What are Mites?
One of the most disturbing things about mites is how quickly they can multiply and spread to other reptiles. One female mite is able to produce thousands of babies. You have to treat this problem early to get ahead of it or it may become fatal as the mites will continue to drain your snake of blood until there is nothing left to drain except for the blood that they poisoned. The cause of death is usually anemia or septicemia, which is blood poisoning.
Reptile mites (Ophionyssus natricis) are parasites that are commonly found on snakes and other reptiles, where they attach to the body. These mites fill themselves with the snake’s blood by puncturing the skin, which causes weakness, general ill health, pain, and aggravation. In addition to the pain and discomfort, mites can also carry diseases such as inclusion body disease (IBD), which can create other complications such as pneumonia, stomatitis, leukemia, and damage to the central nervous system. Any of these complications of IBD may be fatal without treatment so you should see a veterinary professional right away if you suspect that your snake has mites.
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Symptoms of Mites in Snakes
One of the first signs that your snake has mites may be that you can see them or that your snake is acting abnormally. The most common signs are:
- Irritation and restlessness
- Soaking in water excessively
- Twitching head
- Small moving dots (black or red) on the skin around eyes, nose, mouth, or under chin
- Head weaving from side to side
- Specks of black or red floating in water
- Specks on your hands after holding your snake or anything in the cage
- Swelling of the eyes
- Raised or abnormal scales
- Lack of appetite
- Incomplete or inability to shed
There are five stages of the mite’s life, which include:
- Egg: Lasts 28-98 hours
- Larva (non-feeding): Lasts 18-47 hours
- Protonymph (feeding): Lasts 3-14 days
- Deutonymph (non-feeding): Lasts 13-26 hours
- Adult (feeding, mating): Lasts 10-32 days
Causes of Mites in Snakes
- Ophionyssus natricis look like black or reddish black specks
- Ophionyssus acertinus look like orange or red specks
- Trombiculidae mites (chiggers, berry bugs) are red specks
Diagnosis of Mites in Snakes
It is best to bring your snake to the veterinarian inside a glass enclosure so that the veterinarian is able to see how your pet behaves before being handled and if there are any abnormalities. If you can, bring a sample of the mites from your snake’s water bowl or cage to show the veterinarian.
During the time when you are telling the veterinarian about your pet’s history and symptoms, the veterinarian will be watching the way your snake moves. The physical examination will include checking your snake from top to bottom for any lesions, abnormalities, erythema, abnormal scales or skin, wounds, and parasites. In this case, your veterinarian will be looking for mites or other pests that may be causing the symptoms you have witnessed.
Treatment of Mites in Snakes
To get rid of mites, you will have to treat both your snake and its environment. This includes the cage and everything in it, as well as the general vicinity around the cage. If your snake has been allowed to roam free around your house for any amount of time, you will have to treat every place where your snake has been.
Prepare a betadine (povidone-iodine) bath by diluting it with warm water until it is a light brown color similar to medium strength tea or cola. If your snake is a climber, use a container with a lid that has air holes. Let your snake soak in the water for about an hour and then remove it and put mineral oil on the heat pits and eyes. Check all the scales and vent folds for mites that may have been missed.
Some of the other insecticides that the veterinarian may use are Ivermectin, or pyrethroid insecticides such as permethrin, metofluthrin, and tetramethrin. Sprays that contain pyrethroids are the most effective way to get rid of mites, but they should only be administered by a veterinary professional due to the toxicity.
There is another effective way the veterinarian can treat your snake for mites, which is using carbaryl powder. The best way to do this is to place your snake in a container with a layer of powder at the bottom for several hours. Your snake will be rinsed with a diluted Ivermectin or pyrethroid spray and held in a safe area until the cage and belongings are treated.
Recovery of Mites in Snakes
Your snake’s cage should be cleaned with hot, soapy water and rinsed several times. The seams and corners will need to be scrubbed and the whole cage should be treated with Ivermectin or pyrethroid spray. Anything in the cage should be discarded if it cannot be completely sterilized such as boxes or branches made of wood. Allow it all to air dry and then you can return the snake to the cage. You may have to do this several times over the next 30 days so you can prevent reinfestation from the eggs that hatch. You will probably need to return to the veterinarian in 10-14 days to be sure your snake is still mite-free.