Inclusion Body Disease
Inclusion Body Disease
Stephanie H Moy, DVM
As the pet industry
has grown, snakes have become a popular pet.
However, with the growth of their popularity there is an
important illness that can have a startling affect on many snakes
in the boa and python family.
This illness is called Inclusion body disease (IBD).
It is a disease still not fully understood.
However, there are great strides to find improvement in
diagnosing and treating this disease.
IBD was first
identified as a disease in the
in the 1970s. This
disease is characterized by the formation of intracytoplasmic
inclusions. In other
words, there are abnormal protein materials within a normal cell.
The clinical signs
generally seen primarily involve the central nervous system.
The most common clinical signs are listed below.
Torticollis (“wry neck”,”head-tilt):
This can involve just the head or majority of the body.
We have personally seen snakes with their upper half of the
body turned 180°.
Disequilibrium: The snakes do not seem to be
steady. When handled,
the movements can be erratic.
Inability to right itself. Generally you will
see a snake on its back and unable to right itself.
This can be due to many factors.
Since the nerves are affected it can be due to lack of
proprioception (knowledge of knowing body position) or weakness
(lack of nerve communication).
Flaccid Paralysis: This is the generally
weakness of muscles most likely due to the nerves not firing
Regurgitation of food: This can happen after
several days post eating.
Secondary bacterial infection: Generally
mouth and respiratory infections.
IBD, we have to take into consideration other disease processes
that can cause these neurological signs.
If an animal is not given the proper diet a lack of certain
vitamins and minerals can cause neurological signs.
Any trauma to the head or spine.
When the kidneys are not functioning properly, crystallization of
uric acid can occur onto the nerves.
The improper use of pesticides (to kill mites), medications, and
environmental agents (i.e.: wood shavings with high resin
bacterial, or viral infection of the nervous system.
At this time there
is no single affordable diagnostic test that will diagnose IBD.
At Chicago Exotics we recommend bloodwork and radiographs
to be performed to see if there are other underlying disease
Bloodwork consist of a complete blood count (CBC) and
biochemistry. A CBC
informs us if there are any infections, inflammation, or anemia.
Any changes to the CBC need to be addressed to allow the
snake to improve. Biochemistry
allows us to help evaluate the function of the organs.
If the biochemistry indicates certain organs are not
functionally well, it can help us determine if there are other
disease processes affecting the snake.
Radiographs help us evaluate the bone density as well as
evaluate the spine.
At this time the
best way to diagnose IBD is taking biopsies, or taking small
pieces of tissues. These
biopsies are considered a surgical procedure and the snake needs
be under anesthesia. In
most cases, a flexible endoscope with a biopsy device is used to
biopsy the esophageal tonsils which are generally well developed
in boid snakes. However,
if the tonsils are not seen, then an incision is made over the
liver to take some tissue. Through
special staining, we may see lymphoid cells or mucous epithelial
cells with intracytoplasmic inclusions.
Unfortunately, if the staining does show cells have been
affected, there is no cure for IBD.
At this time the
cause and the route of transmission are not known.
Many of the snakes, but not all, identified with IBD have
been also affected by a virus.
IBD may represent a protein-storage diseased induced by a
viral infection or mutation within the protein to act
route of transmission is not determined but it is suspected that
direct contact is needed. Historically,
when there has been an outbreak in snake colonies, the snake mites
were present. It is
possible the transmission occurs when mites bite one snake and
then another snake. It
is also possible IBD can be passed down from the mother to young.
The best way to
reduce your risk of IBD is to buy from a well-established breeder.
Ask questions about how the snake was hatched and the
environment it was kept. A
low price does not mean you will get a healthy pet.
snakes are important especially if several snakes are already in
the house. The minimal
quarantine time is 90 days. This
long quarantine time is due to the slow metabolism of the snake
and the length in which sickness can occur.
Also, by quarantining, you can monitor the appetite, fecal
output, and behavior of your new pet.
You should have your snaked evaluated by your veterinarian
at the beginning of the quarantine and ideally at the end of
Here is a link to a great new publication on this virus:
Medicine and Surgery, 2nd edition.
Mader, Douglas R.
Body Disease, A Worldwide Infectious Disease of Boid Snakes: A
Li-Wen BVM and Jacobson, Elliott R. DVM, PhD, Dip. ACZM
Give us a call if you need to make an
appointment! (847) 329-8709.
An educational handout concerning reptiles
and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian
and Amphibian Veterinarians. Please
ask your veterinarian for a copy.
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