Ticks are small, blood-sucking creatures that are harmful to snakes. Aside from being irritating, a tick infestation on a snake can cause disease and even anemia. That’s why it’s so important that you immediately treat any snake tick infestation that you find.
Unfortunately, home remedies are nowhere near as effective as professional sprays and formulas. Spreading butter and oil to ‘suffocate’ ticks doesn’t always work. Bathing can help, but won’t kill every tick without fail.
We believe that an EPA-approved spray, such as Provent-a-Mite, is your best treatment option. Other formulas we looked at aren’t as safe or effective.
How do Snakes Get Ticks?
Snakes get ticks through contact with other infested snakes. Say, for example, that you house two snakes together. You then buy a wild-caught snake and house it with the other two. Unfortunately, this snake has a tick infestation. The infestation will quickly pass to all three snakes.
The same thing happens if you’re not careful when you handle another snake. If you handle somebody else’s pet snake, and that snake happens to be infested, this can pass on the infestation if you then handle your snakes without washing your hands first. Ticks may also get caught in clothing.
Finally, your snake can catch ticks from their environment. Mites and ticks lay their eggs away from the host, which means in the snake’s substrate, their hide, and around their enclosure.
If you bought anything second-hand for their cage, including the enclosure itself, then they may have caught ticks from that. Or, if you kept an infested snake in there previously, the same applies.
What do Snake Ticks Look Like?
Ticks are immediately noticeable. They’re much larger than snake mites and are visible to the naked eye. They vary in color between gray and red (there are many species of tick). They also vary in size, depending on how much they’ve fed. But even the smallest are visible to the naked eye.
Ironically, they look a little like snake scales. If you notice anything that looks like a snake scale, but that’s raised up and pointing out from the skin, it might be a tick.
You can wiggle a tick’s body around when you touch it, although it’s best not to since this can dislodge their teeth/mouthparts and cause an infection.
When they’re not feeding, they look a little like spiders with very flat bodies. They have long legs and a small oval-shaped middle. When they’ve been feeding, they’re longer than they are wide, and they look smooth and thick.
They also change color to become redder, because they’ve been feeding on blood. You can find them all along a snake’s body. However, they seem to congregate around the head and eyes. A snake with ticks on its head most likely has a late-stage infestation, since there are many ticks grouped together.
Snake Tick Infestation Symptoms
Snake ticks can even transmit diseases, the worst probably being inclusion body disease, which is invariably fatal.
To identify whether your snake has ticks or not, look out for these primary symptoms:
- Ticks leave raised scales along your snake’s back. This is where the tick burrows underneath a scale to get at the snake’s skin. They appear as small bumps all along their back. If the tick is large enough or has been feeding, you may also see them sticking out. The scale may also appear pitted.
- Ticks, and infestations generally, cause your snake to bathe more. This is a natural reaction. Your snake’s ancestors learned to do this over millions of years. The snake can hold their breath for longer than mites or ticks can, so this kills some of them each time.
- Your snake will start rubbing their nose against the glass or plastic of their enclosure. Ticks and mites infest the area around the eye. You snake will, therefore, rub their nose against things because it feels itchy and irritated.
- You will notice small drops of blood every once in a while, dried on your snake’s scales or skin. This is from the tick drinking your snake’s blood but leaving a bit behind.
- Anemia is a primary symptom of snake tick infestation, although it’s not something you can see. Anemia is where iron levels in the blood become abnormally low, which can cause further complications. This happens because the ticks are draining enough blood from your snake’s system to deplete their iron levels.
Aside from these primary symptoms, snake tick infestations can cause more general symptoms too. These are classic signs that a snake is sick in some way or another—not necessarily that they have ticks. But combined with the primary symptoms above, they’re yet more signs of an infestation.
- Your snake will have a harder time shedding. They’ll be dehydrated from the infestation.
- Your snake may lose their appetite or refuse to eat completely.
- Because they refuse to eat, your snake may lose weight.
- Your snake will be more grumpy than usual.
To identify ticks, take your snake out of their enclosure and handle them a while. Examine their body and head, in particular looking for raised scales and any ticks around their eyes. You should be able to spot them easily.
What Problems do Ticks Cause?
Ticks cause all sorts of problems that negatively affect your snake. Through a tick infestation, your snake can catch:
- Fungal or bacterial infections. When a tick has finished feeding, they leave behind a small wound, which can become infected. If this infection travels to the bloodstream, your snake will then have septicemia. This is fatal something like 50% of the time.
- Alternatively, ticks can leave behind ulcers and abscesses. These are caused by the snake’s immune system fighting off the infection. While they’re preferable to septicemia, they cause your pet significant pain.
- According to a paper on ticks from the University of Florida, ticks can cause hemogregarine infestations in boas. These are minute parasites which feed on red blood cells, which can significantly impact your snake’s health.
- Ticks can spread diseases, including inclusion body disease. This is an infection that’s fatal 100% of the time. It affects snakes in the boid family.
Because they can cause so many ill effects, it’s vital that you start treatment right away. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways that are 100% effective at killing ticks.
Snake Ticks Removal
Getting rid of ticks on snakes is surprisingly easy. You can manually remove them, provided that you’re very careful. You start by pinching the tick gently on both sides of their head, as close to your snake’s skin as possible. Use tweezers or similar rather than your fingers.
You then have to pull gently at first, and failing that firmly, to pull the tick out. Avoid yanking them out, as this can break off their teeth/mouth parts that will then remain lodged inside the skin.
After you pull them out, wipe or dab the area with a little alcohol. This will prevent the wound from becoming infected. You can also put the tick into a small container of alcohol to kill it.
Once you’re finished, it’s vital that you wash your hands. Ticks carry disease, and the last thing you want is for either you or your snake to catch something nasty when you were only trying to help.
Snake Ticks Treatment
If pulling them out isn’t for you, there are other treatment methods available. Do be aware, though, that none of these treatments will completely eradicate the problem in just one go. You’ll have to consistently treat your snake over a period of time to ensure that the ticks are truly gone.
- We recommend getting Provent-a-Mite on Amazon to treat any snake mite or tick infestation. This product was specially formulated to kill mites and ticks, but be safe for snakes and reptiles. It uses a group of chemicals in the pyrethrin family known to kill ticks and mites. To use it, follow the directions. Residual effects last for upwards of 1 month, and up to half a year, completely preventing re-infestation. It even has a shelf life of seven years, which means that you can keep using it year-in, year-out, providing exceptional value for money.
However, as a note of caution, don’t use an unproven tick repellent. Many tick treatments for other pets are based on pyrethrins too, so if you have dogs or cats, then you might have some lying about at home and be tempted to use it—but don’t.
Certain chemicals in the pyrethrin family can be extremely toxic to snakes and other cold-blooded animals, as backed up by a report from the Food and Environment Research Agency. In fact, they were originally designed to kill species of invasive snake in southeast Asia.Provent-a-Mite is the only EPA approved mite and tick treatment for snakes. Not only that but if you look at the reviews for other products, there are instances of other sprays working—but also in some cases, killing the snake. Stick to vet-approved, specially-formulated reptile and snake tick treatments instead like Provent-a-Mite.
Prevention of Ticks on Snakes
Prevention is always better than cure. If you own a happy, healthy snake that never gets outdoors, then there’s no way that they can catch ticks unless you do something wrong.
So, follow these guidelines to prevent ticks in snakes:
- If you’ve just treated an infestation, make sure to treat the snake’s enclosure too. Ticks breed on the host animal, but then leave to lay their eggs elsewhere. They’ll, therefore, have laid eggs in your snake’s enclosure. Therefore, get rid of all of their substrate, take everything out of their enclosure, and start spraying. Spray everything that’s normally in there (e.g., hides) and spray every inch of the enclosure itself, too.
- Whenever you handle a snake, wash your hands afterward. You should also roll your sleeves up, just in case a tick or mite wants to hitch a ride on you. Admittedly, this doesn’t happen with ticks, but it definitely does with mites—so do it anyway.
- Bathe your snake regularly. They don’t need to wash because they’re ‘dirty,’ but it does help control nascent infestations. It also helps them shed, so there’s no reason not to.
You can use home remedies for snake ticks, but they aren’t as effective. Snake ticks removal depends on killing all of the ticks, and all of their eggs, all at once. There’s no point killing one tick here and one tick there.
By covering them in oil or butter, you’ll kill some—but many others will survive. Just two eggs, one hatching into a male and one into a female, are enough to start another infestation. That’s why it’s vital you buy and use a spray like Provent-a-Mite on Amazon.