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If you own snakes, or have read about their care, you no doubt have heard of snake mites. Some books make snake mites out to be the absolute end of the world for a snake keeper. This is not usually true, but don't get me wrong, because they can spread so quickly, they can be truly devastating to a large collection. Likewise, even an infestation involving only a few snakes can be deadly to the animal if not identified and treated in time. The purpose of this article is to provide the reader with the basic steps needed to identify a mite problem in your snake collection, and the steps that we recommend you take to remedy the problem.
How do you know if your snake has mites? Just look it over. Snake mites (which are species specific, and thus will not infect you, your family, or your dog) are tiny arthropods that feed on the blood of living snakes. When alive they look like tiny (pin point) size black, or sometimes red, dots moving around on the snake. They are usually concentrated around the eye, nostrils, and gular fold (the crease of skin on the snakes chin). You may also spot mites on your hands after handling an infected animal, or sometimes the mite feces are apparent (especially on dark colored snakes) as white flakes or specks. Infected snakes will often soak in their water bowl excessively in an effort to drown the mites. If you see excessive soaking, check your snake for mites as just described, or look at the water itself for dead mites. Don't mistake dirt in the water for snake mites.
If your snake has mites, don't fret. It most likely had nothing to do with your care of the snake. Think of mites like fleas with dogs. It happens, and there are flare ups from time to time, but with proper awareness and treatment, mites are easily controlled.
The steps that follow are the most sure-fire, proven methods for mite eradication. Although it may be possible to treat mites successfully while eliminating a step or two, it is not recommended. Doing so may result in your snake still having mites in the end, and you having wasted your time.
Get the supplies. You will need a secure plastic tub (Rubbermaid, etc) that your snake fits in. You will also need some products to actually kill the mites. We recommend Reptile Relief by Natural Chemistry (to treat the animal) and Provent-A-Mite by Pro Products (to treat the enclosure). Both of these products are available all the time from LLLReptile.com or by phone order. Avoid home remedies that you may have heard of. We have seen these prove harmful, or even fatal to snakes.
Treat the animal. Put your snake into the plastic tub, and spray it liberally with the Reptile Relief, coating the animal from head to tail. (See the directions on the Reptile Relief bottle for further information) You will now allow the animal to sit for 15 to 20 minutes while all of the mites on your snake are killed. After the alotted time, rinse the snake well with clean water, and rinse out the tub as well. Now soak the snake again for another 15 to 20 minutes, this time in chin deep clean water. This will prevent your snake from becoming dehydrated, as the Reptile Relief works by drying out the mites. In the 30 or so minutes required to treat the animal, you can begin working on the cage.
Note: We recommend re-treating the animal only, as just discussed, two more times, one week apart, to eliminate any chance of mites re-occurring.
Treat the enclosure. Eliminating the living mites on the snake is only half the battle. There are still live mites (and mite eggs) in the enclosure that must be eliminated to prevent re-infestation. First, remove all of the cage decor (wood, hide boxes, water dishes, etc.) All of these items will need to be thoroughly cleaned in a water and bleach solution. This is best accomplished by soaking the items in another large tub or trash can. Make sure that no part of the items are above the water level. The mites will climb up to prevent drowning, so the entire object must be submerged. You will need to let these items soak for about 20 minutes. While this is soaking, remove and discard all of the substrate (bark, sani-chips, etc) from your enclosure. To actually clean the cage you can use any mild cleanser, Zoo Med's Wipe Out #3 cage cleaner, or even better, the Reptile Relief can be used directly on the cage surfaces. Wipe down all surfaces thoroughly, and rinse with water if you suspect any residue. To get your cage glass sparkling clean use a non-toxic glass cleaner or rubbing alcohol. Avoid products with strong fumes or ammonia. After all (if any) fumes have dissipated, refill the cage with fresh substrate.
By now, your cage decorations should be ready for rinsing. Rinse them well with a strong jet of clean water until no evidence of bleach remains (odors, suds, etc). Letting the rinsed items dry in the hot sun is a great time saver.
Now you can replace all of your cage decor back into the cage EXCEPT for the water dish. That will go in last. Once the enclosure is all set up and looking great, it is time for the Provent-A-Mite. This stuff works great, but it is strong, so do not use any more than recommended. (See the directions on the Provent-A-Mite can for further information) Once it is dry, it is completely harmless to your snake, but in a liquid or gas form, it can be harmful (that is why you do not want the water dish in there when you spray.) You will now spray the Provent-A-Mite all over the bedding and decor at a rate of about one second per square foot (that's just over a second of spray for a 10 gallon tank). Allow the enclosure to air out for at least 15 minutes, or longer if you think you may have sprayed too much.
Replace animal and water dish. Finally, you can now add your snake and filled water dish to the completely mite-free enclosure.
In the grand scheme of things, spending an hour or two on this project isn't the end of the world, but it's certainly worth avoiding the stress on you and the animal. As a result, prevention is the best medicine. Luckily, the Provent-A-Mite will continue to protect your enclosure from mites for about a month. We recommend that every month you treat your enclosure as described regardless of whether mites are present or not. It only takes a few minutes. Just remember to take out your snake and water dish before spraying.