sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Captive care and husbandry discussions.

Moderator: Scott Waters

Post Reply
User avatar
AndyO'Connor
Posts: 1019
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:14 pm
Location: Pacific Northwest

sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by AndyO'Connor » November 8th, 2014, 5:33 pm

I JUST lost my female gopher snake that I collected as a neonate off a rd in southern Nevada in May of 2012. She was an excellent feeder and showed me no signs of illness. I fed her about 10 days ago and went to feed her today and she was sitting still, gaping and hissing... She looked bloated and I thought maybe she had to poop really bad or something so I put her in a shallow warm bath. She writhed around and seizured a couple times like a snake freshly hit by a car and I recorded the last 2 minutes of it. I felt helpless.her body was pretty rigid like she was tense in the middle, but squishy and limp towards the cloaca. I had a western hognose do this about 5 years ago. Any ideas?

Tamara D. McConnell
Posts: 2249
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 10:42 am

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Tamara D. McConnell » November 8th, 2014, 6:02 pm

I've no idea about the cause, but I am sorry for your loss.

simus343
Posts: 566
Joined: March 30th, 2014, 12:16 pm
Location: Okaloosa ca, Fla.

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by simus343 » November 10th, 2014, 7:30 am

Did you autopsy the hognose or gopher snake?

I have known people to lose snakes from parasite contamination where a small invertebrate may venture inside and somehow through some astronomical alignment, contaminate the owner's mice, fish, lizards, or frogs. This wasn't just one odd occurrence either, it was multiple from several people across Escambia, Okaloosa, Walton, Orange, and Leon counties. They cut open their animals to find bacteria blooms or parasitic worm infestations.

Also, during warm weather I keep a live Southern Toad supply outside for my Eastern Hognose Snakes. Occasionally, one will be bitten by a spider (this is as far as I can tell via symptoms). The "symptoms" start by swelling and a raw spot starting to develop. The skin then starts to fall apart until the toad dies. It then continues to fall apart as the infection causes further flesh rot. My guess is spiders, because spiders ranging from little jumping spiders to black widows will get into the tanks when they are outside. It could also be a very aggressive bacteria - either way I usually separate all of the toads until little tubs and sterilize the cages when this occurs.
Being in Arizona, is there a chance a scorpion or black widow got into your cages and bit the snakes? I don't know if this would kill the snakes or not as some species are resistant to snake venom, but its just a guess.

As far as unusual deaths I only ever saw one that we later revealed the cause of by autopsy. A friend of mine had just got a year old baby Southern Hognose Snake, trained on mice from birth. He gave it a "pinky" that wasn't quite pinky enough, as the snake's appetite was bigger than how much the stomach could expand. The little snake's insides had blown out from eating a "pinky" that was too large. Now, I doubt this was the case, but if you should autopsy the snakes, or if you get someone experience to do it, it may be worth looking for just in case.

Again, these are just things I have seen happen - it would be hard to know unless you autopsy the snake and also take a close examination at the conditions of the snakes as far as feeding, what vitamins were they getting, etc. They may have lacked a vitamin or had too much, causing a neurological issue resulting in a seizure for all I know. Something affecting the brain, be it bio-chemical or parasitic, would likely explain or give insight to the thrashing and seizures before death.

I'm sorry for you loss and I hope you find out what the issue was. If you do, it may be worth sharing in case others have had similar issues and just haven't brought up the topic.

User avatar
AndyO'Connor
Posts: 1019
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:14 pm
Location: Pacific Northwest

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by AndyO'Connor » November 10th, 2014, 8:53 am

I have the snake refrigerated and was thinking about cutting her open. It's been 15 years since I've done a necropsy or dissection of an animal. I'm not sure I'd know what to look for. All the tanks are open enough that I'd notice a spider of dangerous or significant size.

I'm not in AZ, I'm in WA and the snakes are all fed live feeders that are store bought from the same place. The hognose 5 years ago was not, it was fed frozen mice from petco. She was eating full grown mice which were big meals for her, but so has the male of equal age and he is slightly smaller in build than her and he's still alive, so I don't think it was internal damage from a meal. She was also a much more efficient constrictor and was never bitten by a meal. I suppose if there is a large worm or parasite infestation I will see it, but I don't know.

Zach_Lim
Posts: 1607
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 7:37 pm
Location: San Francisco, CA
Contact:

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Zach_Lim » November 11th, 2014, 2:23 pm

This same exact thing happened to a small CalKing I had a few years ago. Ate a pink, started seizing up, spiraling, knotting itself, and just like that, dead.

No idea...

Kfen
Posts: 399
Joined: June 17th, 2010, 4:51 am
Location: CT

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kfen » November 11th, 2014, 7:17 pm

No ideas here either, but also had it happen recently.
Had an adult bamboo rat for ~1.5 years. Always ate frozen but still wrapped them up. I fed it like normal, it struck and wrapped up the mouse. A few minutes later I heard a commotion, and the snake was writhing around with some blood around its mouth. It was dead within an hour. I had a vet do a necropsy (without histology because it was cost prohibitive) and it all came up inconclusive.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 11th, 2014, 8:11 pm

Sorry for the loss of the snake.

All of us here know by now how difficult and variable it can be to get a solid diagnosis, sometimes even with diagnostics!

its hard to know sometimes if symptoms were actually present, creeping along, or if the death was indeed sudden.

A sudden asymptomatic death in veterinary care also involves examining the potential of a mechanical cause, ie; a non pathogenic one. These include chemical or injury causes, arterial clots, obstructions and other organ operational "fails" .

It would be rational to look at obvious clues and tendencies in the environment and husbandry and personally I think if a snake is only eating one type of food item and you aren't producing it yourself, it would make sense to have an analysis done on it, but who can do that really? And where to go but a very good vet or university.

Mice are used in college metabolic research quite frequently its a common teaching lesson, and these mice can find their way in brokered rodent feeder supply houses. Its good to avoid those sources and make sure the mice you get are grown on site, Anything to narrow the profile of unknown health influences on our guys. Especially with our new faceless web commerce, with work and business ethics that appear to be waning with it.

I also would be extremely cautious using chain store feeders.

The workers there are in an extremely anthropocentric hyper retail environment and I know personally as a room mate, a person who worked at one and was ordered by a manager to spray ant poison on items that were to meant to be sold and have direct reptile contact.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 11th, 2014, 9:38 pm

One last thing on this sad subject -

Spasms and contractions are a common accompaniment of death. They are grotesque and dramatic to witness so its easy to focus on it, but death throes are not a reliable symptom of etiology or clue of any thing other than process of dying. Rarely actually do reptiles die without some degree of it.

simus343
Posts: 566
Joined: March 30th, 2014, 12:16 pm
Location: Okaloosa ca, Fla.

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by simus343 » November 12th, 2014, 6:56 am

That is interesting Kelly, I did not know that spasms are usually accompanied with death in snakes. I though it was just something done to ham-it-up when snakes fake it. That would certainly explain the instinctive behavior of Heterodons thrashing about while playing dead. The snakes that I have had that have died through illness usually just find a spot to bask and then go peacefully, giving no hint that they are dead until I check on them.

It seems odd to me that the cases where the snakes have died have been involving the consumption of rodents. As Kelly said, it could be supplier based. If it can be determined that the cause of death was indeed food related, perhaps those of you whom have suffered losses through food-related death (of the same food type) could find out if you all have been using the same supplier?

If not supplier based, I do find it rather odd that rodents were centered around this, not birds, lizards, other snakes, frogs, fish, etc.
Out of extreme curiosity on this note I mentioned above, has anyone ever had this happen shortly after a feeding involving another type of food item?

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 12th, 2014, 9:24 am

simus343 wrote:That is interesting Kelly, I did not know that spasms are usually accompanied with death in snakes. I though it was just something done to ham-it-up when snakes fake it. That would certainly explain the instinctive behavior of Heterodons thrashing about while playing dead. The snakes that I have had that have died through illness usually just find a spot to bask and then go peacefully, giving no hint that they are dead until I check on them.

It seems odd to me that the cases where the snakes have died have been involving the consumption of rodents. As Kelly said, it could be supplier based. If it can be determined that the cause of death was indeed food related, perhaps those of you whom have suffered losses through food-related death (of the same food type) could find out if you all have been using the same supplier?

If not supplier based, I do find it rather odd that rodents were centered around this, not birds, lizards, other snakes, frogs, fish, etc.
Out of extreme curiosity on this note I mentioned above, has anyone ever had this happen shortly after a feeding involving another type of food item?
Hi Simus, yes without coming to any conclusion in the format we have here, only between us all, I agree it can't help but cross the mind.
I would suspect it would be some stupid spray used heavy handedly on the colonies for pest control, and not a pathogenic bug passed. If mice are bitten up and raw customers complain and want to send back their frozens. With live mice its the same, plus some species of chiggers are large and orange and you can't have that on your product. They may have even meant well, reading bs on the lable of the can, which said use of product does not include rodents for food specs, or even have the foggiest idea about it. Or the company doesn't care and is concerned with immediate profit, since problems with reptiles will be unpursued in almost every case, and virtually untracable as we see time and time again, because of limited access to solid pursuit of investigation.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 12th, 2014, 10:01 am

There is also the more likely possibility of the cases on this thread having different causes

Kfen
Posts: 399
Joined: June 17th, 2010, 4:51 am
Location: CT

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kfen » November 12th, 2014, 10:48 am

At least in my case, I have two theories, neither one of which involves a bad mouse. The snake did not actually ingest the mouse, and it was from the same bag of frozen that was fed to that snake, and others, before and after.

The first theory is that it was a freak accident that the snake injured itself while forcefully striking the mouse. Either the injury caused the death directly, or the snake writhed in pain and bashed its head against the side of the enclosure/cage furniture and that injury caused death.

The second theory is that there was some underlying internal organ issue that came to a head during the feeding response. The vet had said something about the heart (she was using very some serious medical terms with a thick accent over the phone so I am not exactly sure what). But she said it was not conclusive if it was post mortem or not. If I had gotten a histology report done, it may have shed some more light.

As Kelly said, there can be many causes, and many reptiles can be ill for a long time without showing obvious symptoms.

Also, if I read it correctly, I believe the original poster's snake did not die during feeding.

simus343
Posts: 566
Joined: March 30th, 2014, 12:16 pm
Location: Okaloosa ca, Fla.

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by simus343 » November 12th, 2014, 12:03 pm

The first, the impact injury to the head, I believe the thrashing would have been almost immediate if it was a reaction to pain from a bad strike.

Now the injury I can see to be very likely, especially if the snake was wild collected or a rescue and had been injured prior to you acquiring it. I had a Thamnophis sauritus for 9 months that had sustained an injury from an AC unit fan blade. The snake because all but about 1cm of the tail was gone, and the upper third of the ventral scales had been ripped off. It had been feeding fine on cricket frogs and mosquito fish for 9 months. One day I offered it 4 cricket frogs. 2 days later the snake was dead, and when I lifted it up to check it over externally blood came streaming from the mouth as though it had suffered massive internal injuries. I believe an old wound in the neck was re-opened by a cricket frog a little too large for the damaged neck, and for whatever reason the blood did not clot like it did originally.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 12th, 2014, 12:49 pm

Sometimes blood just purges out of a dead specimen as part of the decomp process which starts in the abdominal cavity.

I dont think snakes get injured very readily from size issues of ingested prey, especially with what has shown itself to be within capacity for the species.

Im not talking about rodent attacks and lacerations, but some of what has been posted about self induced trauma impact while striking, (i dont know if i am on the right track with what im reading)

I just dont see that happening. What Kfen said about underlying issues becoming acute and coming to a head during the feeding event, which is systemically, the most intense event that happens for a snake, makes perfect sense to me imo

User avatar
BillMcGighan
Posts: 2308
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 8:23 am
Location: Unicoi, TN

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by BillMcGighan » November 12th, 2014, 4:41 pm

Andy, sorry for the event; not expected losses are sometimes the most frustrating.


There could be several causes, but a common one is an exposure to insecticide fumes:
...One was my nephew who had a Mexican Milk in an open top screen aquarium. Unknown to my nephew, an exterminator sprayed the house that morning.
...A second was the same type event except the exterminator did not spray the animal room, but did spray around the central air intake duct.
...Third was my own ignorance: in the '70s when Shell No-pest Strips were regularly used in reptile rooms for general mite control. Apparently, some species were exceptionally sensative to this.

You know best if this was possible.


I heard of a sudden loss of an animal from a spike in the chlorine in the tap water.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 12th, 2014, 5:47 pm

Hey Bill, yeah insecticides and novel agents can be a problem, they can sweep in like a tremulous reaper, or bioaccumulation is unknown until another stressor factors in, and then a failure to thrive .

Or maybe nothing appears blatantly out of order but an animal might never be as sound renally and neurologically as it would have been if not for the exposure. So might as well be careful.

I must take a respectful pause to comment about the chlorine spike causing death in a snake. And Bill it is only because I have a reason, so bear with me please. .. Chlorine is a heavily data'd agent, much, much is known about its action and levels of tolerance on organisms and without going into arduous commentary, it is actually shockingly well tolerated per ingestion, and contact.

Breathing chlorine is more problemetic, in poorly ventilated containers because of the inflamation it can cause to respiratory works, but a snake would not drink enough normal tap water albeit a spike (?), or from a casually bleached dish, to cause death. It could be a distressing and exaccerbating factor, perhaps in tandem with rough stressor or prior regurgitation, but not alone.

The Reason Why I mention this, is trepidation that a person reading will become fearful of a very effective well documented disinfectant husbandry agent. Or replace their animals drinking water with distilled water, which is arguably more unnatural for animals to drink then ordinary tap water.

User avatar
BillMcGighan
Posts: 2308
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 8:23 am
Location: Unicoi, TN

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by BillMcGighan » November 12th, 2014, 6:21 pm

The Reason Why I mention this, is trepidation that a person reading will become fearful of a very effective well documented disinfectant husbandry agent. Or replace their animals drinking water with distilled water, which is arguably more unnatural for animals to drink then ordinary tap water.
Yeah, Kelly, the chlorine story had many, many gaps in credibility, and you bring up a good point that unreasonable fear of this might make some sacrifice disinfection.

The jury will disregard the chlorine event.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 12th, 2014, 6:29 pm

:lol: Okeydokey Chief!

-Mr McMurphy

Kfen
Posts: 399
Joined: June 17th, 2010, 4:51 am
Location: CT

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kfen » November 13th, 2014, 6:14 am

I think I should also expand on Kelly's warning of distilled water. It should never be used for drinking water. Distilled water can sometimes burst cells trying to reach equilibrium of ions/minerals.

User avatar
AndyO'Connor
Posts: 1019
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:14 pm
Location: Pacific Northwest

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by AndyO'Connor » November 13th, 2014, 9:08 am

Insecticides are unlikely, I haven't used anything other than some anti pest paper (the blue stuff) and that was a couple of years ago. I received an offer from a friend to do a free necropsy I just need to ship the snake, so I am doing that as soon as I receive the Flagyl he is sending me for the remaining live snakes. I figured it could be a protozoan bloom or something that was in the snake all along and maybe the change in weather outside triggered a "want" by the snake to cool down and since I don't cool my snakes and I feed through the winter, maybe that stressed her out and gave way to parasitic overload. We hopefully will get an answer from the necropsy.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 13th, 2014, 9:29 am

It is doubtful an accurate histology can be obtained from your snakes body at this point.

simus343
Posts: 566
Joined: March 30th, 2014, 12:16 pm
Location: Okaloosa ca, Fla.

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by simus343 » November 13th, 2014, 1:28 pm

A protist bloom would make sense though. It seems somewhat common in stressed snakes that have a reduced immune system for whatever reason.

User avatar
justinm
Posts: 3430
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:26 am
Location: Illinois
Contact:

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by justinm » November 21st, 2014, 5:36 am

Andy,

I've seen this twice. I don't attribute mine to husbandry issues, so I don't feel bad or guilty. Neither should you, I know you put time and care into your animals, always have. For me this happened with a Corn Snake, and a Chain King. At different times years apart.

User avatar
AndyO'Connor
Posts: 1019
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:14 pm
Location: Pacific Northwest

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by AndyO'Connor » November 21st, 2014, 8:35 am

Thanks Justin. I shipped the snake to a vet friend who is going to do a necropsy anyways, so maybe I will find out, even though it has been almost 2 weeks.

User avatar
regalringneck
Posts: 563
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 5:20 am

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by regalringneck » November 29th, 2014, 7:07 am

Greetings all, & Andy, my condolences.

My # 1 pt to you would be did that earlier hognose live in the same vivarium? ... if so theres likely the problem (& why used cages are really a bad idea). The few captives ive had croak, seemed to die a peaceful death, only w/ crypto ( internet sales : { ) did i see obvious distress when regurging, but i normally euthanized these poor creatures (may have actually cured a few rockboas) and never did let one waste away. Captive herps generally are trouble free, but do it enough & we will have mixed experiences.
An ingested blockage (my guess) ought to still be discernible, upon gross necropsy. i await your results.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 29th, 2014, 11:34 am

I think it should be said in light of the caliber of this site, that there is a real problem in posting casual, anonymous necropsy results.

It has a power to contaminate the body of knowledge with pseudo veracity, just by the anointment of clinical term.

Autolysis and exploded blooms of organisms that can be both commensal And disease producing can muddle findings, its not like csi on tv - even for the best veterinary surgeons who draw a line of demarcation in determining etiology.

Swollen bowels in decomposed animals do not accountably determine crypto, acid stain tests do.

I think ingested materials comprise a significant percentage of mystery deaths, the effects of obstructions are often simplified in internet discussions and underestimated, I think because of nervousness and allegiances to methods and matter we have often come to trust and depend on, because of using them Without A Problem in our personal collections.

Also, any insecticide used at any time cant be deleted from a spectrum of factors.
I would include it as potential using any unresearched on reptiles agent - which is most.

I dread when I have to, but hit it quick and thorough with what ever I choose to use for the circumstance. Eliminating animals living in proxy to it for days or in repetition.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 29th, 2014, 12:18 pm

There has been an absence of input from veterinarians in internet format which is unfortunate but understandable.

It could be so helpful - not in distal diagnosis but in presenting cool stuff to learn.

I cant help but think there would be more willingness to do so if defined lines of reporting were followed generally, no matter what. Bits and pieces of information take on a life of their own - they always have since the beginning before the internet, but words in print and polished format sink in fast and furious.

In a thread I posted here about an anole post mortem ingesting a polymer crystal, you will see an absence of the word Necropsy. I do not think items rifled out of a pen cup on the counter to open the abdomen of an animal can be called A Necropsy.

Although the cause of death seemed plain, with a fresh dead anole and a huge blood infused polymer crystal, it was not a Necropsy.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » November 30th, 2014, 1:10 am

Nothing is more piercing interpersonally to me than when a compassionate person who's involvement with animals is the real deal, loses an animal especially in a way like what you describe Andy.

I hope nothing posted seemed discouraging but these are events that give us an opportunity to dig dig dig, and supportive convo can be found anywhere. In some sites that is all it is, and its great for making friends and social connections I guess but not for really exploring topics. Topics like this often tentacle out diversely, inciting research and help in ways we may not even know.

User avatar
regalringneck
Posts: 563
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 5:20 am

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by regalringneck » November 30th, 2014, 6:30 am

... more good stuff, also after ingestion issues, i'd look for T (2 hi), & then an accident; the cage lid or a rock fall squeezing its cabeza type of explanations ... the simple stuff ...

User avatar
AndyO'Connor
Posts: 1019
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:14 pm
Location: Pacific Northwest

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by AndyO'Connor » February 5th, 2015, 7:12 pm

Results of necropsy say most likely was crypto, as there were signs in the intestines and other organs. No for sure prognosis could be made due to the length of time between death and the exam, but crypto fits most of the pre-death symptoms and body condition after death.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by Kelly Mc » February 5th, 2015, 10:26 pm

that sucks Andy.) : you worded your conclusions well, and I have heard per some pretty credible sources that the thickening of the walls is very distinctive. I don't know how much integrity of characteristic holds out thru stages of decomposition but for the protection of collection I always act on the worse case precautionary agenda for preventing spread of such a bad bug.

Its really useful to look on accredited disinfection tables for agents and protocol.

You really cant beat just binding everything up tight and discarding it.

I recently lost a favorite animal too - my old Acanthosaura . She diagnosed oral neoplasm, it became too painful for her to eat, dubious prognosis so I made the choice to have her euthanized. Im still very sad about it.

User avatar
AndyO'Connor
Posts: 1019
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:14 pm
Location: Pacific Northwest

Re: sudden death of a seemingly healthy gopher snake?

Post by AndyO'Connor » February 6th, 2015, 9:10 am

Sorry for your loss, but it sounds like you made the responsible and humane choice for the animal. Removed the enclosure from the room the day she died, and wiped the metal rack shelf she was on with clorox wipes. I also threw all of my snake bags in the washer with a splash of bleach, and vinegar, and ran them threw another cycle with no additives, just water. Every other animal in the room appears just fine for the moment, I didn't want to do too much in a short period of time and possibly cross contaminate.

Post Reply