Vaccines are administered to family pets to help prevent sickness and illness. If you’re new to snake ownership, you might be wondering if pet snakes need vaccinations to keep them healthy.
Pet snakes don’t need vaccinations. Taking care of them and providing adequate food, water, heat, and humidity will prevent most illnesses. Take your snake to see a veterinarian if it shows signs of illness.
We’ll let you know if snake vaccinations exist, and what you can do to prevent snakes from becoming sick. We’ll discuss whether snakes need check-ups, and the signs that indicate your snake needs to see a vet.
Table of Contents:
Do Snake Vaccinations Exist?
If you’ve ever owned a non-reptilian pet, you might be familiar with the process of taking your pet to the vet for its “boosters” or “shots.”
Vaccinations are vital for the health of other animals. They contain small numbers of inactive pathogens that help to stimulate the production of antibodies. This means that if the animal later encounters the disease, its body will be able to effectively fight it off.
However, vaccinations for pet snakes do not exist. They have not been developed because they aren’t necessary. The majority of microbial illnesses in snakes can be prevented by practicing good husbandry.
There are some viral diseases, such as Inclusion Body Disease (IBD) that you can’t prevent with good husbandry. Unfortunately, scientists have yet to develop an effective vaccine or cure for IBD. Of course, vaccination can only help with preventing microbial illnesses, not organ diseases.
Why Don’t Snakes Need Vaccinations?
There are 4 main reasons why snake vaccinations are unavailable:
- Snakes are solitary creatures. They are housed on their own, and should not come into contact with other snakes.
- Transmission. Because our biology is so different, it’s impossible for humans and other pets to pass contagious illnesses on to snakes.
- Prevention. The majority of snake diseases cannot be prevented with vaccinations. Snakes usually develop illnesses in response to an unsuitable environment, such as the humidity in their enclosure being too low/high or a wound becoming bacterially infected.
- Less popular pets. While many people keep reptiles as pets, they are nowhere near as popular as cats, dogs, and rabbits. A lot of money goes into developing and testing vaccines. The demand for snake vaccines is not high enough to warrant this level of investment.
How to Prevent Illness in Snakes
The vast majority of illnesses in snakes stem from problems in their vivarium. Some issues directly cause the illness, whereas others weaken the snake’s immune system, meaning they’re more susceptible to becoming sick. Here are some ways to help your snake to stay healthy:
- Only get captive-bred snakes. Wild-caught snakes are often riddled with parasites and bacteria. For example, the Royal Society of Biological Sciences found that a large number of wild snakes are infected with snake fungal disease (SFD), which can be deadly.
- Learn the temperature and humidity requirements for your snake’s species. Use a thermometer and hygrometer to ensure that the enclosure meets these needs. Most snake illnesses, such as upper respiratory infections, are caused by heating or moisture.
- Always house one snake per enclosure, and never let your snake come into contact with other snakes.
- Ensure that your snake has water, and offer regular frozen-thawed food. Live prey could bite and harm your snake.
- Choose an enclosure that is as long as your snake with a hide box. This will stop your snake from becoming stressed.
- Regularly clean your snake’s vivarium with disinfectant, and remove all mess (such as feces) whenever you notice it.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your snake (or touching anything in its vivarium).
How Often Should I Take My Snake to the Vet?
Snakes do not require regular vet check-ups. They don’t need vaccinations, teeth cleaning, nail trimming or anything else that other pets require. So, there’s no need to take your snake to the vet unless you suspect illness.
Routinely check that your snake is behaving normally and looks healthy. This should be sufficient for detecting any signs of illness.
A check-up once per year or once every two years should be sufficient. Try not to take your snake to the vet more often than is necessary as the process can cause the snake a lot of stress.
Signs You Should Take Your Snake to the Vet
It’s your responsibility to keep an eye on the health and condition of your snake. This will allow you to detect any illnesses or problems early.
Each day, observe your snake in its vivarium and monitor its behavior. Whenever you take your snake out to handle it, perform a basic physical examination to ensure it’s in good shape. Look for the following:
- Anorexia (a refusal to eat) that lasts more than one month
- Regurgitation or vomiting
- Discolored scales, blisters, burns, or wounds on the snake’s body
- Stuck shed (dysecdysis), especially retained eye caps
- Rasping breath, wheezing, open-mouth breathing, or visible bubbles around the nostrils
- Excessive saliva. Use a credit card to gently open your snake’s mouth
- Abnormal behavior, such as lethargy or excessive movement (i.e. trying constantly to escape the enclosure)
- Parasites, especially ticks and mites
What Happens At a Snake Vet Check-Up?
To allow your vet to assess your snake correctly, make sure you take note of the following information before you go:
- When your snake last ate, and its usual feeding schedule.
- The humidity level inside your snake’s vivarium. Use a hygrometer to take the measurement about an inch above the substrate’s surface.
- A recording of the tank’s temperature at the cool and warm ends.
If you can, bring with you a small sample of your snake’s feces. According to Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, the study of feces is an accurate way of diagnosing gastrointestinal parasites. The vet may also:
- Open your snake’s mouth to check for mouth rot or excess saliva, which could indicate a respiratory infection
- Listen to your snake’s heartbeat and breathing
- Observe your snake’s movement and attitude
- Examine your snake’s skin for dysecdysis, scale rot, burns, and mites.
- Pinch the skin to check for dehydration.
Not all vets specialize in reptiles. After all, snakes are not common pets. A veterinary course may cover the basics of reptiles, but many vets will not treat snakes as regularly as cats and dogs.
Research herpetological veterinarians (or “herp vets”) in your area. Find a vet with experience with snakes, and has positive reviews and testimonials.
You can always contact local surgeries directly and ask if they have an experienced reptile vet working for them. Even if they don’t, they may be able to recommend one to you.