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Treating freshly imported puffing snakes for endoparasites.

I acquired an adult female, field-collected Spilotes sulphureus on February 14th, 2019. She arrived in fair condition in comparison to other freshly imported specimens I've seen, but was still visibly underweight and had several ticks (ectoparasites), which I promptly removed. After a brief examination, I placed her in a tub with lukewarm water to allow her to hydrate, then transferred her to an already prepared enclosure for the quarantine process. The furnishings and substrate of the quarantine enclosure had already been treated with Provent-a-Mite to kill any ectoparasites, such as additional ticks or mites. After two weeks of acclimation, during which she accepted food twice, I decided to begin assessing treatment for endoparasites.

The author's female sulphureus, just prior to arrival in his care. Photograph courtesy of Erik Keyster and Kristin Bennett.

All wild snakes come into contact with ecto- and endoparasites, which rarely have a measurable adverse impact on them in their native environments. However, in the conditions of captivity, parasites can become a serious concern. This is due to a number of factors, but to summarize, it is largely because the chances of re-exposure to parasites is greatly increased within the confines of an enclosure, thus leading to disproportionately large parasite loads. With regard to lean snakes such as Spilotes this can quickly prove disastrous, especially when coupled with stress. For all these reasons, I opt to treat field-collected specimens for parasites during the quarantine period.

In this case, the process began when I collected a fecal sample and brought it to a local veterinarian for analysis, which confirmed that the specimen would benefit from treatment in the form of oral dosages of Panacur (fenbendazole) and Flagyl (metronidazole) for various worms and amoebas.

I obtained both medications online, and began treatment on March 19th. Though Panacur and Flagyl are broadly considered 'safe' medications with wide tolerances, it is still an important step to determine the appropriate dosage in proportion to the specimen's weight and with consideration of the suspension strength. Some guidelines on dosages and medications can be referenced here. I chose to administer a moderate dose of each medication (75mg/kg Panacur and 37.5mg/kg Flagyl) in this case, repeated three times two weeks apart.

After one month in quarantine under the author's care.

To avoid the stress of force-feeding an oral solution of medication, I instead opted to inject the medication into frozen-thawed prey items, which the snake readily accepted. It is quite simple to use a blunt oral syringe to inject the medication into the mouth or gullet of the prey item, then offer it to the snake. This method also provides the benefit of administering the medication simultaneously with food, which is often thought to be gentler on the animal's digestive system.

As minimizing the chances of re-exposure to parasites is a must during this process, I make sure to keep the enclosure as clean as possible during the treatment period, anticipating when the snake is likely to defecate (usually 48 to 72 hours after feeding) and removing any fecal waste as soon as possible. Deep cleaning the quarantine enclosure on a weekly to biweekly basis, or as needed, is a good practice on top of spot cleaning to mitigate re-exposure.

On April 18th, after three rounds of medication, I obtained a second fecal sample and brought it to the veterinarian for analysis, which resulted in a negative for parasites and ova. Over the eight weeks spent in quarantine, the specimen in question increased in mass by over thirty percent - from 850 grams to nearly 1200 grams. She also began to exhibit an increased appetite and much more active baseline behavior - all indicators of a readiness to move out of quarantine.

After eight weeks in quarantine, having gained more than 300 grams and finally determined free of parasites.

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