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Troubleshooting Guide to BALL PYTHONS

Natural History | General Information | Housing Your Snake | Care and Husbandry | Feeding Strategies
Breeding | Common Questions | Glossary | Ball Python Breeders | Classified Ads | Forum

Care and Husbandry

Taking care of snake(s) is something that I find enjoyable, relaxing, and educational. It can be a challenge at times, and does teach you patience. One lesson I learned pretty early is that caring for reptiles is very unlike caring for mammals (ie. dogs, cats, hamsters, etc.). About 80-90% of the calories you and I use up in the course of a day go toward keeping our bodies at a comfortable 98.6F temperature. Reptiles are fortunate since they don't have that overhead. Their body temp is dependant upon their immediate environment. Thus they need a lot less food. Snake can easily go a few weeks, and in some cases almost a year without food! Keep this in mind if/when your snake decides to be finicky about eating. Yes Ball Pythons are a little sensitive and sometimes won't eat unless they are 100% comfortable and feel safe. See the next section Feeding strategies for questions about feeding.

Assuming you are providing a good environment for your snake and it's eating, it will also be expelling waste and shedding. How often your snake sheds and defecates is dependant upon how often it's eating and it's metabolism. A young snake that's growing may shed and/or defecate as often as every four to six weeks. Older snakes which aren't growing as much may only shed a few times a year. If you are worried that your snake is constipated, usually a luke warm/cool bath in an inch or two of water seems to loosen things up.

The processes of shedding, or sloughing, usually take about 7-10 days to complete. You'll first notice that your Ball Python's belly is getting a pink color. Once you notice this, it's best advised to not handle your snake. Shortly after noticing the belly getting pink, you should see the eyes begin to look foggy and the snake's colors begin to dull. After 5-6 days of this, things begin to clear up. A few days after the clearing, your snake will find something rough and rub against it. Ideally your snake should be able to shed in one full piece, which comes off inside out, like when you pull off your sock. If your snake doesn't happen to get it off in one piece, that's a sign that you are not providing exactly the right environment. It may be too dry in the tank, or your snake may be a little dehydrated. The two problem areas you should watch out for, if it didn't slough in a single piece, are around the eyes, and the tip of the tail. If the eye caps did not shed off, your snakes eye(s) will have a foggy silver look to them. To help the snake shed off those last few bits of skin, you can try soaking it in a luke warm/cool bath for a half hour or so. Then gently dabbing it with a warm damp cloth. Placing the snake in a damp cloth bag for awhile sometimes helps also. Some people have had luck dabbing the eye's with a cotton swab that's been moistened with baby oil. If you cannot get the eye cap(s) off, I wouldn't worry too much, and pay extra attention to the humidity level and the hydration of the snake through it's next shed cycle. Most likely the eye caps will come off with the following slough. If after two shed cycles, the eye caps are still intact, a trip to the vet may be called for.

Parasites, may sometimes factor into a bad shed cycle. Ticks and Mites are the two most common ectoparasites× you will find. If you suspect your snake is wild caught, or unhealthy, a veterinarian will be able to identify internal parasites by looking at a fecal (poop) sample under a microscope. A tick is about the size of a zero "O", and a mite is about as big as the period at the end of this sentence. Typically a snake will get parasites either from the wild, from the pet store, occasionally from being outdoors, or occasionally from the rodents that you are feeding your snake. Ticks can be pulled off with tweezers. You may want to dab some antiseptic (neosporin) on the area to help guard against infection. Mites on the other hand are a little more difficult to get rid of. I have had luck with a product called Pro Zap. Although I haven't used it, Provent-a-Mite from Pro Products (off site) is also supposed to be effective. It's best to talk to your veterinarian about the proper use of these items and/or suggestions on other products to use.

Other ailments which commonly affect, mostly imported, Ball Pythons are mouth rot, blister disease, and respiratory infections. If you suspect your snake is ill, increase the heat a few degrees and get it to a qualified herptile veterinarian. Your local herpetological society or pet store should be able to help you find a good doctor. Mouth Rot is an infection within the snake's mouth. If you are seeing a white cottage cheese like material in the snake's mouth, chances are your snake needs treatment. Signs of a respiratory infection are: open mouthed breathing, wheezing or popping when the snake breaths, and/or clear fluid coming out of the snakes nostrils or mouth. Blister disease is usually a direct result of the snake being kept in poor conditions. Lowered, or no heat, combined with a damp dirty cage and possibly ectoparasites can lead to blister disease. The snake will have red sores or blisters usually on it's belly or lower sides, but occasionally they appear on the back. Again, if you suspect that you have an unhealthy snake, a trip to the veterinarian should be in order. An important part of keeping your snake healthy is keeping it warm and clean. I like to use baby wipes to spot clean and pick up feces. A few times a year, I break down the cages and scrub them with soapy water. A solution of 10-15% bleach and 85-90% water can be used to disinfect the cage.

Snake are like potato chips, you can't stop with just one... At least I couldn't. Once you do get another snake you need to quarantine× it from your other snake(s) for a couple of months. The new snake may be diseased or parasitized and you wouldn't want it to infect your healthy animals. Once you quarantine, it's OK to put snakes in the same cage assuming: they are of the same species (Ball Python, Python regius), they are similar sized, and the cage provides ample room and hide boxes. I strongly caution against putting other types of snake together in the same cage. Other species snakes may have care requirements and different types of disease/infection that your Ball Python's immune system cannot handle. You will want to separate them at feeding time. And you may notice that they will not eat unless housed individually.

One aspect of keeping snakes which is easy to over look is record keeping. Just keep simple notes on when they eat or refuse. What type of rodent they ate, and whether they needed to be in a hide box to feel secure and eat. Was the rodent live, fresh killed, thawed? When they shed is also worth keeping. Once you get a few months or years of notes, some patterns may evolve, and you will recognize that your snake may not eat at certain times (like right before or after a shed cycle). It's also helpful if/when you go to the veterinarian. For the few minutes it takes, it will teach you a lot about your snake. Here is a rough example of a page from my record book. Feel free to print it and use it for yourself.

ESCAPE! One of the worst feelings I've had is the realization that the snake in not in it's cage. Most often it's due to the fact that you've forgot to secure the cage. If this unfortunate event happens to you, there are a few things you can do to get it back. First off, try and pinpoint exactly when it got out. If it's been a few hours, it's most likely in the nearest spot which is small, dark, and warm (like the cushions of a sofa). If it has been awhile, you Ball Python may be anywhere in the house. Good placed to look are around or in appliances that give off heat: Refrigerator, Oven, Water Heater, TV, VCR, etc. It's advisable to look at night, since Ball Pythons are nocturnal. You may also want to set a scent trap, which may or may not work. Drag a prekilled rodent (a gerbil would be best) along the base boards of the room(s) that you think your snake might be in. Then place the rodent into a cardboard box that you've cut an access hole into, and place the box in a corner. You may want to put a heat pad under the box. The reasoning is that chances are the snake will crawl along the wall, hopefully pick up the scent trail and follow it into the box. Once in the box, it may eat and decide to stay in the dark warm location and digest. You may also want to restrict other house pets like cats and dogs, from being in the room(s).

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