It can be difficult to tell when a snake has become ill. If your pet is lethargic, having difficulty breathing, or has small red or purple wound-like patches on its body, these are symptoms of septicemia in snakes.
Septicemia is an infection that can kill snakes in just 3 to 10 days. This infection is caused by bacteria, such as Proteus hydrophilius. The bacteria enter a snake’s bloodstream through wounds or snake mites. Vets will prescribe aggressive antibiotic treatment for septicemia.
You want to protect your snake from this illness. So, understanding septicemia, how to identify it, and how to treat it is absolutely essential. We’ll now look at everything you need to know about snake septicemia.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Understanding Septicemia in Snakes
- 1.1 What Snakes Are Vulnerable To Septicemia?
- 1.2 What Causes Septicemia in Snakes?
- 1.3 How Is Septicemia Spread?
- 1.4 Snake Septicemia Symptoms
- 1.5 How Dangerous Is Septicemia?
- 1.6 How To Treat Septicemia in Snakes
- 1.7 How Can You Prevent Septicemia?
Understanding Septicemia in Snakes
If it goes unnoticed, septicemia can quickly end your snake’s life. However, by keeping a close eye on your snake for symptoms, your snake may be able to make a full recovery from septicemia.
What Snakes Are Vulnerable To Septicemia?
Septicemia is diagnosed in many species of reptiles. According to the University of São Paulo, younger snakes are more likely to be affected. This is because younger snakes have immature immune systems, and as a result, they have a lower level of resistance to bacterial infections.
Sometimes, if a snake has a different illness or medical condition, such as mouth rot, septicemia can affect it as well. This is because the immune system is already low in strength from having to deal with the original illness. It can be difficult to notice septicemia in this circumstance, because the snake is already behaving in an unusual way due to its poor health.
Additionally, reptiles whose immune systems are weakened due to stress are also especially vulnerable to septicemia. Sources of stress that can affect a snake’s immune system function may include the following:
- Living in a dirty enclosure
- Living in a too-crowded enclosure
- Being fed too little or too much
- Inappropriate temperature levels in the enclosure
- Wrong humidity levels in the enclosure
- Being handled roughly
What Causes Septicemia in Snakes?
Septicemia is caused by bacteria. Multiple bacteria have been found to be responsible for septicemia infections. One such bacterium is Proteus hydrophilius, a gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium.
Bacteria like Proteus hydrophilius produce toxins that are harmful to snakes. These bacteria originate in your snake’s living environment and get onto its skin. When the bacteria get into the bloodstream, the toxins spread through the organs, causing a critical illness.
Depending on the bacteria, the toxins may create lesions inside the mouth, nodules on the liver, hemorrhagic patches known as petechiae on the gut, and also damage to the kidneys. In any case, the toxins cause damage to organs throughout the body and require aggressive treatment to get rid of.
How Is Septicemia Spread?
In order to infect a snake, the bacteria needs to enter the bloodstream. According to The Journal of Parasitology, septicemia can be spread to snakes through mites. These mites bite the snakes, and if they are carriers of the bacteria, they then transfer the disease bacteria into the blood.
It is also possible for snakes with bite wounds from non-pathogenic mites to still get infected through those wounds from bacteria which grew elsewhere in their environment. Infections and injuries can be a way for bacteria to enter the snake’s body.
This is why it is so essential to keep a wound clean and sterile. Any infection in the mouth, elsewhere on the skin, or even inside the intestines can be an entryway for the bacteria that causes septicemia.
Snake Septicemia Symptoms
You have to pay careful attention to your snakes and know their normal behaviors in order to notice when something is wrong. Snakes that seem a little tired or irritated might be a lot sicker than you think.
Here are some symptoms to watch out for so you can catch septicemia when it is in its early stages.
Weakness or Lethargy
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, symptoms of a septicemic infection may include sudden extreme weakness, lethargy, or lack of coordination. If your snake is usually pretty active but is now just lying in the same spot all day, something is wrong.
Even if your snake is usually slow-moving, check how much it moves when you handle it. Healthy snakes will move around when you pick them up, keeping their bodies upright. Sick snakes will hang limply from your hand.
Petechiae are small hemorrhagic patches that may appear on the skin, commonly in the mouth, but also elsewhere in the body. These patches look like small blisters filled with blood. Petechiae are referred to as abscesses.
These blisters come from broken capillaries and are formed underneath the mucous membrane of the snake’s skin. You may not see any broken skin; it is like a wound forming underneath the snake’s skin.
The stomach scales may also appear red or purple in patches along its body. The belly may also feel swollen and tense when you handle your snake.
Your snake may be wheezing, panting, or excessively breathing with its mouth open. This can be a sign of multiple illnesses, including septicemia.
In extreme cases, septicemia can cause your snake to lose control of its muscles. This may appear as convulsions or seizures.
If you notice any behaviors out of the ordinary for your snake, take it to a reptile veterinarian. Persistent lack of appetite and trouble shedding are other signs of illness in snakes, including septicemia.
A reptile vet will use these symptoms as a first hint that your snake has septicemia. The vet will also perform a physical examination and do a blood test to confirm the presence of harmful bacteria.
How Dangerous Is Septicemia?
Septicemia is a critical illness for snakes and often fatal. Snakes can die from septicemia in less than 10 days after becoming infected by mites. It is possible for them to die in as quick a time as only 3 days.
This means that snakes with septicemia can die before their owner even realized something was wrong. That is why it is so important to keep an eye out for symptoms.
How To Treat Septicemia in Snakes
Septicemia requires immediate medical intervention. This is not a disease you can just wait out at home.
A veterinarian will perform a physical examination to confirm that the snake has septicemia. The testing is also necessary to determine exactly which bacteria are causing this case of septicemia. The vet may open up a lesion on the snake’s body to culture the bacterium inside and determine its species. This will allow the doctor to prescribe an appropriate treatment.
After examining the snake and determining that it has septicemia, the veterinarian will determine whether it is treatable. Unfortunately, it is possible for the infection to progress far enough for a veterinarian to recommend euthanizing the snake. If the disease is caught early enough, however, treatment is possible.
The veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic treatment to target the specific kind of bacterium which is causing the infection.
The veterinarian will administer large immediate doses of the antibiotic to the snake. This is a systemic antibiotic, which means it affects the snake’s entire body rather than one specific organ.
After this, the snake will need regular administration of the antibiotics. Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions about how often and how long to give your snake antibiotics exactly.
Even if the snake seems well again before all of the antibiotics have been given to it, there may still be bacteria in its body. Stopping the treatment too soon can cause the bacteria to survive and return in the future.
As your snake undergoes antibiotic treatment for septicemia, you will also need to make sure that it is getting enough food and water to survive. Sick snakes often stop eating and drinking due to their discomfort.
Follow your veterinarian’s instructions about what kind of nutritional support to give your snake. The vet may apply fluid therapy to keep your snake hydrated. They may also recommend force-feeding your snake before it is willing to feed itself.
Force-feeding involves presenting your snake with food even if it is not showing any interest in a meal. Pick up the rodent meal with tongs and hold it near its face. Do not give up until the snake eats. Wiggling the rodent around should stimulate the snake’s feeding response and get it to eat.
Keep Everything Warm And Clean
Another thing you can do at home to help your snake recover from septicemia is to keep its enclosure clean and healthy. Snakes with septicemia will require a warmer than usual basking site, so keep the temperature in the enclosure high.
Spot clean your snake’s enclosure frequently. Remove waste whenever the snake leaves it in its substrate to prevent re-exposure to bacteria.
If you are unable to get your snake to eat, do not leave the uneaten food inside the enclosure. As the rodent rots, it can become a breeding ground for more bacteria. The idea here is to keep your snake in a clean, comfortable space that is free of stress and disease.
How Can You Prevent Septicemia?
With quick, aggressive treatment, a snake infected with septicemia can become well again. Still, the best way to protect your snake from septicemia is to avoid the infection in the first place. Let’s go over some ways to prevent infection with septicemia.
Separate Your Snakes
When snakes live together in the same enclosure, this makes it easy for disease to spread among them. Keep your snakes in separate enclosures. This way, if one gets mites, you can quickly locate and exterminate the pests before they infect the other snakes.
Wash Your Hands
Bacteria can travel from you to your snake, including the bacteria which causes septicemia. You can avoid contaminating your snake’s skin by washing your hands and arms with antibacterial soap before you handle it. This way you will not accidentally infect your snake with any harmful substances.
Get To Know Your Snakes
Handle your snake regularly. This will teach you how your snake normally behaves, allowing you to notice when something is wrong. Regularly handling your snake will also teach it to trust you. This will lower your snake’s stress level when you feed or move it for some other reason. A relaxed, comfortable snake is less vulnerable to septicemia.