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Inclusion body disease in snakes is a fatal disease to be sure. It has primarily been found in boas and pythons, though boas can carry the disease with few symptoms for many years while pythons will expire much more quickly when infected. It is communicable via body fluids and, while little is known about its prevalence in the wild, it is a major concern for captive pet boid snakes both here and abroad due to the popularity of transportation of pet snakes to and from differing zoological locations.
Inclusion body disease is a contagious disease which gets its name from the large and unusual “inclusions” which are seen in the cells of the diseased animals -- specifically found in boa constrictors and pythons.
Inclusion body disease is progressive and ultimately fatal to snakes, being found in a number of species but most commonly found in boas and pythons. The symptoms you will likely note in your pet boa or python will be neurological in nature and you’ll likely note things like:
“Stargazing” - a behavior in snakes in which they raise their heads and twist the neck to enable them to gaze at the sky for long periods of time
Inclusion body disease (IBD) is a disease, as noted above, that has been found in many snake species, but is most common in boas with pythons being a more abnormal host. There are no specific “types” of inclusion body disease which is considered one of the most serious diseases affecting captive pet snakes all over the world.
When the disease is contracted by a boa, the disease can be active in the snake with few or even no symptoms for months before the condition progresses to its ultimately fatal stage. For the python, however, it is quite a different story. In the python, the disease process usually presents (or shows clinical signs) when it is in the acute stage, making the neurological signs and symptoms more significant or profound. While the boa can survive for months with disease signs and symptoms, the python will expire within days or weeks of clinical signs being noted.
Research has not yet found the definitive cause of inclusion body disease but researchers and scientists continue to look into the various viruses which have been found closely associated with the disease. This is what we do know about inclusion body disease and what may be causing it:
The diagnosis of this disease will be done primarily by pathological assessment. A complete history will likely be required of you and a thorough physical examination of your snake will be required by your veterinary professional. Your vet will need to do blood work and most likely a liver sample will also need to be collected. The blood sample and the liver sample will be sent to a laboratory where a pathologist will run the blood chemistry panel and will further evaluate the samples of blood and liver by looking at them under a microscope to ascertain the presence of the large and unusual “inclusion” bodies in the cells. Inclusion bodies are not always found in every sample, but finding them is an absolute requirement for diagnosis, making it sometimes necessary to obtain and test additional samples.
There is no treatment for inclusion body disease in your snake. Euthanasia is generally the best option for treatment at this time. Or, you may, of course, choose to isolate your diseased snake and provide love and palliative care to keep it comfortable until the end. Researchers are not completely sure how the disease is communicated but, at this juncture, it appears to be transmitted in body fluids. Some of the ways in which transfer by body fluids could occur are:
This list of methods of transfer is not complete but these methods of transmission are considered the most common ways the disease can be transmitted, given the normal activities and behaviors of captive pet snakes. It is vital to know and understand that the disease is transmittable and, if you have other captive pet snakes, they, too, are at risk.
There is no cure for inclusion body disease in your snake. If and when your captive pet snake is infected, it is always going to be fatal. As also noted above, not all infected snakes are in an active state of the disease but, if they are infected, they should be kept away from otherwise healthy animals in your environment to avoid further infection of animals. Any infected snakes or even their offspring should not be offered for sale or transported as the infection can be passed through the birthing process to offspring. Other prevention techniques could include:
PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing of all newly received snakes in your environment - This test that analyzes samples of tissue for DNA or RNA to ascertain its pathogenic organism (testing for positive or negative IBD)
These are steps that you can take to assure your captive pet snake(s) remain healthy and happy.
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Bought a beautiful baby boa from a pet store, when we went to get him the people had a hard time to catch him me and my wife keep saying we would get him. The employees keep saying "no no it is okay.", and they shoved the hook against his head holding him down it was shocking to me I had never in my life seen that so we took him home and he turned out to be a fantastic snake. I thought nothing of the incident with the hook everything seemed alright, two weeks passed and he started showing signs of a kink near his neck so I thought about how the hook had been used. The days later he started thrashing around and biting him self so I got on the internet and looked up what could be wrong. I was devastated to see that my wife's snake was showing all the symptoms of IBD, so I though it could have been something we did then I read one of the causes was a trauma to the head or neck. Do you think it at all possible that my snake was killed by the employees at the pet shop for how they mishandled my snake with a hook?
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