Ball Python Diseases & General Health

Owning a ball python for every exotic snake keeper begins with choosing a healthy, well cared for ball python. Even after choosing a healthy snake, setting them up in a conducive environment, and taking the best care of it, health issues may arise occasionally. It is crucial to have a qualified veterinarian’s contact. If you don’t have one yet, the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians is a great place to get one. 

In the wild, a sick snake is an easy target for predators. Therefore snakes are adept at faking wellness. This means that you have to be considerably watchful to recognize changes that may depict illness.

Some great tips to help keep track of your ball pythons wellness include:

  1. Weigh your ball python often. A sudden drop in your snake’s wealth is often a sign of illness.
  2. Keep a record of your ball python’s feeding habits, weight, shedding, and behavior.
  3. Assemble a reptile first aid kit so that you do have to scramble about when your pet snake is unwell.

How do you prepare a reptile first aid kit?

Preparing a reptile first aid kit ensures you aren’t scrambling to the bathroom to look for band-aids and other necessities. Anything you do not have on this list can be easily purchased from the local drug store.

  • Disinfectant
  • Silver ointment
  • Gauze
  • Small waterproof band-aids
  • Elastic wrap to help secure the gauze
  • Cotton swabs
  • Tongue depressors – They are useful when looking in your snake’s mouth
  • Tweezers
  • Magnifying glass
  • Nix lice treatment – A great treatment for mites and also preventative for new snakes.
  • Pedialyte – Preferably unflavoured for rehydrating your snake
  • Insulin syringes
  • Kitchen scale
  • Shipping warmers like the UniHeat brand and not heat packs in case the power goes out.
  • Probiotic supplement to aid recovery from antibiotics and dewormers
  • Intensive care powdered reptile food
  • The phone number for a regular vet and emergency

Check out the expiration dates on all medications and replace them as needed. When your ball python is in a bandage, they shouldn’t be allowed on a loose substrate or in water.

Below is a list of ball python diseases, their causes and remedies.



  • Blistering
  • Light-colored areas start reddening
  • Open wounds

Probable cause

  • Heat mats that do have thermostats
  • Heat rocks
  • Malfunctioning thermostats
  • Direct contact with a heat emitter, heat lamp, or the glass over a heat lamp.


The open wounds and blisters can be treated through soaking in a solution consisting of water and povidone-iodine for about 30 minutes daily until the wounds heal. You can also apply a topical antibiotic like Betadine ointment or Silvadene cream on the burned area. Provide your ball python with a lot of drinking water as the burn may cause dehydration. If the burn is big and your snake begins to shed, veterinary care will be required. When left untreated, burns can cause severe bacterial infections. The burn may take a long time to heal, and several shedding cycles before your pet snake starts to look well again. There may even be a permanent scar left after the ordeal.



  • Wrinkly skin
  • Cracked or dented eye caps
  • Having trouble shedding
  • Skin stays in place when pinched or pressed down instead of smoothing back out.

Probable causes

  • The humidity in the enclosure is very low
  • Your ball python isn’t drinking enough water
  • The water may be distilled or softened


A warm electrolyte bath is one of the best ways to rehydrate a dehydrated ball python. The traditional mode of bathing can easily stress your ball python; therefore, you will have to make some modifications. You will need a thermostat, a small heating pad, bottles of electrolyte supplement or sports drink, a plastic tub with a lid, and paper towels. Put the heating pad under the plastic tub and set it to 81-83 °F. Fill the tub with electrolyte substance and water in the ratio of 3:1 and at least 2cm deep. When the water warms up about ten or so minutes later, put your python in and cover the top. Leave your snake to soak in for about 30 minutes or more.

Using a warm damp cloth, rinse the electrolyte substance off your snake and return them to their enclosure. Repeat the hydration process until you can no longer see the symptoms.

Inclusion Body Disease (IBD)


  • Regurgitating meals
  • A loss of appetite
  • Head tremors
  • Clogged nostrils
  • Chronic pneumonia
  • A drop in weight
  • Unusual shedding
  • Neurological symptoms such as rolling onto the back, corkscrewing, and stargazing
  • Undifferentiated skin sarcoma

Probable causes

  • It could be transmitted from mites to snakes
  • Poor hygiene in pet stores and breeder facilities
  • Direct contact of infected ball pythons with healthy ones.


Inclusion body disease has no treatment and is fatal in ball pythons. Most veterinarians recommend euthanasia as the most humane way to deal with the disease. After purchasing your pet snake, it is important to make sure they aren’t infected. The best method to determine your pet snake isn’t infected is by quarantining them in a separate enclosure lined with paper towels for at least three to six months. It sounds harsh, but it is better than infecting your snake collection with a fatal disease.

Loss of appetite

Ball pythons are notoriously known for being picky eaters, and most owners lightly pass it off as normal behavior. They assume the snake will eat when they feel hungry. If your ball python isn’t eating, there is something wrong.


Your ball python refuses to eat two or more meals.

Probable causes

  • You are handling your snake too much.
  • Your snake is stressed.
  • Illness
  • You are feeding them the wrong prey.
  • Incorrectly caring for your snake or husbandry.
  • Hitting maturity is commonly known in female ball pythons as ‘the wall’. When your snake attains 800-1000g, they start developing follicles that are very uncomfortable; hence they may stop eating.


In the United States and Europe, most ball pythons are captive bred. However, some are still caught in the wild and brought into the trade. The types of prey offered in captivity are different from those found in the wild, and this may affect wild-caught ball pythons.

  • Review your pet husbandry practices. Ensure the enclosure is humid enough, there are enough hides, and the temperature levels are ideal.
  • If you usually move your ball python to a different enclosure for feeding, try feeding them in their usual (home) enclosure.
  • Reduce the regularity of handling your snake and stop handling them until your snake starts eating again. 
  • Try a different food item. For example, if usually, your snake feeds on mice, try rats, and vice versa. A change in the size of the prey may help too.
  • If your ball python still doesn’t eat, change the prey from frozen and thawed to live prey. Either use a freshly killed prey or if you put in a live prey, supervise the interaction, and do not leave the rodent in the cage for over an hour.
  • If your female ball python is experiencing the ‘wall’, reduce the regularity at which you feed her and reduce the size of the prey until she can normally eat again. 


Snake mites are small black parasitic insects that thrive by sucking the snake’s blood. 


  • Prolonged soaking
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Small black dots around the ears, eyes, and cloaca
  • Small black dots on shed skin
  • Visible small black dots moving on your snake and the enclosure.
  • Unusual dust on scales. That is mite poop.
  • Rubbing

Probable causes

  • Contamination from an infected reptile from the breeder or pet store
  • Your pet snake was caught in the wild
  • Poor hygiene


There are effective treatments that can be used to get rid of mites. Did you know that Nix, used for head lice in humans, can be used to get rid of snake mite? Nix is one of the most effective reptile mite remedies that you can find in a pet store. However, the usage on and for reptiles is different from that on humans. Since it’s for a different use than prescribed, do not follow the direction on the box. Also, if your snake looks visibly ill, very young or small, first discuss other treatment options with your veterinarian before using Nix.

How to use Nix to kill snake mites 

You will need the following materials:

  • 56ml Nix bottle
  • Clean spray bottle
  • A gallon of distilled water
  • A good-sized soaking tub

Here’s what to do:

Mix the Nix cream in the distilled water to dilute it. Shake well until it is properly mixed. Pour the mixture into the spray bottle. Mites easily move about, so it is safe to assume that if one of your pets is infested with them, then all your pets in that room are infested too.

One by one, take every reptile and put them in the tub. Generously spray your pet with the solution everywhere, especially around the eyes, ears, and cloaca. As your pet is soaking, remove all the bedding from the enclosure and dispose of it outside your house. Spray the enclosure both inside and outside, including the cage accessories and furniture. Focus on crevices and corners as mites tend to hide there and lay eggs. For preventive measures, spray a 2-inch perimeter around the cage. Leave the solution residue on the surface to keep the mites away.

It is absolutely necessary to use a paper substrate until the mites are gone for good. During this process, remove the water bowl both for drinking and soaking in from the cage and do not replace it. Return your ball python to the enclosure, spray it, and everything else again. Repeat this procedure after 7 days and again after 7 days for a total of three treatments to ensure the last of the termites are destroyed.


This is a reptile virus, also referred to as ophidian serpentovirus. It was first discovered in 2014 in ball pythons. Related viruses have been observed to infect other animal breeds. The virus can cause deadly oral and upper respiratory disease. It can wipe out an entire clutch or collection when proper care and precautions aren’t taken.


  • Excess mucus in the mouth
  • Red gum
  • Wheezing or audible ‘clicks’ during breathing
  • Open-mouthed breathing
  • Mouth rot or stomatitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Abnormal body posture

Not all snakes are symptomatic when infected with nidovirus. Some snakes are just carriers and may seem perfectly healthy but are capable of infecting your other snakes.

Probable causes

Exposure to an infected snake both directly and indirectly.


When your ball python tests positive for nidovirus, you need to quarantine them immediately, possibly for the rest of their life. Currently, there are limited alternatives for the treatment of nidovirus. Your snake will likely need to be euthanized eventually.

The best way to handle nidovirus is through prevention. When buying your pet from a breeder, adoption from a rescue, or a pet store, you must quarantine them for 12 months in case they are infected with the virus. During the quarantine, take your ball python to an experienced reptile veterinarian for a general examination and to be tested for nidovirus. Towards the end of the quarantine, another test is recommended. Private labs such as Labokin in the UK, Research Associates Laboratory in the USA, and Fishhead Diagnostics worldwide can help with the test as well.  


Obesity in ball python is a common problem that the reptile community is hardly aware of it. As with most pets, obesity happens unintentionally and is often mistaken for growth spurts or weight gain. Pet snake owners even as far as praising chunkier snakes, saying they look ‘cuter’.

Obesity is not adorable and is a form of cruel neglect and poor husbandry that robs your snake mobility, health, and shortens their lifespan.


  • Scale folding or wrinkling
  • Visible skin between scales
  • A round shape
  • Fat rolls around the head and/or cloaca
  • Your snake’s body looks segmented
  • Your snake feels squishy instead of firm during handling

Probable causes

  • Power Feeding
  • Overfeeding
  • Lack of exercise
  • Small enclosure


  1. If your ball python is obese, you need to review what you are feeding them. Are you feeding your snake too often for its age, or are you offering them prey that is too large? 
  2. Evaluate the size of your snake’s enclosure. Your snake will spend most of its life in the enclosure, so it is wise to give them room to stretch, climb, and ‘hunt’ when the need strikes. Tubs and racks are too small for ball pythons to exercise when they need to, and it is, unfortunately, the most preferred style of ball python ownership. Provide your snake with a big enclosure with favorable conditions that will positively impact their health. 
  3. Is your ball python getting enough exercise? You should consider:
  • Adding enrichment items to the enclosure.
  • Handle your snake more to encourage movement, but not too much to cause them stress.
  • Create an obstacle based exercise for your snake outside the enclosure.
  • Encourage your snake to climb up and down the stairs. This is not a joke; trust me, it is doable and very effective.

With all these measures in place, start weighing your snake weekly and charting the numbers in a spreadsheet. If your ball python hasn’t started losing weighting a few months, consult a veterinarian.

Respiratory Infection


  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Stringy saliva
  • A whistling or clicking noise when breathing

Probable causes

  • Incorrect humidity levels
  • Cool temperatures
  • Poor hygiene


If you suspect that your ball python has a respiratory infection, ensure the enclosure is warm enough, and the humidity levels are right. Schedule an appointment with your reptile veterinarian for a checkup and an antibiotic prescription.


Naturally, ball pythons shed their skin regularly as they grow. Your pet snake should shed their skin every four to six weeks in one piece. As they get ready to shed, their eyes turn blue, and their scales loosen.


  • Opaque blue eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dull scale coloration
  • Defensive tendencies
  • Wrinkled skin that looks very dehydrated

Probable causes

Shedding of skin to make way for weight gain or loss and growth.


In the enclosure, put in a large water bowl for soaking if you do not have moist hide. If you do have a moist hide, fill it with moist sphagnum moss. It helps your snakes skin come off easily in one piece.

You should avoid doing the following:

  • Handling your snake before the shedding process is complete.
  • Attempt to remove your snake’s shed yourself.
  • Try soaking your snake in an attempt to help them shed.

Instead, you could create a humidity chamber at home. This can be easily constructed using Tupperware and a wet warm hand towel that you place inside. Place the Tupperware on a heating pad set to 85 degrees. When the chamber is warm enough, put your snake inside for and cover it with a cloth to reduce the light. This helps manage your snake’s stress during the shedding period. Keep your snake in the Tupperware for not more than an hour, then return them to their enclosure. The remaining shed should come off within the next 24 hours. If it doesn’t, repeat the process again.

FAQs about Ball python diseases

Can ball pythons get metabolic bone disease?

Metabolic bone disease is frequent in reptiles that do not receive sufficient ultraviolet rays that aids in the production. However, it is rare in snakes that do not receive ultraviolet light because they feed on mammalian prey. Mammalian prey provides a proper balance of phosphorus and calcium.

Can ball pythons carry diseases?

All reptiles, including ball pythons, carry a range of viruses, bacteria, worms, and parasites. Some of these diseases can be spread to their owners, such as Salmonella. This is why owners are advised to wash their hands with soap before and after handling their pets, pet’s foods, and equipment.

What diseases do ball pythons carry?


Salmonella can be easily spread from ball pythons to humans through contamination from the snake’s feces. The contamination has to involve direct contact with the mouth, which includes eating with contaminated hands after handling your snake or their equipment. Salmonella causes headaches, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever.

How to avoid Salmonella

  • Thoroughly clean your hands after handling your pet snake.
  • Wash your hands with soap after cleaning your pet snake’s cage, feeding it, and changing the water bowls.
  • If your ball python isn’t in their cage, keep them in a place that is easy to clean later.
  • Keep your ball python away from places where you eat and the kitchen.
  • If you have a child who is less than a year old, it is advisable not to let the pet around them. 

Proper pet husbandry plays a key role in the overall health of your ball python. Good hygiene also goes a long way in keeping both you and your pet snake in tiptop shape. If you can’t clearly discern what is ailing your ball python, immediately reach out to your veterinarian.

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