Silken is a 27 year old, 15 pound Boa Constrictor who presented to us last month for bite wounds. Silken, like most boas, is fed using live rats. Many boas will not eat dead prey and so one must offer live food if they are to thrive. As the size of the snake increases, the size of the prey increases from baby mice, to juvenile mice, to adult mice, then on to varying sized rats. In Silken’s case, an adult rat was placed in her cage in the morning by the owner. When he returned, 3 hours later, instead of finding a satiated Silken, he found the Rat running around the cage and Silken coiled up in the corner of the enclosure with multiple deep bite wounds all over her body! He quickly removed the rat and brought Silken in for treatment.

Here is a view of the bite wounds and the exposed bone and connective tissue.

On presentation, Silken was depressed and less active than normal. We found 8 different wounds of varying depth along her entire back. Some of the lesions were over 1.5 inches deep. With wounds as severe as these, our only option was to repair them surgically. We discussed the risks with the owner and decided to go ahead with surgical repair. We started Silken on injectable antibiotics and administered fluids into her abdominal cavity to help prevent dehydration. We anesthetized Silken with isoflourane gas and began to clean up and suture the wounds. Snake skin is very slow to heal and doesn’t fully heal until the snake goes through 1 or more shed cycles. As a result, we sewed up the wounds using stainless steel sutures which can be left in place for a long time (about 1 month in this case). To enhance the speed of the wound healing, we treated Silken’s wounds with a therapeutic cold laser every other day for 4 treatments.

We administered pain medication and allowed Silken to recover in an incubator.

Then we discussed Silken’s housing situation, we found that the enclosure had been kept colder than the optimal temperature for this species. Being a cold-blooded snake, Silken relies on external sources of heat to stay warm. With many reptiles, one of the main reasons they get sick is related to not providing adequate external heat support. The warmer they are (up to a point) the more efficient their immune systems can operate. It is probable that Silken’s metabolism had slowed down due to the cold spring weather and she was not strong enough to kill the rat. With her unable to effectively defend herself, the rat was able to reverse the tables and use her for his dinner.

Upon returning home, the owner had corrected the temperature of the enclosure to aid in her recovery. We kept her on antibiotics for 2 weeks by injection and at last check-up the wounds were looking very well healed.

Anesthetized snake

Post Op wounds sutured

Post surgery

2 week checkup, notice the eyes are turning cloudy as the prelude to shedding

2 weeks post op

Healing wounds

2 weeks post op healing wounds.