The thing about Ball Pythons is that they seem to have the same demeanor every time, so it is quite difficult to tell if they are sick or dying. That’s why it’s important to closely observe their behavior.
Unlike the expressiveness of cats and dogs, Ball pythons tend to be silent pets. This means that the only definitive ways to know if they are sick or dying are through observing their body movements and assessing their skin color.
Ball Pythons can live up to an average of 20 – sometimes even 60 – years, depending on how properly you take care of them. If the Ball Python is young and is treated as soon as the abnormalities show, they can be rescued. And even if your Ball Python is dying of old age, you still have to take them to the vet, as they will suggest how to take care of them while they are dying and what to do after their death.
How to extend your Ball Python’s life
The key is taking care of them properly. And this can be done by following these:
- Ensuring their enclosure has plenty hiding spots.
- Secure that their lighting in the morning is moderate. And during the night, use infra-red lights.
- Use a 30 gallon-sized vivarium for Adult pythons.
- A weekly clean-up of the vivarium using reptile disinfectant and drying it with sunlight to get rid of the chemicals.
- Maintain humidity level of 40 -60%.
- Maintain temperature between 80-90°F.
- Always use spring water or distilled water, as it needs to be free from chlorine and other chemicals.
- Maintain a proper feeding schedule by feeding them at night.
A healthy Ball Python
A healthy environment made by maintaining the cage temperature and food will ensure a healthy Ball Python. In order to tell that your Ball Python is, you’ve to see that they check out with this list:
- Clear eyes;
- Sheds regularly;
- Explores the cage at night;
- Regularly eats, drinks, and soaks;
- Digests the food in a week;
- Their belly looks normal after digestion; and
- Wrinkle-free and bright skin.
Common diseases in Ball Pythons
Some of the common diseases Ball pythons experience are:
- Stomatitis – characterized by white discharge from the mouth and trouble breathing, caused by an unhygienic environment and/or an overpopulation in the enclosure.
- Parasitic infection – Caused by internal worms or other external parasites (e.g. ticks and mites). If the humidity level is too high, then there is a possibility of bacterial growth in the enclosure.
- Dermatitis – a skin infection caused by high humidity levels.
- Respiratory infection – There are various reasons for respiratory infections, all of which are deadly, but the fastest way to identify is through their breathing.
- Old age – If a 20 year-old Ball Python is not active and is sleeping all the time with no other signs of abnormalities, then they are dying because of old age. You can usually tell so if their skin is too cold and if they are not active while handling. This might not be a disease, but they are near to death. Although you won’t be able to help them at this stage, you can comfort them so that they can pass on peacefully.
Common reasons for a Ball Python’s illness
One of the common reasons why a Ball python may die suddenly is when the cage temperature is either too hot or too cold. If the cage parameters are not monitored properly, then it would become the reason for your Ball Python’s diseases.
Some of the common diseases they get infected with are Respiratory diseases, Anorexia, and dehydration. They will look pale when they are infected and they won’t flick their tongue. When something is wrong with them, they will have pale, pinkish, or reddish skin. The first step in identifying that your Ball Python is sick is by checking to see abnormalities such as:
- Lack of appetite
- Discharge from Ball python’s nose or mouth
- Trouble shedding
- Red excrements with watery consistency
- Pale skin
Other bodily symptoms of a sick Ball Python
Tongue and skin
A healthy Ball Python will look vibrant and flick its tongue out every few seconds when exploring its cage. If they are lethargic and never flick their tongue out, then there is something wrong with them. We cannot directly identify what the reason is and what they are sick, but do NOT try to treat them on your own as it may make things worse. Take them to their veterinarian immediately for further instructions.
When your ball python’s belly button looks pinkish or reddish, they may be suffering from septicemia. It is a grave illness, but despite its low survival rate, you should still take them to the veterinarian to have them assess and give you instructions.
It is important to note that Ball Pythons will often look pinkish and pale during shedding time. When you’ve had your Ball python for years, you will be able to differentiate the change in color during the shedding time and whether or not they are ill.
Color of Excreta
Ball Python excrements are solid and brown or black in color. The urates may be green (which is normal as well), BUT if the excrement is green, it indicates a bacterial infection.
If the color of the urate or the excrement is red, then it is a warning sign. Red excretions signify that your Ball Python’s digestive tract is bleeding. The earlier the diagnosis, the more likely it is your Ball Python will survive.
If your Ball python is dying because of old age, then it will have watery, red excrements.
You have to be alarmed if your Ball Python shows excessive movements or no movements at all. This happens as a result of stress, like when there is no hiding spot or when you have too many lights in the enclosure.
If you don’t change the enclosure according to your Ball Python, your ball python won’t overcome the stress and may become sick and eventually die.
Note that if your Ball Python lays on their back, they are undergoing pain, and they overcome the pain by rolling on their back and stomachs. Female Ball Pythons do this when they are about to lay eggs to relieve the pressure of pain.
Any dying or sick Ball Pythons do this to relieve their pain. When they do this, take them to their veterinarians.
Lack of Appetite
It is common behavior when your Ball Python doesn’t eat during the winter season and during breeding, but if they are not eating and if there is a drastic weight loss, then your Ball Python is dying.
If you have identified that your Ball Python’s weight has decreased and they are having trouble shedding, then they are dying because of old age. But if your Ball Python is young when showing these symptoms, then there is something wrong with the cage parameters that is driving them to the edge of death. Take them to the veterinarian immediately once you notice these symptoms.
Dehydration is another deadly problem that affects most Ball Pythons. If they didn’t drink and soak properly and if the humidity level of the cage is not right, then they will suffer from it. Note that a Ball Python can go without drinking for 12 days. If they do not drink or soak for more than 12 days, then they will suffer from dehydration. A dehydrated Ball Python will look dry with wrinkly skin and sunken eyes. Noticing this earlier means we can cure them faster.
Ball Pythons are nocturnal and lazy animals. They are only active during the night and they are mostly seen in their hiding spot. But they will come outside their hiding spots every now and then, and when you handle them, they will not be defensive.
When you’ve owned them for quite some time, you know when they will be active, at what time they play, their sleeping cycle, and handling time. If all these things suddenly change, then your ball Python may be experiencing an illness.
If a Ball Python is above 20 years and is dying because of old age, it will show those symptoms, but if your Ball Python is young and shows them, they are suffering from bacterial infections. You have to seek a veterinarian’s help when this happens.
If you find mucus bubbles over the nostrils and mouth, then your Ball Python is suffering from a serious respiratory infection.
Respiratory infections are common in Ball Pythons and can be cured if treated early. If prolonged, then there won’t be much help left for your Ball Python. Maintain the proper humidity level of the cage to avoid these respiratory infections.
If your Ball Python is breathing heavily with their mouth open, then there is a serious infection in the upper respiratory tract. They show this symptom when they are infected by Stomatitis or Pneumonia. If they produce any wheezing or gurgling sounds while breathing, then you have to seek a veterinarian’s help.
Noises of Ball Python
Ball pythons hiss when they are stressed or angry apart from that whatever sound you hear is related to the respiratory infection. They make various noises while breathing, but most of the time, it is a symptom of a respiratory infection.
The different noises that Ball python make are:
- A faint whistling sound
- A raspy, crackly breathing sound
- A wheezy, labored breathing sound
- Just breathing in and out, but more forcefully and audible than usual
- A sound that’s a little like a sigh
Sounds Considered Normal
Hissing sounds are common in snakes, but there are also other certain sounds they produce that are normal, and no need to be afraid of them.
Deep breath during mealtime
Ball python’s take deep breaths after eating their food. This kick-starts the digestion of the food in their belly. It can sometimes be a signal of stress. The difference between their normal breathing versus their deep breaths ae noticeable; heavy breathing depicts their sides rising more.
This is the main reason why we shouldn’t handle our ball python after their mealtime. Never disturb them for two days and handle them only when they are active. IF they are active, then the food is digested and it’s time for their next meal.
Ball pythons also breathe differently when they are having food. It is because they swallow their food completely and they will be able to breathe even when the food is inside their mouth with the help of the glottis which is at the top of their windpipe.
While eating Ball python moves their glottis to one side so that they won’t face any breathing problems while eating, they won’t choke while eating.
Heavy Breaths when Stressed
Your Ball Python is a sensitive reptile, so one thing off in its parameters might seriously stress it out. Whenever they are stressed they breathe heavily. This happens when:
- They are handled too much
- The cage parameters are not maintained
- The cage is too hot or too cold
- They have roommates in their cage
- They have trouble shedding
Respiratory Infection (R.I.)
Another reason why your ball python may make odd-sounding noises may be because of infection along their respiratory tract, causing a struggle in breathing. Noises caused by that infection can sound like:
- Squeaking noise
- Whistling sound
Symptoms of respiratory infection
- Sitting up and raising its head
- Struggling to breathe
- Mucus coming from the nose and mouth
- Gurgling, wheezing, or squeaking noises
- Open-mouth breathing
- Lack of appetite
- Lack of energy
Treating an R.I. infected Ball Python
As a ball python owner, there is little you can do. You have to immediately take your pet to the veterinarian for proper treatment.
You may, however, deep clean your ball python’s enclosure to eliminate the parasites, and maintain the vivarium temperature and humidity before your pet is reintroduced to it. Always keep an eye on the cage parameters – your ball python’s recovery depends on its proper maintenance.
Inclusion Body Disease [IBD]
IBD is a fatal disease. It affects the Ball Python’s immune system, leading to your Ball python constantly getting infected and becoming sick. They usually die as a result of it. Symptoms of IBD are the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen mouth
- Pupils of different size
- Periscoping and twisting the neck
There is no cure for IBD. After handling the IBD-infected Ball python, you must be careful not to carelessly handle the healthy ones as this may infect them as well. You have to Quarantine the IBD-infected Ball Python and comfort and care for them until they die.
What to do after their death?
Ball Pythons are considered lifetime companions because they often live for more than 20 years, which makes it difficult to overcome their loss. After they die, do NOT bury them in your garden because there is a possibility of spreading the infection to other animals.
It is better to cremate them or bury them deeply in a land that is away from any water resource. If you don’t bury them deeper, rodents or raccoons will dig them up and you’d have to bury the half decomposed body in which there is a high possibility of you and surrounding animals getting infected.
You can even ask for help from your veterinarian in burying your pet. They would suggest few communal pet burial grounds. You should get the approval of the local authorities before burying your pet.
Ball Pythons are the most sensitive and shy reptiles. As such, you need to take good care as much as you can. When you suspect disease in your pet Ball Pythons, take them to the vet and don’t treat them on your own. If you neglect them, they might end up dying a painful death.