Scale rot is a bacterial infection that is common among captive reptiles, including snakes. It occurs due to overly moist living conditions and the improper cleaning of a snake’s enclosure.
Scale rot (without blisters) can be treated at home, and prevented from returning. You need to reduce the temperature and humidity level of the enclosure, sterilize the cage thoroughly, and apply an antibiotic ointment/spray. Severe scale rot in snakes must be treated by a vet.
Overly moist environments, combined with the presence of fecal matter and food waste, lead to fungal and bacterial growth, resulting in skin erosion. Prolonged exposure to damp, unsanitary conditions can result in scale infections and septicemia, leading to the death of your pet snake.
How do I get rid of scale rot in snakes? Use this linkVetericyn Reptile Wound and Skin Care Plus (which is available on Amazon) to clear up snake rot safely. Also, remember to sterilize your snake’s enclosure before returning your snake.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What is Scale Rot in Snakes?
- 1.1 What Causes Snakes to Get Scale Rot?
- 1.2 What Are the Early Signs of Scale Rot?
- 1.3 How Do I Treat Scale Rot in Snakes?
- 1.4 Can Scale Rot Kill a Snake?
What is Scale Rot in Snakes?
Scale rot is a medical umbrella term used to describe blister disease, vesicular dermatitis, and other forms of dermatitis in reptiles. It can also be used to describe bacterial abscesses and secondary infections that occur following skin abrasions or burns.
According to the University of Zurich, the leading cause for dermatophies among reptiles is poor husbandry, particularly inappropriate humidity levels inside the enclosure.
Having overly moist living conditions or not replacing a substrate that is too wet is one of the most common reasons why snakes get scale rot. As your snake rests on damp bedding, contaminated with feces, urates or rotting food, the snake’s skin can quickly become infected. In most cases, watery blisters are the first sign of scale rot in snakes.
With time, these scales start to become swollen and are later invaded by opportunistic bacteria, namely Pseudomonas spp. Then, the infection may transfer into the snake’s bloodstream and internal organs, causing septicemia in snakes, which is deadly.
What Causes Snakes to Get Scale Rot?
In most cases, it is caused by one or more of the following issues:
- Overly moist or humid conditions in the snake’s enclosure
- Not sterilizing your snake’s enclosure properly
- Not wiping up any spills or wet areas
- Vitamins A or C deficiency
Scale rot is a bacterial infection that is contagious to other snakes. That’s one of the reasons why snakes shouldn’t be housed together. If one snake has scale rot, you must quarantine the snake until its fully recovered.
What Are the Early Signs of Scale Rot?
Scale rot can present itself in various ways. Pay attention to your snake’s appearance regularly as early detection makes treatment easier.
The condition may appear in the form of discolored, brown, yellow, greenish-black, or red scales on the ventral region of the snake.
Turn your snake on its back to inspect its stomach. If there is any discoloration of the scales, the chances are that your snake has scale rot.
It’s common to confuse a snake shedding its skin with the red ulcerations as the underbelly can turn red during both processes. However, in most cases, scale rot is accompanied by other symptoms, such as erosion of the scales and large blisters on the snake’s underside.
Raised scales occur in areas where blood may have pooled underneath.
Blisters are minuscule vesicles that may be less than half an inch in diameter. They are found on the ventral surface of snakes where contact with the bedding typically occurs.
The blisters are filled with clear, yellowish fluid that is initially free from bacteria. However, ignoring the condition can cause bacteria from the snake or its environment to contaminate the vesicles.
Once an infection occurs, the snake’s scales may appear red and start discharging blood-tinged or clear fluid, along with some swelling in that area. It is common to see scales sloughing off as the infection progresses.
Bacteria may form abscesses at the site of the blister. This may be followed by ulcers when the next shed occurs and pus-like leakage.
Blisters can also merge, resulting in large blotches of infected skin. However, once the infection is treated, the snake may shed normally or shed a few times before its skin completely heals.
How Do I Treat Scale Rot in Snakes?
Severe cases of scale rot cannot be treated at home. They must be treated by a vet, who will administer antibiotic injections. The snake may also be placed under anesthesia to cut and clean the infected scales.
Treating mild scale rot has several different stages:
Clean the Enclosure
According to the Annals of Phytomedicine, inferior husbandry methods, a lack of hygiene, and malnutrition are among the leading causes of scale rot.
Sterilize your snake’s enclosure, disinfecting everything inside it and replacing all soiled substrate with the right substrate.
This will help to control existing symptoms and prevent the infection from progressing. Please refer to this guide to cleaning a snake’s enclosure.
Increasing the temperature (not the humidity) of the enclosure and providing UV lighting can kill off any pathogens.
Use a Sturdy Water Bowl
Be sure to place a water bowl that is heavy and sturdy enough to stay in place. A flimsy water bowl can easily be knocked over by a snake, resulting in wet bedding.
The bowl should small so the snake cannot soak in it. Allowing a snake with scale rot to soak will aggravate the scales even more.
Soak the Snake in Betadine Solution
Place your snake in a betadine solution bath for 20 minutes. Do this twice a day until the infection clears up.
To prepare a betadine bath, mix 10% betadine in lukewarm water. After soaking, rinse the snake and apply an antibiotic ointment (Neosporin).
You can also use an antibiotic spray, such as Vetericyn Reptile Wound and Skin Care Plus, which is a non-toxic, non-irritating treatment. You can get it on Amazon by clicking this link.
Control Moisture Levels
Humidity in the enclosure occurs through heat and airflow. Reducing the humidity to a safe level lowers your snake’s risk and aids its recovery.
Different species need different levels of humidity, so you need to choose the right level. Snakes require higher humidity levels when shedding.
Can Scale Rot Kill a Snake?
Not treating scale rot can cause the bacteria from the blisters to spread to the snake’s bloodstream, eventually resulting in septicemia.
The journal Veterinary Dermatology stated that smaller snakes or those with a weakened immune system are most vulnerable.
Higher risk factors are environmental or psychological stresses, previous illnesses, malnutrition, and other types of infections. Smaller snakes will get sick much faster, and can die from scale rot within days.
The initial blisters will cause the skin to erode over time. This will leave the snake’s body more prone to bacterial and fungal invasion, along with thermal burns. Scale rot in snakes won’t clear up on its own.