Mouth rot is a common occurrence in pet snakes and it can have multiple causes. If left untreated, mouth rot can be a very serious—not to mention painful—condition. Because of this, it's important for snake owners to know what mouth rot is, how to prevent it, how to recognize it, and what to do if they think their snake has it.
What Is Mouth Rot?
Mouth rot is also known as infectious stomatitis and is an infection of the mouth of a snake or other type of reptile. Bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Morganella morganii are often found in mouth rot infections. Other types of bacteria or even fungus such as Aspergillus sp. can also be cultured in or around the mouth cavity. The infection initially affects the soft tissue but can involve the bone in more serious situations.
Signs of Mouth Rot in Snakes
Since mouth rot can cause pain and inflammation in the mouth, many snakes will not want to eat or have a decrease in appetite as the infection worsens. If this does occur, they may lose weight and the spine may be more prominent. Additionally, open mouth breathing may be seen if the infection is severe enough.
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 it may also be pink if it is mixed with blood. A foul smell is also not uncommon due to the bacteria that is present and there may be some swelling as well.
Causes of Mouth Rot
Mouth rot may be the only problem your snake has or it may be secondary to another problem causing the infection. Some of the most common causes of mouth rot include:
- Poor nutrition
- Mouth trauma
- Inappropriate environmental temperature
- Inappropriate environmental humidity
- Compromised immune system
- Stress from overcrowding
- Unsanitary housing conditions
Diagnosing Mouth Rot
If you suspect your snake has mouth rot, a visit to the veterinarian is warranted. They will look for signs of underlying problems during the physical examination and discuss potential causes in case it is something in need of correction at home. To diagnose the type of infection, a cytology and/or culture of the mouth discharge may be collected. A cytology will confirm the presence of bacteria or fungus as well as blood, while a culture will determine what kind of bacteria or fungus is present. Since so many different types of bacteria and fungus can cause mouth rot, a culture may be necessary to have completed prior to prescribing medications for treatment.
Depending on the severity of the mouth rot, gently washing or rinsing with medicated solutions, removal of dead tissue, topical creams, and injectable antibiotics are typically administered. If the cause of the mouth rot is known, you will need to correct the potential husbandry or environmental issues. On occasion and with severe mouth rot cases, surgery may be necessary. Additionally, UVB lighting and vitamin supplementation may be recommended to aid in healing and removal of bedding that could potentially stick to the mouth sores will help keep the wounds clean.
How to Prevent Mouth Rot
In order to prevent mouth rot from developing in your snake, a proper environment and diet should be provided at all times. Make sure that the temperature gradient and humidity levels in the enclosure are appropriate for the specific type of snake and keep the enclosure clean. If a snake is forced to live in an inappropriate or unsanitary environment, its skin may become unhealthy and its immune system could become compromised. Additionally, by avoiding overcrowding in the enclosure and other forms of stress, you can also help keep your snake's immune system working the best it can and prevent mouth rot from developing.
Finally, if your snake eats rodents, be sure not to feed live prey. Live prey may bite or scratch your snake and could result in wounds that contribute to the development of mouth rot. Pre-killed prey items are safest and can be offered to your snake with feeding tongs.
Grego KF, Carvalho MPN de, Cunha MPV, et al. Antimicrobial photodynamic therapy for infectious stomatitis in snakes: Clinical views and microbiological findings. Photodiagnosis and Photodynamic Therapy. 2017;20:196-200.
Mustafa S, Popova T. Enterobacter agglomerans - a cause of stomatitis in a snake. Tradition and Modernity in Veterinary Medicine. 2017;2(1):39-44.