Snake septicemia is usually, but not always, caused by bacteria in your pet’s living environment. These bacteria will cause considerable damage to your snake’s vital organs, such as the kidneys.
Check for signs of petechiae (small hemorrhagic patches, or blood blisters/pin-pricks, on the stomach and lining of the mouth). There are no other logical reasons why these would form on a healthy snake. You may also notice that your snake’s lethargic, isn’t eating, or has a fever.
A vet must treat septicemia in snakes with antibiotics (Baytril) and an ongoing course of drugs until your snake is healthy. Force-feeding and fluid therapy may also be required. If the condition is left untreated for too long and your snake is in distress, it may have to be euthanized.
If you think your snake has Septicemia, you should take it to the vet immediately. The best way to avoid septicemia in snakes is to clean their enclosure (and everything inside) regularly.
What is Septicemia in Snakes?
Septicemia (toxemia) is a bacterial infection. But whereas infection in a wound is confined to just one area, this infection gets into the snake’s bloodstream.
The infection can then travel around the body, which makes it much more dangerous. Septicemia can cause sepsis, which is where inflammation appears throughout the body as a result of the bacteria present in your blood.
A snake with septicemia, either with sepsis or otherwise, is seriously ill. Because the infection reaches the bloodstream, it can then go anywhere in the snake’s body.
The bacteria start to attack the internal organs, causing hemorrhages and stopping the organs from being able to do their job.
What Causes Septicemia in Snakes?
Bacteria cause septicemia in all animals. It’s an infection, where bacteria proliferate in an area and make you ill faster than white blood cells can kill them. So, in purely biological terms, bacteria cause septicemia in snakes.
However, more specifically, septicemia is caused by these bacteria entering a wound. The most common way that this can happen is mouth rot, which is an infection of a wound in the mouth.
The bacteria can travel from the wound into the bloodstream, multiply, and cause septicemia. Other wounds can also cause septicemia, so if your snake was somehow scratched or cut, this wound can become infected and cause the condition too.
Aside from that, septicemia is made more likely by the following things.
- Most infections are caused by poor husbandry. This means that they happen when somebody doesn’t take care of their snake correctly. Snakes lose teeth all the time, but only when their environment is dirty do they get infected wounds. If you don’t clean their cage, particularly after they defecate, infections become much more likely.
- Besides that, if the snake is kept in incorrect conditions, this can exacerbate the infection. Infections spread more quickly and become worse in warm, humid environments. If you’re keeping the snake in an enclosure that’s too warm and humid for them, this can make septicemia more likely. The same applies vice versa because if a snake is kept in conditions that are too cold or dry for them, their immune system suffers.
- Blood-sucking mites can spread bacteria and cause septicemia in snakes. Like all parasites, they carry and can spread bacteria.
- Internal injuries caused by indigestible food can cause septicemia. Something sharp that they ate by accident can perforate the gut, introducing bacteria into the bloodstream.
- Having a previous injury also makes septicemia more likely. That’s because their immune system is overwhelmed by two things at once. So, for example, if your snake has a respiratory infection, then septicemia is more likely because they can’t fight off two illnesses at once.
Can Septicemia Kill Snakes?
According to the Wildlife Disease Association, septicemia can kill snakes. As the condition spreads, it reaches all of their internal organs. Throughout the entire body, your snake’s immune system is being drained, trying to fight off the infection.
As the bacteria attack organs like the heart, lungs, and liver, they stop being able to function as intended. At this point, the vet may suggest that it’s best to put your snake down. It’s unlikely they’d be able to kill all the bacteria in their bloodstream at this point.
What Are the Signs of Septicemia in Snakes?
Septicemia is a silent killer. There are often no symptoms until it’s far too late for your snake. However, there are a few signs that you might be able to spot.
These are tiny dots that look like pin-pricks. They occur in membranes and linings, where small hemorrhages get caught underneath.
This is a sign that your snake can’t breathe properly, which is why it’s also associated with a respiratory infection. Since the infection is attacking your snake’s lungs, it’s stopping them from functioning as they should.
Lack of Appetite
This is a symptom associated with poor health or husbandry. If your snake’s septicemia came from mouth rot, then they’ll be unwilling to eat because their mouth hurts.
This is where the snake isn’t as active as it usually is. They feel the same as you do when you’re ill, and you don’t want to get up out of bed.
Septicemia can cause scales to turn red, especially the tails on the belly. This is where the redness is most noticeable, without being hidden by the snake’s coloration.
Swelling and Abscesses
If the scales on their underside are red, they’ll probably be tight and swollen too. It’s difficult to describe, but the snake will feel tight and full when you hold them around the middle.
At this point, they’re about an hour from death.
All of these signs together are quite easy to notice. The first sign is the petechiae, which occur before the problem becomes worse.
Swelling and abscesses are late-stage symptoms. At this point, your snake is very ill, and there may be no way to treat them.
Snake Septicemia Treatment
Septicemia is a bacterial infection, so your snake will need antibiotics.
Antibiotics specifically target bacterial cells in many ways. Penicillin, for example, can damage and dissolve cell walls in bacterial cells—but it leaves your cells alone.
You’re going to need to take your snake to a vet for proper treatment because you can’t help them at home. For a less severe condition, maybe, but septicemia is a life or death health problem.
How Can a Vet Treat Septicemia in Snakes?
A vet can administer antibiotics in many ways. Your snake can get injections. Your vet will administer the first one, and show you how to continue their course of treatment.
Direct injections are the best treatment because the antibiotics go straight into your snake’s bloodstream, where they’re most needed.
Antibiotics like Baytril are common, but it’s important not to use an antibiotic that’s prescribed for human use since these can contain painkillers which would kill your snake.
You might also need to force feed your snake. Force feeding a snake can be traumatic for them, but if they are refusing to eat for weeks on end, then it might be necessary.
To force feed a snake, take their usual food, and hold it with tongs. Then, brush the food against their nose, gently at first.
If this doesn’t work, start bumping them a little harder in the face—not to hurt them, but to annoy them just enough that they’ll strike. Keep this up, and eventually, they’ll strike out of anger, and once they start eating, they won’t be able to stop.
Fluid therapy might also be necessary for the same reason. This helps your snake get a little fluid into their system.
They usually get all of their fluid from eating and drinking the odd raindrop. So, if they’re not eating or drinking, they could do with some fluid therapy too.
How to Treat Septicemia at Home
Septicemia can kill snakes quickly—within hours of you noticing it. It’s vital that you see a vet first before you try treating it yourself. However, there are a few things you can do that will genuinely help ward off infection:
- You can use a cotton bud/Q-tip to treat mouth rot. Dab a small amount of antiseptic solution on the wound, whether the infection is present or not. Use Nolvasan (chlorhexidine diacetate) or Betadine, which are vet-recommended solutions. Don’t use antiseptics that aren’t recommended by vets and herpetologists, as they can harm your snake.
- You can also use these antiseptics as flushes. Use them to wash your snake’s mouth out.
- When you took your snake to the vet, they might have given you a course of antibiotics for your pet. You should use them in whatever way the vet told you to, be they injections or antiseptic solutions.
How to Prevent Septicemia in Snakes
Preventing septicemia in snakes is much, much easier than trying to cure it.
There’s nothing complicated that you have to do, just basic care. Follow these easy steps, and you’ll make it almost impossible for your snake to catch an infection.
1) Spot Checks and Regular Cleaning
Perform regular spot checks to make sure that your snake’s cage is clean. The moment you notice your ball python or corn snake go to the toilet, clean it up.
Similarly, change their water at least once every two days to prevent bacteria from building up.
2) Semi-Regular Deep Cleaning
Clean your snake’s cage thoroughly at least once a month. This is vital.
Snakes pick up the majority of infections from their surroundings, in particular, their substrate, which can hold on to urine and feces. When cleaning their cage, get rid of all the substrate inside. Take out everything else in there and clean manually.
3) Interact with Your Snake
Spend more time with your pet snake. By spending time with them, you can more easily spot if they’re ill or sick. You stand a much better chance of spotting the early signs of conditions like septicemia, which aren’t obvious.
Not only that, but your snake will be happier with their life and surroundings by getting to know you. This will help them to stay healthier.
4) Always House Snakes Separately
Don’t house snakes together. By housing snakes together, you make it much more likely that infections and other problems like mites will spread from one snake to another. They also don’t appreciate the stress that communal housing causes.
These steps don’t cost money, and they don’t take hours and hours to do. It’s a matter of basic care, like taking your dog to the vet every once in a while and making sure they’re well-groomed.
Even so, you can’t completely rule out the chance of them catching an infection, so it’s crucial to be able to provide basic treatment at home too.
However, you choose to treat their septicemia, don’t underestimate the seriousness of the condition. Your snake can die if they aren’t treated correctly.