Snakes

Ball Python - Python regius

Basic Facts

  • Found in west and west-central Africa
  • Size:  up to 48”
  • Live span: In captive settings greater than 50 years with proper care.
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Puberty: 11–18 months for males, and 20–36 months for females
  • Eggs:  Ball pythons lay eggs in substrate and females will coil/guard the eggs. Successful hatching is more likely if eggs are properly moved and incubated under controlled temperatures. 
  • Sexing: Sexing snakes can be difficult. Cloacal spurs on males tend to be longer and more prominent. Sexing should be done by a trained profession who knows how to properly probe the cloaca or express the hemipenes on the snake. Inappropriate probing can injure the snake.

Some reasons why Ball Pythons make great pets
  • Great long term pets with the proper care
  • Generally hardy
  • Maintain smaller size even in adulthood than other pythons
  • Readily available as captive bred to avoid wild caught animals
  • Generally docile and good eaters

Zoonosis: Salmonella bacteria is easily spread between reptiles and humans: 
   http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=17+1797&aid=623

Husbandry

Housing: 
Size
  • A general rule of an enclosure that is 1.5x the length of the snake is ideal. Reptiles will not stop growing if kept in a smaller enclosure, this is a myth.
  • Having climbing structures helps maximize the space available.
  • Containment
  • Snakes are very strong and agile animals, they are capable of pushing lids off tanks and escaping through holes that look too small for their bodies to fit through. Make sure your enclosure is secure and safe for your snake. Snakes are often injured or killed when escaping or after escaping, keep them secure.
  • Dogs and cats can become very interested in your snake in the enclosure and may damage the enclosure in an attempt to catch the snake. Be aware and careful.
  • Wire mesh top cages generally work very well for snakes, however, highly active snakes will occasionally rub their nose raw trying to push the lid open. If your snake has problems with this, you may want to look into an all plastic enclosure like a Neodesha or other plastic/PVC based cage.
  • Bedding Material and Enclosure Props
  • Bedding should be chosen that is resistant to mold and ingestion. Aspen, coconut bark, and other beddings work well. Artificial turf (indoor/outdoor carpet) can be used as a bedding and is easy to change out and clean.
  • Hide boxes should be provided that are sufficient size to make the snake feel protected and safe. Boxes should be provided in multiple areas to allow them to select based on temperature choice.
  • Opaque plastic shoe boxes or rubber containers with a hole cut in the lid or side are cheap and easy hide structures, and are easy to clean.
Humidity
  • If not housed with sufficiently high humidity, Ball Pythons can have trouble shedding or can develop intestinal blockages due to dried urate or feces. Covering the tank with plastic where there are no light can help increase humidity. 
  • A large bowl or pan of water is best for a Ball Python. This will give sufficient area for soaking and is a source of moisture to increase ambient humidity. Placing the pool near the basking spot can help increase humidity as well.
  • Misting daily is another way to increase tank humidity.
  •  Weekly soaking of snakes that do not soak by choice is recommended. A container with ½-1 inch of warm water, for an hour or so, once a week, can help the snake’s general hydration level.
Outdoor Housing
  • Though your snake may benefit from time in the sun, outdoor housing can lead to issue of temperature control and escape. NEVER place your snake outside in a glass aquarium in the sun, it acts like a green house and can overheat your snake.
  • Taking your snake out on a warm day may increase their body temperature, and thereby increase their activity level. They may move faster and be more agitated than usual. Be prepared.
Lighting
  • Full spectrum lighting- UVA/UVB
  • This is necessary for Vitamin D3 synthesis which is needed for calcium metabolism in reptiles. A lack of proper lighting can cause metabolic bone disease and other illnesses. Though snakes, especially nocturnal snakes like ball pythons, have less need for UV light than turtles and lizards, it should be provided as their day time lighting.
  • These bulbs are generally effective for about 6-10 months and will need replacement afterward. Fluorescent UVB bulbs do not project UVB very far, so it is necessary to have it positioned closely - 10 inches above the basking area would suffice. Care should be taken to assure hide boxes and enclosure props can not be moved to damage the lights. Special halogen and mercury vapor UVA/UVB lighting can give broad spectrum light at a greater distance than fluorescent but also produce a significant amount of heat.
  • Any plastic or glass in the aquarium hood/lid or in the light fixture will impede UV light and will need to be removed. Most house windows are coated to block UV light so they should not be considered a source of UV light (though it is possible to get window panes replaced with UV penetrable glass).
  • Light cycles can change throughout the year to mimic changes in day length, however it is easier to place lights on an automatic timer to assure consistency.
Basking lighting
  • Red lights or heat emitter can be used for 24hour hot spots in one area of the enclosure. These lights do not provide any UVA/UVB and should be placed a safe distance from hide boxes and props.
Temperature: 
  • Temperature is critical for a healthy snake. The pen should have a cool end with the temps in the high 70’s to low 80's and a basking spot at 90-95°F. Night time temperature drops are needed (Low 70s-High 80s). If they are kept too cool they can't digest their food. Too warm and they stop eating.
  • Invest in a good thermometer. Place the thermometer where the snake resides so you know the true temperature. Hi-Lo thermometers are readily available and can be used to check temperature ranges over a period of time.
  • Temperature can be maintained via an under enclosure heater or spot lights. Temperature should be closely monitored to determined daily maximum temperature and to assure that basking lights and UV lights are not causing the enclosure to become overheated. Care should be taken to assure changes in ambient temperature are not adversely impacting your enclosure temperature. HOT ROCKS ARE TO BE AVOIDED. These devices have a history of not properly regulating their temperature. If this happens, your snake can suffer severe burns. The snake will not move off the rock that is too hot, they don’t understand this, and will stay in the hottest place they can find if sick or injured, so the burns will just get worse.
  • Monitor temperatures closely during seasonal changes as they can become too hot in the summer and too cool in the winter.
Diet: 
  • Carnivorous - rodents
  • It is recommended to feed fresh killed or thawed frozen rodents. Ball pythons hunt based on temperature (they are actually nocturnal hunters), so make sure the rodent is near 100 degrees F. This is easily done in a hot water bath using straight hot tap water. 
  • Ball pythons can be viewed as cage aggressive if they become accustom to being fed in their main enclosure. This is not true aggression, they are simply looking for food. Feeding your snake in an enclosure separate from their main enclosure can eliminate the connection between the lid opening and food entering. A Rubbermaid container with a lid, large enough for the snake to stretch out a bit, is ideal for this. The snake may become strikey and seem aggressive when in that new enclosure, but they are just searching for food.
  • Feeding your snake by hand is not recommended. Ball pythons are heat sensing feeders. They will strike at the warmest spot. This may be your hand (which is about 98.6F) if the mouse is not hot enough. Using long tongs is recommended to put distance between you and the striking snake so they do not become confused.
  • NEVER MICROWAVE RODENTS FOR YOUR SNAKE. This causes excessively hot spots that can cause burns to the snake’s mouth, esophagus, and gut.
  • Live feed is not recommended. If the snake does not eat it immediately, there is a good chance the rodent will bite and chew on the snake. These wounds are slow to heal and can be very painful for your snake.
  •  
  • When should my Ball Python see the Veterinarian?
  • Any new pet should be examined by a veterinarian, then have yearly check-ups with a veterinarian as long as they are healthy.
  • Below are some common problems seen in Ball Pythons and recommendations of when to see your veterinarian. If you are ever concerned about the health of your pet do not hesitate to call.
  • With all reptiles, signs of illness are generally hidden until the problem is severe, small changes in your snakes behavior can be the first sign of a serious problem, do not wait until your snake looks severely ill before seeking medical attention.

Common problems with Ball Python and signs to watch for

Stuck Shed:
  • If the snake does not have proper humidity, shedding may be an issue. Shed can be stuck anywhere on the body, and soaking your snake can help this. However, stuck eye caps can be a severe problem. If your snake’s eyes continue to be frosted/opaque after a shed, they should be checked. Do not try to peel shed off a dry snake eye, you can cause problems and blindness.
Respiratory Infection:
  • Snakes not kept properly can develop respiratory infection. Signs include open mouth breathing, nasal discharge, oral discharge, lethargy, not eating, and change in basking behavior.. Snakes having difficulty breathing due to respiratory infections may try to position themselves with their head and front portion of the body up the side of the tank and body stretched out.  This is an attempt to maximize lung capacity and is a sign of severe problems. Any of these signs should be checked immediately.
Mouth-rot:
  • Snakes are prone to bacterial infections of the mouth, collectively called mouth rot. Refusal to eat, swelling of the mouth, open mouth stance, red areas in the mouth, and discomfort around the mouth may be signs of oral injury and discomfort. Snakes will not strike and eat if they have mouth pain. This condition can be caused by a wide variety of husbandry issues as well as injury and should be assessed by a very immediately.
Bite wounds:
  • When fed live prey, snakes can suffer from bite wounds and chewed areas. These wounds should be treated professionally immediately.
Burns:
  • Improper lighting or bad hot rocks can cause severe burns on your snake. Even with a burn, the snake will attempt to be in the hottest spot in the enclosure, which if that is a shorted out hot rock, can make the wounds more severe. There is no natural situation in the wild where an injured snake would suffer more injury from getting to a hot spot, it should help them heal. Burns can be severe and through the entire thickness of the body wall. These wounds need immediate and potentially long term treatment.
Excessive shedding:
  • Your snake will regularly shed as it grows and after it reaches adult size, however, if you snake is shedding repetitively a close intervals, this can be an indication of stress. Stress shedding is an indication of illness or improper husbandry. 
This list contains the most common problems seen in pet Ball Pythons. If your snake is not eating, is acting lethargic, or if you are at all concerned call your veterinarian, they can assist you in determining if and when your pet should be seen. As a general rule, reptiles do no show illness until it is a significant issue, so prompt attention should be given to changes in attitude. Many medical problems seen in snakes and other reptiles are often tied to improper husbandry. Please research proper husbandry techniques to assure you are keeping your snake healthy and happy.


 
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