Common Diseases Affecting Xenodermus javanicus
Updated: Jun 1
Due to the various elements Xenodermus javanicus is exposed to in the wild, they often arrive in poor health upon import. Common ailments and diseases that affect Dragon Snakes include dysecdysis (difficulty shedding), dermal wounds, respiratory disease, necrotic stomatitis/dermatitis (mouth/scale rot), and Snake Fungal Disease. The outline below covers each condition and how to proceed with treatment.
Dysecdysis More commonly referred to as “stuck shed”, dysecdysis typically results from poor husbandry practices. Dragon Snakes are native to a subtropical climate, and therefore require high humidity in order to thrive and shed properly. Unfortunately, the importation process is quite harsh on snakes, and husbandry requirements are rarely if ever met during overseas transit. Luckily, stuck shed is a simple fix at home; simply keep the ambient humidity levels high (85-90%+) and allow the snake to shed off the remaining shed over time. You may also provide a humidity box for your Dragon Snake to crawl inside of while shedding. Soaking is not advised for this species as they are exceptionally fragile and susceptible to stress-induced death. Dysecdysis that has caused splitting or cracking of the skin should be treated as a dermal wound, which is outlined further below. Dermal Wounds Upon the arrival of your Dragon Snake, it is likely you will notice a few minor dermal wounds or injuries. While most wounds will heal perfectly fine on their own without intervention, in the event your snake sustains a more moderate dermal injury, you can treat the affected area with a topical antibiotic such as silver sulfadiazine, which can be acquired from a veterinarian. While antibiotic ointments such as Neosporin (without pain relief) can be used in a pinch, I do not suggest using oil-based substances long-term as oils tend to cause dysecdysis (difficulty shedding) and counterintuitively prolong the healing process. Respiratory Disease One of the more common ailments that affect Dragon Snakes is respiratory disease. While respiratory infections are usually bacterial, other microorganisms such as viruses, fungi and parasites can also be the cause. For this reason, it is helpful to send in a swab for diagnostic testing to determine the pathogen causing the infection. Signs and symptoms attributed to respiratory disease include nasal discharge, excess salivation, wheezing, clicking, “stargazing” (tilting the head and neck upward for long periods of time), necrotic stomatitis (mouth rot), and open-mouth breathing. Treatment will vary depending on the cause and severity of the infection, but most bacterial infections of the respiratory system can be treated by administering oral antibiotics such as Cephalexin, which can be acquired by your veterinarian. Injectable antibiotics are not recommended for this species as they are very small and delicate and are at high risk for injury. There are no clinically proven “home remedies” for a respiratory infection; providing the proper antimicrobial medication for successful treatment is a must. Necrotic Stomatitis/Dermatitis Necrotic infection of the mouth (stomatitis) and skin/scales (dermatitis), respectively known as mouth and scale rot, are another disease that frequently affects Dragon Snakes. Mouth and/or scale rot are usually caused by bacteria within an unsanitary environment, but other pathogens such as viruses, fungi and parasites can also be the source of infection. Stress, poor husbandry practices, trauma and inadequate nutrition can contribute to the infection, as well. Mouth rot can be identified by checking the oral cavity for swelling, redness, scabbing, excess salivation, or a “cheesy” substance along the lining of the mouth. Scale rot is characterized by dark patches of foul-smelling lesions, typically seen along the ventrum (belly) of the snake, although it can affect any part of the body. Treatment may vary depending on the severity of the condition, but mild to moderate cases of necrotic stomatitis/dermatitis can be treated with silver sulfadiazine, a topical antibiotic that can be acquired by your veterinarian. More severe cases may require oral antibiotics. Applying diluted povidone-iodine or chlorhexidine (2%) to the affected area with a cotton swab can be used temporarily until antibiotics can be prescribed, but this method should not be relied on as a sole means of treatment. It is also crucial to keep the environment exceptionally sanitary and maintain proper husbandry while your snake is recovering. Snake Fungal Disease One of the more complex diseases that is beginning to manifest more commonly in Dragon Snakes is Snake Fungal Disease. SFD is a relatively new disease caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, which causes a pathogenic infection that primarily affects the scales of the snake. Unfortunately, SFD has not been studied conclusively and much about the disease is unknown, including how to effectively treat it. That said, I have experience in treating snakes with confirmed cases of SFD and have discovered clinically proven methods of treatment for the disease. The following information is a theorem based upon clinical research and personal experience in treating SFD in Dragon Snakes. The method of treatment outlined below was formulated in partnership with a herpetological veterinarian (Dr. Kimberly Buck, Frankenmuth-Birch Run Veterinary Hospital).
Signs and symptoms of SFD in Dragon Snakes include:
Ulcers and lesions along the body that seem to disappear after shedding, but shortly reappear and increase in severity over time
Strange behaviors such as nose rubbing, resting in unusual places for long periods of time, refusing to eat, lack of, delayed or intense reaction to stimuli, no longer stiffening the body in defense, and/or limpness of the body
I have had success in treating Dragon Snakes for SFD by nebulizing the antifungal medication Terbinafine. Terbinafine comes in a 250mg pill, and must first be prepared for nebulization in order to effectively treat the snake. Crush the pill using a pill crusher and dissolve the 250mg of Terbinafine in 5ml of ethanol (I used 150 proof). After the pill has fully dissolved in the ethanol, dilute with 125ml of saline solution. This prepares the medication to be nebulized at 2mg/ml. For the nebulization chamber, you can use a tall plastic storage bin and secure the nebulizer cup inside the bottom half of the bin by looping the tubing through adhesive hooks placed on the inside of the bin. You will want to place the nebulizer cup as low to the bottom as possible for the best effectiveness. Once your nebulization chamber is set up, place your Dragon Snake inside and nebulize for 30 minutes every day for at least 30 days (60 days recommended). If executed correctly, your snake should show improvement by the next shed following treatment, and ulcers and lesions should not reappear. Keep medication refrigerated when not in use and make a fresh batch every 3-5 days. With the few current studies on SFD being inconclusive, I can not guarantee results; but I can attest to the effectiveness of the treatment method outlined above. I have used nebulized Terbinafine to treat SFD in a few different species of snakes with success. Ulcers and lesions healed completely over the span of 1-2 months after the start of treatment, and strange behaviors ceased within as little as a few days after the start of treatment. That summarizes the diseases that commonly affect Dragon Snakes. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask away. I hope this information proves useful to the community and I look forward to watching the progression of captive Dragon Snakes in the future.