Snake Septicemia: How Our Experience With Elaphe Carinata Can Help You


If you are reading this because you think your snake has septicemia (aka sepsis) symptoms, please just drop what you are doing and go to the vet now.  Even if it is late night, find your closest ER vet.  Once a snake has septicemia, it is a life-threatening, aggressive, severe disease with high potential for fatality if it has progressed enough.  –And, “progressed enough” can be defined as seeing the smallest of symptoms.  Take it from me, I lost my favorite snake to this disease.  I didn’t even have a chance to name him!  (We always just called him “Mean Snake” because he was an aggressive snake and that fit as a nickname until we could think of something better.)

If you are still reading because you don’t know the basics of septicemia and are still unsure about the possibility that your snake may have it, let me provide you with a basic description of some symptoms for now:

  • Red patchiness/discoloration under the scales (My experience: his underbelly was a faint pinkish coloration and turned to bright red within a day.  It was all over his entire body.)
  • Necrosis or darkening of the scales  (My experience: I initially noticed a very small discoloration at the very tip of his tail)
  • Swelling or pussiness anywhere on the body/under the scales & vent abnormalities.  (Mean snake initially appeared swollen around his vent and within a day his belly appeared slightly enlarged.  Also, it appeared that he had yellowish puss underneath the swollen areas and around the vent.)
  • Scales peeling off or turning white & fluid leaking from under the scales (These symptoms appeared hand-in-hand for mean snake.  This was after treatment was started!)
  • Vomiting up food (not eating is not necessarily indicative of septicemia although could be a symptom.  However, often times if the infection has become serious in the snake, he will not be able to hold down his food.  This happened with Mean Snake.)
  • Green/black coloring to the stools
  • CAVEAT: THE SNAKE NEED NOT BE LETHARGIC TO BE SERIOUSLY ILL WITH THIS CONDITION (Mean snake was a fighter and extremely active.  Snakes have a natural defense mechanism not to appear weak.  In the wild, a sign of weakness could get them killed by a predator).

Now that you know of some of the most prominent symptoms, and if, based on these, you believe your snake to have septicemia, PLEASE get him or her to the vet immediately! Stop reading this and just go!  Again, this disease progresses rapidly and without an aggressive treatment plan, your snake has no chance of making it.  Even with an aggressive treatment, as my snake went through, he still did not make it.  We had euthanize him because he continued to lose skin and scales throughout the treatment to the point where one night I came home and internal tissue was coming out of his stomach.  Even if we had sewed the snake up, it would have been cruel to put the snake through this when there was little chances of him surviving.

The vet informed me that he had snake septicemia.  She was not a reptile specialist (ER vets, gotta take what you can get!) but was familiar with the condition.  She said that she had seen snakes recover in about 50% of cases that hadn’t progressed too much, but only with an aggressive treatment.  He was put on injections and she said that I should bring him back to the reptile specialist as soon as possible.

Before I brought him to the specialist, I went online to research snake septicemia.  To my dismay, there seemed to be very little information about this topic online.  There was a brief summary of details, and not much information on treatment and results, and certainly not many photos to compare my snake to.  This sort of information would have been very helpful in making the decisions that I would have to make throughout the course of his treatment.  Also, in general, if I knew more about septicemia to begin with, the red patchiness would have been more evident and I would have brought him to the vet much sooner.  In turn, his chances of survival would have increased.

To continue with discussion of his treatment, I brought Mean Snake back in to see the specialist.  The specialist stated that he had seen many snakes live after an aggressive treatment, and he’s also seen snakes perish.  However, he did say that if the internal organs have already been destroyed, game over.  The vent was an area of high concern to him.  He never truly elaborated on why but I think it had to do with indicating that the infection was likely already affecting his internal organs.  He did say that he was still optimistic that my snake could make it and recommended to continue with the Baytril injections.  In addition, he prescribed an oral anti-inflammatory and another type of antibiotic, Ceftazideme, to inject in addition to the Baytril.  The vet also advised that I soak the snake in warm water/Povodone Iodine solution on a daily basis and apply Silvadene ointment topically to infected areas where the skin was darkening or falling off.

After a few days of treatment, the snake actually began to look in most ways except for some for some peeling skin on his belly that gave way to hardened, blackened scabbing.  It seemed that he had tissue damage or was losing tissue.  Yet, again, at the same time, everything else looked to be improving.

That’s when I brought him back to the specialist again who seemed started by the appearance of his belly.  He still stated that it may not be too late, it depended on what was underneath the scab.  He said that he recommended surgery to debride the scab, assess the tissue, and to sew it up in a way that would encourage healthy skin and tissue growth.  I should add that he said to wait another few days before having a surgery to make sure that his condition does not get worse.  The only reason he would have to debride the tissue is if the condition had stabilized (there was still pink above the belly on the scales that were still intact) so that it wouldn’t be done more than once nor would it be a lost cause.  Moreover, he stated that if the snake ate a mouse it would be a really good sign.

I really thought he was going to make it as his coloring was improving as he took a mouse and also, he looked as if his condition had stabilized.  However, what was really happening was that his outer scales where getting ready to peel off and that is why one could not see the pink underneath (they turned a pale color).  Furthermore, he defecated a few days later and it was a moldy green color.  To me, that indicates that while he may have been able to eat and absorb some food, his digestive system was already failing.

A day later I got home from work really late (throughout this all it was my work’s busy season and I was working from 9 a.m. to midnight every day) and put him in his bath, as I did every night, hoping for the best.  While he was in the bath, I noticed something odd on his stomach.  I picked him up to get a clearer look, and there it was, the tissue was coming out of his belly…game over.  I said my goodbyes and my fiance brought him to the ER that night.  I just couldn’t go…:(

If I had to do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I might have made different decisions.  I was relying on the information provided to me by the vets as well as the internet.  My snake appeared to be looking better for the most part, and his activity levels were high.  He seemed to WANT to fight the disease.  If he had been older when this disease occurred, he just might have made it but he was still just a baby.

With my snake’s story now told, there is nothing that I can do to change the fact that my favorite snake with the most personality was taken from me long before he should have been.  He did not get to live a long, fulfilled life and I never got to see the adult snake that he would grow into.  All the adventures that I planned to have with him in the future did not come into fruition.  Rather than feel sorry for my snake and for myself, I am trying to get over the pain and to let his legacy help snakes in the future.  I shared with you our account so that you may have that much-needed niformation sooner in case something similar happens to your snake.  Maybe then, your snake will receive treatment soon enough to survive.  Or maybe, you will better be able to make the decision whether or not your snake has the possibility to survive at your current stage in the disease.  I hope this helped.

For more information, also see Chris’ post, On the Edge of Life and Death.

***Pictures below the housekeeping section below****

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A few unrelated housekeeping notes:

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Thank you!

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5 responses to “Snake Septicemia: How Our Experience With Elaphe Carinata Can Help You

  1. Pingback: On the edge of life and death… « Chris and Ash's Adventures & Explorations of Exotic Species and Average House Cats

  2. Thank you for this vital information, found unfortunately too late for my daughters snake who died during the night. I took the snake to our local vet and used the medicine he recommenced but should have taken her to the reptile vet in Virginia.

  3. my snake has septicaemia from a rat he had a few weeks ago. I noticed he was off before any visible signs appeared, the only way we found out is he went off his food and he was acting funny so I got his blood tested, and found out he is septic. he is getting the best of care, and his vet (the best reptile vet in Adelaide ) is hopeful at this point but im so scared im going to loose him. :(

    • Bianca, I am so sorry to hear that your snake has septicemia. It is good that you are getting him care quickly and you are doing the best you can for him. How old is he and what type of snake is he? Does he have any visible signs at this point and what is he being treated with? Did your vet say how snakes get it from rats? Sorry for all of the questions; I am just curious so that as a reptile community we can collectively gather all the information about septicemia that we can. I really hope your snake gets better soon and he will be in our thoughts!

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