Snake surgery a first for Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

A garter snake that had infected eyes when it was taken to the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is starting to get cranky, which 'is a good thing.'

Garter snake with infected eyes doing better: 'Cranky is a good thing'

Dr. Helene Van Doninck performed her first ever snake surgery this month at the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. (Kayla Collins/DVM)

A garter snake that had infected eyes when it was taken to the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is starting to get "cranky," which "is a good thing," says the veterinarian who performed the necessary surgery.

Dr. Helene Van Doninck, who runs the centre, said someone found the eastern garter snake in the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, not doing well.

"People could approach it, which is kind of weird for a snake," she said.

Van Doninck said the snake had an infection that had settled in his eyes, probably after tangling with another animal, perhaps a bird.

Phteven the snake had an infection that had settled in his eyes, probably after tangling with another animal. (Murdo Messer)

'It was pretty gross'

The infection had settled in the animal's eyes, which are covered with a translucent scale called a spectacle.

"It was pretty gross," Van Doninck told CBC News on Saturday. "It was trapped there, because there was no opening."

She compared it to having an abscess under your fingernail. The snake was clearly not well, moving only if it was startled.

After consulting a colleague in the U.S. who has more experience with snakes, she anesthetized her patient and cut open the spectacles to release the pus. They've had snakes at the centre before, but this was the first one that required surgery.

The snake is named Phteven, after an internet meme where a customer receives a receipt with his name misspelled because he said it was spelled, "Stephen with a 'ph'." Van Doninck said it fits a snake, who might say it that way.

His (or her) name is Phteven

Phteven, who is on antibiotics, appears to be doing better, annoyed with treatment now when before he would just sit there. Phteven enthusiastically ate Saturday morning, she said.

"He's acting more like a snake." 

Though the snake has a nominally male name, his or her gender isn't known. It would take a probing to discover whether the approximately 60 cm snake is a male or a female, a detail that would have no effect on Phteven's health.

Van Doninck said the snake's prognosis looks good, but he's with the centre for the winter because by the time he's healed the other snakes will be in hibernation.

​The centre deals with birds about 90 per cent of the time, Van Doninck said, with some care given to small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. 

The strangest animal they've ever cared for is an anole, "which a little kind of lizard-y thing that hatched at Walmart in a plant, and they're not even from this area."