Find yourself a veterinarian before your snake develops any problems, so you know where to go if anything crops up. Equally, it’s a great idea to take a fecal sample to your veterinarian as soon as possible after getting your ball python, to make sure your snake isn’t carrying any infections or parasites.
Poor hygiene is the cause of many of the health problems that ball pythons experience. You should therefore clean your snake’s tank and everything in it at least every 3 or 4 weeks. You should always wash your hands before and after you touch your python to prevent the spread of bacteria like salmonella.
Like all snakes, balls are susceptible to parasites. These can be divided into two kinds – endoparasites and ectoparasites. Endoparasites live inside the host, and in ball pythons these are typically worms, which are far more common in snakes bred in the wild. Ectoparasites, such as ticks and mites, live outside the host, and are a common problem.
Mites consume a snake’s blood, are reddish brown in color, and can often be seen around your snake’s eyes, or as black dots moving on your python’s body. Check the water bowl for tiny dark dots if you think your ball has mites, as your snake may have soaked itself to alleviate the itching. Mites are most commonly caused when you have introduced an infested animal into your collection, so quarantine a new snake for a few months. Mites spread rapidly, and need to be dealt with promptly. Soaking your python in lukewarm water overnight will drown the mites. Rinsing your snake with warm water will also wash them away. You need to wash and rinse the enclosure and everything in it with a warm bleach solution if you have an infestation.
Ticks are closely related to mites, and will also consume your snake’s blood, but are much less common in captive ball pythons than those caught in the wild. If your pet has ticks, these usually appear as dark spots beneath or between the scales, or in the fold of skin under its chin. They’re not hard to deal with – just grasp gently with tweezers and twist them away.
Growing balls should shed their whole skin every four to six weeks, adults a few times a year. Incomplete sheds are common where humidity in an enclosure is too low. When your snake goes into the shed cycle, increase humidity to about 70%. You may find ‘spectacles’ of unshed skin around your snake’s eyes. Use a cotton tipped swab dipped in mineral oil, or sticky tape wrapped round your finger, with the adhesive side facing outwards, to remove the dead skin. This does need dealing with or it can disturb the entire shedding process.
Just being aware of these common complaints and knowing how to deal with them occurring should ensure your ball python has a long and healthy life.