Scale Rot in Pet Snakes – What is it?

Scale rot in pet snakes is a common issue. It can lead to health complications and possibly death. 

If you’re looking to protect your pet snake or treat a case of scale rot, this guide is for you. Here, we’ll explain scale rot, how it happens, and step to treat an affected pet snake. 

Scale Rot in Snakes: What is it?

Scale rot is a blanket medical term that describes blister disease, vesicular dermatitis, and other forms of dermatitis noticed in reptiles.

The term “scale rot” may also be a reference to bacterial infections, bacterial abscesses, burns, and skin abrasions. 

Although it occurs in other reptiles, scale rot is most common to snakes. It’s a skin disease that can be fatal. 

Without proper treatment, bacteria from scale rot can enter the bloodstream. When this happens, your pet snake will develop a condition known as septicemia. 

For smaller snakes, septicemia is a fatal condition. The possibility of death to your beloved pet is why you need swift answers to all your questions about scale rot. 

With the right information, you can learn how to prevent scale rot and ensure your pet snake’s health for a long time. 

What Does Scale Rot Look Like?

Scale rot in pet snakes is easier to treat in the early days of the infection. 

The key here is to examine your pet snake periodically for any signs of scale rot. A thorough examination every 3-4 days should do it. 

While examining your pet snake, timing is everything. Don’t lift your pet immediately after a meal.

It may regurgitate its food all over your hand. Since it’s uncomfortable for your pet snake, there’s a slight risk that it might bite you. 

Now that you have the timing down, below are the major indicators of scale rot in pet snakes:

Blisters

The presence of pus-filled blisters on your pet snake’s scales is an indication of a bigger issue.

Due to friction, blisters are likely to develop on scales directly touching substrate in the vivarium. 

Pus-filled blisters on your snake’s scales may be yellow or have a transparent color. Initially, blisters develop without any infections.

However, if blisters are not treated, bacteria can penetrate them, causing scale rot. It’s rare, but there’s also the possibility of fungi infections. 

Infected blisters on your pet snake will have a telltale red color. Swelling and pus will also become prominent during this stage of the infection. 

Abnormal Discoloration

Ventral scales are those present underneath your pet snake’s body. If it has scale rot, its ventral scales will have a distinct discoloration. 

During your periodic examination, pay special attention to the scales around the cloacal area. Scale rot will turn these scales red, yellow, brown, or greenish-black.

Sometimes, red coloring might look like your snake is shedding its skin. If you’re not 100% sure, check for other co-occurring symptoms like blisters. 

Raised Scales

Your pet snake shouldn’t have raised scales. Scale rot causes blood pooling which in turn leads to raised scales. 

The best way to identify raised scales is to run your hand across your pet snake’s body. If there are any raised scales, a closer inspection will likely uncover blisters and discoloration.

What Causes Scale Rot?

An unsanitary snake enclosure is one of the major causes of scale rot. Weather elements can also cause your pet snake to develop scale rot. 

It’s crucial to pay attention to the causes of scale rot — even if your snake already has the condition. It’ll help you prevent a recurrence of the skin condition. 

Here’s what you need to know:

Insufficient Temperature

The ideal temperature for your snake’s vivarium is a function of its breed. Most snake breeds will exist healthily in temperatures between 75-85 °F. 

Without meeting the aforementioned temperature requirements, scale rot in pet snakes may be unavoidable. 

We’ll be first to admit it can be a tad complicated to maintain the ideal temperature for your pet snake.

To regulate its internal temperatures, your pet will need different temperatures within its enclosure.

A snake vivarium should have a designated sleeping cave. Make sure this cave has a heating source and thermometers for monitoring temperature levels. 

With a thermometer, you’ll be able to ensure your pet snake sleeps at the ideal temperature. 

Other areas in the snake enclosure will need to be a shade warmer or cooler compared to the sleeping cave. At the right temperature, the possibility of scale rot drops drastically.

Increased Humidity Levels

To avoid scale rot and promote healthy skin, your pet needs to live in precise humidity conditions. Depending on the breed of the snake, the ideal humidity level is between 40-60%.

You’ll need to verify the best humidity levels for your snake. With this information and a working hygrometer, you can monitor humidity in its vivarium. 

Too much humidity will negatively affect your snake’s ability to shed its skin. If this happens, it’s likely retained skin will develop scale rot. 

To prevent humidity from causing scale rot, use heat lamps to control it. You can also use plastic wrap to ensure stable humidity levels across the snake enclosure. 

The placement of your snake cage can influence humidity levels. 

Say you place it near wind drafts or in direct sunlight. Regardless of whether or not you use heat lamps, direct sunlight will only serve to reduce humidity levels in the enclosure. 

Damaged Scales

It’s easy for bacteria to infect patches of broken skin on your pet snake. When this happens, scale rot will develop. 

To avoid this situation, always remove sharp surfaces and objects from the vivarium. Doing this will help prevent cuts, abrasions, and scratches. 

Take the time to inspect existing surfaces. While doing so, imagine the feel of your snake sliding over these surfaces.

If a surface feels rough to touch, then it needs removal. 

Another source of damaged skin on pet snakes is live food. If you feed your pet live rats, be sure to monitor their eating. 

Live prey like mice and rats can bite or scratch your snake. The result of these bites is a wound and the possibility of scale rot infections. 

Dirty Enclosure

Good hygiene will determine the overall well-being of your pet snake. If you want to prevent scale rot, hygiene is doubly important. 

Take time out to clean uneaten food and snake feces. Shed skin should not be left out too. 

The general rule of thumb is to do a general cleaning of the vivarium every week. While doing this, remove every object from the terrarium. 

Clean the insides of the enclosure as well as previously removed objects. Wait for it all to dry before you start to put the snake habitat back together. 

Unorthodox tools like toothpicks and razor blades will help you get to hard-to-reach corners of the enclosure. 

While cleaning the insides of the cage, only use recommended wash clothes. Designated wash clothes will prevent the roughening of surfaces in the enclosure. 

Dirty substrate can also encourage the growth of bacteria that causes scale rot. 

Newspaper or paper towels are good ideas for substrate material. Just be sure to replace them every month.

How To Treat Scale Rot

If you’re lucky enough to notice the skin condition quickly, it’s possible to successfully treat scale rot at home.

On the flip side, it’s always best to see a veterinarian. A treatment course involving debriding or antibiotics may be necessary. 

If you do choose to treat scale rot at home, here’s a step-by-step to guide you:

Quarantine the Snake

If you have multiple snakes in the same cage, this step is all-important. Scale rot is a communicable disease.

Remove the affected snake and house it in a different vivarium. Use a paper towel as substrate in the new enclosure.

Apply Medication to The Affected Area

Start by cleaning the infected scales. Here, you can use chlorhexidine solution to great effect. 

A trusted wound cleaner for reptiles will also do the job. Carry out this cleaning step at least twice daily. 

Soaking the affected area in dilute betadine solution is part of the treatment course. To make this solution, mix betadine and water in a 1:3 ratio. 

Afterward, soak the area with scale rot in the betadine mix for 5 minutes at a time. You’ll need to do this twice every day for 7-14 days. 

After each soak, use paper towels to dry the area. Then, you can apply an antibiotic ointment (over-the-counter) to the affected area.

Double-check to ensure you’re not using an ointment with pain relief constituents. 

Clean and Evaluate the Enclosure

The next step to treating scale rot is preventing a recurrence in your cold-blooded friend. 

Start by cleaning its enclosure thoroughly. 

Also, check the humidity and temperature levels in the snake cage. If there’s a need for adjustments, make the necessary tweaks. 

See a Vet

Scale rot should improve in 7 days. If it gets worse, take your pet snake to a veterinarian. 

Final Thoughts

Scale rot in pet snakes is no joke. Apart from the discomfort and pain it brings, there’s the possibility of death. 

With the information above, you can spot it faster, treat it and prevent a recurrence. Be vigilant! 

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