Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Our Snake with an Ache

So much of a snake’s anatomy is vertebrae. The very phrase “a snake with a back ache” sounds like a definition of misery. So when our red boa constrictor, Esteban, started showing signs of stiffness and discomfort in two sections of his spine, we knew at once we wanted to help him feel better.

During his quarterly house call, Dr. Maas observed each of our snakes as they moved about on the ground. We rarely get a chance to see the natural movement of our boas because they’re either in their cages or in the hands of presenters. This was a good opportunity for Animal Caretakers to watch our large snakes in action.

A snake with complete range of motion, like Estrella, forms rounded shapes, like the letter “S”. She can move easily through all her vertebrae. When her tail is gently squeezed, she immediately pulls it out of our grip. This is consistent with what our presentation staff tell us about her; Estrella tightly wraps herself around the waist of the person handling her.

Compared to Estrella, Esteban shows a much more limited range of comfortable positions. There are two areas that he always seems reluctant to bend. Esteban has a pain in the neck and a pain in the tail. His tail is also weakened. When gently squeezed, he had almost no reaction at all. When placed on the floor, he could not flex his tail to move. Instead, he had to ‘caterpillar’ the lower part of his body, contracting his muscles to scoot along rather than undulating.

Esteban is showing signs of arthritis! There is some good news for the short term. We will begin giving him anti-inflammatory medication that will reduce the tissue swelling around the arthritic area, and give him back much of his comfort and ability to move. He should stop losing strength and perhaps make some gains.

Unfortunately, this is a progressive condition that can’t reverse itself and that will eventually get worse over time. With good care, we hope that Esteban will be happy and comfortable for years to come.

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