Signs of A Sick Snake – 15 Signs You Must Not Ignore

Signs of A Sick Snake

Signs of A Sick Snake. It can be extremely worrying when you think that your pet snakes are ill. I’ve compiled not just a list of the 15 most common symptoms of sick pet snakes, but also focus on the most common illnesses. In this way, you’ll know whether it’s normal behavior for your snake or whether you should go and see a vet.

There are some basic signs and symptoms you need to look out for in your pet snake that can be an indication of illness.

Here is a list of 15 general signs of sickness in pet snakes:

  • The snake may be lethargic and less active than before.
  • They will also hide or bury While many snake species are quite shy and hiding is usual for them, you will see that their behavior changes and that they may hide for prolonged periods of time.  – Signs of A Sick Snake
  • Your pet may stop eating or show no interest in food, regardless of the way in which or what it is fed. Some snakes may eat less at different times of the year (for instance in winter) but if they continue to show no appetite and no interest in the food you give them, there is cause for worry especially if they won’t take notice of even their favorite food.
  • Your pet snake may appear dehydrated, with sunken eyes, and will not shed completely, but retain pieces of unshed skin. Their saliva may also appear to be thick and sticky.
  • Weight loss is another sign of illness. The weight loss is usually visible on the upper body and the bony spines of the vertebrae may start to appear more prominent. This may even be more obvious when you handle the snake.  – Signs of A Sick Snake
  • Look out for a pink or reddish hue to the skin along the underside of the snake’s body, as this could be an indication of sepsis; a very serious bacterial infection of the bloodstream. If you spot this, you need to get your snake to the vet immediately — no time to waste.
  • Your pet snake may also be too weak from illness to stick its tongue out and sample its environment.  – Signs of A Sick Snake
  • An ill or weak snake will, instead of moving away, or coiling up when it wants to move away from you, simply lie limp.
  • A snake with bacterial or viral pneumonia will often have a symptom where bubbles of thick mucus are blown from the mouth or nose. If this is the case, a vet must be seen immediately.  – Signs of A Sick Snake
  • Skin shedding issues, called dysecdysis, are quite common and also easy to spot. The symptom which is the most common is that not all the skin is shed, but that patches of dry and peeling skin remain on the snake.  – Signs of A Sick Snake
  • The snake may seem to have stringy saliva. This could mean that the snake is dehydrated, but could also be an early indication of thickened mucus caused by infection.
  • One or both of the snake’s eyes may look hazy or have an opaque color to the surface. This happens when the clear scale that covers and protects the eye does not shed, but remain attached to the eye. These “spectacles”, as they are sometimes called, can become infected by bacteria and may need medicated eye drops. It is a good idea to see the vet before any infection can occur and not to wait too long before you visit the vet. However, the most important thing is to NOT peel the scales off yourself as you could severely damage the corneas of the snake’s eyes.  – Signs of A Sick Snake
  • Small red and black specks around the snake’s mouth, lower jaw and eyes may be an indication of a mite infection. Along with the mite infection, the snake may also have a reduced appetite and can be irritable due to the discomfort. The snake may also become anemic due to the blood is taken from its body by the mites. The mites are treated with an anti-parasitic medication your vet will be able to give you. However, the whole snake enclosure must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected as well. All porous items, like wood, should also be removed. This type of infection is one reason why good sanitation for your pet snake is so incredibly important. See also below in “Common Pet Snake Diseases” for more information about parasites.
  • A snake with swollen gums and a bumpy and swollen jaw may have a mouth infection (also see “infectious stomatitis further down in the post). It is also necessary to take the snake to the vet for treatment if this is the case.  – Signs of A Sick Snake
  • Female snakes may get egg-binding, where they are not able to pass a formed egg. Egg-binding is also referred to as dystocia, egg retention, and post-ovulatory stasis. Signs and symptoms of egg-binding are a lack of appetite and swelling in the lower half or third of their bodies. They may also be lethargic and hide. Take her to the vet as soon as possible as surgery may be necessary in some cases to remove the stuck egg(s). The prognosis for animals with egg-binding, however, is good. Most animals recover completely and will still be able to reproduce. Egg-binding can be caused by various factors, including an anatomical defect in the female snake, an overly large or malformed egg.  Lack of a proper nesting site, improper temperatures or improper temperature cycling and humidity, stress, and even malnutrition. Egg-binding may happen more than once to a snake, so you need to keep an eye on a female’s nesting and egg-laying always.  – Signs of A Sick Snake

Common Pet Snake Diseases:

  • Infectious Stomatitis — Also called Mouth Rot, the stomatitis usually present as pinpoint hemorrhages on the snake’s gums. The mouth may also be coated in a thick mucus which, in more severe cases, may contain blood or cottage cheese-like pus. The snake may also breathe open-mouthed instead of through its nose. This is one of the times you definitely need to take your snake to a vet. The mouth rot is usually not a primary issue, but a secondary one that has to do with a mouth injury, poor nutrition, improper environmental temperatures and even overcrowding. You’ll, therefore, have to figure out what the primary cause of the stomatitis is and not just focus on healing the mouth, otherwise, the infection will most probably keep on occurring. Mouth rot is usually treated with injectable antibiotics and rinsing the mouth with antibiotic solutions.
  • Parasites — Your pet snake can suffer from both internal and external parasites. The internal parasites include various worms and coccidia, while the external parasites are mites and ticks. Although they often do not cause any (noticeable) symptoms in your pet snake, they will be detected at their annual physical exam and fecal tests, which is just another reason to take your snake for their annual check-up. However, these parasites may cause any of the following symptoms:  – Signs of A Sick Snake
    • Diarrhea
    • Breathing difficulties — watch out, for instance, for mouth-breathing
    • Regurgitation of food
    • Swelling of the internal organs
    • Itching
    • Irritation
    • Skin infections
    • Anemia because of the amount of blood it loses through the mite bites, etc.
    • Mouth rot (see the paragraph on infectious stomatitis above)
    • Weight loss, usually noticeable on the top of the snake’s body as the vertebrae become more prominent.

Parasites may be treated with an oral or injectable drug, after tests like a physical exam and fecal examination have identified which parasite(s) are present.  – Signs of A Sick Snake

  • Blister disease — Usually caused by environments which are too moist or dirty (or both), the lesions are mostly on the underside (ventral) of the snake and may be easy to miss. The blisters may become infected by aggressive bacteria and that is where the most harm lies if it is not treated immediately. This bacteria may not only cause skin and tissue damage but even septicemia or blood poisoning and death (see also “septicemia” below). It is therefore imperative that you examine your pet snake regularly to catch any of these problems. In some cases of blister disease, antibiotics may be required, although the disease can usually be managed through the proper environment and hygiene.
  • Inclusion body disease — Also referred to as IBD, this is a serious viral disease that pythons and boas my develop. It is usually associated with the nervous system, although it can also affect the respiratory (breathing) system or digestive tract. Should a snake be affected, they will not be able to right themselves if placed on their backs, may “star gaze” and may even be paralyzed. As you can imagine, you need to take your pet snake to the vet as soon as possible when you notice these symptoms in your boa or python. Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBD and the snake may have to be euthanized.
  • Respiratory disease — Most respiratory infections in snakes are caused by bacteria and is often seen together with mouth rot. However, viruses, fungus, and parasites may also cause respiratory problems and it is important that you see your vet make sure that your snake gets the appropriate treatment. Symptoms of these respiratory infections include excess mucus in their mouths, nasal discharges, lethargy and loss of appetite. The snake may also have open-mouthed breathing, make gurgling sounds or may even wheeze. Treatments for respiratory diseases include antibiotics and, depending on the state the snake is in, the snake may also have to undergo fluid therapy and force-feeding in the veterinary hospital. X-rays, blood tests and cultures will be required to properly identify the cause of the infection.
  • Septicemia — Also called toxemia. This is a very serious condition and you need to get your snake to the vet immediately if you suspect septicemia. Septicemia happens when bacteria or their toxins enter the bloodstream and other organs. When a snake has septicemia, it is often near death. They exhibit:
    • Lethargy
    • Lack of appetite
    • Open-mouthed breathing
    • A red discoloration to the scales of the underside of their body.  – Signs of A Sick Snake


  • Have your snake examined when you first get it.
  • Don’t take snakes as pets from the wild and only buy from reputable breeders.
  • Let your snake have an annual check-up — preventative medicine is always the better option!
  • Any deviation from their normal behaviour can be a sign for concern.
  • Rather take your pet snake to the vet for an examination when you suspect it is ill. This is better than waiting too long for more symptoms to show up.
  • Always keep your snake enclosure clean and hygienic to ensure that bacteria don’t build up inside and cause illness.
  • Research the best way to keep your snake regarding humidity, water, food, size of the enclosure, etc.  – Signs of A Sick Snake


  1. What are some of the common diseases of pet snakes? By Rick Axelson, DVM (
  2. How Can I Tell If My Snake Is Sick? By Laurie Hess, DVM (
  3. Signs of sickness in snakes By Animal Care Hospital (
  4. Egg Binding (Dystocia) in Reptiles: Causes, Signs, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention by Pet Coach ( – Signs of A Sick Snake

Please take some time to read on Pet Snakes – 7 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet Snake


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