Sadie the Snake

Sadie the male bullsnake receives acupuncture at the New Mexico Wildlife Center for the aches and pains that afflict geriatric reptiles. 

When native reptiles live to old age, they can suffer from arthritis, cataracts and heart disease just like humans.

At the New Mexico Wildlife Center in Española, staff veterinarian Dr. Sarah Sirica treats some of their geriatric reptiles with acupuncture therapy. 

Sirica is currently practicing acupuncture on a 20-year-old bullsnake named Sadie. Sadie was brought to the Center in 2006, but they only realized he was a male bullsnake after some X-rays this past summer. He is an ambassador animal, meaning the center uses him for educational programs in schools in Santa Fe, Rio Arriba County, and as far as Albuquerque. Since Sadie is nonvenomous and used to being handled, children can see him up close and pet his scales. 

Sadie has been having a problem with his spine — possibly a slipped disk, vertebral fusion or even cancer — so Sirica got him in for a CT scan, and she is managing his symptoms until then. 

“The acupuncture points I am using on Sadie are to benefit his health, in general, and also specifically to help his spine,” Sirica said. “He is receiving acupuncture, anti-inflammatory and pain medications, and we are making sure he stays warm and hydrated.” 

Sirica said that although there is a lot of research on pain management for humans and other mammals, the same does not exist for reptiles. She has to be careful about using pain medications, and she said acupuncture is gaining popularity. She has also used it on a box turtle. 

The Center also keeps a Prairie Rattlesnake named Napoleon, a Western Hognose snake named Harley, and two new Painted Desert glossy snakes. 

“A lot of wildlife centers cannot afford a full-time veterinarian, so we’re lucky to have Dr. Sarah to treat our ambassador animals and wildlife rehabilitation,” Communications Manager Jessica Schlarbaum said. 

Each year, the Center rehabilitates around 1,000 animals that have been hit by cars, stuck in wire or mesh, or otherwise injured. People from surrounding areas bring in Red-tailed Hawks, Flickers, lizards and “lots of owls.” 

Sirica expects to receive the results of Sadie’s CT scan soon. 

“If it is a minor spinal issue, the prognosis should be good, but we are wary that there may be something more sinister such as cancer,” she said. “We are looking to do the best we can in keeping Sadie healthy and comfortable and to help him age gracefully.”

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