Ball Python Care Guide

Discussion in 'Ball Pythons' started by Cammy, Jun 24, 2012.

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  1. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Note: Minor proofreading and updating of some links has been applied. Original pictures are currently unobtainable. If any member has relevant pictures they would be willing to contribute, please PM Cammy.
    Ball Python Care Part 1 - by Stu at 2amCreations.com
    Published: June 23, 2008
    Intro

    There are a million care sheets on Ball Pythons on the web. Some are great, while others aren't worth the time it takes for the page to download. Three of the best care sheets I have found are at NERD, Melissa Kaplan's site, and Ken Felsman's care sheet. Melissa Kaplans care sheet seems a bit outdated now, but there is still good information to be found on it. All three are listed in the links section on our website, be sure to check them out for all the basic info on temps, caging, feeding, and breeding.

    A great site is Vida Preciosa Magazine, it's an online mag put together by Dave and Tracy Barker. I think the cost is $20 a year, whatever, it's worth every penny. Make sure and check out Tracy's breeders diary. The Barkers have also recently put out a pair of videos on ball pythons. The videos are not extremely in depth, but they still have a good amount of information in them. Edit: The original link leads to an outdated page. The Barker’s website, which contains care sheets and numerous articles, can be found here.

    Another excellent source for bp information is "The Ball Python Manual" by Vosjoli and the Barkers. This book is a must for anyone considering ball pythons. The book can be purchased in our links section or through amazon here.

    One last link I want to add is for The Snake Keepers email list. Dan and Colette started this list to share information with people, and it's always filled with good ideas and helpful hints.

    Since there are other resources out there that can cover the basics far better than I can, I won't even get into that type of information. What I will try and cover is the information that the other resources leave out.

    In my opinion the key to ball pythons is PATIENCE! Between feeding, breeding, shedding, cleaning, and handling it's all about being patient and working with your animals.

    A little info about why I decided to write all this stuff down. I have been keeping ball pythons for about 5 years now. At the current count my girlfriend and I have about 40 ball pythons. I have read just about every care sheet available and have picked the brains of several of the top breeders, and I still have questions. I spend a lot of time on online forums and one thing keeps sticking out at me, there is no information out there that handles daily dealing with ball pythons. All the care sheets cover the basics of husbandry, but they don't tell you about what you'll see on a daily basis. This is the information that I hope to pass on here. I see a lot of the same questions being posted all the time on the online forums and I'm hoping to include all these answers also. The one thing that I can guarantee is that no matter how many books and care sheets you read or how many people you talk to, your ball pythons will continue to do things that defy the experts. This is one of the things I love about being involved with these snakes; we are in a constant state of learning about them. I have read articles that were written 10 years ago by experts and they are now obsolete—we have gained so much more knowledge about them over this short amount of time. I'm sure that 10 years from now we will know far more than we do now, and we'll still be learning.

    I hope you enjoy this and that you get some useful information out of it. Thank you for taking the time to read this page. It shows you really do care about your snakes’ well being.
     
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  2. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Natural habitat

    Ball pythons come from regions in western Africa, Ghana being the country that most ball pythons are exported from. They live in open grasslands with mainly shrubs and small trees. They spend the majority of their time underground in rodent burrows.

    I recently did some research on Ghana’s weather patterns throughout a year and found a few rather interesting facts. The first important thing I found is that the day/night cycle of Ghana does not change more than half an hour in either direction during the year. This goes against what many people say about photo period cycling for breeding purposes. The day/night cycle of Ghana stays around 11-13 hours of light all year long.

    The next interesting thing I found had to do with temperatures. The average high and low temperatures do not vary greatly. This again goes against what most will tell you when it comes to breeding. The average highs were above 82 degrees F and the average lows were around 75 degrees F. These temperatures stayed very constant throughout the year.

    What seemed to have the greatest amount of change during the year was the amount of rainfall, which seems to coincide nicely with normal ball python breeding times. Ghana has two times of the year when they get large amounts of rainfall on average. One is right at the beginning of breeding season and the other is about the time most ball pythons lay their eggs.

    This may explain why a large amount of breeding activity seen in large collections is when a low front comes into the area. The snakes can sense the change in the weather and react accordingly.
     
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  3. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Selection

    I see a lot of people on forums and email lists asking what the abbreviations CH, WC, CB, and LTC stand for.

    CH is captive hatched. Most baby ball pythons in pet stores are CH. In Africa the eggs are dug up or gravid females are collected and held until the eggs are laid. Once the eggs hatch the baby balls are bagged, boxed, and shipped to their destination. Once they reach an importer they are separated into smaller lots, rebagged, reboxed, and sent out all over the country to pet stores, high volume dealers, etc. Thousands of these little ones die in this country every year because of this process.

    WC stands for wild caught. These are normally adults that are caught and then go through the same procedure as above. These snakes have an even bigger downside: Since they have been out in the wild for some time, they are normally riddled with internal and external parasites. They will also take longer to acclimate to living in captivity.

    CB stands for captive born. This means the parents were bred in captivity, the eggs were incubated in captivity, and the little one's pipped the eggs in captivity. CB is the way to go when purchasing ball pythons. The chances of parasites is very low, most breeders don't sell their babies until they have fed on their own several times, and the more CB babies we produce, the fewer that will have to go through the importation process.

    LTC means long term captive. This term is used rather freely. It seems that for some folks LTC means more than a week, while others use it for animals they have had at least a year. When purchasing a snake that is described as LTC, make sure you find out exactly how "long" it’s really been captive.

    Just another short abbreviation explanation: This has to do with sex ratios. You will see people saying they have 1.2.3 ball pythons. This means that they have one male, two females, and three of unknown sex. It is always placed as male.female.unknown.

    I can't stress enough the need to buy from reputable and respected breeders. Not only does it slowly cut down on the amount of animals imported, but your chances of having problems with your snake are reduced greatly. Even if you’re buying your new snake from the guy down the street that breeds ball pythons for fun, that's still far better than buying a captive hatched animal.

    There is a list of reputable breeders in our Links section that are all known for the quality of their animals and their setups.

    When you are selecting a new snake there are some things to keep an eye on. Most of the care sheets do go into this so I won't make a big production about it. If you are going to buy from a pet shop instead of a breeder, there are a few things to help you make an educated decision. As strange as this may sound, it's often the nippiest hatchlings that will be healthy, and will feed for you right off the bat. Feeding is probably the most important aspect when getting a hatchling from a pet store; ask to see the snake eat before purchasing it. You also want to make sure the snake has good body weight for its size. Look the snake over and check it for ticks and mites. Ticks will look a lot like scales, but they will be raised up higher than a normal scale. Mites are very tiny and hard to spot. They often appear as clusters of reddish dots. They are normally found around the eyes and mouth and on your hands after handling.

    If anything about the snake looks or feels strange, you do not want it. Feel for rock hard lumps just before the tail. This can be a sign of hardened yolk inside the body. This is almost always fatal, even with surgery. (We have found that occasionally you can push out this mass and the snake may be able to live out a long and healthy life.) This may sound callous, but do not buy a snake because you feel sorry for it, at least not until you have the experience to deal with any problems that may come up, and a bank account big enough to handle the vet bills.

    This is what we do when we bring in a new snake, no matter who it comes from: We set the snake up in a very basic cage with a heat pad, newspaper, hide box, and water bowl. That's it. Before we put in the snake we will remove the water bowl and we spray the substrate with a product called Prevent-a-mite made by Pro-Products. You will want to pay special attention to the instructions on the can; they should be followed exactly. Once you've followed the instructions you can put the snake and the water bowl in the cage.

    We will normally leave the snake alone for at least 3-4 days to let it acclimate. At this point we will normally try and feed a thawed mouse and see what happens. If it's refused, we'll leave the snake alone for another few days and try again. This part of getting a new snake isn't much fun since you aren't getting to interact with the snake, but it's a good way to make sure the snake isn't carrying any parasites, and for it to settle into your captive care.

    It is a good idea to take a stool sample from your newly acquired snake to a veterinarian so it can be checked for parasites. This is usually an inexpensive and quick process. The medicines are usually inexpensive also and treatment doesn't take more than a few weeks for most internal parasites.
     
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  4. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Caging

    Now that you know where your little one came from let's talk about what you’re putting it in. Most first time snake owners keep their snakes in aquariums. I'm not getting into size, that's for the other care sheets. If you’re a first time owner, here's a secret: bp's are addictive. Very soon you'll be wanting a few more. If you've been keeping bp's a while, well, how many do you have?

    This is where things get interesting. There seem to be two schools of thought on keeping several bp's. One is to only have a few and keep them in very decorative cages. The other is to have a bunch and keep them in some kind of rack system. Either way you go, once you have 3-4 ball pythons, aquariums just don't seem to cut it anymore, although there are a few folks out there who will prove me wrong.

    There are two more categories of people in both of the above: those who can spend lots of cash and those who are going to become carpenters/electricians.

    If you only want a few snakes and want the decorative cages, then aquariums may still work for you, but there are reptile cages on the market now that blow aquariums away. Neodesha and Vision cages are the two premier makers of reptile cages. This is for the folks who have some cash to spend. The cages aren't really that expensive singly, but it adds up when you need 8-10 of them. Plus, they take up a bit of space. A lower cost alternative is Barrs cages. They are inexpensive, light weight, and in my opinion are about the perfect small cage. Barrs cages should probably only be used for up to yearlings, maybe a little older, unless of course they've come out with a bigger cage. The other option is to build your own custom cages. I have seen some really amazing and innovative cage ideas. Just put your imagination to work.

    Now if you want a large number of bp's, then a rack system is the way to go. Freedom Breeder makes an exceptional rack system. Matrix (edit: obsolete?), Neodesha, and Habitat Systems also make good rack systems. There are some other cage makers out there that will make custom cages that also double as furniture. These are beautiful pieces with a price tag to match, although in my eyes they would be worth every penny. Showcase Cages is one company that makes cages like this. Cages by Design also makes a gorgeous cage that, while it isn't really furniture, would fit right in with your living room decor.

    If you can't afford to buy one of these systems then this is another point where you become a carpenter and an electrician. We have built all of our own racks. The cost is far less than buying one but it takes some work and planning.

    I have seen some decorative/naturalistic cages that are simply amazing. When someone uses their imagination to really think about their setup, it's unreal what they can accomplish. The downside to these types of cages is that maintenance becomes a lot of work. Do not let that discourage you. If I only had one or two snakes, I would definitely have naturalistic cages.

    The hard part of the natural cages is getting your temperatures and humidity correct and stable. Once this is done, you can just go crazy with the cage. Your only limitation will be your imagination and your wallet. The substrate used in most naturalistic cages is either cypress mulch or Repti Bark. The hides are usually cork bark or some of the manufactured fake rock hides. I do not recommend using real rocks as the snakes are likely to move them around and could get squished. A climbing branch or two is always good to put in; your snake will use it quite a bit. Make sure that all decorations are secure. You don't want your snake pushing something over onto itself or into the glass. Ball pythons are not the greatest climbers in the world—you will see and hear them fall once in a while. Not to worry, as I'm sure they take tumbles in the wild as well. It can really scare you when you see them fall though. Just be forewarned; it will happen.

    Things to remember about naturalistic cages: Temps and humidity will be different in a bare cage than they will be in a decorated one. The best idea is to set up the cage and monitor it with a thermometer and humidity gauge for a few days before putting the snake in.

    In my opinion it is best to house ball pythons singly. Also, if you are using the natural setup, feeding in another enclosure is a good idea. This way you don't have to worry about the snake ingesting any of the substrate, and you don't have to worry about the decorations getting destroyed as the snake wraps its prey. Live plants are not a good idea for the simple reason that they will more than likely be destroyed from the snake crawling over them. I know some people who do use live plants, but they have to work very hard to ensure the snakes don't crush them. If you want the look of plants without the hassle, get plastic plants. They look good and you can just bend them back into shape after your bp goes cruising over top of them.

    Constant monitoring of temps and humidity is a must, and keep the cage clean. Bacteria and other nasties can become a problem quickly in this type of setup. Once you have all the bases covered you will be rewarded with a beautiful setup for your snake’s home.
     
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  5. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Basic Cage Requirements

    Alright, you've decided what you’re going to keep your snake or snakes in, but what else are you going to put in with them? Well, there are a few things that are a must, no matter what kind of cage you’re using.

    First is substrate. (This is what you use to line the bottom of the cage.) We use newspaper for all our snakes. No, it's not the prettiest, but it's economical, easy to clean, and is mildly absorbent. A lot of keepers swear by cypress mulch. It's rather economical, can be spot cleaned, and looks a little better. The down side is that you have to watch and make sure the snake doesn't ingest any large pieces. Aspen shavings fall into this category as well. Care Fresh is another product we've used. It's not nearly as cost effective as newspaper or cypress mulch, but it's very absorbent, helps keep down odors, and can be spot cleaned. These are probably the top used substrates, although some folks do use other things.

    Second is a water bowl—not just any water bowl though, unless you enjoy cleaning out soaked substrate a couple times a day. The main thing you have to remember is that ball pythons are heavy bodied and curious snakes. If the water bowl is too light, they will crawl across it or try to burrow under it and flip the bowl over. If it's too big, they may use it as a hide and stay in it for long periods of time. This can be a bad thing as it could lead to respiratory infections if they get too cool in the water. We use a dog water bowl that has a weighted bottom and is wider at the bottom than at the top. These have been perfect for us.

    Third is a hide box. This is a must for ball pythons. They are nocturnal and rather secretive snakes. Two hide boxes are even better—one on the warm side of the cage and another on the cooler side. If you have a really large cage you'll want to add even more. Hides can be anything that the snake will fit in, really. Ball pythons like to feel tight and secure so the hides should be of a size that the snake will touch at least 2 of the walls when it's curled up inside. We've used empty envelope boxes, cut down cereal boxes, colored Tupperware containers, cork bark, the plastic tubs that butter comes in, and molded plastic hides. It really doesn't matter what you use as long as you use something.

    Fourth is heat. This is a must. Ball pythons come from Africa and live in an area that is quite warm. An under-tank heat pad is by far the most preferred method for aquariums or other custom cages. If you’re using a rack system, you'll be using some form of heat tape. DO NOT use hot rocks; snakes will lay on them and get burns. Another method of heating is using heat lamps or ceramic heat emitters. These can be used in conjunction with heat pads. The down side of the heat lamps is that they dry out the air and make it much harder to keep your humidity up where you want it. Whatever you use, make sure it is hooked up to some kind of thermostat. These can range in price from thirty bucks to several hundred dollars. Also, you do not want your snake coming into direct contact with the heat source; they will get burned! One other form of heat that I should mention is using full room heating. This can be very tricky and expensive if you’re doing it properly. I know of a few people who have used this with great success, but it's taken a lot of trial and error to get it right. If you go with this method, make sure you have everything worked out perfectly before introducing any snakes.

    If you are using a rack system the above four items are all you'll need for your snakes. If you’re going for the decorative look then you can get really wild about what you put in the cage.

    One last thing that is a must, although it doesn't go in the cage, is an escape-proof lid. I don't know how many times I have seen posts on forums saying, "My snake has escaped!" Ball Pythons are great escape artists; if they find one weak spot, they will exploit it and get out. Check with your local pet store or reptile shop. They will be able to sell or get a tight locking lid. If you get a vision cage, or make a custom cage of your own, it's a good idea to put a lock of some sort on the door.

    Another item that is not really a necessity but should be considered is a humidifier. If you live in a very dry area you are going to have a very hard time getting your humidity to good levels. A humidifier can really help you out. This will take some tweaking to get just right, but it can be just what the doctor ordered.

    Some things that I've seen recently at some reptile shows are odor removers. These little machines will take just about any odor out of the air. We do not use one so I can't say if they truly do what they claim, but it may not be a bad idea. Snake rooms can get to smelling funny sometimes. You may not notice it, but visitors will!
     
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  6. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Feeding

    Okay, now you've got your snake set up in its new home. You've got the environment right and all the necessities covered. Now what? Well, the snake has to eat, doesn't it? Let's give feeding a shot.

    Ball pythons have a habit of refusing food at certain times of the year, and sometimes for apparently no reason at all. I say apparently because most of the time something has changed in their environment that we haven't noticed. Ball pythons will normally start refusing food after their second year from late October to early November through late March to early May. This is normal ball python behavior. It is usually in conjunction with the temps starting to drop for winter. We have also seen young ball pythons refuse food for a month or so around 9-12 months of age. This is something that we don't understand. Whenever a bp starts refusing food and it's not a normal time of the year, you should start by checking your temps and humidity. If those are fine, the next best step would be to get a fecal exam done by a local vet. These are normally inexpensive (around $12-15). Internal parasites and a change in environment are the most common reasons for a bp to refuse food. Even changing from one cage to another can spark a mini fast for a couple weeks.

    I have found that if all the snake’s environmental needs are taken care of, most BP's, even wild caught, will feed on their own if given enough time. From my experience, one of the things that most care sheets miss is that BP's, especially young captive hatched, need to be kept in a cage by themselves. We have had a great deal of success raising captive hatched BP's when housed singly. With even two snakes in a cage we have had problem feeders. So the rule around here is one snake per cage except during breeding season. I know a lot of people will disagree with that statement, but remember: this is what has worked for us. These are not hard and fast rules that everyone must follow.

    A short story to illustrate the above point:

    We were given 13 captive hatched baby ball pythons because they were problem feeders. They were all kept together and only separated for feeding attempts. The person had offered food five times with no luck with these 13. We brought them home and set each one up in its own cage. Three days later we dropped a small live mouse in each cage. Within 15 minutes, eight had eaten their mouse. Within another two weeks the rest were eating as well.

    Ball pythons in their natural habitat feed mainly on jerboas. Jerboas are similar to the gerbils you see at pet stores. In captivity, ball pythons are fed mostly mice and rats. There have been some interesting studies done lately on the nutritional values of mice and rats and the differences between the two. I think that debate is still up in the air so I won't go any farther into that.
    Here's where a big controversy comes in: whether to feed live prey or pre-killed. It's really up to you. There are a lot of people on both sides of that fence. There are some advantages to both sides of the argument though.


    Obviously a live prey animal can fight back, and they have been known to inflict serious damage to ball pythons. But, some ball pythons just won't take anything but live prey, no matter how many tricks we humans try. If you’re going to feed live you'll have to pay close attention. What we do when feeding live is to only give a limited amount of time that prey and snake are in together, usually about 30 minutes. If the prey isn't eaten by then, it goes to another snake. We never leave live prey in overnight. I have seen too many scarred up snakes and pictures of dead snakes to give the prey that kind of chance. The upside to feeding live is that it's very easy. You simply drop in the prey and go on to the next cage.

    Feeding pre-killed is just the opposite. If you have to kill the prey, that takes time. There are a couple methods that are considered "humane" ways to kill prey items. One is using carbon dioxide; I have never done this and have never seen it done. Another is to hold the prey by the tail, set it down on a table and place something right behind its head, and at the same time press down against the base of the skull and pull on the tail. If done correctly, this dislocates the spinal cord and kills the prey item instantly. There are a couple other ways that are not deemed "humane". One is the whacking method; take the prey by the tail, then—with a good deal of force—swing them and strike the prey's head against a solid object. Another inhumane method is freezing them.

    Now we can move to my preferred way of feeding: thawed. We can buy several hundred frozen mice at a time and then thaw out only what we need. It also takes time to thaw out the prey, but you don't have to worry about the prey fighting back and injuring your snakes. A large percentage of ball pythons will readily take thawed prey, and others will eventually take it after some coaxing. Most will snatch it up as soon as they see it, while some want you to just drop it in the cage and let them get it later; others want you to wiggle it around for a while with tongs. This is a good way to get to know your snakes. After a few feedings you'll know what method to use with which snakes.

    This is a normal feeding session around here:

    I will start with the thawed mice and rats; this way I have a chance to try all the snakes with thawed. Sometimes a snake that has refused thawed prey for months will take it out of the blue.

    You will learn your snakes feeding behavior after a few feedings. I have some that will shoot right out of their container to get at the food; others will stay in their hide box and wait for it to be delivered. Something that I have noticed is that most of my older snakes don't care if the prey is moving around or not. I can just drop the thawed prey in the cage and go on to the next one. With our younger snakes, they seem to want to see the prey moving. Once I have finished feeding thawed, I take a count of what live prey I will need and head to the pet store. I always get a few extra mice as some snakes will take more than one at a feeding. I never feed more than two at a time. This is just personal preference—I’m not sure there's any basis in fact for it; it’s just a rule that I've made. By the time I've dropped in the last of the live prey, I can start going back and checking to see who's eaten and who hasn't. I will keep an eye on the remaining snakes. After about 30 minutes, if the snake still hasn't eaten, I will remove the prey and give it to another snake that is already finished with their first. I do not put prey in with a snake that is still in the eating process. This can stress them or cause them to spit out the first meal and go for the second, which is a waste of a prey item.

    All feedings are recorded, as well as refusals of food. I will get into documentation later.

    Total elapsed time for feeding, not counting the drive to the pet store is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
     
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  7. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Shedding

    Shedding is a topic that is covered in detail in most of the care sheets and books about ball pythons, so I won't go into it too much.

    You will know when a shed cycle is starting because your snake’s colors will start to look faded and a little cloudy. The belly scales will get a pinkish tint to them as well. After about a week of this, you will notice that your snake’s eyes have taken on a cloudy, blue-ish color; don't panic! This is normal. This will last for a few days. During this time, you want to make sure that the humidity in the cage is optimal. The snake’s eyes will soon clear back up to a normal color. At this point it's only a day or so before the snake will shed.

    If your snake sheds in one piece, congratulations. If it does not, then there are three common reasons why. First is that the humidity was too low, second is stress/illness, abd third is parasites.

    Whether your snake shed fully or not, check the shed to make sure the eye caps came off. This is very important. We occasionally still have bad sheds once in a while, if the eye caps are retained, we normally just leave them alone and then make sure that the humidity is quite high in the cage the next time the snake sheds. This will usually fix the problem. If your snake retains its eye caps after two sheds, you will need to take it to a vet and have them show you how to remove them. This is not particularly hard to do, but you are working on the snakes eyes, and that is no place for a screw up. If retained eye caps are not removed, your snake can develop several problems, some of which can cause blindness or a need for removal of the eye.

    When we have a snake that had a bad shed, the next time we will usually soak the snake for a while to aid the shedding process. The best way we have found to do this is to put the snake in a Tupperware container (with air holes) and fill the container with a half inch of lukewarm water. You can even put a low watt heat pad under the container to keep the water warm. We'll let them soak for an hour or two. We do this after seeing the eyes have been blue for a couple days.

    You can also spray the snake down a couple times a day with lukewarm water, or let them soak in the bathtub for a while. What you do really doesn't matter as long as they are getting a lot more moisture and humidity than normal. You don't want to overdo it though, as that can cause problems. A couple hours of soaking or daily mistings will do the trick.

    One other method to try is to give your snake a humidity box. We use Tupperware containers and cut a hole in the top, then put in some damp sphagnum moss (or other similar substrate). Make sure to keep the moss damp by misting it every couple days. When your snake needs the added humidity, it'll hang out in this box for a while.
     
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  8. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Cleaning

    Cleaning is not the most pleasant job, but it is one that must be done. A clean cage will keep your snake healthy and happy for a long time.

    Changing out the substrate and keeping fresh water in the bowl is important, but fully cleaning the cage is equally important. At least once a month, you should completely disinfect the cage, hides, and water bowl. We normally fill the bathtub with a bleach and water mixture (It doesn't take a lot of bleach; 1 cup will work great in a normal bathtub.) and let the water bowls and hides soak for an hour or so. After that we will rinse them off and wash them with dish soap, then thoroughly rinse them one last time. If you’re using a rack you can do the same thing with the Tupperware containers. When you are doing a mass cleaning like this, just throw away all the old substrate and start fresh. If you are using cypress mulch, take it out and throw it on your garden for a great fertilizing material.

    If you are using aquariums, commercial cages, or a custom cage, your job is a little harder here, especially if you've gone through all the trouble of decorating your tank. You will still want to follow the above ideas for disinfecting all the decorations, hides, etc., but cleaning the cage itself is a bit of work. If you can, follow the steps above for cleaning. If you can't, you'll simply have to wipe down the tank with a cleaning solution and towel, making sure you get in all the nooks and crannies. You'll also want to make sure that you completely rinse away all the bleach and dishwashing liquid, then wipe the cage completely dry. You may need to let your cage air out for a few hours while your pet is kept in a temporary holding cage. You don't want any leftover fumes and odors remaining when the animal goes back in.

    We give the hides and water bowls the full treatment every two weeks. On the other weeks we will pull out the water bowls and give them a quick washing. You'll notice that after a week, the sides and bottom of the bowl will get a slick feeling to them. When that happens, it's past time to wash them out—this is fungal growth forming in the bowl.

    Of course, our snakes couldn't care less about our routine. They will soil the water bowls and hides in the middle of the week. Don’t let this sit; clean it up right away. We check every cage every day and spot clean as we go. This is the only way to ensure that your snakes are being kept in the best conditions. A snake will occasionally find a way to tip over its water bowl and soak its cage. This should be cleaned immediately as well, as you don't want them laying around in standing water and or/damp bedding for a full an extended period. This can easily lead to the snake succumbing to a respiratory infection and encourages harmful mold and fungi growth in the cage.

    Following these simple cleaning rules will help you avoid a large amount of problems, vet bills, and stress.
     
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  9. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Handling

    Now that you are completely discouraged because so far it seems like all you ever do is clean and feed, let's talk about the fun stuff, starting with handling your snake. This is what started it all anyhow. If you didn't like holding and looking at snakes, you wouldn't have gotten one. This is where all your hard work pays off; you get to enjoy your healthy and happy pet.

    A quick word about handling new arrivals: Contact with a brand new snake should be kept to a minimum for at least a few days. Give the snake time to adjust to its new surroundings. The best way to tell if a snake has adjusted is to see if it will eat. Once your snake has had a couple meals, then you know they have settled in. It's a good idea to give your snake a day after meals before handling. If you handle it right away, there is a chance that it will regurgitate or vomit its meal. Obviously this is not good for the snake, not to mention it is perhaps the foulest smelling thing I have ever come across.

    Also, handling your snake while it's in a shed cycle isn't the best idea. Most snakes are a little cranky when they are shedding, and may be extra defensive because they can't see very well when their eyes are blue.

    Make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your snakes. You don't want to smell like dinner when you reach in to pick them up. You also don't want to transport any unknown bacteria or other nasties from snake to snake.

    When you first pick up your snake, you should do so firmly but gently. You don't want to grab the snake behind the head, unless there's a reason to do so (medication, etc.). Take hold of the snake mid way down the body and pick it up. We have a few that will look at your hand like it is dinner until you pick them up. If you have a snake that is striking, you can try using a snake hook to get it out of its cage. Normally, once out of the cage, they will settle down nicely. Since a lot of us don't have snake hooks just lying around, here's another way to do it: simply drape a towel over the snake. Once you have the snake out of its cage, remove the towel.

    We have found that handling for 15-30 minutes a day every 2-3 days will settle down even the most aggressive ball pythons in around two weeks. While you are handling them, don't try and restrict their movements; just let them cruise. Obviously you will want to direct them away from things at times, but all you have to do is redirect them, not restrain them. Letting a ball python hang around your neck is not a good move, these are very strong snakes and can do damage unintentionally if scared.

    As long as you are watching, there's no reason not to let your snake explore the room you’re in. Remember though, ball pythons can be amazingly quick, and they will be gone as soon as you turn your head. Constant attention must be paid to what they are doing. As long as you remain observant, it is fun to watch them explore and check things out.

    Please, for the sake of everyone is this hobby, do not take your snakes out to public places. A vast majority of the population is still very afraid of snakes, and sticking one in their face is not the way to win anyone over. Just enjoy your snakes at home where you are both safe and happy. There have actually been laws passed in several cities that make it illegal to have your snake out in public. There are also laws that prohibit the ownership of exotic pets in several cities. We need to educate people on the truths of reptiles, not scare the crap out of them and make them fear us and our snakes even more.

    Article written by Stu at 2am Creations
    Copyright 2am Creations - Reproduced with Permission
    All images Copyright The Reptile Rooms ©2004 Unless otherwise noted.
     
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  10. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Ball Python Care Part 2 - by Stu at 2amCreations.com
    Published: June 23, 2008
    Common Problems
    I wanted to cover some of the common problems with ball pythons and ways to avoid or treat them. Let me say this though: I am not a veterinarian nor do I play one on TV.

    Stress is one of the most common problems with ball pythons. It can come from any number of sources and can cause or aggravate other problems. Over-handling is the biggest source of stress; you have to remember that these are not domesticated animals. They instinctively fear us. By handling your snake too much, you can be putting a lot of undue stress on the animal. Of course, each snake is different. Some actually seem to enjoy being handled. This is where you have to be able to read your snake. Traffic around the snake’s cage, lack of proper hiding areas, too much light, and more than one snake in a cage are all contributors to stress. A stressed snake will have a weakened immune system, lack of appetite, and may be more aggressive than normal. This opens up the snake to all sorts of problems, some of which are covered below.

    Probably the most common ailment with ball pythons is respiratory infection. The symptoms are clicking or wheezing when breathing, and lifting up the head and gaping of the mouth. Don't confuse this with normal ball python behavior of yawning while cruising around. There may also be a lot of mucousy fluid in the snake’s mouth, which will bubble out the sides when really bad. A lack of appetite usually accompanies RI's as well.

    RI's usually come from incorrect humidity and low temps. After talking with some experienced herpers and vets, it seems as though there may be more than one kind of RI. I don't know of any studies confirming or denying this, so at this point it's at least possible.

    RI's can be transmitted by contact, either with a sick snake or from you touching a sick snake, then touching a healthy one without washing your hands first. If you have a sick snake, always deal with it last when cleaning, checking cages, etc . . . Also, always wash your hands up to the elbows after handling a sick snake, you may also want to change your shirt. I'm not sure if that's going too far, but I'd rather not take the chance.

    The best defense against RI's is having good humidity levels and keeping your temps up. Also, keep your cages away from drafts and air vents. Washing your hands after handling each snake is also a good idea. This may sound a little over the top, but I know one breeder who does this and asks that his visitors do the same. You might not realize that your snake has an RI at the very beginning and you could unwittingly transmit the disease.

    If your snake does come down with a RI you will need to seek out a good reptile vet. These can be hard to come by. Your snake will need medication. Also, you will want to turn up the heat a little more than normal. For some reason, sick snakes often seek out the coolest part of their cage, so increasing the overall heat will be beneficial.

    Besides medication, there are other things you can do to help your snake get better. Note: The following are in no way a suitable replacement for medication.

    Move the snake into an enclosure that is much taller than the snake. Put something in the cage (branch, etc.) for the snake to climb on. The reason behind this is that snakes don't really have a cough mechanism like we do, so by giving the snake ample room to move its body, it will be able to let some of the "snot" either drain out or fall back into the lung. Either way it's keeping the fluids out of the mouth so the snake can breathe.

    Keep the snakes enclosure a little warmer than usual. This does not mean to cook your snake. When I have a snake with a RI, I put it into an aquarium with a heat pad and a heat lamp. From some talks I've had it seems that most of the bacteria that cause RIs can't handle temps in the 90+ degree range. By making the whole tank a "hot spot" you are increasing the snake’s body temperature and helping kill off the bacteria. The heat lamps do not run 24 hours a day, they are set on a timer on a 12/12 schedule.

    Exercise your sick snake. Take the snake out daily and handle it for 15-30 minutes. Make it move around and use its muscles. This seems to help loosen the "snot" in the snake’s lung.

    Scale rot and mouth rot are the other two most common problems. The names for these diseases are not really what the problem is, but these are the common names they have been given. Mouth rot, or stomatitis, is often caused by excessive rubbing of the snout. Most will rub against surfaces after eating, and as they start a shed. Some will spend a good amount of their active time looking for ways to get out of their cage. This usually involves pushing on the glass and lid with their nose. Most soon learn that their efforts are futile, but others don't and will continue to rub on the glass and lid until their mouth becomes raw. If this rawness of the mouth (commonly referred to as snout rub or nose rub) becomes further infected, it can easily lead to the condition known as mouth rot. This is why it is essential to keep your cages clean. If you do notice your snake has developed a case of snout rub, keep the raw area disinfected with a diluted betadine or chlorhexadine solution application a few times a day. If it develops into full blown mouth rot, however, your snake needs to be treated by a vet; it will need medication to fully recover.

    Scale rot is another kind of bacterial infection often found on the belly of the snake (hence it is sometimes called belly or stomach rot or burn). It can occur in other places where the skin has been damaged as well. The most common case will start out with the scales turning reddish—the scales also turn pinkish when preparing to shed, but this will present itself all over, while with scale rot you will notice the red is in a more centralized area. If the irritation persists, some scales may bubble up, and some may turn brownish and get crusty. This is also sometimes referred to as urine burn. I believe that most times scale rot starts out as a urine burn that goes untreated. Urine burn comes from unsanitary living conditions. Again, this is why it's so important to keep your cages clean. If you notice the belly (or other) scales getting reddish and the snake is showing no other signs of preparing for a shed, this can also often be treated with a diluted betadine or chlorhexadine solution. However, if the condition does not improve within a few days, or if it worsens, you will need to take a trip to the vet. Keep the snake on newspaper with only a water bowl and hide box while you are treating the snake to avoid irritation from loose bedding. You will want to check on the snake daily to make sure the cage is clean and dry.

    IBD or Inclusion Body Disease is not really a common ailment but one that must at least be mentioned. It is 100% fatal in all cases. There is still so much debate about where the disease comes from, how it works, how it's transmitted, and how to fight it that someone could fill an entire novel with the information. The symptoms seem to be loss of motor skills and muscle control, and star gazing (staring straight up for hours at a time). I think there are others but these two seem to be the most prominent. I recommend that you look into this disease further for more information. If you think your snake may have it, take it to the vet, but call first and let them know the possibility of what you may have. They will want to take extra precautions with your animal.

    These and other illnesses are the reasons why you should always quarantine new snakes from the rest of your group. You never know what the new snake may have in its system. Quarantine should last for at least a month or so; I know some folks who do it for up to six months. Any time your snake shows signs of odd behavior you should consider a checkup with the vet. Snakes in general do a really good job of hiding the fact that they are sick until the disease has really taken hold.
     
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  11. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Behavior
    After talking about diseases I want to say a few words about ball python behavior in general so that you don't look up, see your ball doing something weird, and think it's going to die. This is exactly what I did when I first starting reading about ball python diseases and problems.

    Ball python behavior is really based on only a few things: hunger, security, and their unbelievable curiosity. (At least, I consider it curiosity; I don't know what else to call it.) Do take into consideration that snakes can't read and really don't care what I've written here. Ours continue to do things that amaze us. It becomes more obvious with the more snakes you have that each one does have some sort of personality. Also, remember that snakes are very low on the intelligence level; most things that they do are simply out of natural instinct, or possibly habit. A lot of people like to anthropomorphize human emotions onto their snakes, thinking that the snake likes to cuddle, etc...Snakes, as far as scientific studies have shown, do not feel emotions like we do. With all that said, let's cover some "normal" behavior.

    These are mainly nocturnal snakes that hide during the day and come out at night to hunt for food or find a new spot to hide in. This is the extent of what they do in the wild except for breeding. Expect for your ball python to hide most of the time during the day. If it's out roaming around during the day, I would check the temperatures and possibly feed it if the temps are fine. If it's not hungry and the temps are good, then chances are your ball python simply refuses to accept that he's supposed to be nocturnal. For the majority of ball pythons, if you want to see them being active, you'll have to go look at them in the early evening, middle of the night, or just before sunrise.
    When a ball python is entering its shed cycle, it may not come out of its hide box at all for a few days, or it may only come out to drink and then go right back in. This is always a good indicator that a shed is coming.

    Ball pythons yawn. Do we know why? No. We do know that they do it after eating to realign their jaws. But for some reason ball pythons do this quite frequently. If your snake is holding its mouth open for long periods of time—say more than 30 seconds or so—then you may have a RI on the way. But normally ball pythons will just do this for no apparent reason. It is really amazing to watch as they flex the muscles in their jaws. It's not always fun to see them do it while you’re holding them and your thumb is right in front of its mouth!

    Now for the action that got the ball python got its name: balling up. This is a defense action that ball pythons do when scared or threatened. It is usually seen in young ball pythons or ones that are new to your collection. They don't know the scents around them and anything that moves may be a potential threat. Once a ball python gets to know your scent and gets comfortable in its surroundings, you will see this far less often. I haven't seen my 5 year old male do this in 4 years. If your snake does this when you go to pick it up, no problem; pick it up and just let it rest in your lap for a few minutes. After the snake realizes that you’re not going to harm it, most will relax and start to explore.

    Something that I've seen a few times on the online forums is a statement about their snake draining liquid from their mouth. If it's a large amount of mostly water, what probably happened is that your snake just got done taking a drink. Ball Pythons do not have a way to stop the water they just drank from coming back out. If it's bubbling and thick, it is probably a sign of a respiratory infection.

    Exploring and getting into trouble—this is also normal behavior. Ball pythons seem to be extremely curious and will stick their nose into any hole or opening that they can. We have a great time letting our snakes roam around the living room, under supervision of course. Most of ours will raise their heads up off the ground quite a ways as though they are scanning the area. If you are letting your snake roam around, odds are they will get wrapped around something just before you can pull them away. As long as they aren't in danger, just let them finish exploring; you'll have a tough time unwrapping and unwinding it from whatever it wants to hold on to. This brings up another point. If you need to unwrap your snake from something, like your arm, start at the tail end first and gently work the snake off. If you start at the head, you’re facing an uphill battle. You will soon learn that an adult ball python is extremely strong.

    Climbing and falling is another common occurrence. Ball pythons are able to climb, just not exceptionally well. When they are young it seems to be worse, but our adults don't seem to really be much better. We had our old male in a Vision cage. These cages have a lip above the doors, which is perfect for a ball python to crawl across. Usually around 2-3 in the morning he would fall off his perch, waking me up and setting the dogs into a frenzy, and he was in another room! If you have things for your ball to climb on, they will take advantage of it. Don't worry too much about them falling from small heights; it hasn't done any of ours any harm. Of course I am assuming that your snake is in a relatively low cage, if it's up 6-7 feet then obviously the fall could do some damage.

    Striking isn't really normal behavior for a ball python except at feeding time. Balls are normally very docile with a very mellow temperament. This does not mean that there are no exceptions. Hatchlings can be quite nippy for a little while and some will remain that way into adulthood. Out of 40 some snakes, we have one adult that will still strike once in a while, which is understandable because she was a wild caught adult, but she has settled down. I have heard that if a ball python is being kept at too high of a temperature that can make them more likely to bite. Also, when they are getting ready to shed, or when they are sick, they can understandably be more temperamental. We really haven't seen much of this but it has been noted by others.

    A short story about biting
    This is how I got into reptiles. I had always been rather afraid of snakes when I was growing up. I always thought they were cool to look at, but you wouldn't catch me picking one up.
    I was in a pet shop with a friend one day and he wanted to see the ball pythons. I stepped back a few feet when the worker handed it to him. After he had held it for a few minutes and I saw that it wasn't going to kill him, I got a little braver and stepped closer. I reached out to pet the snake and WHAM! I got nailed on the hand. A second later I realized that it hadn't killed me, I was still standing, and unbelievably it didn't even hurt! I washed off my hand, dried it, and low and behold, you could barely even see where I had been bitten. This was the end of my fear of snakes. You still won't catch me playing with any of the giant species, but at least I won't run away. I can now look at them and see how beautiful and magnificent these creatures really are. I did find out before I left the pet shop that the snake hadn't eaten in two weeks, so it was probably more than a little hungry. Not his fault at all.

    Ball pythons will hiss occasionally, letting you know they don't really want to be bothered. If you leave them alone after hissing or snapping, you are reinforcing the fact that if they do so, you'll go away. I make a point to hold any of ours that hiss at me just to let them know it won't work. This seems to help in the process of taming them down. You must remember that you are dealing with wild animals; these are not domesticated pets like dogs and cats. They still have an instinctive fear of anything bigger than they are. You really do have to earn their trust.

    Another thing to remember: your snake will not play with other animals. I know this may be obvious to some, but not to everyone. You need to make sure that your snake is kept safe from your other pets. A meeting between your snake and the cat would probably not end well. Also, make sure that you keep pets away from your snake’s cage. I heard a story a while ago about a snake that stopped eating unexpectedly. After a little investigation, the owner found out that when they were away at work, the cat was sitting beside the cage staring at the snake all day. This ended up stressing the snake to the point of not eating.
     
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  12. Cammy

    Cammy Administrator Staff Member

    Keeping Records
    Recording information on your snake has several benefits, especially in large collections. Even if you only have one or two snakes, this can help tremendously when dealing with problems.

    You don't have to keep track of every little movement your snake makes, but there are some things that should be noted. Each snake should have its own record sheet. This can be anything from a physical premade record card, to a paper notebook, to a word document or spreadsheet. You can get as fancy as you want with the cards, but there are really only a few things that you'll need to keep track of.

    You'll want a way to identify which snake goes with which set of information, either by a name or number and physical identification. The other information you'll definitely want to make note of includes: feeding/refusal, weight, shedding (full or incomplete), breeding, and the date whichever event took place on. Other things you can track are: lineage, dates received and sold, who the snake was received from, who it was sold to, bowel movements, when the eyes turned blue, and even a drawing of special markings. With today's digital cameras it makes it very easy to photograph all your snakes for record purposes.
    By keeping records you don't have to rely on memory for some rather important facts. Say your snake is in need of vet treatment. You can take the snake’s information with you so the vet will know all the possible history you can give him. Or, perhaps you’re working on a breeding project; now all you have to do is look at the card to find out what snakes have been in together and what, if anything, happened. There are a million different reasons why you will want to keep some kind of records for your animals.

    Some breeders use rather elaborate record keeping strategies including multiple cards, stickers, color of ink, etc...Again, you can get as fancy as you want to, the better records you keep the better off you are. We use one card per snake and only record feeding, shedding, breeding, and vet visits. We also keep digital photos of each snake. It is often hard to be excited about keeping records, but it is a very useful tool, especially if you get into breeding some of the more expensive snakes. Your customers will greatly appreciate getting those records along with the snake so that they can see what has gone on in its life.
     
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