This is perhaps the most talked about problem that seems to be more prevalent in GTPs than in any other snake species, hence it’s wise to examine the major difference between GTPs and the rest, which is arboreal way of life. That however, does not explain why GTPs are prone to spinal kinks nor it gives us any clues as to how to prevent this condition from occurring. Spinal kinks usually appear between the time of ontogenic colour change and the second year of the snake’s life (although there are exceptions) and most commonly affected is the terminal part of the snake. It may be that GTP’s are structurally prone to this problem. There have been reports of spinal kinks in wild GTPs but it is extremely rare, so then question must be asked what it is that we are doing in captivity differently to cause this condition to develop.
Several possible causes of spinal kinks were proposed by GTP keepers, including rough handling, wrong diet, faecal load associated with tail hanging and lack of calcium. The last suggestion is worth exploring further. Abnormalities in calcium metabolism are often referred to as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) and many veterinarians feel this plays at least a critical role in the development of kinks. For convenience and necessity, we feed GTP neonates of pink mice, a food item which is not part of their natural diet. Pink mice are generally assumed to have poor calcium to phosphorus ratio, containing about 1.6 – 2.9% calcium (depending on age) and 1.8% phosphorus on a MD basis, making their Ca:P 0.9 – 1.6/1.0. Ideally, the ratio should be 2.0 / 1.0
To increase the calcium from 1.2 to 2.0% and normalise the ratio, it is recommended to inject 0.36mL of calcium syrup (Novartis brand) to each pinky.
Shane Simpson (reptile vet) suggested that spinal kinks can possibly result from:
- Infection in the bone (osteomyelitis) – it is often seen in a number of different species of snakes, including GTP’s. It can occur for a number of reasons (e.g. penetrating trauma) but most common is seeding of bacteria from a septic episode (bacteria in the blood stream). These bacteria are most often normal inhabitants of the gut and respiratory systems.
- There is a condition that occurs in Carpet Pythons called Proliferative Spinal Osteopathy. The current feeling amongst vets is that this is caused by osteomyelitis that is cleared by the body’s own immune system but there is a residual inflammatory process that persists for many years. This results in bony changes occurring with both proliferation of new bone and resorption of bone. This causes overall weakening of the bone. In the early stages it causes a kink to the spine and in severe, end-stage it can cause paralysis. This may well be what occurs in older GTP’s that develop kinks but there is no evidence of any pathology or other testing that has been done to confirm this condition occurring in GTP’s.
It is highly probable that it is a multifactorial condition and that in fact it may be a variety of different conditions that result in similar signs. There is no evidence to suggest that spinal kinks are genetic / heritable but there is equal lack of evidence of congenital problems.
Unfortunately, there is no known treatment of this condition.
This must be the second most feared health problem in GTPs. Rectal prolapse is manifested by protrusion of the bowel outside the cloaca during defecation and the snake’s inability to retract the bowel. Just like with spinal kinks, there is no clear cut explanation what is causing this problem and it is also likely to be multifactorial condition.