Respiratory diseases are common in captive snakes, but it can take extended time for signs to develop. In this study, 80 snakes (Boidae spp [n = 30], Pythonidae spp [n = 50]) from 48 collections were examined pre- and postmortem for respiratory infections. In many collections, respiratory infections were endemic and the collection was culled. BCSs ranged from poor to obese. All husbandry practices were technically acceptable for the species. Snakes were placed into 3 groups: no clinical signs (n = 21), respiratory signs (n = 25), and nonrespiratory clinical signs (n = 34). Respiratory signs were described as gasping and having cloudy tracheal wash samples with white–yellow clumps. Nonrespiratory signs included CNS signs, anorexia, vomiting, stomatitis, dermatitis, and diarrhea. Pneumonia was diagnosed in 36/80 snakes (45%) and from 29/48 (60%) collections. Pneumonia was more common with respiratory signs. The most commonly isolated bacterium was Salmonella spp. Ferlavirus was found only in pythons (8/50 Pythonidae spp). In living boid snakes with respiratory disease, tracheal washes were useful diagnostic tools.

Commentary
Poor husbandry frequently contributes to respiratory disease in snakes. A detailed husbandry discussion with owners is vital, paying special attention to details such as environmental temperature and humidity. It is important that clinicians know or research husbandry requirements for a given species rather than assuming most species have similar requirements. Of equal importance is infectious disease testing: the varied pathogens found in this study highlighted that identifying a bacterial or viral infection potentially causing respiratory disease is unpredictable, and thus specific diagnostics (eg, lung wash, viral testing) can be invaluable. General chemistry evaluation and imaging may also assist in determining diagnosis and illness severity.—Sarah Churgin, DVM

Source
Detection of pathogens in Boidae and Pythonidae with and without respiratory disease. Schmidt V, Marschang RE, Abbas MD, et al. VET REC 172:236, 2013.