After making the decision to become a pet snake owner, it is important that you choose the right pet. You want your pet snake to be happy and healthy. If possible, choose a captive bred snake from a reputable breeder. They are generally healthier, less stressed, easier to tame and less prone to parasites and disease than wild caught snakes.
To help you distinguish between a healthy and an unhealthy pet snake, there are some specific things you should watch out for.
- Examine the overall body condition: A snake’s body should be well-rounded and the backbone should not be visible. It should be well-fleshed overall and not emaciated looking.
- Look at the skin: An excessively wrinkled and dull looking skin is probably a result of dehydration. The skin should be supple, free of scratches and bites and the belly should be examined for burns.
- Inspect for cleanliness: If the snake has fecal material on it’s belly or back, it has probably been kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Feces on the snake’s back could also be an indicator it was too weak to crawl out from under stronger cage-mates.
- Check the vent area: If the vent area is caked with dried feces or urates, it may indicate a parasite infestation or an illness.
- Inspect the eyes: The snake’s eyes should be clean, clear and free of discharge or crusted material. Swollen eyes could be an indication of systemic illness.
- Check the nose: Look for runny noses or mucous around the nostrils, both of which could indicate illness in the snake.
- Check the mouth: A greyish or pale pink color in the snake’s mouth or the presence of small white, green or yellow patches on the tongue or inside the mouth, are signs of systemic illness and/or mouth rot. Be wary if the saliva is ropy looking or stringy.
- Inspect the head: Check the head for any swelling or asymmetry, (both sides of the snake’s head and jaw should look the same). Swelling or asymmetry of the jaws can be an indicator of abscesses or metabolic bone disease.
- Check for mites: Mites look like tiny specks that move. They may be dark brown, black, orange or reddish brown. Pay particular attention to the head, neck and belly areas. Although mites are fairly easy to treat, they may indicate that the snake has been kept in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions or that it has been stressed.
- Request to hold the snake: Ask to hold the snake. Check the snake’s strength. A limp very docile snake is most probably sick. Healthy snakes should have good strength and muscle tone. Young snakes will naturally be less strong than adult snakes. Shakiness or weakness is a sign of illness and tremors or twitches may indicate the presence of metabolic bone disease.
- Evaluate the snake’s behavior: Healthy snakes should appear bright, alert and responsive. They should resist being caught and initially may fight being held.
- Watch the snake’s breathing: Check for signs of respiratory disease such as, open-mouthed breathing and discharge from the nose or eyes. Listen for wheezing or clicking sounds when the snake breaths.