Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Helping the medicine go down

When staff at Pacific Science Center prepare to work with reptiles, we are trained on preventing the spread of the Salmonella bacteria, and instructed to view our reptiles as potential salmonella carriers. Many of our handling, care, and public contact rules come from this training.

So getting a positive salmonella test result back from Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital when they tested our boa constrictors was not entirely unexpected.

However, in the case of one snake, Estrella, an elevated population of these bacteria in her gut may have led to other behavior problems and an overall decline in health. Dr. Maas suggested an aggressive course of antibiotic treatment for all three boa constrictors, to either eliminate the bacteria, or at least reduce the levels to a point where more beneficial gut bacteria could hold them in check. This would get Estrella back into the pink and keep Esteban and Estella feeling great.

Each snake is given approximately 0.5 cc of medicine, orally, each morning for 30 days. Medicating a snake is easier said than done.

If you have medicated a dog or cat, you know to aim for the back of the mouth, so that the animal tastes less and swallows more quickly. This is even more important with snakes. First, snakes’ mouths are good at swallowing large prey items, but they are not good at retaining liquid. Medication placed near the front of the mouth has a habit of leaking back out.

More frightening, a snake’s epiglottis (opening to their windpipe) is located on the bottom of the mouth, and can be moved quite far forward. This allows snakes to breathe while to swallowing prey. Unfortunately, it means we risk accidentally administering medication into a snake’s lung instead of its stomach. We use a tube to make sure the liquid gets down to the back of the mouth. Watch out for teeth!

Contrary to myth, snakes are not actually slimy. They are very smooth, nonetheless, and slide through our grip when we try to restrain them. A firm hand, and a quick partner giving the medication, gets the job done.

Estrella is already feeling much better and doesn’t seem to hold a grudge against us for giving her medication. Esteban and Estella are doing great as well.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I have to say, that task sounds a bit nerve-wracking (I've seen those teeth)! Fascinating to see the pictures, though.