Like any animal, a snake has a routine for passing faeces and while a small deviation is not usually a problem, if it goes on for a while and if your snake becomes lethargic and off its food and drink, it is important to discover why.
Causes of Constipation in Snakes
When a snake is fed thawed frozen food, there is sometimes less water present in the food than in its natural state. Since snakes get most of their water intake from food in nature, the faeces are drier than usual and can cause a blockage. Also, if the temperature in the snake’s environment is lower than it should be for the species, the snake may take to conserving its heat deep within its body to enable it to function. This will ‘cook’ the faeces in the gut, again causing it to harden and be difficult to pass. Low environment humidity will also have a similar effect. Most snakes will continue to eat when constipated until the gut is so full it quite literally won’t take any more. At this point the snake is very ill indeed, but hopefully the careful owner will have already spotted its distress and will have taken it to the vet.
Treatment you can do at Home
If you suspect that your snake is constipated, there are a few easy things you can try yourself. One is to soak the snake for fifteen minutes in warm water. This will soften any faeces blocking the ‘exit’ and will hopefully allow it to pass. It will also relax the snake, making passing a painful stool easier. Stools can become so hard that they are called ‘fecoliths’ – faecal stones. Often treatment can be as simply as adjusting the environment; making it warmer and damper. Looking at the bedding is a good place to start. Some materials tend to soak up atmospheric water and make the air too dry. Handling the snake – where appropriate – may also help a semi-hard stool to pass.
When you need the Vet
If simple home treatments don’t do the trick, it is essential to take your snake to the vet. He will probably start with an enema of milk of magnesia and mineral oil. In fact, mineral oil given as an oral laxative will also work well, although it may take longer. If the snake is not being fed by tube but is still eating normally, it is possible to add some mineral oil to the prey and administer it more naturally. Results will take around about a week to appear, but if you have noticed the constipation in the early stages, this should be acceptable. If the fecolith is very impacted and the snake is distended, it may be necessary to remove it surgically, but with care after the procedure, the snake usually recovers well.
Good practice even if your snake has not had constipation is to keep humidity and temperature optimum and to make sure the snake has plenty of room to move around. It is easy to fall into the trap of over feeding, but this is a prime cause of constipation. If your snake tolerates handling, this is also good practice, not only to avoid constipation, but also to check on any other underlying problems which will become serious if left untreated.