Mouth rot (infectious stomatitis) can cause the teeth to fall out, leaving your snake unable to eat its food. Because it’s such a severe condition, it’s vital that you learn to treat mouth rot in snakes at home, and to understand how a vet can be of assistance.
Since infectious stomatitis is caused by an infection, use an antibiotic. Swab the area with a cotton bud, or use antibiotics administered by a vet. You can also flush the area with antibacterial solutions. It’s also necessary to drain fluid from the abscesses, but this is best left to a veterinarian.
It’s crucial that you get your snake checked out by a vet. They can identify how serious the condition is, and what might be making it worse. It’s normally a sign of poor husbandry, but it’s treatable. Give your snake Nature Zone Rot Guard Enhance Immune System for Reptiles to help keep them free from mouth rot in the future.
What Causes Mouth Rot in Snakes?
The primary cause of mouth rot in snakes is infectious bacteria. These bacteria are present in a snake’s mouth at all times. This is why it’s dangerous if a snake bites you, even if they aren’t venomous because the bite marks can be infected by these bacteria.
If your snake is in prime condition, these bacteria will still be present, but it won’t have any adverse effects. However, if for whatever reason your snake has become sick or injured, then these bacteria can multiply and become worse.
These same bacteria can cause mouth rot in other reptiles and lizards, too, so fortunately for your snake, there are quite a few ways that you can safely treat it.
How Do Snakes Get Mouth Rot?
- Mouth rot normally starts when a snake breaks a tooth. The wound left behind after a tooth breaks off then becomes infected. Before long, the regular bacteria enter the wound and cause an infection. This infection then causes the whole mouth to become reddened and inflamed.
- Prey that manages to scratch or bite the snake in or around their mouth can also cause wounds like these, although this won’t happen if you feed your pre-killed prey.
- If you keep your snake on wooden shavings, then any sharp edges may cause tiny punctures in their mouth that can become infected too.
The snake’s environmental conditions exacerbate mouth rot. So, a weak immune system makes mouth rot more likely. It can be caused by poor diet and general health, as well as any other infection that the snake is already fighting.
An infection may also spread from elsewhere on the body to the mouth, or from the mouth to elsewhere in the body, through the bloodstream.
Also, if your snake doesn’t live in optimal conditions, this can make mouth rot more likely (and worse, when it happens). In particular, a hot and humid enclosure is a perfect condition for bacteria to thrive.
If you don’t clean their enclosure regularly enough, this can cause bacteria to proliferate in your snake’s substrate too, which can then cause mouth rot.
Is Mouth Rot in Snakes Contagious?
It’s possible, but unlikely to happen. The bacteria that cause it can pass from one snake to another, but this is unlikely for the following reasons:
- The second snake would need to come into contact with the bacteria, which is in the other snake’s mouth
- The second snake would need a wound that the bacteria can infect, for it to take hold
If neither of these conditions is present, then the infection can’t spread. Either way, it’s much safer to keep snakes in separate enclosures. This prevents contagious conditions like snake mites and ticks from passing from one snake to another. It also prevents unwanted breeding.
Besides that, it’s better for the snakes, as they don’t get anywhere near as stressed when they live on their own. According to a paper in General and Comparative Endocrinology, snakes are stressed in places that they don’t have enough space.
If your snake has been living with other snakes, then it’s important to quarantine the sick snake immediately. This will have many positive effects.
First, they’ll be moving into a better environment, which will improve their health. And, of course, it will entirely prevent the chance of mouth rot spreading to other snakes.
What Are the Symptoms of Mouth Rot in Snakes?
Mouth rot has many symptoms that you should look out for. First, your snake will have red inflammation of the gums, either in one place (if the infection is taking hold) or throughout the mouth (if it has become serious). You may also notice:
- Thick saliva in your snake’s mouth
- Drainage from your snake’s nose
- Creamy or yellow pus in your snake’s mouth, particularly around the wound
- Your snake may be unable to close their mouth fully, due to the pain of doing so
- Petechia, which is where there are small red dots or blotches underneath the gums. This is caused by blood
In the most severe infections, there are other symptoms that you might see. In no particular order, these are:
- Necrotic areas in the mouth, i.e., where small parts of your snake’s cheek or gum tissue have died and become black
- Swelling throughout the entire head, around the whole jaw, and even around the cranium
- Other teeth becoming loose in their sockets, ready to fall out
- Pneumonia, which has developed because the bacteria has spread to the lungs
- Eye swelling. This can occur because the duct between the mouth and eye becomes infected, and the bacteria travel to the eye
- Inflammation of the stomach lining
One of the early signs of mouth rot is that your snake will go off their food. This is because it hurts them to eat.
If you suspect that your snake has mouth rot, when you’re next handling them, hold them on their neck/behind their head. This will cause them to open their mouth. Then, take a look, and see if you can spot the classic signs of redness and inflammation.
When you look into their mouth, it might look a little disgusting—a little like they’ve been eating cottage cheese. But even though it’s disgusting, you have to help your snake to get better.
Snake Mouth Rot Treatment
The first thing you should do is to visit a vet. A vet will be able to identify mouth rot in the earliest stages, which can save your snake a lot of pain.
If the mouth rot is already advanced, it’s essential to visit a vet even if you’re sure that it’s mouth rot that you’re dealing with. That’s because the infection may have spread, but you might not notice, whereas a vet can.
However, there are steps that you can take at home to treat mouth rot. Make sure to combine these steps with a visit to the vet, so that your snake has the best chance of recovery.
Home remedies for mouth rot in snakes should address the environmental concerns of your snake. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide:
- Completely clean out the snake’s enclosure. Take everything out, and clean everything that can be cleaned using antibacterial wipes/solution.
- Replace the substrate, and make sure that you replace it regularly from here on out.
- Take a look at one of our care guides to see whether you’re keeping your snake at the correct temperature and humidity. If you aren’t, adjust accordingly. Make sure you have both a hygrometer and a thermometer to monitor both. You could consider getting an all-in-one monitor on Amazon like the ThermoPro. Click this link to check pricing information.
If you don’t have the time or ability to adjust the temperature or humidity consistently, get something that can do it for you. For humidity, consider using a purpose-made tank humidifier like the Evergreen Pet Supplies reptile humidifier, which works for snakes too.
Only once you’ve fixed these problems can you think about treating your snake’s mouth rot. If you were to give your snake antibiotics, without making their environment suitable, then they would catch mouth rot again.
Use a Q Tip
You can use iodine on a cotton bud (Q-tip) to get rid of mouth rot. Each day, clean the area with a cotton bud, not by scrubbing, pushing or popping anything but simply by dabbing it with a little antiseptic solution. There are a couple that you can use:
- Nolvasan (chlorhexidine diacetate), which is a gentle disinfectant that you dilute in water.
- Betadine, which is a povidone-iodine mix that’s widely available at drug stores.
These solutions may also be used as a flush if that’s something you can do to your snake. If you can’t, your vet will be able to. Use the solution each day on a minor infection, and it may clear up without the need to see a vet at all. However, if the infection is moderate or serious, don’t rely on home remedies to treat it and head straight to a vet.
You may have read that you can use mouthwash to treat infectious stomatitis, but this might not be a great idea. Some people recommend using original Listerine, which is antibacterial. But others say that it might be too cytotoxic, i.e., that it’s too powerful and can damage living/normal tissue.
Visit a Vet
The first thing that a vet will do is identify whether you’re dealing with mouth rot or another health problem that affects snakes. If it is mouth rot, then the vet will begin by excising any dead tissue in your snake’s mouth.
They will also open any abscesses to drain them of fluid, just like how you might lance a boil at home. This stops your snake from being so uncomfortable, especially with eating, as the pressure from these abscesses can stop them from closing their mouth.
The vet will then use an antiseptic solution, typically Betadine, to wash out the mouth. They’ll use a swab to make sure that it gets everywhere, and kills as much of the bacteria as possible.
They may also flush the area out to make sure that it’s completely clean. This causes exceptional stress to the snake, but it has to be done. Alternatively, they may also inject antibiotics, which can be less stressful overall.
Antibiotics are necessary to prevent the infection from getting any worse. They are, in a way, toxic to life. But they work by attacking bacterial cells in a way that doesn’t affect human (or, in this case, snake) cells.
According to Study.com, penicillin works by stopping bacteria from being able to build cell walls, for example. Since animal cells don’t have cell walls, it kills bacteria but leaves other cells alone.
Other antibiotics work in different ways, but the point is that they kill the bacteria while leaving the rest of your snake healthy. There are a few different kinds of antibiotics that may be useful to you and your pet.
Topical antibiotics are creams or solutions that you apply externally. For a snake, you can use basic hydrogen peroxide to flush the area. Don’t use a cream on the inside of your snake’s mouth, and consult with a vet on how to use hydrogen peroxide, as well as how much to use.
Whatever antibiotic you use, however, make sure that it doesn’t contain any painkillers. The amount of painkiller in these pills or creams is specified for people. It’s far too big a dose for a snake to handle, so make sure that you double check that everything you give your snake is painkiller-free.
Can Mouth Rot Kill a Snake?
Mouth rot can kill a snake, and the cruel thing is that there are many ways that it can happen. So, for example, your snake can waste away from anorexia because they’re not comfortable eating. They won’t be able to overcome the pain of biting onto anything. This is how many snakes die in the wild.
But regarding the effects of the bacteria, the infection can spread to other areas of the body. The infection can spread to the rest of the jaw and the head.
But it can also spread to the lung or lungs, to the stomach lining, and to the bloodstream. When the infection spreads, it becomes more difficult to combat, especially if you don’t even know that it’s there.
How to Prevent Mouth Rot in Snakes
Mouth rot almost always occurs only in snakes that live in poor conditions. Bacteria in feces that isn’t cleaned up, in water bowls that aren’t changed, and in the substrate generally is what makes mouth rot more likely. So, the first tip on preventing mouth rot is to keep their enclosure clean.
Second, if you pay proper attention to your snake, you’ll notice when something goes wrong. In the worst cases of mouth rot, mites, ticks, and respiratory infections you can see that the snake is visibly ill. The only way that the problem can get that bad is if the owner pays the snake no attention at all.