Rat snake
This is a representational image showing a yellow rat snake in Florida. Getty Images/Mauro Pimentel

A snake that had a life-saving surgery in Florida two months ago, to remove a ping-pong ball stuck in its throat, was released into the wild Jan. 1. The yellow rat snake was thought to have swallowed the ball about a month before it was found suffering.

The reptile was brought into Young’s Animal Hospital in Titusville, Florida, by an unnamed person who saw the snake. It was unable to swallow and thus was extremely dehydrated and thin.

“We can assume the snake just thought it looked like an egg,” Dr. Angela Bockelman, who operated on the snake, told Brevard Times.

After the snake was operated upon and the ball removed, the snake was sent to the Florida Wildlife Hospital in Palm Shores, for recuperation. Despite the staff taking care of the snake, they were unsure if it would survive. But with two months of care, the snake was declared healthy and the veterinarians released it in a thickly forested region near Pineda Causeway.

Dr. Bockelman said, “I know no one threw a ping pong ball out hoping a snake would eat it, but it impacted that animal, and I think it’s only reasonable we try to fix it”

Dr. Bockelman said even though she felt good about having saved the snake, she hoped this would stand as an example of how humans impact wildlife.

This incident was only one of many similar ones that happened in 2018 alone. According to a report by D.C. area radio station WTOP, a single veterinarian in the region saw 54 cases of pets swallowing everything from pacifiers to glass bottles and fish hooks to corn cobs and even kids’ toys.

In the report, veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson spoke about the hazards of animals swallowing such things. Time was of essence when animals have non-food items in their stomachs, she said.

“If we catch this soon enough, we may be able to bring it out of the stomach. However, if it’s hours later, it could potentially already be down in the intestinal track and there is no retrieving easily that way,” Dr. Nelson said.

She also said that surgery was the most common option to remove an object from an animal once it was swallowed. But in 2017, when a carpet python swallowed a tennis ball, a vet nurse and snake handler Trish Prendergast used a thick coat of paraffin oil and gentle massaging motions to remove the tennis ball stuck its throat.

While snakes on land maybe swallowing balls - tennis, ping-pong or golf - and glass bottles, sea-snakes are at risk of swallowing plastics and balloons and balloon strings. In research by the Ocean Clean-up Foundation, it was found that helium balloons and discarded fishing nets attract attention of the reptiles due to their bright colors. When ingested, these objects make them choke or sometimes even kill them.