Have you noticed that something unusual is going on with your pet snake’s scales? As you run your fingers over its scales, it does not feel quite as smooth and silky as usual. In fact, some of the scales seem to be a bit raised or lifted, giving your snake a somewhat rough and scaly feel. This is indeed concerning and worthy of further investigation.
So why are my snake’s scales lifting? The most likely reason is a skin condition called scale rot. Reptiles and especially snakes often suffer from this potentially serious bacterial infection which needs to be recognized and treated speedily for the sake of your snake’s health and survival.
In this article we will discuss three symptoms which will help you to know whether or not your snake has scale rot. Then we will consider four possible causes of the condition, and finally we will have a look at five ways you can help your pet snake recover from scale rot.
Symptoms: Three Ways to Recognize Scale Rot
As you observe and monitor your pet snake every day, here are some of the warning symptoms to look out for:
The Skin Is an Abnormal Color
The first thing that may alert you to the fact that there is something wrong with your snake is if you notice that the scales are discolored. This often starts on the underside of the snake, on the ventral scales, especially in the area around the vent or cloaca, and can spread to the tail and other areas.
The unusual coloring may be anything from red to yellow, brown or even greenish-black. You know what your snake normally looks like, so anything abnormal should give you a heads up.
There Are Blisters on the Skin
Besides discoloration you may also notice some little blisters forming under the scales. The blisters are filled with a clear or yellowish fluid, and if not quickly treated, can become infected with bacteria, fungi or mites.
The blisters most often form on the underside of the snake which touches the substrate as it slides around in the enclosure. Untreated blisters can start to ooze pus and will cause ulcers on the skin, which can even be deadly for your pet as the skin and scales start to disintegrate and rot away.
The Scales Are Lifting
The third symptom of scale rot is when you see that the scales are raised or lifting. This is caused by blood which is pooling under the scales and is easily felt if you run your hands along your snake’s body. Instead of the usual smooth feeling, it will be rough and textured. If you observe any or all of these symptoms, it is quite likely that your snake has scale rot.
Causes: Four Likely Reasons for Scale Rot
By now you are probably asking yourself why or how your snake has picked up this kind of problem. Here are some of the most common causes of scale rot.
Incorrect Temperatures in the Enclosure
As snakes are cold blooded, it’s very important to keep the temperature in the enclosure between 75 – 85°F (23,8 – 29,4°C) at all times, throughout the year. Not only should the temperature range be correct, but there should also be a cooler side and a warmer side of the enclosure, allowing the snake to thermo-regulate.
To help you maintain this delicate balance it is essential to use a good quality thermometer.
Humidity Levels That Are Too High
Along with temperature levels, correct humidity levels are also very important. Snakes usually thrive with humidity between 30 – 50%. If the humidity is too high it can cause problems with shedding.
If there is retained shed, the skin can develop scale rot in those areas. High humidity can also lead to respiratory troubles for snakes. It’s worth investing in an accurate hygrometer so that you can monitor the humidity in your snake enclosure, and save yourself and your snake from problems such as scale rot.
Enclosure That Is Not Cleaned Properly
Another likely reason that your snake may develop lifting scales or scale rot is if the enclosure is dirty. Bacteria thrive in a dirty environment and your snake can easily pick up an infection if the cage is not thoroughly and regularly cleaned.
A complete spring clean should be done at least once a month, with smaller cleaning in between, as and when your snake makes a mess. Be careful to use cleaning solutions that are safe for your snake and approved by reptile vets.
The kind of substrate you use is also important. Some popular products on the market are not healthy for your snake as they can harbor bacteria which can cause skin infections and scale rot. It’s best to keep the substrate simple with newspapers or paper towels.
Injury or Trauma to the Snake’s Body
The fourth reason your snake may have developed scale rot is if it has been injured or damaged in some way. This can happen if there are sharp, pointed objects in the snake’s enclosure. Be sure to remove anything that may scrape or scratch your snake.
The other potential cause of injury is if you feed your snake live prey. Sometimes the prey can put up a fight and manage to bite the snake before it gets eaten. Always keep a careful watch when feeding your snake to ensure it doesn’t get injured, as any damage to the skin or scales can lead to infection, lifting scales and scale rot.
Treatment: Five Ways to Help a Snake With Scale Rot
By now you are surely wondering what you can do to alleviate the suffering of your snake, and how to treat the skin problem you have identified. Thankfully there is quite a lot you can do to help.
Check the Environmental Factors in the Enclosure
Now that you know the four likely causes of scale rot as described above, you can do a quick check of those factors. Do you have the correct temperature range in your snake enclosure? What percentage is the humidity?
If you’re not sure, maybe it’s time to get yourself a trustworthy thermometer and hygrometer. And what about the basic hygiene of your snake cage – are you cleaning it regularly and scrupulously?
And finally, is there any way that your snake may have been injured by a sharp object, or by a live prey? Once these four factors have been set aright, let’s see what else you can do to help your snake.
Isolate Your Snake
A snake with scale rot needs to be separated from other snakes and reptiles so that the infection does not spread. Take the affected snake out of the enclosure and place it in a quarantine tank with no substrate.
Rather use paper towels on the floor so that you can clean easily. Substrate can cause irritation on the snake’s skin, and prevent healing taking place. Keep using paper towels until the scale rot infection has cleared up.
Clean the Scales That Are Affected
Once your snake has been isolated, it’s time to start treating those rotting scales. Make a betadine solution (1 part betadine: 3 parts water) or a chlorohexidine solution, and gently wash the affected areas.
Try to give it a good soak for at least 5 minutes. This should be done twice every day. After the washing and soaking, be sure to dry off your snake with paper towels. Again, always remember to be very gentle as the infected scales are likely swollen and painful.
Treat With Antibiotic Ointment
When your snake is dry, apply some antibiotic ointment or spray to the infected scales. Usually this spray or cream can be acquired over the counter, and is effective in treating scale rot and other skin problems if they are caught early enough.
Take Your Snake to the Vet
If your snake is still not improving or has deteriorated after a week of the above treatment, you should really pay a visit to your local reptile vet. It’s not worth endangering your pet while you hope for the best. Rather get expert help, perhaps in the form of a stronger antibiotic or prescription ointment that will bring the infection under control and prevent further spreading.
Maybe you remember getting a sinking feeling when you first observed your snake’s rough lifted scales and realized that there was something wrong. But now hopefully you have a much better idea of what it is, namely scale rot, what the possible causes are, and most importantly – what you can do about it.
Once you have identified that your snake has scale rot, take a look at what may have caused it, and then set about rectifying the situation. As you keep a vigilant watch over your pet snake, you will quickly be able to recognize potentially dangerous conditions like scale rot and nip them in the bud.