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A fixed moderate-dose combination of tiletamine+zolazepam outperforms midazolam in induction of short-term immobilization of ball pythons (Python regius)


Laboratory animals are commonly anesthetized to prevent pain and distress and to provide safe handling. Anesthesia procedures are well-developed for common laboratory mammals, but not as well established in reptiles. We assessed the performance of intramuscularly injected tiletamine (dissociative anesthetic) and zolazepam (benzodiazepine sedative) in fixed combination (2 mg/kg and 3 mg/kg) in comparison to 2 mg/kg of midazolam (benzodiazepine sedative) in ball pythons (Python regius). We measured heart and respiratory rates and quantified induction parameters (i.e., time to loss of righting reflex, time to loss of withdrawal reflex) and recovery parameters (i.e., time to regain righting reflex, withdrawal reflex, normal behavior). Mild decreases in heart and respiratory rates (median decrease of <10 beats per minute and <5 breaths per minute) were observed for most time points among all three anesthetic dose groups. No statistically significant difference between the median time to loss of righting reflex was observed among animals of any group (p = 0.783). However, the withdrawal reflex was lost in all snakes receiving 3mg/kg of tiletamine+zolazepam but not in all animals of the other two groups (p = 0.0004). In addition, the time for animals to regain the righting reflex and resume normal behavior was longer in the drug combination dose groups compared to the midazolam group (p = 0.0055). Our results indicate that midazolam is an adequate sedative for ball pythons but does not suffice to achieve reliable immobilization or anesthesia, whereas tiletamine+zolazepam achieves short-term anesthesia in a dose-dependent manner.

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