Denver Zoo's King Cobra, 18, has skin cancer and interesting treatment

Denver Zoo's King Cobra diagnosed with cancer
Denver Zoo's King Cobra diagnosed with cancer
Denver Zoo's King Cobra diagnosed with cancer
Posted at 5:22 PM, May 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-09 19:22:24-04

DENVER — A veteran resident at the Denver Zoo has contracted a form of skin cancer, but veterinarians aren't giving up on the 18-year-old King Cobra. 

Zoo officials say the 18-year-old snake, which is very venomous, is not the easiest patient to treat, meaning the cancer diagnosis is a concerning one. 

Zookeepers noticed an abnormal purple coloration on the snake's skin, along with weight loss. The combined observations led to blood tests and the diagnosis. Veterinarians quickly ruled out a host of treatments, but did eventually come up with an interesting treatment. 

Dr. Betsy Stringer, one of the Zoo's veterinarians, is employing an untested method of treatment — chemotherapy pills administered through the snake's food. 

Once every three weeks, Stringer places a pill in the mouth of a dead rat. Once that rat is consumed, so too is the pill. 

"Ultimately, we're hoping for complete remission, but even if not, we hope it at least improves the cobra's quality of life and longevity," one zoo official said. "From the largest elephant to the smallest snake, we care about all the animals at the Zoo and want to provide them with the best possible care we can." 

The snake may not have a name, but the 12-foot reptile is a favorite of some of the zoo's staff.