Ball pythons are popular pets for snake owners not only due to their fascinating range of morphs but also due to their easy-to-care-for nature. They need minimal care and effort to keep them healthy and happy. Improper care, however, can lead to serious health problems.
Ball pythons easily display their wellness or lack of it on their skin and scales; therefore, it is best to keep an eye on them. In this post, we discuss the infections likely to plague your ball python’s skin and scales.
Scale rot is a type of blister contamination in ball pythons that promotes the growth of fungus and bacteria on the snake’s skin. If left untreated, scale rot can be fatal and may result in the death of your pet snake.
Symptoms of scale rot
Scale rot can easily be misidentified as a burn. Do not rush to treat the symptoms at home unless you have clearly identified its scale rot. Here are signs of scale rot:
- Reddish-brown or greenish ulcerations on the belly
- Swelling and softness of scales
In severe cases:
- Flaking or falling off of scales
- Bad odor coming from the infected area
- Blisters filled with fluid
What causes scale rot?
- Humid enclosure
- Overly moist substrate
- Improperly cleaning the enclosure
- Deficiency of Vitamins A and C
How to treat scale rot
This treatment only applies in mild cases. The process enlisted below is only effective before any severe symptoms begin to appear. If the infection is severe, this treatment will not help or heal your snake.
First, begin with quarantining your ball python. Thoroughly clean the tank and replace the substrate with newspapers or paper towels. This process helps prevent aggravating the infection, thereby worsening it.
Ensure the water bowl is sturdy enough so that your ball python cannot knock it over. The bowl should be small so that your snake doesn’t soak in it either, as this agitates the infection even more. Keep the snake quarantined until it sheds and gets rid of the rotted scales or until the scales heal from an antibiotics treatment.
Amp up the temperatures and provide UV lightning to help kill the pathogens within the enclosure. Next, you need to soak your ball python in a betadine solution bath for 20 minutes twice a day. It would be best if you did this until the infection clears. The solution should be 10% betadine and the rest water. The water should be lukewarm at about 80-85°F. After the bath, rinse your pet snake off and apply some antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin and Vetericyn reptile wound and skincare plus spray. If the infection doesn’t improve or worsens after a betadine solution bath, discontinue the baths and seek professional help.
Long term measures
Control the humidity
Your snake’s terrarium must be safe and comfortable; otherwise, you will have health problems on your hands. Regulating humidity may seem daunting, but it is crucial for the overall health of your pet.
The temperature should be high enough for your snake to easily shed their skin but not too high to cause scale rot issues. Normally the humidity levels in your ball python’s enclosure should be at about 50-60%, while during the shedding period, they should be slightly higher, ranging from about 65-75%. A few things that could help keep the humidity levels manageable include:
- Covering two-thirds of the top screen with a plastic wrap.
- Heat lamps will burn off moisture, but they will keep the habitat dry. Use them carefully.
- Use quality bedding
- Avoid putting the snake tank in direct sunlight or places with a draft. Both these conditions lower the terrarium’s humidity.
Clean the terrarium
Naturally, your snake will excrete like any other living creature. Whenever you see some excretion lying about, you need to clean it out. If your snake slithers about in their mess, they will get an infection.
The thumb rule is to clean up after your snake like you would your child. Clean up everything that could cause an infection. Ensure the cage is always in good condition.
Things like feces, uneaten food, and shed skin should be cleaned out daily. Every week, you should disinfect the cage, decor, and substrate. When cleaning the cage, transfer your snake to another separate tank. Ensure the cleaning equipment or tank doesn’t come into contact with the surface or equipment you use for your dishes or showering.
There is a varied range of substrates you can use for your snake’s terrarium. Some bedding is coarse, while others are more gentle.
Choose bedding that holds humidity well, easy to clean, and that can keep your python from bacteria and infections. Preferably, the bedding should be organic and gentle on the snake’s body.
Why does my ball python have dry, wrinkled skin?
Wrinkled and dry skin is one of the symptoms of a dehydrated ball python. Other accompanying signs that may infer dehydration include cracked or dented eye caps, having trouble shedding, and the snake’s skin staying in place when pinched.
What causes dehydration?
- Your ball python isn’t drinking enough water
- The humidity in the enclosure is low
- You are using softened or distilled water for your snake’s drinking and soaking water.
How to treat dehydration dehydration?
A great way to re-hydrate a dehydrated ball python is by giving it a warm electrolyte bath. Normally, traditional bathing stresses out ball pythons, so you will have to incorporate some adjustments.
Place a heating pad under a tub. It should be set to 81-84°F. Fill the tub with 2cm of the electrolyte solution. The solution should be a mixture of electrolyte supplement and water mixed with a ratio of 3:1. Warm some water for a few minutes, then place your ball python inside and close the lid. Leave your snake for about 30-60 minutes to soak in.
Rinse the solution off your ball python with a warm damp cloth, then return them to their enclosure. Repeat until the symptoms are no longer visible.
Septicemia is an infection caused by bacteria and manifests as purple or red wound like patches on your snake’s body. When mouth or scale rot are left untreated they may result into septicemia. The infection is fatal and can kill your snake in just 3-10 days without you even realizing something was wrong. It is for this reason that you should keep an eye out for the symptoms.
Lethargy or weakness
Carefully watch your snake’s activity levels and determine if they are diminishing. Healthy snakes move about when they are picked up and keep their bodies in an upright condition. If your snake hangs limply from your hand when you hold them, something is definitely wrong.
Petechiae or abscesses
These are small hemorrhagic patches that usually appear on the skin around the mouth but may also appear in other places along the body. They look like small blisters filled with blood. These abscesses are a result of broken capillaries and form under the mucous membrane of the ball python’s skin. The stomach scales may appear purple or red, and the belly may feel swollen.
Your ball python may start wheezing or breathing excessively with their mouth open.
In extreme cases of septicemia, your ball python may lose control of its muscles. This may appear as seizures or convulsions.
What causes septicemia in ball pythons?
Septicemia is caused by multiple bacteria, such as the proteus hydrophilus. The bacteria penetrate into the snake’s bloodstream and produce toxins that are harmful, thereby causing critical illness. The toxins then create nodules on the liver, lesions in the mouth, and hemorrhagic patches on the gut and damages the kidneys.
- Dirty enclosure
- Living in a crowded space
- Overfeeding or underfeeding
- Inappropriate temperature levels in the terrarium
- Inappropriate humidity levels
- Rough handling
How to treat septicemia in ball pythons
In the event of septicemia infection, you can’t just wait at home; immediate medical intervention is required. A vet will carry out a physical exam that will ascertain whether or not your ball python has septicemia. The testing helps determine which bacteria is responsible for the septicemia. The physical exam may involve the vet opening up a lesion on your snake’s body to culture the bacteria inside. This process will help determine the bacteria species allowing the doctor to prescribe the right treatment.
The right treatment includes:
The vet will prescribe an antibiotic that targets the specific bacterium causing the infection. The vet will then administer large doses of the antibiotic immediately to your snake. The antibiotic administered is systemic, which implies it affects the ball python’s whole body rather than one organ.
Afterward, your ball python will require regular administration of the antibiotic. Carefully follow the vet’s prescription of the antibiotics about how often and how long to administer it to your snake.
Do not stop the treatment even if your snake looks well again before all the antibiotics have been given or the period the vet prescribed is over. The bacteria may still be in the body, and if treatment is stopped, the bacteria may survive and return later in the future.
As your ball python undergoes antibiotic treatment, you need to ensure they are feeding and drinking enough to survive. Often, a sick snake will stop eating and drinking due to physical discomfort. Your vet will explain the kind of nutritional support you should give your snake over the recuperation period. They may recommend fluid therapy to keep your snake hydrated and force-feeding until your snake can feed itself.
Force-feeding involves putting food in your snake’s mouth when they do not show interest in their food.
Keep the enclosure warm and clean.
Keeping the enclosure clean is another way to help your snake recover well at home. Snakes suffering from septicemia need a warmer than normal basking site so keep the temperature high.
Frequently clean the enclosure and remove waste whenever your ball python leaves it in the substrate to prevent re-exposure to bacteria. If you are unable to force-feed your snake, do not leave the uneaten food in the enclosure. A rotting rodent is a good site for bacteria to breed, which may, in turn, lead to re-infection.
How do I prevent septicemia?
With immediate aggressive treatment, a snake infected with septicemia can heal. The best way to protect your ball python from septicemia is through prevention. Here are preventive measures that will keep your snake healthy and safe from septicemia:
- Wash your hands
Septicemia causing bacteria may travel from you to your snake. To avoid contaminating your snake, it is vital that you wash your hands and arms with antibacterial soap before handling them. This helps avoid accidental infections to your ball python.
- Separate your snakes
When several snakes live together in the same enclosure, it is easy for an infection to spread. Putting your snakes in separate individual enclosures lowers the risk of any infection spreading. This way, if one of your snakes gets infected, it is easy to detect and manage before it spreads to the rest.
- Know your snakes
Regularly handling your snake allows you to identify normal and irregular behavior patterns. Handling helps you notice when something is wrong with your pet. It will also help build trust between you and your pet snake and lowers the stress levels your pet experiences during feeding or moving.
A healthy ball python normally sheds its skin in one complete piece. However, snakes sometimes experience problems when shedding such as incomplete shedding, shedding in pieces, stuck eye caps, and a stuck shed. Problems related to shedding may result in possible blindness due to stuck eye caps, infection around the cloaca, and raised scales.
What causes problems during shedding?
- Insufficient humidity
- Inadequate or lack of soaking water
- Using distilled or distilled water for your ball python to soak in and drink.
How to assist your ball python remove a stuck shed
- Increase the humidity to between 50-70%, and then leave your snake alone to try and get rid of the shed on their own.
- Prepare a humid hide box that is generally a locking container with two air holes. Spread hand towels or paper towels and moisten them with some lukewarm water. The container should be large for your snake to move around and run against the towel spread. After every 20-30 minutes, check if the shed has come off. If not, add some warm water onto the towel spread and wait. Repeat the process until the shed comes off.
- Alternatively, you could put your snake in a damp pillowcase and tie a knot at the end. Place the pillowcase back in the enclosure and supervise after every 20-30 minutes.
- In extreme cases, a heavily stuck shed may require you to soak the snake. It is an extreme measure, but the best way to remove the stuck shed and re-hydrate your snake. In such cases, poor husbandry and dehydration are the main culprits. Using a locking container with breathing holes, put in enough warm water to come up slightly on the sides of the container. Place the snake inside, and the room should be warm too. This process is stressful for your snake so keep a close eye on them. After about 30 minutes, check to see if the stuck skin has started to loosen. Gently use a damp cloth to see if the skin comes off easily. Do not forcefully remove the skin as you cause damage. Repeat the soaking process several times to remove all the unstuck skin.
- Stuck eye caps could be the result of poor husbandry, dehydration, injury, or parasites. It is best to consult a vet because if left untreated, it may lead to blindness or loss of an eye. A good way to handle stuck eye caps is also to soak your snake in warm water for about 30 minutes, then gently rub against the eye with a wet q-tip. Do this for a few days, with the humidity levels in the terrarium increased, and ensure there is fresh water available.
FAQs about Ball python skin and scales
Why does my ball python have loose skin?
When your ball python’s loose skin is accompanied by a dull look, it may indicate that they are about to go into shed. However, if your ball python’s skin is overly loose or wrinkled, it may be a sign of dehydration.
If you observe any of the symptoms, you should re-hydrate your ball python immediately.
Why does my ball python have fluid under the skin?
Fluid under your ball pythons skin is an indication that your snake has blisters. The blisters could be a result of a burn from an overheating lamp, under tank heat, excessive humidity, or inadequate substrate. Eventually, the blisters may rupture and form an open wound that could allow in bacteria, thereby exacerbating the problem.
It is advisable to take your snake immediately to a veterinarian for a check-up. After determining the extent of the issue, your vet will prescribe the best course of treatment.
Why does my ball python’s skin look pale?
As your ball python prepares to shed, their skin will turn to a bluish-white hue that often appears pale. It is best to start preparing for the shedding process by ensuring the humidity levels are favorably high. Some owners prefer transferring their snakes to a moist shedding box.
My ball python has some lifted scales. What could be the problem?
A ball python’s scales may be lifted for varied reasons. One of the reasons could be that the enclosure or the hides are too small, causing your snake to fold up too tightly, raising the scales. Your snake’s scales may also appear bent due to abrasion against their hide and the top of their enclosure when trying to find a way out or plain curiosity. It could also be natural wear and tear that results from climbing and movement patterns.
It is essential to ensure the conditions in the cage are optimal.
My ball python is missing some scales. Should I be alarmed?
Missing scales on the head or body of your ball python is a normal phenomenon, and you shouldn’t worry about them too much. The scales may have come off during shedding with the old skin. As long as you keep your snake healthy and clean, they should grow back in a few weeks. If the area around the missing scales looks a little red or blotchy, use a betadine solution on a Q-tip to apply. When your snake is shedding next, increase the temperatures to 75% and mist the cage twice a day.
What are subcaudal scales on a ball python?
Subcaudal scales are enlarged scales on the underside of the tail. They are observed right after the anal scale. They may appear divided in pairs.
Why does my ball python have greenish or brown scales?
Discolored scales such as green scales are an early sign of scale rot. It often affects the ventral scales that are right above the cloacal. You need to closely examine your snake’s scales for the next few days to ascertain if it is an infection and follow the steps we discussed earlier on how to handle scale rot.
Early detection and treatment are important in controlling your ball python’s skin and scale issues. Regular handling helps you notice irregularities on your snake’s skin and scales that can be handled immediately to avoid the detriment of your pet’s health. Whenever you are unsure of your snake’s ailment but notice an irregularity, contact your vet immediately.