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Can a snake survive with a broken back?

An injury to a snake’s vertebrae can easily spell danger for the reptile, and there may be those wondering if recovery is even possible in this situation. 

All reptiles can be hardy creatures, but unfortunately, survival is not always a certainty for snakes with broken backs.

However, while the chance of a snake with a spinal injury making a full improvement is rare, with proper care, a snake with a broken back can go on to live semi-normal lives. 

If you think that your snake has fractured its vertebrae, but you are unsure about how badly it has been hurt, and if there is anything you can do to help it, you may not know what decisions are available to you.

Continue reading for more information on what you can do if you believe you are dealing with a snake that has injured its spine.

Have a vet evaluate the injury 

The best way to assess a snake’s chances for recovery is to consult a specialist as soon as possible after you identify a cause for concern.

Veterinarians who have experience working with exotics and reptiles will understand the intricacies of a snake’s anatomy. They will also be able to diagnose any fractures or misalignments in the vertebrae or ribs. 

A vet can also spot the root causes of why a snake is not moving. This can be due to permanent paralysis or simply too much pain due to its new injury to put any pressure on the affected area, which will be vital in understanding how your pet’s prognosis will look like.

In any instance, though, the snake’s back injury must get diagnosed by a professional right away after you notice the problem to ensure the animal’s wellbeing.

Veterinarians will be able to take x-rays of the snake to see how bad the injury is and if it can possibly be mended over time.

Depending on the region of the spine that is broken, the snake may not be able to move its muscles which will inhibit them from properly digesting food anymore. As a result, it will be unable to eat and live a normal lifespan.

xray of snake with broken back

Understand your options

If your snake’s spine has been harmed in such a way that it is unlikely to recover, a specialist may suggest that the animal’s best option is to be humanely put down.

This way, it will not suffer an otherwise painful death later, and this is another service that the veterinary hospital will be able to provide for your pet.

In other cases, a snake may only have a minor vertebrae injury in an area that will only mildly affect it throughout the rest of its life. A reptile vet will be able to tell you if this is the case so you can avoid losing your pet early.

While splints cannot be used for snakes due to their natural bone placement, veterinarians can offer other treatment options for your pet.

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They may prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain managing medication such as Meloxicam and Tramadol to help relieve the snake from some stress and discomfort, which will also allow it to heal faster.

Help your snake heal.

Even if the vertebrae are not too severely damaged, the snake will still need proper attention to let its body repair itself, and this may mean changing how your snake is housed and fed.

Curate a safer environment

After the initial injury, the snake may need to be housed in a bare enclosure such as a plastic storage bin with soft bedding depending on the snake’s size.

Newspaper, aspen, or coconut husk will provide a softer substrate for your snake, and cardboard box hides can be placed inside to make your snake feel more secure.

However, it is best to minimize any heavy décor that might put more pressure on your snake’s spine in the event it is accidentally toppled over.

Other items to remove from their habitat during this time include:

  • Heat rocks
  • Heat caves
  • Heating pads (although it is acceptable to use these on the outside of the enclosure)
  • Bark substrates
  • Wood chip substrates

While your snake is less mobile, it will be more likely to sustain burns from heated objects. Loose substrates with large, chunky pieces should also be removed in case your snake ingests it and cannot pass it properly due to its broken spine.

Keep Food Simple

It is essential to keep your snake from straining itself during this period, and feeding time may be trickier if your snake is used to eating live animals.

You can make this easier by only offering pre-killed prey so that it does not have to hunt for live prey actively and risk hurting itself.

Make meals smaller so that your snake can digest food more easily. For instance, if you usually feed large rats, try switching to mice or from mice to pinkies to make it easier on your snake’s body and avoid impaction. 

Use your judgement on how long to leave dead rats in the snake tank because your snake will likely take more time to get started on meals.

A snake in too much pain to move normally will not be interested in doing much of anything. So, be sure to regularly administer any vet-prescribed medication to help the snake maintain functions such as eating and sleeping while it heals. 

How can you tell if a snake’s back is broken? 

Gently palpate your snake’s body.

Snakes with damaged spines or broken vertebrae and other deformities will appear to have kinks or knots in their body or tail. For fresher injuries, bruising and swelling may also be present.

You may be able to feel strange bulges or sharp points in their body while touching them. Be sure not to use too much pressure while doing so, as this could potentially damage your snake further.

Can a snake move with a broken back?

Snakes with spinal injuries will often have a hard time moving around on top of being less active. In the case of a more severe injury to the spine and spinal cord, they may even be rendered partially paralyzed, and only a section of their body will be able to move. 

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snake with broken back

If the snake is unable to move the lower parts of its body, it will likely not be able to digest prey and may become impacted after feeding.

Unfortunately, if it cannot get the food moving through its body, this could be a death sentence. If you notice signs of impaction, it will need to be seen by a veterinarian right away to see if this issue is related to its spinal injury and if it can possibly be fixed by feeding smaller prey.

How long will a broken back take to heal?

Mending broken bones in snakes is a time-consuming affair no matter how bad the injury is, and the animal will require extra care and attention to make sure this period is not extended.

Even for minor spinal injuries, it can take months before the bones will begin to show signs of realignment and improvement.

This means that it will be vital to safeguard your snake from hurting itself during this time so that it can repair as it should. 

Monitoring your snake’s progress and scheduling visits to the vet’s office in the meantime is the best way to see how your pet is improving or if its husbandry should be altered any further while it is in this state.

Healing won’t always fix everything.

It is important to understand that because splints cannot be used for snakes, broken and displaced vertebrae may heal over in strange or seemingly unnatural ways.

This sometimes means that the snake may have a permanent crookedness or kink where the broken vertebrae were inside of its body. 

Nonetheless, if the snake can still move, eat, and digest prey, this malformity will usually not cause many non-cosmetically related issues. 

How to protect your snake from spinal injuries 

Remove any high ledges from the snake’s enclosure that it could fall from and take out anything unstable or wobbly that could be dislodged while your pet is exploring.

Keep a close eye on your snake when taking it out of its tank. No matter what size they are, do not let a snake roam freely around the house unsupervised, as they could be stepped on or find themselves falling from a ledge that they were not expecting.

Snakes are curious, semi-arboreal creatures that enjoy climbing, but they have a poor ability to judge distances and height.

When handling any snake, ensure that you are holding it with two hands. Refrain from allowing anyone frightened by the snake to hold it, as they may accidentally drop it and end up harming your pet.

Taking these steps to ensure your snake’s safety will ultimately keep them from facing a serious injury. If your pet snake does sustain damage to its back, meeting with a trained reptile veterinarian to evaluate the damage and practicing the tips we’ve talked about can potentially help them recover.