This page shows two snakes that are constipated. The first one required surgical removal of the impacted feces (fecalith). The second died and was necropsied.
The symptoms of an impacted snake are a lack of appetite along with lack of bowel movement for many weeks. This is a serious condition that could result in the death of the snake if not treated, which is exactly what happened to the second snake.
Medical therapy, consisting of warm water baths, lubricants, and fluids have not helped at all. Surgery is a last resort in these cases because of the potential for post operative complications.
Graphic surgical and necropsy photos on this page
Most snakes that are impacted will not be eating or passing any feces. We use radiography to help us in our diagnosis.
This is the radiograph of a Burmese python that has several fecaliths in its intestines. They are the large circular and whitish objects in this view.
This snake needs to be anesthetized and the impaction removed. We like to make sure our patients are ready for anesthesia, so we take a blood sample to make sure there are no internal problems. That is easier said than done in a snake since they don’t have the routine external veins that dogs, cats, and those humanoids do.
Can you guess where we get a blood sample from a snake from this picture? If you guessed the heart you got it right!
Sometimes it takes more than one set of eyes to find the heart. There have been many staff competitions on who can find it first, with the loser buying donuts!
You can see how it is done in this video.
We anesthetized it and made an incision over the fecalith on the underside of its body.
In this picture we are carefully dissecting through tissue to get directly to the intestines
We have completed our dissection and have adequate exposure of the bulging intestine filled with hard stool
The intestine is brought out through the incision in the scales and two stay sutures (the blue sutures) are placed to allow gentle handling and placement. An incision has been made into the intestine and some of the dry and hard fecal material is being removed with a hemostat.
The feces is so hard it needs to be broken up before it can be removed
There is so much impacted stool in this intestine that we need a sterile spoon to scoop it out. We spend 30 minutes of this procedure scooping stool out of intestines.
This is the appearance of the inner lining of the intestines (called the mucosa) after all the feces have been removed. It is inflamed and fragile, and is a major part of why this snake is ill.
Snake #2- Necropsy
You can see the subtle bulge in its posterior coelomic cavity in the very center of this picture
A radiograph confirms the impaction
The necropsy gives you a complete picture of the impaction
This cases illustrate the importance of proper husbandry and observation. If these snakes had been kept in an enclosure with adequate humidity and temperature there is less of a chance that this problem would have occurred. In addition, if they had been brought to us sooner we probably would have been able to treat this problem medically.
This brings up the importance of daily observation of reptiles concerning normal health parameters like appetite, activity level, and bowel movements. Reptiles do not show obvious signs of disease like mammals, so careful observation of daily habits is important in order to notice subtle changes.