:

my king snake had to be amputated. He never ever used his tongue, and when he regurgitated a mouse a day after feeding(he gets three adult mice weekly), the mouse was whole and his tongue was just hanging from its mouth, and part of it was necrotic. Will he still be able to eat normal or do I have to do anything special? My snake is a 20-year-old and is 5ft long with an inch and a half circumference

Lucas Hanscom on July 13, 2018:

My snake has what seems to be air bubbles under the skin in his tail. What should I do?

JFallon on June 19, 2018:

recently my snake has got out of his cage and has been lost for about a week and a half he struck at his heat rock what does this mean he has black eyes too I think he has regurgitation

fred willey on June 13, 2018:


Im on June 06, 2018:

I have a young corn snake, about eight months old.

she is just about to shed but I noticed that there are a couple of places where you can see about a millimetre of skin almost as if a tiny scale was missing.

Also, her belly seems pretty soft and squishy, a lot more than usual.

I’m really worried about her and I don’t know what to do.

She’s so small

Kaila on May 13, 2018:

I'm not sure why but for some reason my snake's poop was covered in a cobweb or spider web.

Nick on March 13, 2018:

My snake has white stuff on her face it is not mites

christina on January 28, 2018:

my ball python has stopped eating and now has black stuff on his skin all over it kind of looks like black pollen. I don't want to take him to the vet cause hes hungry. What can i do

Jessie on January 14, 2018:

My snakes tail looks weird, what could be wrong?

Mike on November 03, 2017:

What is it called when ur snakes head bobbed around when trying to eat?? And no it's not a spider or any morph with spider in it.

shawn on August 27, 2017:

hi there i have a 9 foot brisbane she is in with a male 2 foot up from her tail is abig hard lump she puffs up when you touch her can any one tell me ans she wont eat

Polly Esther on August 07, 2017:

My snake just scared the lord out of me when he just started dry heaving...?? He ate last week. He had a bowl movement.. He is laying under his lamp. He is flaking off his nose but it isnt shedding time yet??

Corbin Custer on July 18, 2017:

I have a ball python about five years old, and I just recognized yesterday that around his tail and butt, there are these air pockets that popped up undet his skin and I have no clue what it is, there is some redness as well. And I'd like to know what's wrong so I can get him treated if needed

Anneke on May 26, 2017:

We changed our snakes bedding from bark to sand a while ago. I have just noticed yesterday that he has got sand covering all of one side of his sensors? Under his mouth and his throat seems to be getting a bit puffy. Is there an easy way to clean out the sand? Bath maybe.

Pete on April 19, 2017:


I have a Hognose snake aprox 3-4 months old. She has eat today and now near where her food is in her stomach their is a small protrusion. I dont like to handle her after eating so have only rubbed it gently for a moment but it feels almost like scales poke up. Could new food in the belly cause this type of protrusion as it wasn't their yesterday before she eat?

Thanks in advance

Snakesmum on April 12, 2017:

Rhiannon, 2 weeks isn't really a long time, but make sure she has plenty of fresh water, and her cage is warm enough.

If you're still worried in anothr 2 weeks, perhaps a visit to a vet would be a good idea. Better to be safe. Sometimes, a snake will not pass faeces when they are due for a shed. Perhaps she is showing signs of this?

Hope this helps.

Brittany on April 12, 2017:

Our 2 ball python have the popping when breathing sometimes but not all the time but it's been like that since we got them over 6 months ago... could it be something else?

Rhiannon on April 12, 2017:

I'm worried because my children's Python hasn't passed her last feed 2 weeks ago she was fed is she ok or dose she need a vet

Charlie on March 29, 2017:

I was wondering if any one could help me my snake had shed about two three days ago and now when I put her in the bath she rools over onto her back and just lies there but i have not seen her do it any other time does this mean she could have something rong with her as she has never done it bethore and should I think about separating her fromissions the male snake

adam on March 10, 2017:

my snake has this redish looking ball inside of its body and it moves

uzii on February 26, 2017:

Hi i got a ball python and lately it start these red things to apare under my ball python and plust her mouth stays open and bubel comes out i want to know whats the reason becous i got 9 hamsters in the same room to can it becous of the hamsters?

Kenzie on January 15, 2017:

Hi me and my boyfriend got a red tailed boah a few months ago but ever since we're had him e hasn't ate a thing. We tried live and dead rats. But now his eyes are really swollen. Should we just put him down or is it fixable??

Dennis Dunbar on January 10, 2017:

My ball python has a weird blue-green color on one side of her face and I am concerned because I can't find any information on what that might be

KC on December 29, 2016:

So I fed my male ball python 2 days ago (he's about 6 months old). I woke up this morning and he had regurgitated. This evening, he's been going into random fits where he's moving his whole body in an S shape and opening his mouth to dispel his mucous. I have NO clue what is going on. I've dealt with an RI, and this doesn't show signs of an RI. I only moved him from his feeding tank to his enclosure, nothing since then.