Scale Rot in Pet Snakes: Everything You Need to Know

Recently I was studying about “scale rot,” which is something I had never heard of before that might be beneficial for you to know. Here is some information I found.

What is scale rot and how do you handle it? Scale rot is a bacterial infection that is often found in reptiles. It happens because an area of the reptile’s scales is too moist and/or there has been a failure to properly clean the cage out, which can contribute to scale rot. 

Scale rot is something that happens to reptiles, especially snakes, if their living space is not dry or clean enough. Scale rot is fatal if not treated. Here is everything you will need to know.

Scale Rot and Snakes

Scale rot can be fatal if not taken care of quickly. If left to grow, it will eat away the snake from the outside.

In order to check your snake, you’ll have to turn it on its back to check the stomach. If you see some reddish or brown ulceration looking things then it has scale rot.

Erosion of the scales will begin and there will be large blisters on the underside of the snake. When a snake sheds, its underbelly turns reddish but don’t confuse that with the red ulcerations of scale rot.

Obviously, your snake won’t be able to talk to you or tell you that it’s hurting or that it has large bruises. You’re going to check it 3 or 4 times a week to know the health of your animal. If you’re regularly checking your snake, you’ll notice if something is wrong. Be observant.

If your snake does end up with an infection, you will want to invest in an antibiotic ointment for your snake. I recommend the Vetericyn Reptile Wound and Skin Care Plus Spray.

It works very well. It is easy to spray on. Many people have recommended it. It is safe and non-toxic. It doesn’t cause irritation. If you have more pets than just snakes, then you will enjoy this because it is universal for all reptiles.

This product has a 5 out of 5 stars user rating and is priced at about $15 USD.

Another good thing to do is take it to the vet if other things fail to work. Vets know what they are doing and they can recommend you in paths that I do not know.

Controlling the Moisture

Regulating humidity seems like a daunting task for a pet owner and you’d be right, it is difficult. It’s needful though. The terrarium must a safe and comfortable place for your snake otherwise you could potentially have a problem on your hands.

Controlling the humidity is more meticulous for those with tropical or sub-tropical lives. So, if you have those, you’d better listen up. Snakes are used to their wild environment. In order to live well or correctly, they need something that mimics it.

One way to know if the humidity is good is how well does your snake shed its skin? A low humidity area will make it harder for the snake to be able to, well, “shed” itself of that skin. If the humidity is higher, it will come off easier. Be careful though, if it is too high, it can cause the snake to get scale rot.

Humidity can come from tow simple things: airflow and heat. These both tend to be the biggest problems for humidity with snakes. Get these under control and your life will be better.

The three kinds of tanks that are used for snake owners are glass tanks, plastic cages and wooden cages. Wooden cages are not recommended. They are the most difficult to deal with. I have personally never seen one. Plastic is the easiest cage type and is used by breeders, while theĀ glass is more for those with the hobby of owning snakes. Here, you can find an article I wrote about snake terrariums, that outlines everything a buyer would need to know before purchasing.

Here is a list of things to do to keep the humidity levels in check:

  • Cover 2/3 of the top screen with plastic wrap.
  • Heat lamps. They burn off moisture, but can also make your habitat dry. Use appropriately.
  • Use proper bedding. I will go over this later in a separate topic.
  • Don’t put your tank near places with drafts or direct sunlight. Both will lower humidity.

I took this chart of humidity levels from PetSnakes.com for convenience, but if you would like to see the original, click here.

SpeciesNormalShedding
Ball Python50-60%65-75%
Carpet Python60-70%65-75%
Red Tail Boa50-60%65-75%
Burmese Python50-60%65-75%
Green Tree Python75-80%85-90%
Reticulated Python50-60%65-75%
King SnakeHouseholdHousehold
Corn SnakeHouseholdHousehold

Cleaning the Cage

Scale rot can be fatal if not taken care of quickly. If left to grow, it will eat away the snake from the outside.

Your snake will excrete. It happens to everything. Unfortunately, your snake does not have a toilet. So guess who has to clean that up? You! If you don’t? Then the snake will slither around in its own mess and get an infection.

The basic rule of thumb is to just clean up after your snake as if it were a child. Make sure that you don’t leave anything in the cage that could possibly lead to an infection. Make sure your cage is also in good condition.

Clean out small things like feces, uneaten food, and shed skin daily or as you find them. Try to clean and disinfect the cage, substrate and decor, weekly. Look for mites or ticks. Keep an eye out for things that are not usual.

If you do any deep cleaning, you might want to get another tank for your snake in case the process takes a while. Keep both separate from one another. Don’t wash your tanks in tubs or sinks that have been used for cleaning dishes or your body. You don’t want to cross contaminate.

Other things that may be used to clean out little crevices are paper towels, Q-tips, toothpicks, razorblades, sponges, etc. Toothbrushes can be good to get the corners with. You want to have rubber gloves and goggles to protect your hands and eye respectively.

Some people like to put their own rocks and furnishings in the cage but they must be properly cleaned first beforehand. Rocks should be cleaned and then boiled in water for a half hour. If you want to put your own branches in there, clean them well, too.

Proper Bedding

There are many types of bedding you can use. Another word for bedding is called “substrate.” By definition, that means “a substance or layer that underlies something.”

Some bedding is coarse, like sand (no shame in that reference). Sand is something you should never use. It’s just not healthy for the snake. Astro-turf is a newer idea picked up by snake owners. It works and its cheap but it’ll soak of the odor and feces of the snake so that’s a downside.

A better idea is to use newspaper or paper towels. They aren’t pretty but they are useful. This stuff is super easy to replace when it gets soiled. Take a chance on it.

The best, in my opinion, is cypress mulch. It smells good without it being overboard. It holds humidity well. It has a really good look about it. It doesn’t cost much and is available in pet stores. The only problem that I can foresee is that if you have a mite infestation, they like to live in cypress woods.

Bedding/Substrate Buying Guide

You will want your snake to be comfortable but you will also want it to be in a condition that will keep it healthy and away from infection or bacteria.

One of the best substrates I could find was the Reptile Prime Coconut Fiber Bedding. It’s organic. It is gentle on the body of the snake. It can be used in various settings from dry to more wet areas. The humidity retention is extremely good. Also, the guy on the package looks like he is having a good time.

The Coconut fiber bedding also soaks up the waste product so it’ll be easier to clean up after your snake. It’s less hassle for you and makes having a snake more enjoyable.

Better than just absorbing the waste product, it also breaks down the odor so your room doesn’t smell bad. Anybody who has had animals before inside the house knows that it leaves my room smelling really bad and there isn’t much to do about it. So, if you’re like me, you’re going to want something that breaks down the odors and gets the smell out of the room.

If you’re looking for a natural aesthetic, then this coconut fiber will work great with your habitat. It acts as a great substrate to any plants you have growing in there with the snake. Along with that, it just has a nice appeal.

The bags are for 24 dry quarts. It weighs in at about 6 pounds. The Reptile Prime company assures that their product will hold more humidity longer a and even though it is a natural substance it will take more and 35 days for any fungal activity to appear. It also has instructions on the back of the bag for application, instructions, maintenance, and how to clean.

After you are done with using it for your snake and you have to replace it, I would recommend that you use it in your garden or compost if you have either of those things. Since it’s natural it’ll break down well. It’s not acidic. It is somewhere in the middle, an almost perfect pH level. It’s between 5.2 and 6.8. So it will work great if you’ve really got that green thumb.

The product has a 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon. There are great reviews from users of this product, especially those who enjoy the organic benefit. If that is your thing, you like the natural look and you don’t want odor, then I would say this product is definitely for you.

A cheaper option for you would be Zoo Med’s Forest Floor Natural Cypress Mulch Reptile Bedding. It’s 100% natural cypress mulch with a forest floor look. It’s a nice aesthetic for your terrarium.

It’s great for live plants and incubation for eggs if you’re interested in breeding your snakes. It lays smoothly to keep live food from hiding from your snake if giving your snake live food is your way to go.

It’s recommended for many animals, reptiles, amphibians, and tarantulas. If you plan on having other animals eventually after your snakes then this will work out great for you.

Along with giving your enclosure a little homey forest look, the cypress mulch is not heat treated. We discussed this earlier but because of that the mulch will absorb and hold moisture. If you want humidity in your tank then this will work out great for your terrarium.

This product is priced at $14.99 USD with a 4.3 out of 5 stars review. It seems a lot of people use this mulch for various pets. If you have different kinds of pets and are a guru of animals then this might just be the option for you! It works great, it holds moisture well, and it has a wide range of use.

For more ideas, you can visit our article on bedding for snakes here.

Things to Buy Before You Buy a Snake

First and foremost, you are going to want to buy a terrarium. That’s a no-brainer. You are going to need a place for it to live. I’ve already mentioned above what types of cages/tanks you can get but I will run you through it again.

The three different kinds of tanks that are used for snake owners are glass tanks, plastic cages and wooden cages. Wooden cages are not recommended. I have never seen one and it sounds impractical. Once again, plastic is the easiest option and is used by experienced snake breeders. If you’re making a profit off of breeding and selling snakes then plastic is your best financial option. Glass is the last one and is meant for those with the hobby of owning snakes.

You are going to want a heat source. Maybe a heat lamp or something under the tank to heat it. You want to make sure you have enough heat but not too much. The snake can’t be burning alive. It needs places to hide from heat as well so you want to buy shade.

You’re going to want to have a thermometer that has the ability to track humidity. One of the best that I have seen is the AcuRite 00891A3 Indoor/Outdoor Digital Thermometer with Humidity.

Its very cheap at about $13 USD and is easy to read. Many people have this product. It does have some battery issues sometimes from what I have read. Overall, this a great product that is easy to use and cheap.

There are many other accessories and things that are important and fun to have when purchasing a snake. In this article, I outline my favorite accessories to have for a pet snake. I discuss the essentials as well as the non-essentials.

Keeping Other Animals with Snakes

You might be wondering whether or not to put snakes together with other animals. Do not put snakes with other animals. This is a bad idea. Snakes are natural predators. You also never know if other animals will attack your snake. That wouldn’t end well.

Snakes will get stressed. You may notice this. Don’t put them with other animals. It won’t always protect itself from danger if it’s not in the “mood.”

Different animals need different requirements to survive. An atmosphere for snakes to thrive is very temperament. Not all other animals can adapt or handle it. It would be wrong to do that to either animal.

Related Questions

How do I know if my snake is healthy? Your snake will shed well and regularly. It has consistent behavior. Its eyes are clear and attentive. The body is in good condition. Eats and drinks as it should. Lastly, it will the 2 to 3 days after eating.

What diseases can snakes get? Anorexia or lack of appetite, vomiting/regurgitation, mouth rot, respiratory pneumonia, Retained Eye Cap, scale rot, Acariasis, etc.

Can snakes get sick from humans? Things like the influenza virus can’t affect them but the can contract respiratory infections.

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