Another name for stomatitis is mouth-rot and this perhaps describes the condition better. It is not a disease in itself, but a manifestation of an underlying problem for the snake, allowing otherwise relatively harmless bacteria to colonize the mouth of the snake, causing the tell-tale signs of stomatitis.
First Signs of Stomatitis (mouth-rot)
The careful owner will probably spot the signs of stomatitis very early and at this stage a successful outcome with intervention from the vet is almost certain. The snake will probably start drooling excess saliva, which may be unpleasant looking and ‘ropey’. It may be off its food and not drinking as much as usual. The saliva may even bubble from the mouth. Looking closely, small areas of bleeding will be apparent, mostly along the line of the teeth. If the first signs have been missed, there may be small areas of ‘cheesy’ discharge and even loose teeth.
Treatment of Stomatitis
The first thing you must do when you spot the early symptoms of stomatitis is get your snake to the vet. It is possible to treat this condition if it is caught early, but if it has been going on for a while, then it is unlikely that an affected snake will survive. It is possible, if the areas have encapsulated, to remove them with tweezers and then dress the resulting cavity, but this is a job for a vet who is a snake specialist and is not something which even an experiences herpetologist should undertake themselves.
Choice of Mouthwash
The choice of mouth wash at this point is very important, as it must be strong enough to flush away and clean remaining necrosis, but must not be too strong that it will damage healthy cells. Whatever is used, care must be taken to make sure the snake doesn’t accidentally swallow any; this is an ill animal here and doesn’t need any more stress on its system.
Antibiotic Therapy in Treating Mouth Rot
Because mouth-rot is caused by an underlying bacterial condition, it is important to discover what bacteria are causing the problem. Sometimes, the bacteria is one which is found occurring naturally in the snake’s gut or on its skin which in a snake in peak condition will not cause a problem. Unfortunately, if the snake is otherwise ill, these bacteria can take over. The vet will take swabs but as speed is an issue in ensuring a good outcome, the snake will be treated in the first instance with a wide spectrum antibiotic.
The problem that the snake owner will immediately face is that the animal will not be eating or drinking properly. It is vital to hydrate a snake with stomatitis and also to add supplements to whatever food it can be induced to take. It is also good practice to keep it warm at night, even if the usual care involves dropping night time temperature. Because the bacteria which are causing the stomatitis is one which is natural to the snake, its own life cycle may well depend on temperature gradients and upsetting these will help the antibiotics do their work.
Prognosis of Stomatitis in Snakes
If the stomatitis is caught early, the outcome is usually very good. If on the other hand severe necrosis is found in the first instance and teeth are loose or missing, or even if swelling of the head is seen, this usually means that the condition is too advanced, the animal has probably lost bone in the jaw and head and should be painlessly destroyed as it will not recover.