Denver Zoo’s Unique Treatment Puts King Cobra With Cancer In Remission

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By Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4)– A veterinarian at the Denver Zoo has put a king cobra with cancer in remission. Thanks to a unique treatment plan pioneered at the zoo, there is no longer any sign of cancer in the huge snake.

Determined zookeepers were able to successfully treat the cancer called lymphosarcoma.

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DENVER, CO – MAY 4: A 12-foot, 17-year-old King Cobra snake enters it’s habitat with a dead rat in it’s mouth May 4, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. The cobra has lymphosarcoma cancer that zoo keepers and vets are trying to treat with chemo therapy, via inserted chemo pill in a rat’s mouth. (credit: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

“Which is a type of cancer that affects the scales,” said Denver Zoo Associate Veterinarian Betsy Stringer.

Concern started last February when a zookeeper noticed purplish scales. Stringer wanted a closer look.

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(credit: CBS)

“His size and being venomous definitely makes this a really challenging patient,” she explained to CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

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Denver Zoo Associate Veterinarian Betsy Stringer (credit: CBS)

Zoo staff kept the snake asleep with his head in a tube hooked to an anesthesia machine. It took nine X-rays to evaluate his 13-foot long body.

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(credit: Denver Zoo)

A biopsy confirmed the cancer. But what next?

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(credit: Denver Zoo)

“There’s no publication that tells me how to treat lymphosarcoma in a king cobra, so this was uncharted territory,” said Stringer.

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(credit: Denver Zoo)

Stringer worked with a veterinary oncologist at Colorado State University and came up with a treatment plan.

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(credit: CBS)

“The chemotherapy drug we used is used in domestic cats, in people,” said Stringer.

It’s a little trickier treating a cobra. In this case, a pill was put in the throat of a dead rat. The cobra was fed one every three weeks for five months. A biopsy in December showed success.

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(credit: CBS)

“The cancer did not come back and he’s officially in remission,” said Stringer.

This is one lucky reptile with the Denver Zoo able to tip the scales in his favor.

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CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh interviews Denver Zoo Associate Veterinarian Betsy Stringer (credit: CBS)

The zoo plans to publish its treatment plan in a scientific journal to help other sick snakes. The cobra at the zoo is considered geriatric, almost 19 years old, but zookeepers are happy to have bought him some time.

Kathy Walsh is CBS4’s Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 for more than 30 years. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

denver.cbslocal.com