Ball Pythons – Keeping Exotic Pets http://www.keepingexoticpets.com Tue, 26 Dec 2017 10:39:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.8 Feeding Ball Pythons http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/feeding-ball-pythons/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/feeding-ball-pythons/#respond Fri, 05 May 2017 14:06:44 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1528 When I first started to keep reptiles in the 1990’s ball pythons were still seen as something very unusual and exotic. Any mention of a “python” drew awe from other people, and with their stout, chunky bodies they really were something totally different to the corn snakes and garter snakes that were prevalent at that […]

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Feeding advice for ball python owners. As you know, ball pythons can be fussy feeders, but this guide reveals all you need to know to feed pet ball pythons the right way from the beginning.When I first started to keep reptiles in the 1990’s ball pythons were still seen as something very unusual and exotic.

Any mention of a “python” drew awe from other people, and with their stout, chunky bodies they really were something totally different to the corn snakes and garter snakes that were prevalent at that time.

They also developed a bad reputation for going off food for long periods of time and for generally being fussy eaters. At the time, some keepers were advocating not handling ball pythons at all, as they believed the stress was one factor in their refusal to eat.

Of course, that was a long time ago. Largely wild-caught adult pythons have been replaced by a mind-blowing array of captive bred specimens in an almost infinite array of colors and patterns.

These captive bred specimens tend to adapt to captivity much better, generally being calmer and less prone to stress.

In addition, we as hobbyists have learned much about these pythons. We know, for example, that it is reasonably normal for ball pythons to go off their food in the winter months, and that adult males seem particularly prone to this.

We also known from past experience that so long as your python isn’t losing condition that this extended fast likely isn’t anything to worry about.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning, in case you’re just planning to get your very first ball python…

ball python photo

What Do Ball Pythons Eat?

Ball pythons are carnivores, and need to be fed meat on a regular basis.

Based on the size of the python and the ease of finding food, this tends to mean rodents in captivity; the vast majority of ball pythons are fed on either rats or mice of a suitable size.

How Often Should I Feed My Ball Python?

Ball pythons can grow surprisingly quickly when they are well fed. At the same time, ball pythons can be lazy, and some specimens do seem to get a little overweight.

While each keeper has their own routine, personally I feed my youngsters twice a week initially, slowly increasing the time between feedings to roughly once a week for my adults.

Note that these timings aren’t “fixed”; some pythons will eat far more regularly than others, while moving your snake from one type of food to another can also affect the feeding regime.

One of the best things you can do is to start a feeding chart for your ball python.

Keep records of what food was offered on what dates, and whether it was accepted. Combine this with regular health checks and weigh-ins and you’ll be in the perfect place to assess your ball pythons health and appetite.

If you are unlucky enough to find your ball python suffers from any health issues in the future, such a chart can also be of great interest to your vet, allowing them to spot anything obviously wrong.

What Size Food Should I Give My Ball Python?

When selecting a prey item for your snake, the easiest process is to think of the circumeference of the item. This should be no larger than the fattest part of your snake. Thus a hatchling may need tiny mice, while larger adults may eat adult rats.

Be aware, however, that there is a lot of flexibility in this. I have found that my ball pythons are far more likely to eat smaller prey than larger items, so if your snake seems to turn it’s nose up at the food offered you may want to try feeding something a little smaller.

Pro Tip: Speak to the breeder or pet shop when you actually buy your ball python. Ask them about what they’ve been feeding, and how often, to give you a good starting point. If they have been keeping feeding charts – as many people do – then all the better.

At least in this way you can start off feeding your snake in the manner to which it has become accustomed. Changes can then be made slowly over time.

How to Move Up Food Items

Baby pythons will probably start off on very small rodents.

As the python grows, however, so they’ll need more and more food. Consider both the size of the prey item given and the frequency.

These two combine to provide your snake’s total calorie intake.

As you increase the size of the prey item given, so you might want to increase the time between feeds. This time drops slowly over time until your snake is ready to move up to the next size of prey and so on.

An alternative solution is to keep feeding frequency the same, but increase the number of items being given.

If your ball python is eating large mice, and you think he or she may be ready to move up to something larger then try them on two mice – either fed together or one day after the other.

After a few weeks like this you can feel confident that your snake now has the appetite to eat their new prey source.

ball python photo

Should I Feed Rats or Mice?

Whether to feed rats or mice is a contentious issue in ball python circles. In truth, for small pythons it can be easier to feed very small mice.

Rats obviously aren’t available quite as small, and can be rather more expensive. An adult ball python, however, will probably require something bulkier than even the largest mouse; feeding rats of varying sizes therefore makes sense (and can be cheaper than feeding multiple mice).

The problem is that some ball pythons can become fixated on mice if fed them for long periods of time, and seem to find rats far less appealing. If you’re not careful you can end up with a large python that is eating you out of house-and-home each month, downing armfuls of adult mice while turning it’s nose up at the cheaper and more practical option of rats.

In my experience, given enough patience, even hardened mouse-eaters will eventually get used to eating rats – though the process may take some patience.

My advice would therefore be to start off with rats if they are available in a suitable size for your snake.

If you can only find small mice that your snake can consume then this is certainly better than nothing, though your goal should be to gently “convert” your ball python to eating rats as soon as possible.

Doing so will increase the growth rate of your snake, and make feeding them as an adult much more cost effective.

Frozen Vs Live Food for Ball Pythons

There are two traditional ways to feed a ball python; either giving them live rodents to catch and kill, or providing dead animals that are bought frozen.

Some keepers like to feed live rodents, believing it is more “natural” and secretly enjoying the “hunt”.

Others claim that feeding live rodents elicits a better feeding response; ideal for those snakes that go off their food for a period of time.

The flipside of course is that a rat or house has the potential to do some serious damage to your snake; cases exist where snakes have had chunks bitten out of them by a rodent trying to escape becoming dinner.

The act of watching a snake catch and eat a live rodent is also more than many people can stomach, while in many parts of the world feeding live rodents is actually illegal.

Frozen food is, in my opinion, the way to go. Its cheap and easy to buy, and can be stored for some time in the freezer. When it’s feeding time the food can just be thawed out and fed.

There’s no worry about your snake getting damaged, no mess left in the cage from a live rodent fouling it and no awkward conversations with pet shop owners when buying another “pet” mouse from them.

What About Uneaten Food?

Uneaten food is bad news. A live rodent, as discussed, can bite and nip at your snake. But even frozen food left in the cage for long periods isn’t good news; it can quickly go off in the warmth of a ball python cages and smalls rancid!

Leftover food should therefore be removed from the cage promptly. Quite what “promptly” means depends on the snake.

Some of my pythons are voracious feeders and grab their prey within moments of being presented with it. If it is left untouched for more than a few minutes then I know there’s little interest and remove it.

Another python of mine is surprisingly shy, and tends to prefer eating at night long after I’ve gone to bed. He therefore is left with his prey until the following morning, by which time he’s normally finished it off.

Some keepers will refreeze uneaten food, assuming it hasn’t been left in the cage for too long, but I personally do not. I worry that thawing and refreezing the food may cause stomach upsets, so each item is presented once and then thrown away if not eaten.

For keepers with more than one ball python, an alternative solution is to feed them on different days. If snake number one won’rt eat their food, it is then presented to snake number two, who will hopefully eat it.

This eliminates waste and, so long as you’re keeping feeding charts, can be an efficient way to make feeding your snakes as cost-effective as possible.

ball pythons photo

How Should I Actually Feed My Ball Python?

Once you’ve selected a suitable prey item, next you need to actually feed it to your ball python. Here’s the process I use…

Firstly, I boil the kettle.

Next, I fill a plastic tupperware container with water; roughly 50% boiling and 50% lukewarm.

The snake’s food is then placed into a plastic bag (a sandwich bag tends to work well) and suspend it in the tub. The lid is then placed into the tub to keep the heat in. This speeds up the process of thawing out the mouse or rat, which makes feeding a quicker experience.

The key, as I have discovered, is to use moderately warm water.

If the water is too hot then the rodent thaws out too quickly, which often ends in the stomach bursting. This is not a pleasant smell, rest assured.

Once the rodent is thawed I then repeat the process with the water. The reason for this is that ball pythons have heat-sensitive pits above their mouths. As a result, a warm prey item is more appealing than a cold one.

This second process serves to gently warm the mouse to around body temperature. This time around you only need to suspend the rodent for a few minutes.

The warm rodent can then be gently placed into your ball python cage.

Many of my pythons grab the rodent almost before it touches the ground. Others are rather more bashful, and prefer to wait until I’m gone. Either way, I aim to feed in the evening (when your ball python will naturally be waking up anyway), to keep the light levels low and to keep noise to an absolute minimum. In short, my pythons get peace and quiet while eating.

The snakes are checked again a few hours later, and any uneaten food is removed, together with any “spillage” from the carcass.

A few additional notes on feeding your ball python…

Firstly, some people like to move their snake to a different “feeding cage”. They claim that this reduces the chances of your snake mistaking you for food at a later date, as they only eat in one specific place. Personally, I’ve never had any issues with feeding my pythons in their cages.

Secondly, while I tend to just throw the rodent into the cage, some keepers like to actually feed the snake by holding the rodent in long tongs and waving it around infront of the snakes face. Once again, I haven’t found this necessary and my snakes continue eating without issue.

Where To Buy Snake Food

As reptiles have gained in popularity, so the number of places selling frozen snake food has ballooned.

These days most cities have a reptile shop selling such items.

Even better, there are almost places where frozen rodents can be ordered online and delivered to your home. They typically come carefully packed, in a well-insulated box together with packs of dry ice.

I have personally found that the prices online tend to be far more reasonable, and with a hectic schedule the opportunity to have the rodents mailed to my home also makes my life easier.

Feeding advice for ball python owners. As you know, ball pythons can be fussy feeders, but this guide reveals all you need to know to feed pet ball pythons the right way from the beginning.

Images c/o The Reptilarium, snakecollector & brian.gratwicke

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Ball Python Heaters & Heating http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/ball-python-heaters-heating/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/ball-python-heaters-heating/#respond Fri, 07 Apr 2017 14:01:47 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1522 Coming from sub-Saharan Africa, ball pythons need to be kept warm in captivity. Their cage should offer a range of temperatures, with one end being cooler than the other. This gradient then allows your snake to move about and find the area that best suits them. This generally means heating one end of the cage, […]

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Coming from sub-Saharan Africa, ball pythons need to be kept warm in captivity.

Their cage should offer a range of temperatures, with one end being cooler than the other.

This gradient then allows your snake to move about and find the area that best suits them. This generally means heating one end of the cage, while leaving the other unheated.

A temperature of 25-30’C is ideal for the warmer end of the cage.

But the question is: what is the best way to heat your ball python cage?

The Best Heaters for Ball Pythons

royal python photo

Heat Mats

Possibly the easiest type of heating suitable for ball pythons is the humble heat mat.

These are in essence a paper-thin heating element, sandwiched between twp pieces of clear plastic. A wire and plug comes out of one side, and is plugged in to provide a gentle warmth of around 25’C.

Costing just pennies a day to run, these are some of the cheapest reptile heaters to buy and to use.

There are, however, a number of weaknesses of using heat mats with ball pythons.

Firstly, the heat that they provide is quite gentle. It tends not to travel well through thick cage walls, while the heat itself soon escapes from well-ventilated cages.

If you’re going to use a heat mat for ball pythons, therefore, it generally pays to place the heater inside the cage, where it can have the most benefit.

Placing it on the floor of the cage, at one end, and then gently covering it with a thin layer of substrate tends to work well.

In this way your snake can “bask” on the warm substrate just as they might in nature.

This works particularly well in wooden vivariums, where the timber helps to “insulate” the cage, preventing the heat from escaping.

The heat mat should be of a suitable size that it allows your ball python to completely curl up on it, while leave the rest of the cage slightly cooler.

In situations where heat mats are used in particularly cold climates, or in cages that aren’t as well-insulated (such as plastic cages) then a heat mat alone may not be sufficient.

A heat mat may be used to take the edge of night-time heat under such conditions, but it may be necessary to supplement your heat mat with a more powerful source of warmth to keep your pet in the best of health.

Heating Cables

Originally designed for gardeners, a heating cable is a waterproof electrical cable.

They are intended to be sunk into flower beds, where they gently warm the soil and improve germination rates in cooler weather. While they’re unlikely to be of interest for reptile keepers with a single ball python, if you end up with a number of cages then heat cables can be a very practical solution.

The cable can be gently wound in and out of each cage in turn, allowing you to heat a whole batch of tanks – even a collection of wooden vivariums – using a single heater. This saves on costs, as well as keeping your use of plugs to a minimum (and ongoing battle when keeping multiple reptiles).

In my experience heating cables can get considerably warmer than traditional reptile heat mats.

Where I keep ball pythons in home-made racks, using large Really Useful Boxes (RUBs) as cages, these cables can really come into their own. I design the racks so that the cable runs along the back 25% of the cage, and generally find this offers a temperature in the region of 30’C.

Heating larger or smaller amounts of the cage can effectively control the temperature within.

In this way a single heating cable warms half a dozen ball python cages or more.

Heat Bulbs

Heat bulbs or heat lamps are typically fixed in the roof of the cage, and can get much warmer than either a heat mat or a heat cable.

To successfully fit a heat lamp you’ll ideally be using a wooden vivarium. Investing in a suitable bulb and a holder will be necessary. These bulbs can get very hot indeed, so it’s also recommended to buy a bulb guard, to prevent the risk of your snake brushing against it and getting burned.

Note that heat bulbs don’t necessarily have to give out light. While many heat bulbs will add a level of attractive lighting to your cage, there are also heat bulbs that produce no light whatsoever.

This can be helpful for ball pythons, as they are mainly nocturnal. This means that such a bulb can be used around the clock, without interfering with the natural day-time/night-time cycles of light.

Ceramic Heaters

Lastly, ceramic heaters are arguably the most powerful of all. They can easily produce 35-40’C heat, and are capable of warming even large or well-ventilated cages. They can, of course, also be used in wooden ball python vivariums.

Ceramic heaters produce no visible light, rather like night-time heat lamps, so won’t mess with the day/night cycle of light, and once again they need to be protected with a guard to prevent injuries.

In most cases a ceramic heater will be “overkill”. A heat lamp does everything that a ceramic does, but often for a lower price. For those people in really cold countries, however, a cermic heater can be a suitable solution to your ball python heating requirements.

So what’s the Best Ball Python Heater?

Defining exactly what the best heater for ball pythons is can be challenging, as it often depends on individual circumstances. What works for one person may not work for another.

Heat mats can be useful for providing a gentle background heat in cooler months, and provides a comfortable warm substrate for your ball python.

Here in the UK, however, even when using wooden vivariums I find that the heat produced by a heat mat may not be enough in the colder months. It can therefore be a good idea to supplement this heat using a heat lamp. These are cheap to buy and easy to install.

While you don’t necessarily have to use the lamp year-round they can be very handy for keeping your ball python’s cage warm and cosy when there’s snow on the ground outside.

royal python photo

Thermostats: An Essential Piece of Kit

Thermostats are devices that control the temperature of your heater. You plug the heater into the thermostat, plug the thermostat into the mains, and place the thermostat’s sensing probe into your ball python cage. This ensures that the heater is turned up nice and warm during cold weather, but that the heat is never allowed to get too much.

While some people use heat mats without thermostats, thanks to the low level of heat produced, most experienced keepers still recommend thermostats even for these devices. It most certainly will be required if you opt to use a more powerful heater like a bulb or ceramic.

Note that each heater requires a different thermostat; your heat mat will require a matstat, while bulbs and ceramics use other thermostats.

This means that if you opt to use two heaters (heat mat and bulb, for example) you’ll be needing two thermostats. This can increase the cost of setting up your ball python cage, but is a worthy investment in terms of your pet’s health.

Fitting Your Ball Python Heater

Each heater must be fitted correctly if it is to function as designed. In many cases it will be necessary take a wooden vivarium apart to fit heaters, as cables will need to be threaded through holes etc.

Heat mats are thew easiest to install. Simply place a suitably-sized heat mat at one end of the cage, on the floor. Cover with a small amount of substrate and fit the thermostat heat probe in place.

The two wires – one from the heater and the thermostat probe – can then be fed out of the cage before it it put back together again.

Heat lamps and ceramics can take rather more effort. These will generally need to be screwed firmly into the roof of the vivarium. Plug them to check they’re working successfully, then afix the guard to prevent burns. Once again, feed the thermostat probe and the electrical cabling out and pop the cage back together.

As you can see, installing a new heater into a ball python vivarium can be a reasonably fiddly process, so it’s not one that you’ll want to do again in a hurry. This is especially so when your python has been popped into his or her cage.

If in doubt, therefore, I like to install both a heat mat and a non-light-producing heat bulb into a new cage.

The lamp may only be used in colder weather, but it’s nice to know I have it set up, installed and tested should that situation arise. It’s a lot better than realizing that your heat mat is under-performing, and having to take the cage to pieces to fit an extra heater at a later date.

royal python photo

Monitoring the Temperature in your Ball Python Cage

Even with a thermostat in use it is critical to carefully monitor the temperature in your ball python’s cage.

This is doubly-so the first time you set the cage up.

It is generally best, however frustrating it might be, to set the cage up a few days before actually bringing your snake home. This way you can monitor conditions and easily “tweak” them as necessary without upsetting your snake.

Once you’re confident that the hot end in warm enough (but not too hot) and that a thermal gradient is present, then you can feel confident in bringing your ball python home from the store.

A range of reptile-thermometers are currently available. The cheapest of these are “dial” thermometers which can be stuck to the wall of your ball python’s cage.

Second to these, and rather more accurate in my opinion, are digital thermometers. These typically come with a “probe” which can be fixed in place, while the digital readout is kept outside the cage.

Lastly, there are heat “guns” that allow you to take temperature measurements by pointing the device into your cage and taking a reading.

Personally I find that the dial thermometers are generally the most practical option. Buy two, and place one at either end of the cage. There are no batteries to worry about, and no wires and probes.

Instead you can glance in at any time, and check the ambient temperature at each end of the cage. As a reminder, a temperature of some 28-32’C is deal for the warmer end of the cage, while the other end should be noticeably cooler.

Images c/o golgarth, forestwildlife & The Reptilarium

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How to Save Money on Frozen Snake Food http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/save-money-frozen-snake-food/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/save-money-frozen-snake-food/#respond Mon, 06 Feb 2017 14:52:11 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1398 As someone with a decent number of snakes, I’ve been alarmed over the last few years to find my feeding bill going up and up. All those frozen mice and rats, while not expensive on their own, start to add up when you’re buying and feeding in bulk. In light of this, I recently sat […]

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As someone with a decent number of snakes, I’ve been alarmed over the last few years to find my feeding bill going up and up. All those frozen mice and rats, while not expensive on their own, start to add up when you’re buying and feeding in bulk.

In light of this, I recently sat down to try and find the very cheapest supplier of frozen snake food in the UK. Today I’d like to show you my results, in the hope of saving you plenty of money on feeding your snakes!

The process I followed was pretty simple. I carried out searches in Google for suppliers of frozen snake food, and then I jotted down the prices. Every one of the these suppliers operates online, and will ship snake food to your door. In this way it doesn’t matter where you live – you can still benefit from low prices.

The suppliers I decided to compare were:

Personally I feed primarily large weaner rats and jumbo mice to my collection, so this is where I focused my attention. While some suppliers sell these rodents individually, others only sell in bulk packs (such as bags of 10 or even 25). In these cases I divided down the costs to provide the price per rodent.

Reptile keepers with just one snake should therefore note that in order to get these better prices it may be necessary to buy a larger number of frozen rodents.

Also note that these calculations were done over the last couple of months, so prices could have changed in that time.

That said, my research revealed not just the cheapest places to buy snake food in the UK, but also a number of other fascinating discoveries.

Where to Buy the Cheapest Frozen Mice

The chart below shows the prices charged at the time of writing for jumbo mice from a range of suppliers. I have also worked out the price per unit in the right-hand column.

Jumbo Mice

SupplierMulti-BuyPrice Per Mouse
TSM Pet Supplies61p each61p each
Frozen Rodent£7.50 for 10, £16.50 for 2566p each
Kiezebrink£14.50 for 2558p each
Scales and Fangs£14.75 for 2559p each
Frozen Direct£7.50 for 10, £15.00 for 2560p each
Frozen Mice£15.00 for 10, £33.00 for 25£1.32 each
Swell Reptiles£17.99 for 10, £34.99 for 25£1.80 each

As we can see, the prices vary dramatically! A number of suppliers charge around 60p at present for a jumbo mouse, while some others clock in at more than twice that price! Depending on how much you’re paying right now this means that you could effectively halve the amount of money you spend on frozen snake food just by swapping suppliers!

From the above list, we can see that at the time of writing, the cheapest supplier was Kiezebrink, closely followed by Scales and Fangs, Frozen Direct and TSM.

Where to Buy the Cheapest Frozen Rats

The chart below shows the same range of suppliers, but this time looking at the prices of larger weaner rats. Once again, where suppliers sell in bulk I have broken down the cost for a single weaner.

Large Weaner Rats

SupplierMulti-BuyPrice Per Rat
TSM Pet Supplies89p each89p each
Frozen Rodent£5.75 for 10, £10.00 for 10£1.00 each
Kiezebrink89p each, £20.50 for 2582p each
Scales and Fangs£11.99 for 10, £24.99 for 25 £1 each
Frozen Direct£5.75 for 5, £10.00 for 10£1 each
Frozen Mice£11.50 for 5, £20.00 for 10£2.00 each
Swell Reptiles£13.99 for 5, £22.99 for 10£2.30 each

Once again we see quite a broad range of prices, with some being more than twice the price of others. In this test Kiezebrink once again wins, though with TSM, Scales and Fangs and Frozen Direct close behind.

What is perhaps interesting is that these were the same winners from the last table too.

A Note on Delivery Costs

The above prices don’t take into account delivery charges. The reason is simple; delivery prices vary considerably by the amount of money that you spend. In many cases larger orders are sent free-of-charge, while smaller orders are chargeable.

For this reason I would recommend that you consider buying your snake food in bulk (to save on shipping costs) and when selecting your supplier you also add in the cost of shipping.

Conclusions

The conclusions of this research seem pretty clear. Kiezebrink wins hands down on cost, especially if you’re willing to buy in bulk to save on postage costs.

Almost in line, however, are TSM, Scales and Fangs and Frozen Direct, all of whom should be considered when buying food.

Oddly, Swell Reptiles – who are well-known for their super-low prices on hardware like vivariums and heaters – charge far more than others for frozen food. While I love (and regularly use) Swell for hardware, I will be ordering my snake food elsewhere in the future.

Update: I thought readers might be interested that after carrying out this research a few months ago I have started ordering regularly from Kiezebrink. The service I have received so far has been exceptional, with accurate orders and fast delivery. This, combined with their low prices, mean I strongly recommend you consider a test order with them next time you need snake food.

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Ball Python Not Eating? Consider These Options… http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/ball-python-not-eating/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/ball-python-not-eating/#respond Wed, 28 Dec 2016 07:33:13 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1338 Ball pythons are one of the most popular pet snakes, and for good reason. They’re not just beautiful; they’re also typically docile, reasonably-sized and very forgiving. However every super hero has their “Kryptonite” – and for ball pythons this is a frustrating reluctance to eat sometimes. If you have a ball python that’s not eating, […]

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Ball pythons are one of the most popular pet snakes, and for good reason. They’re not just beautiful; they’re also typically docile, reasonably-sized and very forgiving. However every super hero has their “Kryptonite” – and for ball pythons this is a frustrating reluctance to eat sometimes.

If you have a ball python that’s not eating, this article is for you. After 15 years of keeping and breeding ball pythons I’d like to talk through some suggestions for how to deal with the situation of a ball python that won’t feed.

Health Check

The first thing to realize if your ball python stops eating is that such things are quite normal. Granted, they can be quite worrying the first time, but it’s important to appreciate that thousands of ball pythons go through a similar process each year and cope just fine. Don’t therefore initially worry too much; a few weeks without food are unlikely to do your ball python any harm.

The key is keeping a close eye on your pet to ensure that they are in good health. Hopefully you’re regularly handling and observing your snake, but you should pay particular attention to any ball python that won’t eat. Keep a close eye on their weight and body form.

Most ball pythons will maintain their weight pretty closely, and appear in the best of health when fasting. However if you pet starts to noticeably lose significant weight or otherwise shows health issues then they should be taken to a specialist reptile vet as a matter of emergency.

Reasons (and Solutions) for Ball Pythons Not Eating

There are a number of reasons why ball pythons go off their food. The intention of this article is to look at some of the most common reasons; and what you can do to coax them into eating again.

Moulting

The first, and most common, reason for a ball python refusing food is that they have a moult coming up. Many snakes will go off their food for some weeks before they change their skin; in my experience the bigger the snake is, the longer they will fast before a moult.

The first question to ask yourself therefore is whether your snake is coming up to moult. Keeping a journal of sheds can be a good way to identify the times when your snake moults; enabling you to predict that another moult may well be on the horizon.

Secondly, appreciate that snakes can change in both behaviour and appearance when they get very close to a moult. You may find that they become more reclusive, for example, or that their colors become paler and less vibrant. Most obviously, a snake that is just days away from a moult will develop “cloudy eyes” as the skin starts to loosen itself.

While there can be a week or more between a snake going off their food, and these physical and behavioural changes being obvious, they are certainly factors to keep an eye out for. If you suddenly notice one day that your ball python has developed cloudy eyes then you know exactly what is on the horizon.

Typically ball pythons will start to eat again within a week or so of a successful moult. Indeed many will be ravenous and will seem to always be hungry for the first few weeks after the end of their fast.

Seasonal Variations

Many ball pythons – both captive and wild – go through seasonal changes. Most ball pythons breed at specific times of the year, and experts can predict when they’re likely to lay eggs based on the time of year.

However its not just breeding which follows seasonal patterns; many ball pythons often go off their food at set periods of time. General agreement in the hobby suggests that this is especially so for males, who often seem to go off food around the same time each year. Such a ball python may go off food for months on end; not just weeks.

Then one day you’ll find that for no obvious reason they suddenly seem hungry again. Presenting them with a dead rat leads to an instant reaction. They’re back.

This is another reason why record-keeping can be so beneficial, as it allows you to keep an eye on your ball python, and to spot patterns when it comes to moulting and/or fasting.

Rats Vs Mice

Some ball pythons develop a particular taste for certain prey items. While adults will typically eat rats of varying sizes, its not unusual for youngsters to be fed on mice because they’re available in smaller sizes. The problem is that some pythons become so attuned to the taste of mice, that moving them up to rats can be problematic. I know of at least a few adult ball pythons who refuse rats altogether and are instead fed on a growing pile of jumbo mice!

There are two messages here. Firstly, try to get your ball python used to eating rats as early as possible in his or her life, to prevent problems later on. The second message is that if you ball python is refusing to eat, it can be worth trying to switch them to the other prey item just to see if it appeals enough to start them feeding again.

Safety & Security

Ball pythons can be nervous captives. In the wild they will spend much of the daylight hours hidden away in burrows where they feel safe, yet many of us fail to accurately reproduce this habit in captivity. If a ball python feels “exposed” it may refuse to eat – or may even snap at a prey item before giving up and dropping it.

I have personally had best results where I have allowed my pythons to feel safe. This means one or more good-sized hides in which they can fully conceal themselves, and a tank that has solid surfaces all round apart from the front. I then feed my snakes in the late evening, just as they’re naturally waking up. While feeding I try to stay as quiet as possible and keep the lights down low so as to not spook any of the snakes while they’re feeding.

Temperature & Humidity

Many ball pythons enjoy a surprisingly warm cage. The ideal temperature for my ball pythons is considerably higher than for my milk snakes, for example. While the pythons will be happily basking in their hotspot, when I tested a similar temperature for my milk snakes I found them down the cool end bathing in their water bowls.

So while many pet snakes will be happy with a temperature of around 25’C (give or take) my ball pythons seem to like it considerably warmer. They now enjoy a hotspot of just over 30’C and seem much happier and more willing to eat as a result. In other words, another solution if your ball python refuses to eat is to consider warming up one end of their cage to see if this kicks them into action.

While talking about temperature its also worth pointing out that ball pythons have temperature-sensitive pits around their mouths. This helps them to sense prey around them, even in the dark. Feeding cold (defrosted) rats and mice can therefore represent a problem as they just don’t set off these temperature sensors.

If your ball python is refusing to feed consider warming up their prey before feeding. I do this by placing the (dead) rodents in a plastic bag, and suspending this in a container of warm water for a few minutes before feeding.

Extreme Measures

As mentioned earlier, many ball pythons go off their food for weeks or even months at a time without any negative health impacts. Frequently this is as a result of a forthcoming moult, or simply down to seasonal variations.

However, as discussed, there are also a range of environmental factors that can prevent pythons of feeding; such as cool conditions, a lack of security or a preference for a certain prey item. Each of these is worth experimenting with if you’re getting worried.

However it would also be remiss of us to discuss a very different situation; that in which your python refuses food so much that it seems to be suffering in terms of health. Perhaps it is losing weight, and looks bony. Maybe it is struggling to moult properly. Perhaps its just sitting morosely in its hide for weeks on end refusing to come out and explore.

If you are in any doubt about your pet python you must take it to an experienced reptile vet as soon as possible. Yes, I know its going to cost you money and I also know it can be a lot of hassle. However when we take on the responsibility of caring for an exotic pet the single most important factor is the health and well-being of our captives.

So don’t just ignore the problem, hoping it will go away. Instead take action and visit your vet, who after a proper health check may well suggest a number of rather more extreme measures (such as force feeding) but which will help your python to pull through and make a full recovery.

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Best Ball Python Cages – Types & Setup http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/ball-python-cage/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/ball-python-cage/#respond Tue, 16 Aug 2016 07:13:23 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1133 Much has been written in the past about ball python cages, and each keeper will have their own preferences. The intention of this article is to provide a balanced guide to choosing and setting up your ball python cage, in order to keep your pet snake happy and healthy throughout its life. If there’s one […]

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Much has been written in the past about ball python cages, and each keeper will have their own preferences. The intention of this article is to provide a balanced guide to choosing and setting up your ball python cage, in order to keep your pet snake happy and healthy throughout its life.

If there’s one key factor that differentiates keeping reptiles from other types of pets it’s the importance of their cage.

While a rabbit cage is really just a container designed to stop the rabbit from escaping, ball python cages have rather more factors to consider. For example, the right ball python cage will:

  • Allow the maintenance of a warm environment (they are cold blooded animals after all)
  • Allow the maintenance of of a suitable humidity (especially important at moulting time)
  • Provide an environment where your ball python can feel safe and secure (ball pythons without this can cease to feed)
  • Prevent the escape of your python, where damage could come to it
  • Provide an attractive feature for you to enjoy observing your pet

As you can see, there are a lot of factors involved with selecting the best ball python cage, but we’re going to cover everything you need to know…

Ball Python

Types of Ball Python Cages

Over the years ball python keepers have experimented with a wide range of different caging alternatives. Here are the most suitable options being used at present in the pet trade:

Glass Tanks

Glass fish tanks have been used by numerous keepers in the past, as they offer excellent visibility for the owner. They do, however, represent a significant number of difficulties when it comes to creating the ideal ball python habitat.

For starters, ball pythons are well-known as escape artists so it’s critical that any fish tank you consider using has a closely-fitting (escape proof) lid. Fortunately a number of cage toppers are now available on the market, and typically consist of a black mesh lid, often with a glass panel which slides in and out for easy access to the cage.

Truth be told, however, even these tank toppers aren’t perfect. Ball pythons are adept climbers and are surprisingly strong for their size, so its not unheard of for them to manage to push such lids off the top of their cage before making a break for freedom. If you are to use such a device, therefore, be certain that it is very tight-fitting or weigh it down with some heavy books.

Another consideration when selecting the best ball python cage is how you’re going to heat it – and keep the warmth inside. These mesh lids can present problems with warm air rising up and out of the cage, making it difficult to maintain the required temperature for your pet. For this reason it may be necessary if using an aquarium to cover up some of the mesh or install more powerful heating than in other types of cages.

As you can see, while glass tanks certainly have their benefits, they also represent a number of potential pitfalls too. Personally I have used them as short-term homes for young snakes when the weather is warm, but as the mercury starts to drop (or the snake starts to grow) I prefer to make use of other cage types.

Ball python

Wooden Vivariums

Wooden vivariums which are designed specifically with snake owners in mind can make far better ball python cages.

The wooden surroundings of the cage mean that keeping in warmth and humidity is far simpler. This keeps your electricity bill down and helps your ball python to feel more comfortable.

Furthermore wooden vivariums are easy to “modify” – meaning that attaching or installing heaters of all forms is quite simple and efficient.

Another aspect of ball python vivariums which makes them such a tempting option is that the solid walls and back of the cage provide extra privacy for your pet. Ball pythons tend to be quite sensitive and shy animals, and benefit from areas where they can escape your gaze and feel safe.

Warning: I strongly advise you to invest in a suitable cage lock for any wooden vivarium you’re using for a ball python. This prevents your muscular snake from accidentally opening the sliding glass doors, and also ensures that children or visitors to your home aren’t tempted to open the cage without your authorization.

Exo Terras

Exo Terras are specially-designed glass cages designed for keeping reptiles and amphibians. They offer handy glass doors that make accessing your tank a breeze, while also locking shut when not in use. Thanks to their design, adding heating to Exo Terras is also simplicity itself and they represent, in my mind, one of the most attractive forms of caging around.

That said, the greatest weakness of Exo Terras for ball pythons is that they come only in a small range of sizes, none of which are really suitable for larger pythons. As a result while an Exo Terra can make a fantastic-looking and very practical cage for a hatchling ball python, they’re next-to-useless for larger specimens who require suitable space to feel comfortable.

Plastic RUBs

ball python photoPlastic containers have become surprisingly popular as ball python cages over the last few years, mainly thanks to exhaustive experimentation by experienced breeders.

The reality of keeping ball pythons is that they’re not the most active of snakes, they can be nervous in captivity when exposed for too long and in the wild they’ll spend most of the day hiding out in a burrow.

All this means that ball pythons don’t necessarily need the biggest cages in the world; indeed a huge cage with nowhere to hide is arguably the worst thing possible for a ball python.

Compact plastic containers therefore have a number of particular strengths. While they’re certainly not the best-looking caging option they do make it very easy to keep warmth and humidity in the cage.

Their plastic nature also makes them lightweight, cheap to buy and easy to clean. Just as importantly (for breeders) these plastic cages take up minimal space, meaning that those with a large collection can accommodate them in a relatively small space.

Here in the UK I use a brand known as “Really Useful Boxes” (or simply RUBs for short) which are strong, light and have useful locking handles that keep the lid on no matter what. All you need to do is to drill some ventilation holes (simplicity itself with an electric drill) and you’ve got a perfectly serviceable ball python cage. These can also be purchased in the USA from sites like Amazon (direct link).

Homemade Cages

Wooden vivariums are such a practical option that some keepers opt to make their own. Doing so can reduce your costs and allow you to build a cage of the perfect dimensions for your home and your snake.

Of course you’ll need some DIY skills, and the ability to source the parts you’ll need. Remember that it’s not just the wood you’ll want to buy and cut to size, but you’ll also need the glass doors, runners and ventilation panels.

As an alternative to buying a premade wooden vivarium homebuilt cages can be highly effective cages if you’ve got the skills and patience to build one in the first place.

So What’s The Best Ball Python Cage?

We’ve covered quite a few alternatives by now, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each. The obvious question is really what’s “best”? Personally my preference is for wooden vivariums. I feel they’re ideal for retaining heat and humidity while providing an excellent view of your pet. They’re also available in a dizzying range of colors, sizes and shapes to suit any home and really create a fantastic focal point for any room.

As a secondary option, for those who plan on keeping a number of ball pythons, are the plastic tubs.

What Size Cage Does My Ball Python Need?

ball python photoSelecting a suitably-sized ball python cage is a critical part of the whole process.

Too small and your snake won’t have suitable space to move around.

Too large and some snakes can feel insecure, refusing food and losing condition.

Generally speaking it is my belief that ball python cages should be at least as long as your pet is, and a minimum of half this width.

Height is unimportant for ball pythons who may try to climb, and risk potentially harming themselves in the process.

More specifically I would suggest the following measurements:

Hatchling Ball Python Cages – Minimum of 24″ long, with the knowledge that you will have to keep an eye on your python’s growth and invest in a larger vivarium and he or she grows.

Adult Ball Python Cages – Should measure a minimum of 36″ long and ideally more. Personally I typically house my ball pythons in 48″ long vivs.

Here are what some other authorities recommend in terms of cage sizes:

“Adults require at least 400-600 square inches of floor space.” – http://vpi.com/publications/the_ball_python_care_sheet

“A royal python needs a vivarium which allows it to fully stretch out. Allow at least third of the snake’s length for the width and height. For example, a 120cm long snake will need a minimum 120cm long, 40cm wide and 40cm deep vivarium.” – http://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/other/royalpython

“Adult ball pythons do not require exceptionally large or elaborate enclosures. A 36-inch by 18-inch by 12-inch enclosure will more than comfortably house an adult ball python.” – http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Care-Sheets/Snakes/Ball-Python/

Creating The Habitat

One of the most effective strategies for keeping any species of reptile or amphibian successfully in captivity is to consider its wild habitat. The more we can understand about where ball pythons live, and how they spend their time, the better we can replicate this in captivity.

The ball python naturally occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. Here it is a surprisingly wide-spread snake, found in countries such as Senegal, Benin and Uganda. Here it spends much of its life in the security of a dis-used rodent burrow or natural crevice.

While many of these countries are relatively dry, within the confines of the burrow the humidity levels are likely to be much higher. Indeed, many authorities point to the problems that can occur from low humidities in captivity, especially in terms of difficulties moulting.

Equally it should be noted that keeping snakes on damp substrate can lead to all manner of problems, including respiratory problems and skin complaints.

There are a number of factors we can draw from this in order to provide a suitable captive habitat for ball pythons:

  • Artificial heating will be necessary for your ball python to feel comfortable.
  • A dry substrate should be used, but with the option for higher humidities especially during moulting.
  • We should aim to mimic the ball python’s burrow by providing a number of secure hides for concealment.

Substrates

There are ever more substrates available in the reptile trade, and many of these are ideal for ball pythons.

Aspen

This light and fluffy substrate is excellent at absorbing any excess moisture and looks fantastic within the confines of a cage.

Unfortunately the fact that the particles are so soft and light can cause problems with feeding. On more than one occasion I have observed ball pythons grabbing a rodent to eat, while taking a large mouthful of aspen shavings at the same time.

The consistency of these shavings mean that they can get lodged in the ball python’s mouth, causing discomfort and distress. Sometimes the python will be able to get the sticky chippings out of its mouth; at other times you might need to intervene.

While aspen shavings are far from a bad substrate in captivity, great care should therefore be taken when feeding your pet. You may opt to either select a different substrate or to move your ball python to a different cage for feeding purposes.

Beech Chippings

My personal choice for ball pythons is beech chippings. While these aren’t as absorbent as aspen, they look great and – being heavier and chunkier – tend to cause far few feeding problems in my experience.

Just be aware how much you’ll need; with a good-sized vivarium you’ll find that you always rather more than you expected. If in doubt, buy a bigger bag of chippings, just in case.

Corn Cob Granules

Less commonly-seen than either of the two previous substrate options, corn cob granules are another possible option for your snake. Just as the name suggests, these are the ground-up middles of corn cobs, which dry into a tough and gritty consistency.

A range of different “grades” are available though I would always advise that you use the largest particles possible to minimize the chances of accidental ingestion when feeding.

Note that while corn cob granules look great, they do have a nasty habit of going mouldy quite easily. Therefore you should keep a close eye on this substrate, especially around the water bowl or where you pet feeds, to make sure that no mould is growing. Spot-clean as necessary and replace with fresh bedding.

Newspaper

Some ball python keepers – especially breeders with large collections – promote the use of newspaper as a potential substrate. After all it’s free, and makes cleaning simplicity itself. Personally however I must admit that I’m really not a fan of newspaper for a number of reasons. Firstly, of course, it looks terrible. I want my snake tank to look fantastic.

Secondly newspaper has very low absorbency meaning that it needs to be replaced far more regularly than the other substrates listed above which can be “spot cleaned” when required.

Lastly, I dislike the way it is so “unnatural”. Call me soft but I like to provide a substrate to my ball pythons which at least has a passing resemblance to a “natural” substrate. I believe doing so adds an extra layer of environmental enrichment for my pets.

Hides

ball python photoAs stated earlier, it is critical that your ball python should be provided with at least one secure place to hide.

If space allows I always like to offer two hides; one at each end of the vivarium in order to give my snakes the ability to choose the hide that suits them best.

Any hide chosen should allow your snake to safely curl up beneath in its entirety.  There are a number of possible options for ball python hides:

Cork Bark

Cork bark is the bark of tropical oak trees. It is harvested from the tree, which then carries on to grow more. This means it is a natural and renewable resource.

There are a number of things that make cork bark ideal for a ball python hide. Firstly cork bark looks great in any cage. Secondly cork bark is very lightweight, which means there is little chance of damage to your snake if he or she tries to burrow underneath.

The only thing to be aware of is that cork bark is a “natural” product so you’ll find a range of sizes and shapes. For best results try to find a piece of bark with a decent “curve” to it, creating a dark “burrow” beneath for your snake to recline to.

Custom-Designed Bark Hides

While I’m a huge fan of cork bark, my personal preference for ball python hides are specially-made hides. The model I use is made from wood, giving it an attractive rustic and “natural” feel.

They’re also available in a wide variety of sizes, meaning that no matter what the size of your snake you’ll be able to find an appropriately-sized hide. Best of all, I’ve found these custom hides to be much easier to clean than cork bark – and hence rather more hygienic.

Cereal Boxes

Cereal boxes are another simple idea as a hide for your ball python. These are of course free and easily replaced, though quickly become soiled in the cage.

Temperature

Ball pythons require artificial heating to keep them healthy, though the specific type of heating will be affected by the type of caging you use.

Ideally ball pythons will benefit from a thermal gradient, with one end of their cage being far warmer than the other. In this manner they can pick-and-choose the area most agreeable to them.

For the hot end, a temperature of around 30-34’C tends to work well, with the cooler end measuring somewhere closer to 24’C.

In some containers, such as rubs or wooden vivariums, these temperatures can often be reached with a simple heat pad placed at one end. For more open cages, with greater air movement, it may be necessary to add a secondary form of heating, such as a heat lamp or ceramic bulb, to the hot end of the cage.

Do you have questions about housing your ball python? If so, why not leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible…?

Photos c/o The Reptilarium, daveparker & snakecollector 

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