A collection of concerning symptoms

So I have a corn snake who’s always been pretty odd, and I need some advice on whether his newest behavior is of concern, and if I should try an online vet or get to an in-person one.

I have a corn snake who I adopted from a rescue when he was estimated to be around 5 years old. That was back in 2018, so he’s probably reaching about 10 years old now. Since I got him he’s always been a chill, pretty lazy snake. He’s also had this habit of huffing or whistling whenever he exerts too much energy. It gets worse when he’s going into shed, but he’s done this for the entire nearly four years I’ve had him. Here’s what it sounds like:
https://www.youtube.com/shorts/4I3igRNcQrk

I make jokes about him not knowing how to care for himself because he would often spend minutes sipping water whenever I placed it in front of him, as if he desperately needed water that had been in his cage the whole time. I’m also unsure if this is a recent development, but he often takes a while to right anything past the first third or fourth of his body. The first part of his body uprights itself without a problem, but if I flip him upside down he just kinda…sits his head upright and looks at me pathetically.

He hasn’t been eating super well for about a year, although it’s only really gotten concerning in the last few months. He used to be a beast when it came to eating, but he sort of went off food winter 2020-2021 into spring, but recovered. This recent season was a lot worse and he hasn’t improved, though. I know male corns can go off food around breeding season, but as far as I know we’re well past that and I’m starting to get really concerned for him. He eats occasionally - I don’t have any other adults so I haven’t been defrosting adult mice for him anymore, but I offer him the next biggest size I defrost just in case and today he ate two fuzzies before deciding he wasn’t hungry anymore. He does that maybe once a month? I don’t know, he’s only been this bad for a couple of months so it’s hard to say what his pattern is.

I believe he’s overdue for a shed, however for about two years (if not longer) he was shedding pretty frequently for an adult corn. He only had a couple of bad sheds, and his most recent sheds have been good or at least good enough. I didn’t do as good of a job tracking his sheds as I would like, so I’m not aware of exactly how long it’s been since his last shed, I just know that at least 3 months ago I was expecting him to shed again soon and he just…hasn’t.

I also haven’t been keeping as good of track of his feedings as I probably should, but I do know that he’s been pooping pretty normally. Not that he normally has much to poop out these days.

Onto the more concerning stuff - two things. One, a few days ago I noticed his maybe stomach area seemed kind of red and swollen? I posted some pictures on Reddit that you can search through, but the best photos of it are at the end because I forgot to re-organize my photos after I mass uploaded them, whoops.

I’m checking today and I don’t see it at all, but I’m also in significantly worse lighting and its not especially noticeable to begin with, so I’m not sure if its actually gone or not.

And finally, the thing that made me extra concerned - I could see visible mucus in his mouth today while he was eating. I opened up his mouth (a few times because he kept closing it so I couldn’t get a good look) and most of the time there was a single strand of excess saliva or no strand at all. I’m not sure, is that normal? My two younger corns are too wriggly and small to do that to (and additionally I already fed one of them for the night, and the other can and will either jump four feet to the ground to get away from me or bite me, probably both, if i tried to do something like that) so I can’t compare with seemingly healthy corns. I know excess mucus is a sign of a respiratory infection, I just don’t know what quantifies as excess mucus. Here are some photos I managed to snap of his mouth, I apologize for the bad lighting and framing but I live alone so I couldn’t get someone else to snap a photo for me unfortunately.


There weren’t any bubbles that I could see in any of the attempts to open his mouth that I tried.

I know that the consensus is usually “if you think you need to take your pet to the vet, you should take your pet to the vet” which is a sentiment I respect but I guess what I’m asking here is how urgent it is. I have taken a snake to the vet before, who in fact also had anorexia (but was also younger and ate even less frequently), but I’m not sure if that vet is the best option since we never figured out what was wrong with my first corn and also with the pandemic I’m not even sure if she still works there. If I need to take him to the vet, I’m going to take him to the vet, I just need to know if I can take my time to find the best deal and/or best doctor or maybe even do a teledoc appointment, or if I need to get him into a vet as quickly as possible.

If there’s concerns about anything that isn’t just airborn (IE internal parasites): I’ve introduced almost nothing new to his enclosure in almost a year, and it’s been almost a year since I got my last corn, who hasn’t had any problems (unless you count being mildly spicy as a problem) and whose parents were tested for crypto before his sale to me. Anything new I have introduced was either from another snake’s cage (probably still should’ve sterilized, but again, my other two have had no problems) or washed and left to sit for a while before being put in his cage, and none of those objects were from reptile conventions or even marketed towards reptiles plus they were washed/left to sit with items that went in the other snakes’ cages. He spent most of his life at my parents’ house, and we moved into an apartment almost a year ago (a year in august). My mom has her own corn snake but he’s only missed a meal once (during breeding season while he was in shed) and has otherwise been fine since we got him as a baby about three years ago (january 2020, from an expo). All snakes were quarantined before being kept in the same room with one another, with the exception of the subject of this post because I didn’t have any other snakes at the time.

I’m also not sure if he might just be overweight? Or if he’s underweight? His body condition…confuses me greatly. Sometimes he looks overweight to me, and sometimes he looks underweight. I saw that underweight triangle shape when I was feeding him earlier because i had him on a flat hard surface, but then normally he looks overweight to me, and even has an indent by his spine. Like this photograph makes him look chonky to me. I was feeding him a bit frequently back when he was eating (a large mouse once a week when he isn’t very active) but I’d imagine he’s lost weight since then.

He’s kept on aspen with a red light, a setup I’m working on shifting him away from but the CHEs I bought aren’t hot enough for his cage, whoops. (I bought too many red lights before I found out they were bad, so of course I did the same thing with the CHEs that aren’t strong enough to heat up my snake enclosures! facepalm) In retrospect, he may be blind, either due to the red light or just because he’s a snow (possibly both). The rescue I got him from suggested this setup and unfortunately I didn’t do my research online, I just accepted it because it sounded the same as what I had heard when I researched for my first corn snake. Big mistake for sure, but I don’t see him pacing around anxiously due to the light so I assumed it was fine for a temporary thing. He has two humid hides filled with sphagnum moss that he loved so much they’ve become his permanent hides. I live somewhere really dry, so I think he needs the humidity, and it’s probably helpful even when he isn’t in shed, since then he can choose how humid he wants to be. I’m keeping him on a spectrum of about 75 to 85, normal corn temps. I just figured I’d give all my setup specs in case those become relevant.

Any advice is super appreciated. I’d love to be able to get a vet opinion online if that’s a possibility, if anyone has a service that accepts snakes for that - but I’m not sure if there are any good services for that so I’ll take him to a proper vet if need be. Finances are a concern but I have the means to take him if that’s what he needs, so opinions are very much welcome here. I’d also like to have some idea of what I could expect him to be diagnosed with, if anything - I like to do as much research on my own as I can beforehand, just so I know what to expect. Thanks for anyone who’s read this far.

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It sounds like he has something going on. Unfortunately, I think this is going to require a vet visit.

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Thank you for your input! I’m doing a bit of research on vets near me and I’m going to make a list of who to call up either later today or tomorrow to see if they can get me in sometime. I just hope that the progression of whatever’s wrong has been slow enough that it’s still not too late even though this has been going on for a while.

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The ARAV website has a vet locator if you’re looking for a reptile vet. arav.org

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What you’re describing are all symptoms that, together, go well beyond the scope of the advice that can be offered here and do require a vet visit. Specifically concerning to me is the excessive thirst, lump, wheezing, and the body condition confusion. A snake suffering from fluid retention will often look of a good body condition at a glance, but in reality it’s just swelling. Would explain why it changes, as well. This all suggests something systemic that should be assessed as soon as possible.

I do have a couple of questions/suggestions:
To assess for dehydration, you can carefully lift the skin and see how long it takes to return to normal. If it doesn’t spring back rather quickly, he’s dehydrated.

You said he has trouble righting himself, is it before or after the location of the lump?

My guess, based on the photos and body condition, this guy is likely older than 10. Age combined with everything, it’s just better to be cautious.

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I absolutely agree, this one needs to see a vet. You’ve laid out a pretty coherent story about him. Since there are so many indicators of potential problems, it would be very helpful for the vet if there is a way for you to send them notes ahead of your visit. If you can condense this backstory I think they’d appreciate getting it. Most veterinarians are willing to take more time to speak with owners than most human doctors can manage, but in potentially complex cases it can be helpful to review some case notes before meeting the patient.

Good luck, and please let us know what happens.

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Thank you all for the feedback! Once the vets open I’m going to call and see when I can get in.

Regarding Noodlehaus’ questions:

  • He doesn’t move very often from his sleeping spots, so I think he just…doesn’t get up to go drink? I could definitely be wrong about why he’s so thirsty though, but honestly neither result is good in my opinion!
  • I’ve tried the dehydration test on and off since he’s had these symptoms, and I want to say it’s normal but it’s hard to say. His skin is pretty wrinkly in general, but when i move it beyond its normal resting position, it seems to take less than a second to snap back into place. It’s not immediate, and I didnt pinch very much or very high (I mean, even within the safe limit - because I just tested it and didn’t want to disturb him too much) so it might be a touch slow, especially considering he should be fully hydrated from how much he drank last night. At the very least he doesn’t seem to be dangerously dehydrated.
  • So I don’t think I described the lump very well. It’s more like a step almost, because its only a noticeable bump on one side (the one closer to his head), with the other side flattening out with the rest of his body. I didn’t think to test the location but my guess is that he actually struggles righting himself right around that section, now that I think about it. He can right himself further down and doesn’t seem to struggle with it once he actually tries, but again, lethargy isn’t necessarily better than neurological issues.
  • I’m surprised you think he’s older than 10, but after watching my other corn snakes grow up I can definitely see that. He’s been the same size ever since I got him, and he’s quite a bit bigger than my mom’s three year old. And despite that, I wouldn’t call him a big snake, just that he’s been fully grown this whole time. It’s good to know so that I can tell the vet he might be older than that - so thank you for your observation!

I’ll definitely keep everyone posted! He did eat a little last night, so he should have something in his stomach even if I can’t get him in until next week. Thanks for all your help!

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I hope you’re able to get him in soon. Several of those symptoms are concerning in themselves. Having all this them is definitely worrisome. Good luck and do let us know!

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Thank you for such thorough further information, your descriptions are incredibly helpful (and will be to the vet as well). The reason I think he’s older than 10 is he has that old snake body type. The skin gets looser, muscle tone diminishes, and they become less active. That said, those could all also be related to his condition, but just the way he holds himself in photos leads me to believe he’s on the older side.

In regards to his hydration, that doesn’t seem too concerning. The lump being more of a “step” actually makes me a bit more concerned, especially if that’s around the area he’s having issues righting. Same with the lethargy, even with an older snake you’d expect a bit more activity & vigor. I’m glad he’s still taking food, that’s always a positive. Wishing you the best with the vet appointment when you can get him in. You’re incredibly detailed in your observations, which is a huge asset in a situation like this, because you know what his normal is, and what has changed.

I’ll keep you both in my thoughts, he’s a beautiful boy and I can tell he means a lot to you!

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That makes a lot of sense regarding you believing he’s older. I had heard of the signs of a snake getting older once before and I noticed many of those on my snake as well.

The rescue I got him from did specifically mention that he /may/ have a weakened immune system as a result of being a commonly inbred morph. I’m wondering if they knew something I didn’t, but regardless, it could be possible that he’s physically aging faster/could die younger than average based on genetics, from my understanding. Of course I’m hoping that’s not what’s already happening, but I wouldn’t be surprised if health-wise he’s got the condition of an older snake, regardless of his actual age. He was used as a program animal before I adopted him for who knows how long, so it’s possible that their “young adult” estimate was off, and even if it wasn’t that’s still a range of about 3-8 years, and its been over 4 years since I got him.

I have an appointment scheduled for Monday now, and I’m just hoping we can get to the bottom of what’s wrong as quickly as possible! For now I’m just keeping an eye on him, he seems to still be thermoregulating and like I mentioned before his poops have all seemed normal so I’m hoping that’s a good sign that whatever’s going on is treatable!

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Sounds like the rescue was passing on a bit of a misconception. It’s true that most morphs were developing by inbreeding/ line breeding after a recessive trait first appeared. However, there’s a very large population of CB corns and genes for most common traits are pretty widely distributed now. Your boy looks like a Snow, which is Anery and Amel. Those alleles are very common. Inbreeding is unlikely to factor into his issues.

You mentioned that he recently ate for you. If he passes waste before his vet appointment, put it in a clean plastic bag and put it in the back of the refrigerator. It’s cooler in the back away from the frequently- opened door. Don’t freeze it, though.

Not knowing his age makes it tricky to guess. Corns can be healthy and active well into late teens or twenties but of course not all of them are. Your boy landed in a rescue so he likely lived in less than ideal conditions for an unknown time. In any case, your long term attentiveness and observations will be so helpful for his vet. Wishing you the best.

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Everything @caryl said is spot on, sounds like the rescue wasn’t quite up to date on their information. The thing with snakes is they don’t really grow in a trackable pattern. You can’t look at teeth like you would in a mammal, so estimates are very broad. Aside from the ability to tell a neonate/juvenile/adult apart, anything after adult is basically just a guess based on size and physical signs. The fact that the rescue said he was a program animal also lends to the fact he may be older, as usually program animals are only re-homed once they’re “retired” by their handlers.

I hope your appointment goes well and they have good news and treatments for you. It sounds like he’s still got quality of life, so fingers crossed you get more happy years together!

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Hi everyone! I got back from the vet a while ago, but I was too overwhelmed to post an update just yet. Thankfully the news isn’t too bad, there was just a lot to take in. Disclaimer: Just going to use his name (Phantom) because I’m probably going to slip up and call him that accidentally anyways so I just want to make sure no one gets too confused!

The vet did her initial examination and determined that he seems to be in good health despite his skin being a bit crusty from not shedding (she didnt say that but I noticed it today, poor guy looks almost dusty). He’s a perfect weight and the lumps seem to just be poop (she also did a quick x-ray to double check and yep, its just poop). She did say that 10+ is pretty old for a corn snake, which I’m not sure I fully agree with but regardless Phantom looks old and I don’t know his exact age, so I get what she was saying. She said that the symptoms he’s experiencing may just be a result of old age, and that when he stops eating completely / gets to an unhealthy weight it may be time to put him to sleep, but currently he still has a pretty good quality of life.

But after taking his fecal to the back (thank you for the tip about putting it in the fridge by the way!) and doing an examination on it, apparently he’s got quite a few parasites. Of course I don’t know exactly what kind, just the medication he’s using (panacur suspension). Apparently the parasites can come from his food - obviously I buy frozen/thawed but I’m not my own supplier nor do I get my supply from a local supplier, I get them online from a big distributor. I’ve used several distributors over Phantom’s lifetime so it’s hard to say for certain where it came from, but regardless, parasites are contagious, and I always defrosted Phantom’s food in the same bag I used to defrost the food for my other snakes. Additionally, my mom’s snake (she lives about 40 minutes from me and Phantom and another one of my snakes used to live at my parents’ house) has been eating more recently from the same stock as Phantom. He also happens to be showing more lethargy than he used to. Her snake is still eating, he only ever refused one meal and it was because he was in shed and it was breeding season so I don’t really blame him. But the symptoms line up with the same parasites Phantom has. My other two don’t seem to be symptomatic, but Phantom’s behavior has steadily decreased over such a long period of time that I haven’t been quarantining him from the other two that I feel like their infection is inevitable. The vet wants to do a fecal sample on each of the other snakes before prescribing treatment though (which is fair) but she said I can just drop them off without an appointment, so that at least helps my wallet, even if the fecal exams are a bit pricey (overall cheaper than I expected though so I’m not complaining!). I’m not able to get over there super easily though as I don’t drive, so it might be a few weeks before I can get them tested and treated. As for Phantom, the treatment is going to take about two months and it may not improve his appetite, but im still happy to treat it because I want him to have the best quality of life possible in his older age, so I can hopefully have a few more years with him.

As far as the food goes, the vet basically said it’s not too uncommon. I was a bit shellshocked and mostly focused on his treatment so I forgot to ask her some basic questions, like if I should throw away his current food, but she didn’t say anything about doing that despite saying its still a good idea to try and feed him so I’m not really sure what to do…? It’s entirely possible this batch isn’t what caused the parasites anyways, but I will say I have no plans on buying from there again. I used it initially on recommendation from the breeder of my youngest, but more recently when asked about ethical frozen rodent distributors (because they have a blog) they didn’t mention the distributor/said they don’t buy from distributors anymore and mentioned that some distributors have declined in quality since the pandemic, so I’m wondering if the breeder got a bad batch of mice from them or had some other bad experience with them. Not blaming the breeder at all of course, but I’m not even sure where to buy from even if I did throw out all the mice I currently have (which I have quite a bit).

One thing that came to mind for me first was reptilinks though. It’s something I’ve thought about for a while since I really don’t enjoy feeding rodents anyways, but I’ve never made the switch because of costs. If reptilinks are likely to be safe from the parasites that are found in frozen mice though, that would definitely push me to buy reptilinks instead. But I’m not sure if they’re any more or less likely to have parasites than frozen mice are. I have to do some more research about sizing and look to see if there’s a way to get a semi-cheap sample pack, just to make sure my snakes will eat it before investing in a whole lot of them, but they’re corn snakes so I feel like they could make the shift somewhat easily. I’m mostly unsure about Phantom himself - the others would probably take my fingers off if I let them so I think they would make the shift easily, assuming I find a size small enough for my juveniles. Not sure if anyone here has any experience with reptilinks especially for this purpose, but advice or opinions on it or on the food situation as a whole are greatly appreciated!

Thanks for all your help so far! Hopefully the treatment works and helps him feel better soon, I’m just glad it’s nothing too serious even if it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare!

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Hopefully you can get him treated for those. I’m not sure how the parasites/eggs survived being frozen, so I think that’s weird. Here’s a thread on reptilinks if you want to learn more about them.

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I have to ask, did she listen to heart & lung sounds, and did you show her the wheezing video? Considering her diagnosis of parasites, those symptoms could be old age, or related to the burden.

Panacur is for the treatment of nematodes. Based on symptoms, exam, and treatment, I’d say he’s likely got Ascarids (Hookworms are usually killed by freezing temperatures, which would rule them out). The problem with ascarids is, the larva can migrate through the bloodstream and cause issues with the lungs. If Phantom has had a high burden for a long time (as your post suggests), I’d be doing a blood panel if possible (renal system can be affected) and considering the wheezing, making sure there was no secondary pneumonia. I’d honestly call the vet’s office and ask them for all the information you need.

Ask them about feeding from your stock rodents (and perhaps if you can afford, if they’d test one from your supply to rule it out). Second, find out exactly what parasites they’re treating, and ask if you need to worry about any secondary lung issues from larval migration. I’d see if they can’t email you a visit summary, as well, so you have it for your records.

It highly depends on the temperatures at which they were frozen & stored. If you don’t go cold enough, certain parasites can survive. Bigger question is, was it actually the mice, and if so, why the supplier was selling anything with a parasite load?

I’d be questioning the parasite source and whether or not it pre-dates OP’s ownership of the animal. You can have a long-standing parasite burden that takes a while to overwhelm the system. Phantom has been with the OP for 4 years and declining steadily, might’ve come from the rescue already infected, especially if they don’t follow proper quarantine and cleaning procedures on new intakes. Phantom also could have possibly been fed live at a previous point in his life, thus acquiring the infection.

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Thanks for updating us on Phantom, @teamcapumon. I’m glad that you were able to get something done which will hopefully help him. I’m gonna say straight up that you’re correct in this.

Corns in captivity commonly live and thrive into their late teens and even twenties. That said, you’re also correct in accepting that Phantom’s age is unknown. I’m pointing out that you’re right about 10 not being old for reference for anybody who isn’t clear on the point.

@noodlehaus and @erie-herps make excellent points. Every point. It’s worth repeating that you should ask for the vet’s complete exam/office notes as well as the visit record of diagnosis and charges which is commonly given when you pay the bill. You may want them for a second opinion, but even if you don’t plan to do that, things happen and people move around and Phantom may end up being seen by another vet who’d benefit from knowing this info.

If the notes seem incomplete, don’t be afraid to ask for clarity. Sometimes vets write very detailed case notes, sometimes they don’t. This can be personal style or time pressure, but either way if you ask them nicely to expand on it they normally will. You can add your written notes to Phantom’s records at home, too. (I do this with all my animals’ records, and all of my humans’. True ridiculous explanation, our last name is Ulrich. Our son had trouble with paperwork when he joined the Navy because he/we couldn’t get the orthopedic records from a childhood injury. Apparently the doctor lost all records from the lower drawers in Katrina’s storm surge so the end-of-alphabet folks were out of luck.)

In the interim between now and getting other fecal samples tested, be very sure you aren’t switching water dishes or whatever without thourough cleaning. Wash your hands well after touching anything for each snake. It’s unlikely that you would transmit any internal parasite this way but still possible. You semms very conscientious and you’re probably already doing the right things here.

It is worth getting a feeder tested. Although there no way to know just where or when Phantom got the parasites, it might help you make a decision about whether to continue to use the supplier. It does sound to me like he’s had the problem since before he came to you. I don’t know if your supplier is willing to give info about how they ensure the health of their feeders, but some do if you ask.

One additional thing, since Phantom is having shed/dry skin issues, it’s worth trying to give him a pile of damp sphagnum moss. Soak it for a couple hours then hand-squeeze out as much water as you can. You want damp, not wet. Mist it every couple of days, fluffing as you do. His respiratory issues make for an extra challenge here, but if you put the moss into something like a plastic shoebox and leave the cover off, he can wriggle around in it while also being easily able to keep his head where he is able to breathe comfortably. His external issues won’t fully resolve until his internal issues do, but he can maybe be a bit more comfortable.

Kudos to you for your care of your creatures! Hopefully Phantom will feel better soon.

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