Garters and ribbons are hardy snakes, but they are susceptible to certain illnesses and conditions, some more commonly than others.
Mites and Ticks
Mites are very tiny creatures that are usually found on and under a snake’s scales, on the rims of the eyes, or around the vent. They come out of their hiding places at night and suck the blood of their host, which can cause a snake to become anemic. Mites are also thought to be disease transmitters. They can be difficult to spot, but their silvery droppings give them away, normally appearing on the snake and in other places. Mites multiply very quickly and can do significant damage to your snake’s health if left untreated.
If your garter or ribbon snake has mites, place him in a covered container with shallow water for three or four hours. While he is soaking, thoroughly clean and disinfect his cage and everything in it. Remove the snake from the water and dry him before returning him to his cage.
Ticks are not as small as mites and can be found between a snake’s scales. They can be removed by swabbing them with a bit of rubbing alcohol and then grabbing them with a pair of tweezers. If you dab a small amount of petroleum jelly or mineral oil on the spot where the tick is located about an hour before you attempt removal, the process should be much easier.
By disinfecting branches, rocks, and other natural items before placing them in your garter or ribbon snake’s cage, you will be able to avoid most mites and ticks. You should also isolate a new snake before adding him to your collection. The easiest way to prevent a mite or tick infestation is to plan ahead and take precautions.
Blister disease occurs when a corn snake is housed incorrectly. It is caused by bacteria on the skin and scales, brought on by dirty living conditions and high humidity levels in a terrarium. If a snake has developed blister disease, the scales on his belly will turn yellow or brown, and he will develop a series of tiny white or yellow bumps. If left untreated, these bumps can quickly turn into lesions, open sores, and pustules, and recovery is unlikely at this point.
If your garter or ribbon snake develops signs of blister disease, a thorough terrarium cleaning is necessary. Remove all substrate, sterilize the entire terrarium, and move your corn snake into a hospital tank. You should also bathe him in warm water and put hydrogen peroxide on the infected areas. If this treatment is unsuccessful and his symptoms worsen, a trip to the vet is pertinent.
When a snake’s throat and lung become infected by bacteria or fungi, it is called mouth rot. Symptoms include red, inflamed gums, refusal to eat, frequent opening of the mouth, and the formation of a whitish exudate in the mouth. If your snake has mouth rot, place him in a hospital tank and raise the temperature to about 88°F with a cooler spot of about 80°F. A visit to the veterinarian should follow soon after.
Dysecdysis is a word used to describe a variety of shedding difficulties. It occurs when a snake attempts to shed but some old skin is retained on some part of the body, quite often the eyes. This skin will harden and cause improper shedding cycles in the future. Eventually, multiple layers of leftover skin will develop and will cause the snake to be virtually blind.
Whenever your snake sheds, you should inspect him closely to make sure all old skin has come off, particularly in the eye area. If a piece has remained, remove it by carefully swabbing the eye with a cotton swab dipped in warm water. Then, use a pair of tweezers to pluck at the edge of the skin until it breaks free.
For more information on garter & ribbon snake health care, read Quick & Easy Garter & Ribbon Snake Care (T.F.H. Publications, Inc.).