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What is Stargazing Syndrome?

Stargazing syndrome in snakes is more of a term rather than a specific diagnosis. This behavior is characterized by the snake’s head and neck turning toward the “sky” as if they are looking up. This syndrome is typically a result of other illnesses. It may be a sign of a central nervous system issue, known as inclusion body disease. This disease typically affects boas and pythons, and is considered to be a retrovirus which can be fatal. There are other reasons, however, that your snake may be stargazing, and these reasons can only be found by your veterinarian by performing a battery of laboratory testing.

This symptom to an underlying disorder is typically found in snakes and other reptiles. Stargazing occurs when the snake’s head and neck twist around and maneuver in an upward direction and stay in that position, as if he is staring at the stars. This posture is very noticeable and quite unusual. There are times, however, where the snake may look upward, as if to find better ventilation or simply to bask at a heat source. As long as there are no other signs or symptoms to the snake looking upward, as if gazing, more than likely that is not a cause for a concern.

Stargazing syndrome in snakes is characterized by a snake turning the head and neck and staring upward. It is known as stargazing, as the snake looks as if he is staring at the sky and stars. This syndrome is the result of an underlying disorder, which can be determined by a veterinarian.

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Symptoms of Stargazing Syndrome in Snakes

There are several symptoms of stargazing. The underlying disorder may come into play as well in terms of clinical signs. Symptoms of stargazing include:

  • Lethargy
  • Turning the head upward 
  • Looking up, as if to look at the “stars”
  • Difficulty with mobility
  • Disorientation
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Skin disorders

Types 

There are several types of outside influences that may be responsible for neurological disorders. Stargazing is often a marked symptom of neurological disorders. Influences that can cause these disorders include:

  • Flea sprays
  • Pest strips
  • Environmental toxins
  • Cleaning products
  • Pesticides
  • High temperatures
  • Injuries to the head
  • Toxins

Causes of Stargazing Syndrome in Snakes

Causes of stargazing are still being researched. Many snakes that perform this odd “behavior” tend to have an underlying condition. Causes may include:

  • Central nervous system disorder
  • Chronic regurgitation
  • Viral infections
  • Respiratory infections
  • Gastrointestinal system conditions
  • Inclusion body disease
  • Meningitis
  • Toxic substance exposure
  • Traumatic injury
  • Sarcomas
  • Leukemia
  • High fever

Diagnosis of Stargazing Syndrome in Snakes

If you suspect your snake has stargazing syndrome, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Diagnosing stargazing is relatively simple, as the veterinarian will spend some time with your snake while observing his behavior and position of his body, head, and neck.

Your veterinarian may want to spend more time than just a regular visit with your snake in order to properly diagnose your snake with the syndrome of stargazing. Once he confirms that your snake is stargazing, he will want to find the reason behind this behavior. Since there are many underlying conditions that can cause this syndrome, he will need to perform a variety of tests. Before doing so he will ask questions about any other symptoms he may be having, his environment, behavior, any change in his behaviors, his diet, and any other questions he feels would be helpful before beginning any testing.

Take your veterinarian will do a complete physical examination of your reptile. He may perform x-rays, blood test, urine test, or even biopsies of his tissues. You also want to test his fecal matter and do a full pathology laboratory testing. Each of these tests will bring your veterinarian once closer to determining exactly what is causing his stargazing.

Treatment of Stargazing Syndrome in Snakes

Treatment for stargazing in snakes depends solely on the underlying disorder. There are many underlying conditions which can cause your snake to stargaze, and only after the veterinarian determines the specific cause can the snake possibly be treated. Treatment methods will be performed for your snake if he has any of the following underlying conditions:

Infections

If your snake has been diagnosed with a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection, your veterinarian will outline a plan to treat the infection. Any treatment will depend upon the specific type of infection your snake is suffering from.

Traumatic Injury

If your snake has suffered a traumatic injury, your medical professional will treat the injury at once. If your snake is suffering from stargazing due to a past traumatic injury that may not have properly healed, your veterinarian will come up with a plan to restart his recovery.

Toxic Exposure

Toxic substances can cause neurological disorders or illnesses within your snake. This may have caused your snake to exhibit symptoms of stargazing in response to exposure to a toxin. Once the toxic substance has been successfully removed from his body, you should see an improvement in his symptoms.

Recovery of Stargazing Syndrome in Snakes

Recovery from stargazing depends on the underlying condition. The disorder that caused the condition needs to be healed in order for the snake to stop this odd behavior. Your veterinarian will communicate with you precisely the status of your snake’s health, describe his underlying disorder to you, and be in communication with you on how he is recovering.

There are conditions, such as inclusion body disease, which your snake may not recover from. Your veterinarian will be honest with you as to whether he feels your snake should be euthanized. This depends on the severity of the condition as all snakes are unique, as well as any diagnosis. 

Supportive care from your veterinarian and you as well, will be very important in determining if your snake can recover from his condition. If you have any questions about taking care of your companion at home, or if you see any new symptoms, do not hesitate to contact him with your concerns.

Stargazing Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Dixie
Spider het ball python
1 Year
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Edgy
Stargazing
Barely moves

Dixie has been stargazing a bit which is unusual. She sits about 4-5 inches up and just looks up. And when I touch her she starts to coil up and get all weird, almost as if she's going to strike. Should I find her a vet?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1604 Recommendations
I am not an expert on snakes by any means, but if this is a new behavior that she was not doing before, it may be an indication that something is wrong, and having her examined by a veterinarian would be a good idea. I hope that all goes well for her.

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Kirin
Ball Python
3 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

My snake (ball python) has been in the same position all night and all last night. She goes back to her hide if I do anything to get her attention. There is a log outside her hide and she lays her body on top of it with her head in an "s" shape looking up. Sometimes her body is a little shaky when she grips and has been a bit lethargic lately. However, she's about to shed with a pink belly. Should I see a vet about the weird night position? Is it cause for concern? Her husbandry is good.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
With Kirin being a little shakey and having the ‘stargazing’ I would recommend visiting your Veterinarian as stargazing is a symptom and not a disease itself; unfortunately stargazing is a symptom of inclusion body disease which affects boids and is fatal, so it is important to determine what the underlying cause of the stargazing is. Other causes may include nervous system disorders, infections among other disorders listed on this page; please check both links below for more information. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/reptile/condition/inclusion-body-disease-in-snakes www.msdvetmanual.com/exotic-and-laboratory-animals/reptiles/viral-diseases-of-reptiles

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