Snake Love

At our house we love our pets. They’re ours for life. We don’t abandon them when they get old or ill. The neighbors think I’m crazy, but I refuse to flush my fish when they die. I bury them in the garden. I have my own silent meditation for them. As I smooth the dirt over the little grave, I think to myself, “Go on, little friend. I wish quiet waters for your journey.”

We don’t flush our friends.

So at a recent crisis, I knew I had to step up to the plate. One of my animal pals was counting on me.

My snake Pirate (my grandson says that’s his name, so I may as well go along with it. I’m starting to call him Pirate, too) had a bad shed. This is when the snake’s skin doesn’t come completely off. I hadn’t expected him to shed. So far he’s done it every five weeks, like clockwork. This time only four weeks had gone by since the last shed. But shed he did. I came down in the morning to look in his habitat and saw a snakeskin lying on the substrate.

My online research about corn snakes had taught me to inspect the snakeskin carefully. It has to come completely off. The critical points are the eyes and the tail. The scales that cover the eyes look like two goggles. They’re easy to spot. The tail is obvious, too. The skin should taper down to a point.

As I inspected the skin, i saw a problem. The bottom third was missing. I lifted up Pirate’s hide. There he was. I took him out to have a look at him. Sure enough, the old skin was still attached to his body, down to the tip of his tail.

The problem with a bad shed is the reason snakes shed their skin in the first place. They’ve grown, and the old skin is too small. If it doesn’t come off, it restricts the blood supply to that portion of the body. Imagine wearing a rubber band wound tightly around your finger for weeks. Get the idea. Without an adequate blood supply, cells begin to die. A snake can lose an eye or the tip of its tail.

Something had to be done. I went online to learn what I needed to do. The sites I visited recommended soaking Pirate’s tail in water to get it moist, then rubbing it with a wet washcloth. I had to get the old skin moist and loose enough so that Pirate could pull his tail out of it.

For the next half hour I soaked Pirate’s tail in his water dish. Then I held on to his tail with a wet washcloth. I didn’t want to pull on his tail, thinking I might hurt him. Instead, I gripped him firmly so that he could pull his tail through the washcloth. The friction would loosen his skin and it would come off.

It worked—eventually. The skin didn’t come off all at once, as I’d hoped. Instead, it came off in bits. I had to work my way down to the tiny tip of Pirate’s tail. I followed the routine over and over again. Soak, wrap, hold. Soak, wrap, hold. Pirate would wiggle his tail out. I’d check to see if any skin came off. If some remained, we’d do it again.

All in all, it took about an hour. Pirate was a trouper throughout. He plainly didn’t like being wrapped in a cold washcloth. He didn’t like having his tail handled. I’m sure it got sore after awhile. He squirmed and wriggled. But never once did he try to bite or even hiss. He is a very polite, well-mannered, snake.

I finally got the last of the skin off. I put Pirate back in his habitat. He immediately went into his hide. I could understand why. I imagine I’d want to get away from the world, too, if I had a giant grabbing my tail. Later that day I gave him a fat mouse for a treat. He gobbled it down. He deserved it after what he’d gone through.

I’d like to avoid this problem in the future. My online sources seem to say I ought to raise the humidity in the habitat. It’s about fifty percent, down from what it was in August. I followed the online recommendations and put a plastic deli container filled with damp sphagnum moss in the habitat. Pirate can soak in the tub if he feels the need to be moist.

I know. A pet snake will never be as responsive as a dog or cat, but who says you can’t learn to love them. All I know is that my two cats, Doug and Inky, would never have allowed me to soak their tails and pull on them for close to an hour. I’d be clawed bloody.

Cats are far less civilized than snakes.

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