WHEN DO I SEE A VET?
- Annual wellness exam for physical exam, fecal, and bloodwork baseline testing
- Not eating or pooping for over a month
- Open mouth breathing or noise while breathing
- Diarrhea, blood in feces, vomiting, or consistent regurgitation
- Retained shed, retained spectacles, redness, swelling, or open wounds of the skin
- Swollen eyes, swelling or bleeding of the mouth
- Signs of ticks or mites
- Any health concerns or questions
Babies: 15 to 20-gallon tank (24” L x 12” W x 12” H to 30” L x 12” W x 12” H)
Adults: 40-gallon tank (36” L x 18” W x 16” H) or larger enclosure or rack system
Enclosures should have a basking light or heat source, hide area, water source, and décor to provide enrichment for your ball python. Ball pythons are semi-arboreal reptiles that naturally will live in shrubs and bushes or low level trees.
Ball pythons are solitary reptiles and should be housed alone due to risk of injury and fighting. They should only be introduced together for breeding purposes and separated after breeding.
Appropriate substrates include aspen shavings, pine bark, or cocoanut fiber. While paper towels, reptile carpets, newspaper are also acceptable floorings. Having grapevine branches, cork bark and artificial plants allows for enrichment and decreased stress providing climbing and areas for shelter and hiding on top of their hides. For rack systems it is important to offer a constant water source and other sources of enrichment or a hide can assist in reduction of stress. For naturalistic enclosures having one to two hides, a water dish, and area to climb and hide provide great enrichment for your ball python. We recommend consulting your veterinarian for more information on establishing a safe bioactive enclosure.
Lighting and Heating
Proper temperatures are essential for the development, growth, and maintenance of your ball python. However, there is mixed literature on the importance of lighting and UVB exposure needed.
Lighting: Ball pythons are a nocturnal or crepuscular tropical to subtropical species most active mostly at dusk and dawn. They can use a low output UVB lighting to assist in vitamin D3 synthesis starting with their skin, but lighting is not essential. Ideal hours of daylight to nightlight are 10-12 hours of daylight to 12-14 hours of nighttime with no lighting. This can be achieved by a timer connected to their lights. UVB lights lose strength over time even though they may still emit light and should be changed every 6 months. It is important to note that windows and glass block UVB rays, screens and mesh can decrease the UVB strength to your ball python. Avoid placing glass enclosures in direct sunlight as this can heat up much higher than anticipated.
Recommended UVB lights include:
T5 Strip Lights:
Arcadia T5 D3 Reptile Lamp 6%
Zoomed Reptisun 5.0 UVB T5-HO
Heating: Ball pythons are ectotherms or poikilothermous meaning they get their body temperature from the environment. This is key for proper metabolism and digestion of their food as well as overall health and function. During the day your ball python should have a small basking area that reaches 88-95°F, avoiding 100°F or higher with a cool side having an ambient air temperature of 78-85°F. During the night ideal temperatures should remain between 70-75°F, avoiding any temperatures below 65°F due to risk of causing digestive issues and other illnesses.
Humidity and Hydration
Humidity and hydration play several important roles in your ball python’s health. Humidity assists in proper scute development, skin shedding, and rate of dehydration, but can cause respiratory issues if consistently too high. Ideal humidity for a ball python is around 50-60% humidity throughout the day and night. This can be achieved by multiple timed misting or a fogger throughout the day or just before the lights turn on for an hour or two before they turn off. Humidity should be monitored using a hygrometer inside the enclosure. Having a water dish the whole snake can submerge in is ideal for assisting in shedding, maintaining humidity, and providing a water source. Weekly soakings can be beneficial if your snake does not actively soak on its own. Providing a consistent and clean source of water is important for proper hydration and drinking.
Nutrition is a very important part of allowing for proper growth and development of a ball python. Understanding and knowing the appropriate food choices can help your ball python stay healthy and avoid many medical complications. Baby ball pythons should be baby mice or rat pinkies, fuzzies, or hoppers depending on the size of the snake. Adults can be fed adult mice or small rats. It is important to not offer any food item that is wider than two times the width of your snake’s eyes with an ideal weight for food being 10-15% of the weight of the snake. Ball pythons are carnivores naturally eating small mammals, lizards, small birds, and even amphibians. There are several appropriate methods to feed adults including offering a feeder once a week, to a larger food source every other week to even once a month. It is important to monitor body condition when feeding at short or longer periods to prevent obesity or malnutrition in your snake. Babies and gravid females should be fed once weekly for appropriate growth and egg development. Maintaining a balance and routine diet is important to maintaining stable health in a ball python.
Main Food Sources:
Pinkies, fuzzies, hoppers, and adults are all appropriate food sources for different ages of ball pythons.
Pinkies, fuzzies, hoppers, and small rats are all appropriate food sources for different ages of ball pythons.
Enrichment is an important and stimulating part of a ball python’s day to day life.
Several Enrichment options are listed below:
Handling – Handling can encourage your snake to become more comfortable with you holding them and can allow them to have an opportunity outside their enclosure.
Supervised Time Outside Their Enclosure – Make sure to have a clean, item free area where you can supervise the activity of your ball python. Providing a low leveled canopy or grapevine branch structure can allow for an opportunity for your snake to explore. Make sure no other pets including dogs, or cats have access to the snake when outside its enclosure.
Is My Ball Python a Male or Female?
Ball Pythons are not a dimorphic species with colorations being similar, but there are a few physical characteristics that can help differentiate males and females. In addition, the most reliable way in determining sex can be done by a skilled veterinary professional through several methods at a younger age including probing for hemipene pockets, endoscopic sex determination, and ultrasound sex determination. Listed below is a helpful characteristic that you look for to visually differentiate a male and female.
Spur Size – Male ball pythons will have larger spurs on either side of their vent that assists them in holding onto female while trying to mate. Females can still have spurs, but they tend to be smaller when compared to males. This is harder to visualize and not a completely reliable method to sex alone as spur sizes can vary between individuals.
Tail Length and Thickness – Another characteristic is the thickness and shape of the tail. Males tend to have a thicker tail past their vent that tapers fast to a blunt end while females will have a thinner tail that gradually tapers off and the end. This as well is harder to visualize as body condition can play a role in changing the overall appearance of the tail in general.
Dr. Brandon J Louth, DVM
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