Burmese pythons can fall victim to several serious veterinary problems. A few are contagious infections acquired from other snakes, but most stem directly from the snake's living condition. Complicating the issue, several snake diseases can appear as symptoms of other diseases.
Inclusion Body Disease
Inclusion body disease is by far the most serious Burmese python disease. It can afflict all snakes in the boa and python families. At the time of publication, veterinarians are not sure if it can affect other types of snake. It is highly contagious and incurable, but it may take as long as a year for an infected snake to show any symptoms. "Inclusion body" refers to structures in the blood and tissue cells of infected snakes. IBD is a degenerative neuromuscular disease. Infected snakes slowly lose control of their bodies, usually beginning with the tail. Symptoms include progressive paralysis, "stargazing" (the snake holds her head in the air and looks like she's staring off into space), vomiting, refusal to eat, poor shedding, seizure, mouthgaping and flipping over. Snakes with IBD have lowered immunity and are very susceptible to other infections, including pneumonia, skin inflammation, tumors and stomatitis. Treatment options begin with force feeding, nutritional supplements, treatment of co-occuring infections and palliative care such as warm soaks, and end with euthanasia. Veterinarians recommend quarantining all new boas and pythons from other snakes for at least 6 months to reduce the chance of accidental exposure.
Stomatitis is commonly called mouth rot. It usually begins with an injury, such as from rubbing against the enclosure or a wound from live prey. The injury becomes infected with bacteria or fungus and the tissues of the mouth rot away. Stomatitis can cause severe tissue loss and bone infection. Treatment includes antibiotics or antifungals and correcting husbandry problems by providing an appropriately sized enclosure made of safe materials, clean water and substrate, appropriate light cycles and heat, and pre-killed prey.
Snakes' unique physiology makes them prone to respiratory infections. Burmese pythons housed in too small an enclosure, fed too little, and kept too cold or with unnatural light cycles are especially vulnerable. Snake respiratory infections quickly develop into pneumonia, so your snake should visit a herp vet at the first sign of wheezing or nasal discharge. Treatment includes antibiotics, warm soaks and fixing your snake's environment.
Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic bone disease is fairly rare in snakes -- but it's more common in Burmese pythons than in others because their size makes it difficult for most pet owners to feed them appropriately. Calcium or vitamin D deficiencies cause MBD. Feeding your snake prey that isn't large enough, mature enough, or frequent enough can cause this disease. Snakes with MBD develop brittle bones, neurological problems, poor sheds, anorexia and eventually paralysis and very painful death. Some snake owners speculate snakes, like other reptiles, need UVA and UVB light for a certain percentage of the day to prevent vitamin D deficiency MBD, but at the time of publication most veterinarians and herpetologists disagree.
Like all animals, Burmese pythons can suffer parasite infestation. Mites are common external parasites and pinworms are frequent uninvited internal guests. Infestation with either requires thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the enclosure and everything in it. Both can be treated with oral medication. Mite infestation may also require medicinal soaks and topical treatment. Pinworms can infect humans and other animals, so hygiene is very important. Snakes suffering from other infections are more prone to severe parasite infestation.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.