what causes kinks in snakes?
Snake Health

What Is Kinking in Snakes?

You can feel a series of hard bumps on your snake’s spine. Not surprisingly, you’re concerned that pet snakes with kinked backs have a painful degenerative condition that will make mobility more difficult. But some snake enthusiasts claim that ‘kinking’ can improve with age.

Kinking is where a snake’s back ‘kinks’ at odd angles to one side. It ranges in seriousness from a slight bend at one point in their back, to severe kinks one after the other, like a zig-zag. In the worst cases, the snake will be unable to digest its food. There is no cure for snakes with a kinked spine.

Just because there isn’t a cure for kinking doesn’t mean that your snake can’t live a good life. Certain kinds of kinking don’t affect snakes all that much, like kinking at the end of the tail. Severe cases will require euthanasia because the snake would suffer, before dying, due to the problem.

What Is Kinking in Snakes?

Kinking is a health condition where the snake’s spine is bent at odd angles. If you’re familiar with the human condition of scoliosis, kinking is quite similar to that. The snake will be born with these odd bends in their spine, which will become more pronounced and evident as they age.

Unfortunately, there is no way to correct kinking. However, it isn’t necessarily something you have to worry about. If the snake only has one small kink, it won’t affect them—they will be able to move, eat, and live as they would normally.

Minor kinks often occur near the end of the tail, which is no practical harm to the snake at all. That’s why there’s no ‘cure’ for snake kinking, because there’s no need for a fix in the majority of cases.

Moderate kinking, though, can stop the snake from being able to digest its food. That’s because of the sharp bends in their body prevent them from moving food through their digestive system. Very bad kinking can stop the snake from hatching.

What Causes Kinks in Snakes?

Kinking can happen to any snake. It’s partly a genetic issue. This is backed up by the fact that it occurs more often in particular morphs than others.

Caramel ball pythons are an example—caramel offspring have a higher rate of kinking than regular ball pythons. This suggests that kinking is caused by a genetic abnormality, although it hasn’t yet been properly identified.

That being said, environmental factors affecting either the mother or the eggs can make kinking more likely or more severe.

Some breeders think that vitamin and mineral deficiencies, for instance in calcium or vitamin D, can make kinking more likely. This hasn’t yet been backed up by research, however.

What has been backed up by research is the fact that environmental conditions after the egg is laid, but before they hatch, can significantly affect the snake inside.

In particular, temperature fluctuations during incubation or gestation affect the snake in some way. It’s unclear whether temperature changes exacerbate a genetic issue, or whether they cause kinking all by themselves — the more severe the temperature fluctuations, the more severe the kinking.

snakes with kinked spine

What to Do with a Kinked Snake

What you do depends on the severity of the kinking. If your snake has a very slight angle in their back, that’s perfectly fine.

The same goes if they have a kink between their cloaca and the tip of their tail. Their health and quality of life won’t be affected by these issues.

However, if your snake hatches and they have significant kinking all along their back, you may have to euthanize them (or get the euthanized by a vet.)

How to Euthanize a Snake Humanely

The only way to truly euthanize a snake humanely is to take them to the vet. If they are born with severe kinking, there is always a chance that the snake will die quite quickly after hatching anyway.

If you have to put them down, some at-home solutions work, but are most likely not humane. The two most common are as follows:

  • Freezing the snake. Since snakes are cold-blooded, they will die quite quickly in a freezer. The only problem is that it’s widely believed to cause the snake a lot of pain. A study in Biology Open shows that reptiles that are cooled before they’re frozen may not feel pain. However, it must be emphasized that this was under ‘perfect’ laboratory settings.
  • Decapitating the snake. Decapitating will kill the snake, but it can take a long time. Snakes can be deprived of oxygen for a long time before needing to breathe again. Not only that, but their nervous system is still active, which is why decapitated snakeheads can still bite you. It’s likely that they experience severe pain, for an unknown amount of time.

Taking your snake to a vet is the most humane thing you can do. Vets can administer injections which first put the snake to sleep, e.g., with isoflurane.

They can then use another injection (MS222) that will kill the snake within a minute. This is the most humane way to kill a snake.

You can choose whether or not you want to be present during this procedure. The problem is that it can be difficult to find a vet that deals with snakes.

Should You Euthanize Kinked Snakes?

A small kink between a snake’s cloaca and the tip of their tail isn’t going to affect them severely. However, as a breeder, it’s best practice only to breed the healthiest snakes.

That’s why many breeders don’t agree with breeding spiders, for instance, that have neurological issues. The same applies to bug-eyed snakes and kinked snakes.

Snakes with kinked necks will find it difficult to digest, or even move. There’s, therefore, a case to be made for euthanizing these snakes. Not only that, but snakes with kinked posture can pass on the problem to offspring, or at least pass on the gene without it being expressed.

Theoretically, if you were to breed kinked snakes to one another, the issue would only ever become worse in their offspring. Of course, nobody is doing that, but by breeding kinked snakes, you only weaken the gene pool of the snakes in your collection.

As for whether they should be euthanized, that’s another question entirely. Some breeders euthanize any kinked snake as a matter of course.

Of course, if the snake is obviously in pain or discomfort, it would be more humane to put them out of their misery. But in less profound cases, there’s nothing wrong with keeping one as a pet.

How to Prevent Kinking in Snakes

As a breeder, it’s vital that you do all you can to raise happy, healthy snakes, both for the sake of the snakes themselves, and so that you can make more money.

Don’t Breed Kinked Snakes

The easiest way to prevent kinking is not to breed kinked snakes. Caramel corns especially have high rates of kinking.

Breeding other morphs should help. You can also avoid breeding any snake with a kink with other snakes, so it doesn’t pass the condition on.

Correct Snake Incubation Temperatures

To make sure that your snake’s eggs are at the right temperature, use an incubator. An incubator can maintain the exact, correct temperature for the two months or so between the female laying the eggs, and the eggs hatching. However, the exact requirements of the eggs depend on the species.

  • Ball python eggs need temperatures of between 88 and 90 degrees, and humidity of 90-100%
  • Corn snake eggs need temperatures of between 80 and 85 degrees, and humidity of 80-90%
  • Kingsnake eggs need temperatures of between 82 and 84 degrees, and humidity of 90-100%

Set the incubator to the correct temperature, wait for it to hit that temperature, and then put the eggs inside. The eggs should be inside an egg box along with some absorbent material like vermiculite or perlite.

Spray the inside of the box thoroughly, place the eggs inside, cover the box, and incubate the eggs. For more detailed instructions, see our guide on how to incubate snake eggs at home.