Regurgitation (Vomiting) in Snakes

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Treatment

Treatments may include:

If your snake appears healthy on physical examination, treatment is aimed at improving husbandry and removing any intestinal parasites that may have been diagnosed on a fecal examination. In addition, your veterinarian may recommend the following:

  • Fluid therapy. Most snakes that are vomiting or regurgitating are dehydrated. Your veterinarian will most likely want to administer subcutaneous (under the skin) or intraperitoneal (into the abdominal cavity) fluids. The fluids cannot be administered orally, because the snake will vomit the fluids.
  • Fasting. Your veterinarian will probably recommend that your snake fast (not eat) for a few days while the medications are taking effect. After this, he/she may want to tube feed an easily digestible liquid meal before attempting to return your snake back to its regular diet.
  • Drug therapy. Treatment of nematode and amoebic infections requires antiparasite drugs (de-wormers) that are prescribed for the specific parasites. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics.
  • Surgery. If your veterinarian diagnoses an abdominal mass or an intestinal obstruction, surgery or endoscopy might be needed to further diagnose and correct the problem.
  • Home Care

    It is important that you administer fluids, food supplements and medications according to your veterinarian’s instructions. If you notice vomiting or regurgitation, contact your veterinarian immediately, as this is a sign that the medications need to be updated. Schedule regular veterinary visits to monitor the condition.

    Observe the general activity level and interest of your pet. Note the character and frequency of stools. Pay attention to his environment:

  • Use a thermometer to measure the temperature gradient in the cage. Just feeling cage surfaces to feel if they are hot or cool is not precise enough. Adjust heating devices to maintain a temperature range recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Make sure that your snake has a selection of proper hide boxes.
  • Do not handle or disturb your snake for at least 48 hours after feeding. Imagine the result if if someone picked you up and sloshed you around after eating a Thanksgiving Day meal.
  • Make sure that the size of prey is appropriate for your size snake. A good rule of thumb is that the head of the prey animal should be no larger than ¾ the diameter of the snake’s head. Prey that is too large will often stimulate regurgitation.
  • Preventative Care

    Excellent husbandry will prevent most snakes from throwing up. The best prevention against your snake acquiring a medical problem that results in throwing up is to buy healthy captive bred snakes that have not been exposed to a variety of other snakes.

  • Do not feed your snake on substrates (such as pea gravel or wood chips) that can become adhered to the prey item. Do not leave rags or towels in snake’s cages, especially around feeding time.
  • Avoid handling snakes for at least 48 hours after a meal.
  • Have your veterinarian test a stool sample from your snake for the most common parasites found in that species. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for administering de-wormers. In addition, make sure you clean and disinfect your snake’s cage and cage furniture after all de-wormer doses. This will minimize your snake’s chances of re-infecting itself from immature parasites or parasite eggs that may be in the cage.
  • There are two types of throwing up. Regurgitation is the more common form and is the only form associated with husbandry problems. Regurgitation is more passive and occurs soon after a snake has attempted to or has swallowed a meal. Therefore, the food item has not had time to be thoroughly digested and can be recognized as a prey animal.

    In regurgitation, mild waves of contraction can be seen moving backwards up the body of the snake. Vomiting usually occurs after the snake has partially digested its meal. Many times since the snake is bringing up intestinal contents from further back in the gastrointestinal tract, the snake seems to be more distressed by vomiting. The material produced by vomiting often looks like a stool with no urates (white chalky material seen with feces).

    Causes

  • Although many parasite infections that cause vomiting in snakes are caused by nematodes — the classic “worms” that most people think of — there are two parasites that commonly cause vomiting in snakes that are single celled organisms. They are Entamoeba invadens and Cryptosporidium. Both of these parasites require special tests performed on feces or stomach washes for diagnosis.

    Amoebiasis frequently causes diarrhea in addition to vomiting. Classic Cryptosporidia infections are associated with gastric hyperplasia (swelling of the wall of the stomach). Although both organisms can be easily transmitted from snake to snakes through contact with feces, amoebiasis is frequently transmitted between different types of reptiles. Turtles commonly serve as carriers for Entamoeba invadens. Mixing turtles and snakes in the same enclosure if not recommended.

  • Vomiting can be associated with viral infections. Inclusion body disease of boids is associated with regurgitation especially in Burmese pythons. There are many other viruses that infrequently cause vomiting in snakes.
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