Exotis ISSN 2398-2985


Snake parasitology overview

Contributor(s): Vetstream Ltd, Sarah Pellett, Robert Johnson

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Diagnosing parasites

  • Parasitic infections are relatively easy to diagnose.
  • A fresh fecal sample should be obtained being careful not to collect any urates.
  • When an appointment is made for a snake, the client should be asked to bring a fresh stool sample:
    • The client can put the fecal sample in a plastic sandwich bag and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
    • It is recommended that the fecal sample be stored in a refrigerator that does not also store food for human consumption. A double or even triple bag system may be used if the sample is stored with food for human consumption, however this is still strongly discouraged because of the risk of Salmonella spp.
  • If a fresh sample is not available, a colonic wash can be performed to obtain a sample.
  • Three diagnostic tests should be performed: a centrifugation, a fecal flotation and a saline-prepared direct smear:
    • Centrifuging the sample will aid in the detection of protozoan cysts and nematode ova.
    • A direct fecal smear Fecal smear is used to diagnose moving or live parasites, mostly protozoans.
    • Fecal flotation Fecal flotation will help diagnose ova and cysts .
  • The techniques used to perform these diagnostics are the same techniques used for diagnosing parasites in small animals.
  • Some parasites, like Cryptosporidium, require specialized diagnostic testing.
Print off the Owner Factsheet on Parasitic and infectious diseases in snakes to give to your clients.

External parasites

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Internal parasites

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Preventing parasites

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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Machin R A (2015) Common gastrointestinal parasites in reptiles.  In Pract 37 (9), 469-475 VetMedResource.
  • Graczyk T K & Cranfield M R (1997) Detection of Cryptosporidium-specific serum immunoglobulins in captive snakes by a polyclonal antibody in the indirect ELISA. Vet Res 28 (2),131-141 PubMed.
  • Campbell I & Tzipori S (1982) Effect of disinfectants on survival of Cryptosporidium oocysts. Vet Rec 111 (18), 414-415 PubMed.
  • Telford S R (1971) Parasitic diseases of reptiles. J Am Vet Med Assoc 159 (11), 1644-1652 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Šlapeta J, Modrý D & Johnson R (2018) Reptile Parasitology in Health and Disease. In: Reptile Medicine and Surgery in Clinical Practice. Wiley-Blackwell, UK. pp 425-39.
  • Cheek R & Crane M (2017) Snakes. In: Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician. 3rd edn. Eds: Ballard B & Cheek R. Wiley-Blackwell. pp 137-181.
  • Klingenberg R (2012) Understanding Reptile Parasites. i5 Publishing.
  • Schneller P, Pantchev N & Norden N (2008) Parasitology in Snakes, Lizards and Chelonians. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt am Main.
  • McArthur S M, McLellan L & Brown S (2004) Gastrointestinal System. In: BSAVA Manual of Reptiles. 2nd edn.  Eds: Girling S J & Raiti P. BSAVA, UK. pp 213.
  • Cranfield M R & Graczyk T K (1996) Cryptosporidiosis. In: Reptile Medicine and Surgery. W B Saunders, USA. pp 359-363.
  • Frank W (1981) Endoparasites. In: Diseases of the Reptilia, Vol 1. Eds: Cooper J E & Jackson O F. Academic Press, UK.

Reproduced with permission from Bonnie Ballard & Ryan Cheek: Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician © 2017, published by John Wiley & Sons.