When the cervical musculature of a snake contracts, the head and neck are raised almost straight up, as if the affected snake is gazing at the stars. Hence the term stargazing.
This seemingly innocent behavior is actually a sign of a potentially serious underlying medical problem. If you see this behavior with your snake, you need to consult with your veterinarian immediately.
Other symptoms that typically accompany stargazing include the inability of the snake to right itself when placed on it’s back, as well as disorientation.
Stargazing is typically attributed to a variety of diseases that affect a snake’s central nervous system. In fact encephalitis is the primary cause of this posture. However, there are other potential factors that need to be considered as possibilities.
8 common causes of stargazing in snakes
Viral infections such as paramyxovirus which typically attacks the neurological and respiratory systems of snakes. Typically viperids and colubrids are affected.
Inclusion Body Disease (IBD) which typically attacks the neurological, gastrointestinal and respiratory systems of boids (boas and pythons).
Bacterial infections such as acanthamoebic meningioencephalitis are often to blame as well.
Major organ dysfunction can also cause neurological problems.
Any sort of septic infections which can breach the blood-brain barrier.
Extreme temperature fluctuations.
Exposure to toxins typically found via pest strips, cleaning products, mite sprays as well as any other number of environmental toxins can also cause various neurological problems.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Stargazing Syndrome in Snakes
In order to treat this condition properly, your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your snake as well as take a detailed medical history (don’t forget to bring any prior medical history records). Diagnostic tests might include fecal exams, x-rays, as well as a complete pathology workup (like bloodwork).
Once you know the underlying cause of the stargazing, you and your veterinarian can then work together to form an appropriate treatment plan.
Please remember however, that stargazing itself is not a disease – it is a symptom of a very serious underlying condition/disorder that must be treated.