Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014


A sign, not a disease.

©1995 Melissa Kaplan


Stargazing is a term used to describe a deceptively innocuous behavior: the head and neck are raised almost straight up, as if the affected animal is gazing at the stars. This condition is common to several diseases that affect the central nervous system. Symptoms that often occur with stargazing are disorientation and the inability to right itself.

There are several conditions that may cause the symptom of stargazing, including viral infections such as paramyxovirus, found in viperids and some colubrids and boids which attacks the respiratory and neurological systems; and inclusion body disease, found in boids, which involves the respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological systems. Bacterial infections such as meningitis, and septic infections that breach the blood-brain barrier may also cause stargazing. Major organ dysfunction may also cause dysregulation of normal metabolism which in turn may cause neurological disease. Extreme temperatures, head injuries, and toxins (as from flea sprays, pest strips, cleaning products and environmental toxins) may also cause neurological disorders.

A thorough examination, including fecal and pathology work-up, must be done to determine the underlying cause. As stargazing is merely a symptom of a deeper, potentially quite serious disease or disorder, the underlying condition itself must be treated.

Note that some snakes will sit for some time with their heads raised, often with their face pointed to screen or ventilation panels in their enclosure. So long as there are no other signs associated with this behavior, and the behavior is not prolonged or frequent, there may be nothing with which to be concerned. For information on stargazing in boas and pythons, please see my article on Inclusion Body Disease.

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