Snake mites are tiny black parasitic insects that live by sucking the blood of reptiles. The best way to prevent mites is to wash your hands before and after handling, as well as disinfecting any supplies you buy secondhand with bleach. But if you think your snake has them, roll up your sleeves — you’re in for a long haul. But with diligent effort, you can get rid of the little bloodsuckers for good.
- Prolonged soaking
- Loss of appetite
- Tiny black dots around eyes, ears & vent (cloaca)
- Tiny black dots on shed skin
- Tiny black dots on hands after handling
- Tiny black dots visible moving on the snake and/or enclosure walls
- Ash-like “dust” (mite poo) on scales
- Poor hygiene
- Contamination from an infected reptile
Nix is a chemical treatment that humans use to get rid of head lice, but it so turns out that it can also be used to help get rid of a snake mite infestation because it kills both mites and their eggs. Nix is arguably more effective than other reptile-specific mite remedies that you can find at the pet store. However, usage for snakes is very different than using Nix on humans, and can easily kill your snake if you’re not careful, so DON’T USE THE DIRECTIONS ON THE BOX. Additionally, if your snake is visibly ill, small, or very young, discuss treatment options you’re your vet before proceeding.
All clear? Okay, here is the procedure for using Nix to kill snake mites:
Pour the Nix cream into the jug of distilled water to dilute. Shake until evenly mixed, which may take a few minutes. Once mixed, pour the solution into the spray bottle.
If mites are only found on one reptile/one enclosure in your collection, assume that mites have infested all of your reptiles kept in that room. Mites are also capable of transferring to reptiles housed in other rooms by hitchhiking on your hands or clothes. Therefore this treatment must be used on all snakes and their enclosures to help ensure that you won’t have to repeat the treatment.
Remove each reptile from the enclosure and place in a tub. Spray the animal generously with the Nix solution. Do not avoid spraying this on their head, eyes, ears, heat pits, or anywhere else — the chemical MUST be applied everywhere.
While the animal is soaking, remove all substrate from the enclosure and throw away. Do not do this indoors — the bag containing the infested substrate must be placed outdoors immediately to prevent reinfection.
Spray the entire enclosure inside and out, including all cage furniture. Focus on corners and crevices especially, as these are where mites tend to hide and lay their eggs. Also spray in a 2’ perimeter around the enclosure on the floor and/or shelving that holds the enclosure. Do not wipe off these surfaces — the leftover residue helps keeps the mites away.
Replace the substrate with paper or paper towel. It is absolutely essential to use paper substrate until you are certain that the mites are gone for good because it helps you spot any mites that may have survived the initial treatment. 3 weeks is a safe period of time to wait before using your usual substrate again.
Remove the water bowl from the enclosure. Do not replace.
Return the reptile to its enclosure and spray it, the cage, furniture, and paper one more time. The water bowl and fresh water should not be returned to the enclosure until 24 hours later. This ensures that the Nix solution does not get washed off the snake via soaking in the bowl before the Nix has had a chance to destroy all mites that may be hiding under the reptile’s scales.
If/when your reptile poos during treatment, remove the paper and clean the area per usual, but reapply the Nix solution to the replacement paper and soiled surface.
Repeat this procedure after 7 days, and then again after 7 more days, for a total of 3 treatments. This ensures that you kill every last mite.
All new reptiles should be quarantined for 2-3 months, ideally in a separate room from where your other reptiles are housed. If that is not possible, animals intended for cohabitation should at least be housed in a separate enclosure. However trustworthy you think the vendor/breeder of the reptile is, assume that your new reptile has mites. When you take a “better safe than sorry” approach, you can make sure you never have to experience the horror of a mite infestation.
For more information about treating mites, refer to this article by Cheryl Sterrenburg of Boa Constrictor Keepers: Get Rid of Mites Using NIX.