Constipation: Is a common problem among captive snakes. Causes include suboptimal environmental temperature, illness, dehydration, injuries, parasitism, and cloacoliths (see below). Constipated snakes should be allowed to soak in very warm (not scalding hot) water for 20-30 minutes daily for 1-2 days. This often results in defecation and/or urination. It this conservative measure is not successful, veterinary help should be sought at once.
Cloacoliths: Dehydration of captive snakes (especially if long standing) may result in drying out of urinary excretions. When this occurs, uric acid "stones" tend to form within the cloaca ('cloacoloths'). Their presence in this location prevents expulsion of urinary waste and feces (constipation), which creates serious illness. Dehydration is a sign of disease and not a disease in itself, so it becomes the veterinarian's task to determine the underlying problem that caused the dehydration. Cloacoliths can usually be manually expelled with patience and the help of mineral oil enemas. Only an experienced veterinarian should attempt this procedure.
Prolapses: A prolapse occurs when an organ inverts itself inside out and protrudes through the usual external opening of that organ. Prolapses of the cloaca and reproductive organs are not uncommon among captive snakes. Often the cause cannot be determined. Straining during egg laying can precipitate prolapses or straining related to uric acid stones. Parasitic infections or other intestinal disease may also result in prolapses. Veterinary assistance is essential in these cases to treat the prolapse and determine the underlying cause, if possible.
Abnormal shedding: Occurs when the normal sequence of events of the shedding process is somehow interrupted. This usually results in a piece-meal shed and/or retained eye caps. Causes include serious internal disease, inadequate relative humidity, and previous injury (including surgery) to the skin and scales, external parasitism, lack of adequate objects against which to rub at the beginning of the shed, and thyroid gland problems. An abnormal shed indicates a problem that demands immediate attention. In these cases, consider all of the aforementioned causes, most of which demand veterinary assistance. Treatment of a snake with retained skin from an abnormal shed involves first soaking the snake in warm water for several hours. A damp towel can then be used to gently peel off stubborn skin fragments. An alternative to this manual method involves rolling the snake snugly in warm moist, heavy towels and allowing it to crawl out, leaving the stubborn skin fragments behind. This procedure can be repeated if necessary.
Retained eye caps: Are often a manifestation of an abnormal shed. The eye caps represent the outermost cellular layers of the corneas (the transparent portions of the eyes), which are supposed to be shed each time the outermost layers of the skin are shed. The retained caps must first be softened by repeated application of a suitable eye ointment. Next, an experienced veterinarian should attempt to carefully remove the corneal remnants. An inexperienced hobbyist should never attempt this.
Cancer: Occurs in snakes, but the number of reports is very limited. Some tumors have been diagnosed on living snakes, but most were diagnosed at the time of autopsy. As with mammals, tumors of snakes can be benign or malignant and originate from any organ or tissue of the body, including blood. Boa constrictors seem to be more often affected by cancer than other snakes commonly kept in captivity. This observation, however, may be the result of the disproportionately large number of boas kept by hobbyists because of their tremendous popularity. It is interesting to note, however, that most life-threatening malignancies that we have diagnosed in snakes have involved boa constrictors. Snake owners must be vigilant and seek prompt veterinary help when a growth or lump is detected on their snake(s) (especially if a boa constrictor is involved). "Mole-like" growths have been especially troublesome in our experience. Wounds that fail to heal despite treatment should make you equally suspicious.
Organ Failure: Failure of vital organ function may be the result of advancing age or cancer but is usually a consequence of chronic and unchecked disease among captive snakes. Disease that has gone undetected and/or untreated can have devastating and sometimes, fatal consequences. Under these circumstances, organ function is greatly compromised and the snake's usually smooth-running metabolism is threatened. Dehydration and uric acid build-up within the kidneys and possibly other vital organs further complicates the picture.