Observations from Angela Lennox, DVM:

A story of an unusual patient with what is actually a very common problem!

This month we saw a cute little patient, an axolotl (Mexican salamander) named Axolotl!

To see pictures of other axolotls and learn more about them, see this Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axolot

Unlike other amphibians, the axolotl starts out like a tadpole, and never trade their gills for lungs; instead they live their entire lives in the water.

Axolotls have a bad habit of eating small rocks and other material in their enclosure. In fact, this is the number one health problem of axolotls in general (in both pet and laboratory settings), as they have very few illnesses if they are fed and cared for correctly.  For this reason, it’s recommended to house them in a plain aquarium, or with objects too big to get into their mouths.

This axolotl decided to eat a fairly large number of rocks of all sizes.  His owner quickly removed the gravel, and he proceeding to “eliminate” most of them…except for 6 really large rocks far too big to come out that way.  They were also too big and irregular to simply pull out of his stomach with an endoscope.

So how does one anesthetize an aquatic axolotl?

Some interesting current publications show that the best way to keep them asleep for surgery is to bathe their skin and gills with an anesthetic water bath.

Here is our set up: clean water to start, induction tank where we will gradually add the anesthesia, and syringes with additional anesthetic.

Here is our axolotl in the induction tank, waiting for anesthetic to be gradually added.

The “surgical table” must be wet at all times, but the surgery site must be clean and dry. This is the patient in a small dish on water soaked gauzes. The technician continuously bathes the skin and gills with water.

After making a skin/body incision, the stomach is located. The stomach is incised, and the first rock is removed. Notice the ultrasonic Doppler near the patient’s head. This device keeps track of the heart rate throughout surgery.

After removing the 6 rocks, the tiny stomach is sutured with fine suture material.

The body wall/skin and then closed using several layers, and our patient needs to be “water tight” in order to go back into the tank.

At the end, our patient is placed in a recovery tank of clean water. Here he is just after surgery.

A few hours after surgery.

Hopefully the sutures will stay secure, and he will make a full recovery-and NO more rocks!

The axolotl was sent home the next day, and we hear he is already eating small meals.