When it comes to companion animals, dogs and cats may be the first that come to mind, but pets need not be furry or four-legged to make great additions to a home – as long as owners understand how to properly care for them.
According to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey from the American Pet Products Association, roughly 4.7 million households in the United States keep reptiles as pets. Many of those reptiles are snakes.
Compared to dogs or cats, however, snakes may seem more enigmatic, particularly in regard to health-related issues. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the following are three common snake diseases and the symptoms that may accompany them:
1. Infectious stomatitis
Also known as “mouth rot,” infectious stomatitis is an infection of the oral cavity. Infectious stomatitis may be characterized by pinpoint hemorrhages on the gums or excessive amounts of thick mucus in the mouth and at the inside edges around the snake’s mouth. This mucus may contain blood, and some snakes may develop a pus resembling cottage cheese in place of the mucus. Additional symptoms of infectious stomatitis include anorexia, an inability to close the mouth and a reduction in or absence of tongue flicking. In severe cases, snakes may experience loose teeth and swelling of the head.
According to PetEducation.com, infectious stomatitis is often a response to stress, such as that created by environments where temperatures are improperly regulated. Poor nutrition that results in vitamin C deficiency or inappropriate dietary calcium/phosphorous levels also have been linked to infectious stomatitis. Other contributing factors to this disease may include overcrowding, trauma or internal or external parasites.
VCA notes that both internal and external parasites are common in pet snakes. Snake owners typically learn their snakes have parasites during vet visits, as parasites often produce no symptoms. However, parasites may cause diarrhea, breathing difficulties, itching, irritation, skin infections, anemia and weight loss. Snakes with parasites also may vomit or regurgitate their food, and some may experience loss of appetite.
3. Blister disease
Snake owners, particularly first-time owners, may miss the signs of blister disease because the lesions that characterize this ailment are typically on the underside of the animal. The VCA recommends owners routinely examine their snakes to detect for any physical issues. Often afflicting snakes that are kept in environments that are too moist or too dirty, blister disease produces fluid-filled blisters that may become infected with bacteria. The consequences of blister disease cases that are not treated promptly can be very serious and include severe skin damage, blood poisoning and even death.
First-time snake owners may feel these reptiles are low-maintenance pets when compared to dogs, but owners must pay close attention to their snakes for any signs of disease, including those ailments that may be deadly if undetected or untreated.