If your snake has a health problem, you should take them to see a veterinarian. But, if you were to ring your family vet and ask if they could treat your snake, they might say that they’re unable to help you.
Many vets don’t treat snakes or reptiles because they’re anatomically different from mammals, which are their specialism. Many vets do assist reptiles generally, and that’s usually fine for treating snakes.
Find a vet that you can build a long-term relationship with. It needs to be an experienced professional who feels comfortable working with snakes.
Why Don’t Most Vets Treat Snakes?
Lots of vets treat reptiles generally, and snakes specifically. These vets can do anything that other vets can.
This includes administering antibiotics, helping with infected wounds and sepsis, and even assisting female snakes to give birth. So, why can’t all vets offer the same level of service?
1/ Snakes Have a Different Physiology
Regular vets don’t always treat snakes because their physiology is different in many ways. A snake’s reproductive system, for example, is different from that of a mammal.
While snakes have many of the same organs as mammals, like ovaries and testes, these organs may be in a different place. Snakes have cloacae, which mammals don’t have. There are also other differences, like the fact that many snakes have just one main lung.
A vet has to study and understand the body of each animal that they treat. If the vet doesn’t have reptile-specific knowledge, then they are more likely to make life-threatening mistakes.
2/ Many Snakes are Exotic Animals
Vets don’t always treat exotic pets. Exotics are any animal that’s not considered to be a common pet, or is native to the state/country the vet works in. They are more difficult to treat than your average pet, because the vet is less likely to have studied them, or encountered them previously.
There’s less money in treating snakes than in treating dogs. While many households have a pet dog, far fewer will have a pet snake. Even popular pet snakes, such as corn snakes and ball pythons, aren’t that common.
If you were to set up a vet’s clinic treating just snakes, you likely wouldn’t have a lot of work. So, when a vet sets up a practice, they’ll most likely focus on cats, dogs, rabbits, and other common species of pets instead. The growing popularity of reptiles means that the position is changing slowly.
3/ Snakes are Misunderstood
We don’t need to tell you that snakes are broadly misunderstood by the general public. No doubt you’ve encountered people who think that snakes are slippery or slimy, or have recoiled in fear from what they perceive as your ‘highly venomous’ ball python. Every snake owner has similar stories to tell about people’s overreactions to their harmless pet snakes.
Whether it’s because of scary stories that they’ve heard when young, or because of the way snakes are portrayed in the news, most of the public is frightened of them. According to Live Science, much of this phobia is ingrained in us from the days when we used to live outdoors. So, unfortunately, people can’t help that they’re afraid of snakes.
This doesn’t necessarily apply to vets, all of whom are far better educated about animals than most of us. But vets are people too, and the staff at your vet’s clinic might not be comfortable being around or treating a pet snake.
How to Find a Veterinarian That Treats Snakes
If you have a vet for other pets, then it’s worth giving them a call to see if they have anyone there that will treat your snake. There may be one vet who specializes in treating snakes and reptiles.
Aside from that, the easiest way to find a veterinarian that treats snakes is online. Just search for vets that treat snakes in your area.
You’re much more likely to find vets that treat reptiles generally, rather than snakes specifically. Don’t worry, because these vets know exactly what they’re doing. Snakes are similar to other reptiles, and vets will often specialize in the whole class of reptiles than just one kind.
Be prepared to travel, though. If you don’t live in a city, then you might have to travel to one to find an experienced veterinarian.
Who Else Can Help with Snakes?
If there isn’t a vet that you can reach, you can still find help for your snake on online forums. There are quite a few corn snake and ball python forums, for example. Advice on cleaning wounds, what to do when your snake won’t eat, or why it has a stuck shed are all questions that can be answered.
You could also ask a local breeder or experienced owner for guidance. The snake-owning community is welcoming and helpful. You could perhaps ask the breeder you bought your snake from for advice. Local pet stores aren’t ‘usually’ as knowledgeable as they don’t usually employ hobbyists.