Snakes with a pain

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Image courtesy of University of Queensland Small Animal Hospital

Everybody gets a little knotted up from time to time—even snakes. Sometimes all that’s needed is a little back rub here and there, sometimes a little more.

The avian and exotics team at the University of Queensland Small Animal Hospital  have used their prodigious skill to do just that, treating a 2.4-metre python with a backache. Though Proserpine carpet pythons aren’t venomous, this was still no easy task. A bite from a python of that size would still leave a serious wound, along with their ability to wind around and crush their prey.

Associate professor Dr Bob Doneley, from the University of Queensland’s School of Veterinary Science said the snake stretched out past the end of the x-ray table for her tricky treatment.

“Snakes have between 300 and 400 vertebrae, each with a pair of ribs attached,” he said.

Luckily for the snake her owner is head nurse, Gary Fitzgerald from the clinic, and was able to spot early warning signs in his snake.

“He noticed this snake was becoming a bit more aggressive than usual, and also that when it was moving, it was keeping part of its back very straight,” said Dr Doneley.

“It would take an experienced reptile vet and keeper to notice this problem. So we examined the snake and pressed along its back, and it reacted as if in pain.”

Anaesthetising snakes can be difficult work—their blood vessels aren’t visible through their skin, and missing means an angry and awake snake.

“It was a matter of anaesthetising her and then using a plastic tube to keep her back straight while we took the x-rays,” said Dr Doneley.

“You’ve got to know where the veins are, then they [snakes] take a minute or two to go to sleep and we put them on an anaesthetic machine using a ventilator.”

Dr Doneley said the team found: “One vertebrae in her spine was starting to dissolve, and we haven’t ruled out an infection.”

The team have treated the snake with both antibiotics and painkillers; she’ll be due for another check-up in six months.

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