Pet Vet: Growth on pet python suggests possible surgical intervention

October 26, 2015

As many readers realize, we sometimes deal with companions outside of the canine or feline variety, and today is one of those times.

Stanley is a 10-year-old carpet python that has lived in a cage in Jonathan’s house since he was born. He eats once every two weeks, usually one adult rat, and has had no health problems until recently.

About three months ago, Jonathan started to see a small mass developing on the right side of Stanley’s body very close to his vent. It has continued to grow to the point where it now is about two inches long and three quarters of an inch wide. Stanley does not seem overly distressed by the mass, although it can be a challenge to determine when a snake is showing distress. The mass does seem to compromise his motion a bit, and Jonathan is concerned that it may soon compromise Stanley’s ability to pass urates and stool.

It is highly unlikely that Stanley’s tumor is going to disappear on its own. Growths almost never disappear on their own no matter what type of creature they may be growing on. There are exceptions, but generally speaking, don’t count on masses suddenly vanishing from your companion.

Jonathan needs to take Stanley to a veterinarian comfortable and capable working with reptiles so he can have a thorough evaluation followed by a recommended course of treatment. From the information given in Jonathan’s email, I see surgery as the likely best option.

Pre-surgically I would advise a fine needle aspirate of the mass, a simple procedure introducing a needle into the mass and aspirating back some cells to be examined by a clinical pathologist. This can be an important diagnostic step as it often times allows diagnosis of what type of tumor we are dealing with, thus guiding the surgeon as to what type of surgical borders need to be achieved to entirely remove the tumor. A fine needle aspirate is not a needle biopsy. It simply allows examination of cell types. A biopsy allows for microscopic examination of tissue structure as well as cell types and generally provides more information as to the tumor’s likely consequences.

Surgery in a snake, as in any animal, generally requires anesthesia. Anesthesia in a snake requires techniques that do differ from those used in our mammal patients but when done appropriately, it works very well.

Before the surgery, Stanley would likely need a radiograph to try to help determine the extent of the mass on the inside of his body. This, along with the information from the fine needle aspirate, will help dictate the surgical approach.

Once the tumor is removed, it will need to be biopsied. This involves sending the mass to a pathologist who is familiar with reptile pathology. He or she will determine what type of tumor was growing on Stanley, which in turn allows us to determine what might happen to Stanley in the future. Certainly, there are cases when a biopsy may not be possible but it can be a very important diagnostic tool.

Snakes generally do very well with surgery and are wonderful healers, although it can takes them a little longer to heal, as is the case with most things in reptiles. Hopefully, in Stanley’s case, his mass removal surgery will be curative.




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