Emergency vet comes to the rescue of much-loved reptile Shaggy

A four-foot long snake called Shaggy got stuck in a skull – and had to be cut free by a vet using a dentist’s saw.

The 3am drama unfolded after owner Craig Tait realised Shaggy was wedged solid into the skull – a resin toy purpose-built for snakes to hide in.

Corn snake Shaggy’s head was moving and so was his tail – but the middle of his body was stuck after he’d slithered through the skull’s eye-hole.

Craig, 39, slowly and carefully managed to break off most of the skull. But a small ring around Shaggy’s stomach just wouldn’t budge.

Craig tried washing up liquid and water to free stricken Shaggy.

But eventually he gave in before resorting to phoning the Vets Now pet emergency clinic in Wrexham, North Wales. Staff recommended he bring Shaggy in straight away, even though it was in the early hours of the morning.

Vet Joshua Maruta asked Craig to hold anxious Shaggy’s head while a vet nurse gripped his tail. Quick-thinking Joshua then fetched an oscillating saw usually used for dental procedures.

Within a couple of minutes, Joshua had managed to expertly remove the remains of the skull to finally set Shaggy free.

Craig, who works for a roads firm, said: “While I was holding Shaggy, I could tell he was getting more and more tense, more and more nervous.

“And who can blame him? It must have been a really scary experience for him getting stuck like that. The longer he was stuck, the more his spine was swelling. So it really was a race against time to get him free.

“The hole he got stuck in was the smallest of all the holes in the skull and I’d never seen him go into it before. We’ve had the skull since we first got Shaggy and he’s never had any trouble with it before.”

Craig, who lives in Wrexham, said: “I was in bed asleep and it was my girlfriend’s son Jordan, who is 20, who raised the alarm.

“He’d gone downstairs to get himself a drink about 1am and he checked on Shaggy, whose glass box is kept in the living room. Jordan saw that something was wrong and he woke me up straight away.”

Vet Joshua said: “In all my years of training I never thought I’d be using a dental saw to free a snake from a skull in the middle of the night.

“But that’s the great thing about this job – every night you just never know what’s going to happen. It was a very unusual case and I’m just glad we were able to help Shaggy out. The main thing is he’s doing fine now – we were all really pleased to hear that.”

Image of a dentist's saw for Vets Now article on a snake getting stuck in a skull
Shaggy was cut free using a dentist's saw

Pretend skulls like the one Shaggy got stuck in are recommended to snake owners because they allow snakes to crawl through a hole and re-create the sense of hiding that they experience in the wild.

Avian and exotics veterinary surgeon Dr Tariq Abou-Zahr said it’s important that the enclosures in which snakes are kept – known as vivariums – do have lots of hiding spaces in them as long as the access holes are big enough.

Tariq, who is based at Great Western Exotics in Swindon, Wilts, said: “Barren vivariums are not good for snakes.

“But there are a few things to bear in mind when choosing hides. Any holes should ideally allow the thickest part of the snake to pass through them. If the snake can get its head through the hole, there’s a good chance it will go for it and try and move through it – if the hole is too narrow for its body, it may become wedged.

“Hides don’t need to be pretty, they can be made of disposable materials like cardboard boxes. Cork bark is often used as it’s inexpensive and widely available, but plastic hides and resin hides can also be good choices, providing the access holes are a suitable size.

“When creating hides and cage decor out of stacks of wood or rocks, these must be firmly secured in place to avoid the falling and causing injury to your reptile.”

Other than some superficial damage to his skin where he’d got stuck, Shaggy was none the worse for his ordeal. And after a few days’ rest, he was soon back to his normal self.

Image of Shaggy the snake and his owner for Vets Now article on snake getting stuck in a skull
Shaggy with his owner Craig

Craig said: “People who haven’t got a snake probably won’t believe this, but snakes have a personality just like any other pet and you get to know them. After this happened, not surprisingly, he just wasn’t his normal self and was very lethargic.

“But he’s back to normal now and his skin is totally repaired – there’s no sign at all on his skin of what happened. You don’t expect to be standing in an emergency vet with your snake at three in the morning.

“But I’m very glad they were open at that time of night or I just don’t know what we would have done. I’d have been distraught if anything happened to Shaggy – he’s part of the family.”

The pet emergency clinic in Wrexham – where Shaggy received treatment – is one of a nationwide network of Vets Now clinics and hospitals that are open through the night, seven-days-a-week, and day and night on weekends and bank holidays, to treat any pet emergencies that may occur.

All of Vets Now’s out-of-hours clinics and 24/7 hospitals have a vet and vet nurse on site at all times.