Mouth rot is a common infection in pet snakes that can cause pain, swelling, and tissue damage in the oral cavity. It can also lead to difficulty eating, drinking, and breathing. If left untreated, mouth rot can be fatal. Luckily, mouth rot is treatable with antibiotics and proper care. In this article, we will explain what mouth rot is, how snakes get it, what symptoms to look for, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.
What is Mouth Rot
Mouth rot is the common name given to the medical condition known as infectious stomatitis. It occurs when bacteria overgrow inside the mouth, causing inflammation and infection. This can lead to tissue in the mouth dying and rotting, hence the name mouth rot.
Mouth rot is usually not a primary disease but is typically the result of another problem. It’s also not contagious on its own. Some of the most common bacteria that cause mouth rot are
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Escherichia coli
- Klebsiella pneumonia
- Morganella morganii
Other types of bacteria or even fungus, such as Aspergillus sp. can also be cultured in or around the mouth cavity.
How Do Snakes Get Mouth Rot
Snakes can get mouth rot through poor nutrition, mouth trauma, compromised immune system, unsanitary housing, and inappropriate temperature or humidity. These factors can weaken the snake’s ability to fight off infections and allow bacteria to multiply and invade the mouth.
Some examples of poor nutrition are feeding your snake an unbalanced diet, not providing enough water, or offering food that is too large or too hard for your snake to swallow.
Mouth trauma can occur from bites, aggressive rubbing on cage furniture, or foreign objects stuck in the mouth.
A compromised immune system can result from coexisting diseases (such as mites or cancer), stress from overcrowding, or inadequate UV light supplementation if required by the species.
Unsanitary housing conditions can expose your snake to harmful bacteria from dirty bedding, water bowls, or food dishes.
Inappropriate temperature or humidity can affect your snake’s metabolism, hydration, and skin health.
It is really important that each species of snake has its specific husbandry requirements met. This includes appropriate temperatures, humidity, UV light supplementation if required by the species, an appropriate, balanced diet, and a vivarium of appropriate size. If you are not sure what husbandry requirements are needed for your species, please contact your local vet, who can discuss this further with you.
Symptoms to Look For In Snakes With Mouth Rot
Though your snake may have symptoms indicating mouth rot, take your pet to the veterinarian because there may be another underlying cause of mouth rot that needs to be uncovered.
The common symptoms of mouth rot are:
- Loss of appetite: Since mouth rot can cause pain and inflammation in the mouth, a snake will not want to eat or have a decrease in appetite as the infection worsens.
- Weight loss: If loss of appetite occurs, the snake may lose weight, and the spine may become more prominent.
- Discharge or bleeding in or around the mouth: Blood, mucus, or pus are commonly seen around the mouth, and if you open your snake’s mouth, it may also be present inside. Pus in reptiles looks more like cottage cheese than a fluid and may also be pink if mixed with blood.
- Foul smell: A foul smell is also not uncommon due to the bacteria that are present, as well as from any pus-filled lesions.
- Swollen mouth: The mouth of a snake will become red, inflamed, and, as a result, swollen when it has this disease. The snake may also have small blister-like lesions inside or around the oral cavity, making the area swollen.
- Open-mouth breathing: It is not normal behavior for a snake to breathe with an open mouth. If the infection and swelling are severe enough, the snake will begin to breathe with its mouth open.
If your snake is showing any of these signs, it is important you take them to your local reptile vet for an examination as soon as possible.
Treating a Snake With Mouth Rot
Your vet will perform a full examination of your pet snake and take a history. Often, diagnosis can be made by examination alone; however, your vet may wish to take swabs to culture the bacteria in the mouth to find out which ones are causing the infection.
Treatment for mouth rot usually involves antibiotics and supportive care. Your vet will prescribe antibiotics that are effective against the bacteria causing the infection. Depending on the antibiotic, it may be given orally, by injection, or by topical application. Supportive care may include fluid therapy, pain relief, nutritional support, and wound care. Your vet will also advise you on how to clean and disinfect your snake’s mouth and vivarium to prevent reinfection.
The duration of treatment will depend on the severity of the infection and the response of your snake. It may take several weeks or months for your snake to fully recover from mouth rot. It is important to follow your vet’s instructions and monitor your snake’s progress closely.
How to Prevent Mouth Rot
The best way to prevent mouth rot is to provide your snake with optimal husbandry conditions and regular health checks. This means ensuring that your snake has:
- A clean and spacious vivarium that meets its species-specific needs
- A balanced diet that is appropriate for its size, age, and activity level
- Fresh and clean water is available at all times
- Proper temperature and humidity gradients that allow thermoregulation
- UV light supplementation, if required by the species
- Enrichment items that stimulate natural behaviors and prevent boredom
- A stress-free environment that minimizes disturbances and overcrowding
- A routine veterinary examination at least once a year or more often if needed
By following these guidelines, you can help your snake stay healthy and happy and avoid mouth rot and other diseases.
Mouth rot is not the only disease that can affect your snake’s mouth. There are some other conditions that can cause similar symptoms or complications. Some of these are:
- Respiratory infections: These can occur when bacteria or viruses infect the lungs or airways of your snake. They can cause symptoms such as sneezing, wheezing, coughing, nasal discharge, and open-mouth breathing. Respiratory infections can also spread to the mouth and cause mouth rot or vice versa.
- Dental problems: These can occur when your snake has broken or infected teeth, abscesses, or foreign bodies in the mouth. They can cause symptoms such as swelling, pain, bleeding, pus, and difficulty eating. Dental problems can also lead to mouth rot or vice versa.
- Oral cancer: This can occur when abnormal cells grow in the mouth or throat of your snake. It can cause symptoms such as lumps, ulcers, bleeding, weight loss, and difficulty eating or breathing. Oral cancer can also mimic or complicate mouth rot.
If you notice any signs of these or other illnesses in your snake, you should consult your vet as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference in your snake’s recovery and prognosis.
Mouth rot is a serious but treatable condition that can affect any type of snake. By providing your snake with proper care and attention, you can prevent mouth rot and keep your snake healthy for years to come.