Following frequent introductions from a (presumed old) male Elaphe quatuorlineata my younger female (4yrs or so), her appetite seemed a little keener, she seemed to be seeking out a few more meals than I was accustomed to giving her. Soon after she clearly began to take the appearance of a gravid snake, all seemed pretty typical with the eggs being evenly spaced down her body and not overdeveloped. On the 8th August, she completed her pre-lay slough. On the 20th August, she laid a couple of eggs, both appeared to be fertile. However they perished after a week or so. A few days later, she had laid no more, clearly from bumps I could tell that there were more eggs to follow, another four in fact. A secluded nest site was provided for her, which she did frequent and favour most of the time.
Leading up to the first two eggs being passed, I saw her contractions, these ceased shortly after her laying the first two. She still appeared healthy and alert, her tongue was flicking normally. For a day or two after passing the first two eggs, only occasionally did I witness any contractions and these were very infrequent and appeared half-hearted. Then they stopped, she’d appeared to have given up. I never saw her contractions after this.
The egg closest to her vent didn't appear to be getting any nearer to her vent, there was no sign of crowning, also the size of the egg appeared a little larger than the first two that she had already laid. As time marched on and the eggs seemed to grow inside her, resulting in the two most posterior eggs being quite pronounced in size when compared to the others. From comparison with her ‘normal’ behaviour, I could tell that she was in some discomfort. This was the first time she had been mated, although I had no records of her being gravid to compare with, I felt certain that all was not as it should be.
I had 'sensed' that this wasn't a normal problem free gravid female and that she would encounter problems with completing the rest of her clutch. On the 24th of August, I made a trip to the vets, who seemed to share my concern, a shot of calcium gluconate followed, I then took her home and waited a couple of days in the hope that she would lay naturally, still no change. On the 27th she had another shot of calcium gluconate, followed by oxytocin an hour later. The oxytocin has been known to help induce contractions successfully, although the vet was of the opinion that mostly it was unsuccessful – still worth trying as if it worked, it would negate the need for taking a scalpel to the snake and putting her under, which in itself is a further risk.
Upon discussion, we agreed upon a revisit the next day if she hadn't laid that night/following day (neither one of us thought she would but it’s better than surgery, so we felt worth a try in the first instance), after she failed to lay the next day, I took her to the vet late in the evening, she was left for a few days in the hope that she would lay before surgery remained the only reasonable course of action.
The vet left her over the weekend and had chosen to surgically remove the eggs, rather than aspirate them. It was now clear that surgery was on the cards. The reason for this is that it looks like the egg nearest the vent isn't smooth and is likely to have adhered internally. Judging by the way the skin is stretched around it. This seemed most likely and was confirmed by the vet. It also was starting to swell and looked increasingly like it was causing the skin to stretch almost to the point of breaking (I know it wasn’t but it was certainly larger than it should have been). Due to the adhesion of the egg, it seemed to be misshapen further causing concern. There’d be no way she could pass them naturally.
Needless to say I hoped that the female was ok following surgery, losing the eggs would be a small price to pay! As would the vets bills.
I received a call from the vet, three slits were required to remove the eggs, two had managed to be salvaged, one was not 'very good' to use the vets words, so I presume that means it wasn't fertile or was damaged in the process of getting it out of her, the second was adhered to the oviduct, so had to be damaged to get out. It transpired that all eggs were no productive, despite some looking like they held some promise. I don’t think this was due to an error in the incubation, rather that the eggs weren’t destined to make it.
Like I said before, I wasn’t really concerned with the eggs, I just wanted to save the female and hopefully have a chance of breeding her in the future, more on that later.
Following her surgery, I took her home after a brief respite in the vets (03/09/2009), making sure that her water bowl was small, to hopefully discourage her deciding she’d like to soak in it, as this may have caused problems due to the stitches being water soluble.
She made good progress, even following a slough (30/9/2009), the only problem that ensued was that her skin that had to be teased off her, around the area of the incisions where the skin was folded slightly in on itself. I was advised to use sudocrem which is a human treatment cream for relieving nappy rash in neonates. It has various properties that are well suited to proper animals like snakes too, those being antifungal, antibacterial, antiseptic, is a weak anaesthetic and has a water repellent base, which is useful for preventing faecal matter and urates from infecting the area of the wounds.
She is still making good progress and is now in brumation. I still apply the sudocrem from time to time, trying not to disturb her too much throughout her winter rest.
The total cost of the veterinary treatment was;
1. 24/08/2009 – Initial consultation £21.99, Sub cut Injection £4.41 and Calcium Gluconate 10% (10 x 10ml) = £32.53 after VAT.
2. 27/08/2009 – Subsequent consultation £17.41, Sub cut Injection £8.82 (an injection of calcium gluconate preceded the oxytocin) and Oxytocin and hour later = £30.69 after VAT
3. 03/09/2009 – Ketaset Injection £0.68, Sub cut injection £4.41, General Anaesthesia £44.17, ketaset injection £0.68, Sub cut Injection £8.82, Theatre time £78.80, Sevoflorane (250mls) £4.40, Ethicon W9825 (4/0) ndl and baytril injection 2.5 p/c at £0.20. There was a further cost of the post operation hospital vet supervision at £14 = £186.20 after VAT.
4. 16/11/2009 – Post operative check £7.44 or £8.56 after VAT, I’d actually had a few post op. Checks, so either these were free or this was an accumulative charge.
The combined cost for all treatment came to £257.98, not cheap but at least she’s alive.
All her treatment might have saved her life, but my secondary hope of breeding from her in future seems most unlikely. Following a discussion with the vet, he seemed to be of the opinion that it was likely to cause a repeat of the problems this breeding attempt resulted in. Obviously I don’t wish to go through this again, so will not be introducing the female with a male again. During the discussion, the vet expressed a belief that in the wild, the female might have died in the process and would not have therefore been able to mate in the future, thus removing itself from the gene pool. Although I don’t totally discount some inadequacy of husbandry as being the cause, I do feel it unlikely and tend to share his opinion.
Some hurried picture taken when I was last packing the snake for transport to the vets. The egg at the back looks ever so slightly misshapen too, I suspect that this is due to the adhesion internally and its movement following previous unsuccessful contractions, causing its deformity.