signs of a dehydrated snake
Snake Health

How to Treat a Dehydrated Snake

Snakes drink infrequently. Some drink so rarely that you might be worried that they’re sick. Well, some snakes don’t seem to need to drink as much whereas others need to drink more often. But, what if a snake never drinks water? Will this affect the health of your snake?

If your pet snake is dehydrated, it’s very bad for their health. Provide a water bowl for your snake to bathe in. Snakes prefer to drink fresh water drops from a mister. You can either do this manually with a spray bottle, or install an automatic humidity system.

A dehydrated ball python or corn snake can’t ask you for medical help, so it’s up to you to identify whether they’re dehydrated (or sick in any way). If you don’t spot the signs, they could die.

Why Won’t My Snake Drink?

Scientists have studied how snakes drink. According to research presented in New Scientist magazine, their mouths don’t suck like ours. They work like tiny sponges to bring in moisture.

But snakes don’t always need to drink. They’re exceptionally good at holding on to moisture from food, and don’t excrete anywhere near as much water as we do. This helps them adapt to environments like deserts, where there’s hardly any water at all.

But regardless of where your snake came from, they may drink hardly anything. Of two snakes of the same species, age, and sex, one might frequently drink while you might never see the other one drink. Both snakes can be healthy. The only difference you’ll see is that when one snake goes to the toilet, it will be looser (because they drank more water).

Unless your snake is displaying symptoms of poor health, this isn’t a problem.

What Are the Signs Your Snake is Dehydrated?

So, what does a dehydrated snake look like? Dehydration is obvious if you know what to look for. If you think that your snake is dehydrated, look for these symptoms:

  • Their skin wrinkles up in places. You’ll especially notice this when the snake coils up, the skin wrinkles quite a lot on the inside of the coil. You might also see it around their neck.
  • Their skin is dry. It’s especially dry if they tried to shed their skin, but it’s coming off in patches, or hardly coming off at all.
  • Their skin will also lose elasticity. When you pinch it, it will slowly slide back to its original position rather than springing back. This is a sign of dehydration in all reptiles.
  • The inside of their mouth looks dry and sticky.
  • Dehydration goes hand in hand with not eating enough, so signs of starvation may also mean hydration. The chief sign is that the snake’s sides are concave rather than convex.

If you’re noticing these signs of a dehydrated snake, this goes beyond them not drinking much. These are signs that they’re not in optimal health.

pet snake dehydrated

How to Keep a Snake Hydrated

Let’s move on to how to help a dehydrated snake. You have to encourage them to drink more. This is usually because they’re not happy with their water source for some reason. At the same time, though, hydration isn’t just about drinking. It’s also because their environment is too dry.

1) Correct Snake Humidity Levels

The most important thing for your snake regarding hydration is the humidity level. Keeping them in an environment that’s wetter or drier than they’d like causes health problems.

In particular, your snake is more likely to experience retained sheds in dry environments. And if their enclosure is too humid, this increases the likelihood of bacterial infections.

Each species has different requirements, so it’s important to look for impartial and expert advice as to the temperature and humidity they need.

2) Spray Their Enclosure

If as you suspect their enclosure isn’t humid enough, there are several ways to correct that. Most people maintain the humidity in their snake’s enclosure by spraying it with a spray bottle.

You can buy these for just a couple of dollars. Check the humidity measurement in their enclosure every once in a while, and spray if it gets too low.

Besides helping with the humidity, snakes also like to drink water droplets. If you spray on the walls of their enclosure, they might start to drink the droplets as they fall down.

3) Automatic Humidity System

Alternatively, you can get an automatic humidity system for your snake’s enclosure. This works the same as a spray bottle, but you don’t have to remember to use it.

It detects when the humidity gets too low and automatically sprays when it is. Again, this is going to provide water droplets that your snake can drink.

The system can work in a couple of ways. Fit can come with a hygrometer that actually monitors the humidity level, only spraying when it needs to.

Something like the Zoo Med Laboratories Hygrotherm, for example, controls both temperature and humidity. If you don’t have the time to keep manually checking the cage, it’s well worth it.

4) Change Their Water Bowl Frequently

Snakes don’t like standing water. In the wild, you’ll see them drinking raindrops and morning dew more often than you’ll see them drink still and stagnant water.

That’s because standing water contains bacteria, fungi, and parasites whereas freshly fallen rain or freshly formed dew doesn’t.

Even so, it’s vital that they have access to a source of fresh and clean water. First, this bowl will increase the humidity in their enclosure. If the humidity is normally too low, then, this will help.

It also gives them a little something to drink, should they need to. Sometimes snakes do actually drink from the bowl in their enclosure.

Most importantly, though, it helps snakes shed. Before they’re due to shed, your snake will bathe, if just for a little while. This will help them get more moisture in their skin.

This helps them peel off their shed in one go, rather than peeling it off in patches. Overall, if you have space, a water bowl is one of the best ways to help a dehydrated snake.

As a final note, change the water often, at least every other day. This prevents bacterial build-up.

5) Snake Waterfall Bowl

Snakes don’t like to drink from standing water sources. The good news is that you can buy bowls like this one from Zoo Med on Amazon that has running water, like a tiny waterfall. These are usually built to look like tiny natural waterfalls. They look like real rock and stone, and might even come with a tiny tree or shrub to make it look realistic.

You can either get a premade one, or a kit. They’re the same either way. They’re made using a tiny water pump, a small water source, and whatever materials you need to make it look realistic. If your snake is refusing to drink anything else, this might convince them.

how to get your snake to drink water

6) Warm Electrolyte Bath

Electrolytes are salts that you should drink whenever you’re dehydrated. They help the body control how much fluid there is in cells. You might think that drinking ‘salts’ is the worst thing you could do when you’re dehydrated.

But the point is that when you lose water through sweating, these electrolytes are evaporated away too. You, therefore, need to replace them.

The same goes for snakes. If they don’t have enough electrolytes, they can’t properly regulate their fluids. Give them a warm electrolyte bath to help rehydrate them. There’s no specific product available, but you can use Pedialyte for snakes. They’re similar and work well.

Here’s how you use them:

  • Take their water bowl, or any plastic tub. Something that won’t easily spill over. Fill it with water that’s deep enough, so that they can keep their head and the whole body underwater. At the same time, make sure that it’s shallow enough that they can easily lift their head out to breathe.
  • Place a heat mat underneath it to keep the water warm. Warm it to the temperature of their enclosure (the cooler side, not the basking side).
  • Measure out the correct amount of Pedialyte or electrolyte solution, as per the instructions.
  • Make sure that the water is the correct temperature before placing the snake in their bath.
  • You can leave them to bathe for fifteen minutes, at which point it won’t have any further effect.
  • When you take them out, pat them dry with a soft towel. Don’t rub them or squeeze them. Then, place them back in their enclosure.

If you notice that the snake is hiding under the water level, don’t worry. Snakes can hold their breath for quite a long time—several minutes. If you don’t have electrolytes or can’t buy any, it is possible to let them bathe in regular water. This will help, but not quite as much.

How to Keep a Snake Hydrated When Sick

If your snake is sick, they can rapidly become dehydrated. Especially with conditions like mouth rot, snakes stop eating and drinking.

But even with entirely unrelated conditions, snakes go off their food when they’re ill. When this happens, it’s vital that you treat the underlying condition first before addressing the symptoms.

  • If the problem is scale rot, change their substrate and correct their humidity/temperature levels
  • If the problem is mouth rot, ask the vet for antibiotics and clean their enclosure
  • If the snake has a respiratory infection, again, you’ll need antibiotics to get rid of it

Once treatment begins for their health problem, that’s when you should start thinking about their dehydration. Begin by encouraging them to feed. The tease feeding process is helpful.

This is where you tease the snake with a prey item. Hold the prey item with tongs/forceps, and tap the snake on the side of their mouth. This will irritate the snake, and they’ll eventually strike out of frustration.

How to Get Your Snake to Drink Water

The point is that you can’t force a snake to drink. Even if you were to hold their head underwater, they wouldn’t drink—they’d hold their breath for five minutes.

We don’t recommend doing so. The best way to get them some fluids is through eating food, so tease feed them if necessary.

How to Keep a Snake Hydrated When Vomiting

In the worst case, fluid therapy for snakes is possible. To be clear, this isn’t something that you can do at home. It’s a procedure that can only be carried out by a vet. There are ways to force a snake to take in fluid:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluid administration. A vet uses a catheter to drip the fluid into their bloodstream.
  • Intraosseus (IO) fluid administration. Fluid is injected into the bone marrow rather than a vein. This is used if the vasoconstriction prohibits IV fluid administration.
  • Intracoelomic (ICo) fluid administration. Fluid is injected into the central body cavity.
  • Subcutaneous fluid administration. This is a necessary injection where the fluid is injected just underneath the skin.

If your snake is consistently refusing food, and vomiting when they do feed, you should seek a vet’s assistance. Your snake is very sick, and needs immediate medical assistance.