Internal parasites in snakes can lead to sickness (weight loss, regurgitation, diarrhea, and appetite loss). Left untreated, they can cause internal damage or even death. Parasites and their hosts have a delicate balance in the wild, even though they may not offer any benefit to their hosts.
A dewormer is required if worms have infected your snake. However, an antibiotic or antiprotozoal is required if the parasitic infection is caused by a protozoan (amoeba, flagellate, ciliate, or sporozoan.)
Knowing a parasite’s life cycle allows you to eliminate it from your snake’s environment before it causes serious illness. Some parasites such as the hookworm have a direct life cycle as it passes from one snake to another, or to itself via food contaminated with infected droppings.
To prevent infection from progressing is to keep your snake’s enclosure clean at all times.
Will Deworming Get Rid of Internal Parasites in Snakes?
Snakes harbor many internal parasites, including nematodes, cestodes, protozoans, pentastomes, trematodes, and acanthocephalans – according to the journal, Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica.
Not every parasite that infects a snake is a worm. If you suspect your pet snake has a parasitic infection, take a fresh fecal sample to your vet to determine the parasite involved.
A dewormer (fenbendazole or Pancur) should only be administered if your snake is infected by nematodes or cestodes, such as tapeworms, pinworms, hookworms, roundworms, and pentastomes.
What Types of Internal Parasites Can Snakes Get?
Snakes can host a large variety of parasites, some of which can cause many issues.
Single-celled organisms or protozoa may result in severe diseases of the respiratory, digestive, circulatory, and reproductive systems of a snake.
Flukes often cause urinary and respiratory issues, and tapeworms lead to digestive tract problems. Roundworms and related parasites often reside in the digestive tract, but they can lead to disease of other organs (such as the lungs) when they migrate in their juvenile stages.
Your pet should only be treated for parasites if it is causing an issue for your pet or if it is a parasite that it naturally should not have.
Amoebas are microscopic, single-celled organisms (protozoa) that can lead to amebiasis, a major parasitic problem in captive snakes.
Amebiasis is a contagious disease that occurs when a snake consumes contaminated food or water containing the parasite in its infective stage.
Amoebas can cause widespread damage to a snake’s intestinal lining and liver. Furthermore, secondary bacterial infections can occur and increase the severity of the disease.
Signs and symptoms of amebiasis include lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, bloody and foul-smelling feces, as well as feces containing mucus. Boa constrictors, pythons, and some water snakes are especially prone to amebiasis.
The condition can be diagnosed by laboratory examinations of your pet’s feces. If you suspect your snake may have amebiasis, consult your vet for an appropriate course of action.
The infection is treatable, and your vet may prescribe specific antibiotics and antiprotozoal medications (Metronidazole) to improve it. Furthermore, your snake’s enclosure must be steam cleaned and disinfected using a 3% bleach solution.
Crocodiles, some turtles, and snakes native to the American Southwest are common carriers of the parasite, even without signs of infection.
Therefore, it is critical that you are careful while keeping these species with your pets to prevent an amoeba outbreak.
Most animals (including humans) are susceptible to tapeworm infection. Tapeworms appear as pieces of rice, which may connect to form a worm.
However, you’ll notice rice-like segments of the tapeworm in your snake’s feces when it is in its larvae stage. The infection may also show in the layer of connective tissue beneath the skin, which can be surgically removed by the vet.
Like most parasitic infections, tapeworm infections can also cause weight loss in your snake. Tapeworms need an intermediate host to complete their life cycle.
This is a good thing because it reduces a captive snake’s risk of being infected. However, if the infection does occur, keep an eye out for symptoms and seek veterinary help to get rid of it.
Treatment for tapeworm involves praziquantel, a tapeworm medication, repeated in 2 weeks. The swelling under the skin caused by the tapeworm larvae may have to be removed surgically.
According to Applied and Environmental Biology, your snake can be infected by this protozoan if it consumes water contaminated with cryptosporidium, or if you’re feeding your snake any wild-caught prey. Cryptosporidia are also zoonotic, which means humans can be infected.
The cryptosporidium parasite causes weight loss and severe diarrhea, just like most other parasites. However, it will not produce any worms that will be visible in the feces.
This infection cannot be seen under a regular microscope. Therefore, if your vet suspects your snake may be infected by cryptosporidium, a specialized test will have to be performed to confirm it.
Pinworms (also known as seatworm or threadworm) are common nematodes that are not going to be visible to the naked eye.
Pinworm infections are normal in reptiles, and a snake most commonly gets infected when it eats infected mice or insects.
Your vet may not treat it unless it is causing issues for your snake. Some problems that can occur with pinworm infections include loss of appetite, weight loss, or fecal obstructions.
Humans can also get infected by pinworms, so wash your hands after handling an infected snake.
Roundworms are microscopic parasites that reside in a snake’s intestinal tract. The larvae stage of the parasite can be found in the respiratory tract of the snake as well.
Roundworms leave waste inside a snake’s mouth causing sores. The larvae may penetrate a snake’s skin, causing an infection, instead of getting into its system via its mouth. In most cases, the infection goes unnoticed until the snake is significantly infested with roundworms.
You may be able to find evidence of roundworm infection in your snake’s feces. If you notice any signs of infection, your snake will have to be treated by a dewormer recommended by your vet.
Not treating the infection can progress to severer conditions, such as pneumonia. It’s also crucial to maintain proper hygiene to prevent worm infestations in the future.
Flagellates, such as Hexamita spp. inhabit the intestinal tract of snakes, causing intestinal disease.
If flagellates infect your snake, your vet may prescribe a dewormer called fenbendazole (Panacur), which will have to be repeated after 2 to 3 weeks.
Metronidazole (Flagyl) may also be prescribed to treat flagellates. Note that king snakes, indigo snakes, and uracoan rattlers should be given the lower end of the dosage.
Hookworms generally “hook” onto the intestinal lining of a snake, causing bloody stools.
You won’t see any visible hookworms, but if you notice any abnormalities in your pet’s feces, take a fresh sample to your vet as soon as possible.
Your vet will prescribe a dewormer (Pancur) in case of hookworm infection.
Tongue Worms (Pentastomes)
Tongue worms are found in many reptiles with varying severity. Symptoms of tongue worm infections are often associated with those of pneumonia.
However, tongue worms can inhabit any tissue, resulting in symptoms that will vary according to the arthropods’ migration path and tissue response.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, zoonotic pentastomes, such as Armillifer armillatus can pass on to humans, dogs, and other pets, indicating a public health concern.
Although there is no specific treatment for tongue worms, ivermectin at 5 to 10 times its usual dosage and 8mg/kg dosages of praziquantel has been shown to reduce the number of ova infecting the snake. However, the treatment may not remove the worms.
The newest approach to remove adult tongue worms is to locate and remove them endoscopically.
These parasitic worms infect the stomach lining, blood vessels, and body cavity of snakes. They are also known for causing skin sores.
Common vectors for Spirurid worms include mosquitos and ticks, which can transmit the parasite onto the snake and lead to unpleasant symptoms.
Luckily, mosquitos and ticks are not common when reptiles are kept in captivity, but you can ensure they don’t approach your snake by keeping the enclosure and all items in the cage clean at all times.
If you do notice a problem, try increasing the temperature of your snake’s environment for two days. However, if your pet requires a cool environment, it may not be able to tolerate higher temperatures, in which case advice from your vet will be necessary.
In addition to these internal parasites, your snake can also get intestinal diseases from E. Coli and Salmonella infections.
Always wash your hands right after handling your pet. Even if your snake appears to be alright, it is crucial to have it checked by a vet every year and have its fecal samples tested as well.
Causes of Internal Parasites in Snakes
Snakes are susceptible to a variety of species of internal parasites, from large worms to single-cell organisms, such as flagellates, Cryptosporidium, and coccidia.
Most snakes that are sold as pets or are kept in zoological collections may carry parasites with them into captivity. These snakes may have either been infected by parasites before being captured from the wild or while being held in crowded wholesale or retail outlets.
Pet snakes that are kept singly in homes are highly unlikely to develop parasitic infections. However, there are exceptions when the snake is exposed to infected snakes, their feces, or vectors.
These are carrier organisms required by parasites to complete their life cycles. A vector may transmit a parasite into a snake by biting it.
Another common way for captive snakes to get infected is by eating certain prey animals that may carry the larval stage of a parasite. For example, a Trichomonas infection can result from consuming mites and rats that harbor the parasite.
Snakes in the wild are not confined to a small space, and in most cases, parasites in their natural surroundings are either not present in large numbers or aren’t a significant burden to the snake host.
However, a snake in captivity is much more susceptible to infection because of the high concentration of parasites in small cages, especially dirty ones.
Symptoms of Internal Parasites in Snakes
The following are common symptoms of internal parasites in reptiles:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Regurgitation or vomiting
- Abnormalities in snake feces
Worms may be present in your snake’s vomit or feces if it is infected. However, a parasite can be present inside of your pet’s body even if you don’t see any visible worms.
Larval forms of certain intestinal parasites can travel through the lungs and result in respiratory symptoms or pneumonia. Death can occur through severe infections.
Internal Parasite Diagnosis
Diagnosing parasitic infections in snakes is relatively simple in most cases. Collect a fresh fecal sample and put it in a re-sealable plastic bag. Place this bag into another re-sealable bag and place it in the refrigerator.
A fresh sample that has been refrigerated is still good for diagnosis for at least 24 hours. Avoid feces that have dried at the bottom of the cage, or have drowned inside your snake’s water dish.
Most commonly occurring parasites in snakes are diagnosed by microscopically analyzing your pet’s feces sample. However, certain parasites like Cryptosporidia have to be diagnosed via special tests (PCR) and stains (Acid Fast).
Parasite Prevention in Snakes
Medical treatments for reptile parasitic infections vary depending on the type of parasite involved and the part of your snake’s body where the parasite is residing in.
Some parasites thrive in the intestinal tract of snakes and only compete for nutrients, not causing any major harm.
However, parasites like the hookworm can attach to your snake’s intestinal lining and feed on your pet’s blood, resulting in severe damage.
Inadequate housing can increase the number of hookworms in a host, thereby causing debilitating diseases and even death.
1) Regular Checkups
It’s easier to prevent your pet from getting infected than to treat it. Internal parasites in pet reptiles are more common than most people think.
According to the Annals of Parasitology, 62.4% of the fecal samples tested from reptilian pets showed the presence of parasite eggs and oocytes.
Researchers in the study recommend having your pet’s fecal sample tested by your vet every year because some of these parasites may be just as harmful to humans as they are to a snake.
Monitor your snake’s droppings every week to find any evidence for worms if present. If you observe any abnormalities in your pet’s feces, take a fresh fecal sample to your vet as soon as possible.
2) Food and Handling
Since snakes are carnivores, it is possible for them to get infected from the food they consume. Therefore, it is critical that you purchase your snake’s food from a reputable seller.
Boiling or cooking your snake’s meal in an attempt to kill off any parasites is not recommended as your snake might refuse to eat it.
Even though choosing a reputable seller can lower your snake’s chances of getting infected, it is still possible for it to get parasitized, which is why yearly checkups are essential.
3) Proper Hygiene
Another important step is maintaining good hygiene inside your snake’s enclosure. Be sure to include at least one thorough clean up per week, where you disinfect the cage and all its accessories.
You should freeze all snake bedding overnight before placing it back in the enclosure to kill any eggs or larvae. You must also make sure you wash your hands after handling your snake.
4) Introducing New Snakes
If you’re purchasing a new snake, it’s vital that you have it thoroughly examined by a vet for internal and external parasites. If any parasitism is detected, it must be treated, if possible.
Avoid introducing any snake to a collection until you have had it examined by a vet and quarantined it for at least eight weeks to see if it stays healthy during this period.
Furthermore, you should avoid bringing your pet in contact with any wild-caught snakes until they have been tested.
A proper diet contributes to your snake’s health. Therefore, make sure you feed your snake according to its dietary requirements and provide it with thawed frozen small mammals.
If your snake’s diet is in check and they’re healthy in other ways, the chances are it will be able to cope with mild to moderate infections.