Caring for pet snakes is challenging. They have very specific husbandry needs and require careful attention to detail to keep them in tip-top condition. They are also susceptible to a number of medical conditions. One particularly common condition you may have heard of is mouth rot. 

What is mouth rot?

Mouth rot is the common name given to the medical condition known as stomatitis. It occurs when bacteria overgrow inside the mouth causing pain, swelling and infection. This can lead to tissue in the mouth dying and rotting, hence the name mouthrot. 

Common clinical signs your snake has mouth rot include:

  • Less interest in food
  • Red areas or swellings in the mouth
  • Blood in the mouth or bloody saliva
  • Blood in the water bowl
  • Areas of rot and infection in the mouth
  • Pus or discharge in the mouth 

If your snake is showing any of these signs it is important you take them to your local vet for an examination as soon as possible. 

What causes mouth rot?

As mentioned previously, snakes have very specific husbandry requirements needed to keep them in good health. If any one of these requirements is not met they are at risk of becoming unwell. Without an appropriate diet and habitat their immune system can become compromised. This means they are unable to fight off infections they normally would have dealt with, and as a result, bacteria can multiply and invade the mouth causing mouth rot.

It is really important 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. It is important that husbandry requirements are tailored to the species and individual. They can vary significantly, and attention to detail and consistency is very important in keeping them healthy.

Other causes of mouth rot include viruses and injuries to the mouth which can lead to bacteria getting into the oral tissues causing infection. It can also occur in snakes who have other underlying health conditions. If they are immunocompromised, your snake may be more susceptible to infections. 

How is mouthrot diagnosed?

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.

How is mouthrot treated?

The mouth needs to be cleaned thoroughly by the veterinary team to remove debris and infected tissue. Antibiotics are often needed to clear up any infection. Pain relief may also be given, as the condition often causes discomfort. In severe cases surgical treatment may be needed to remove dead tissue. If your snake is particularly unwell they may need to stay in hospital. Here they may have fluids, pain relief and supportive feeding until they are able to eat for themselves. 

If mouthrot is not treated, the infection can spread to other areas of the body. This includes the lungs, potentially causing pneumonia and other life-threatening complications.

Prevention is better than cure

The best way to prevent mouth rot is to ensure your snakes’ husbandry is as good as it can be. This means your snake is getting a good quality appropriate diet, the temperatures, humidity, UV lighting and substrate in the vivarium are appropriate for the species and the size of the vivarium is appropriate. All of these factors help to ensure optimum health, and as a result help prevent conditions like mouth rot from occurring. 

If you have any questions or concerns about mouth rot in your snake, please contact your local vet for further advice.