As the proud owner of a ball python, you may have been wondering if your pet would be happier living outdoors. Maybe you’ve had the python inside for a while, and now you feel it’s time for a bit of fresh air and new scenery out in the open? Before taking this step, let’s explore the question a bit further.
So can you keep a ball python outside? This would depend on the kind of outside environment that you can provide, and whether your security, housing and temperature are adequate and conducive to the well being of your ball python. If not, your pet may be negatively affected and become ill or diseased.
We will now explore these factors to ascertain what exactly is required to maintain a happy, healthy ball python, and whether these factors are better provided inside or outside. We will also look at some of the dangers and negative consequences should any of these ideal factors be lacking.
Types of Outside Environment
If you are thinking of putting your ball python outside, do you mean out on your apartment balcony? Or do you have a free standing house with a garden where you could set up a corner for the python? Or maybe you live on a farm, or in a country suburb.
Ball pythons have their origins in the central and western African savannahs, although nowadays many are bred in captivity. In their natural habitat they spend most of their time on the ground, in grasslands and open woods, or climbing in trees.
Perhaps your outside environment seems suitable and inviting for a ball python, but what about security issues?
Security Required by Ball Pythons
It’s all good and well to let your python live outside, but please make sure that the enclosure is very well secured, preferably with substantial locking mechanisms. Ball pythons are particularly notorious for their escape artist skills, and the average screen tops on the market are very easy for them to slide or pry open.
Escaped pythons are not easy to find as they are so well camouflaged, not to mention wily and shy. The nightmare of escaped pythons breeding in the wild (especially non-indigenous species with no natural predators) is definitely a matter where prevention is better than cure.
So if you want to keep your ball python outside, effective security is essential. Now let’s consider the housing requirements.
Housing Required by Ball Pythons
Your ball python needs an enclosure of appropriate size. For a mature adult, a 30 gallon tank (90 x 31cm) is usually adequate, while younger pythons would need a smaller area. There should be no pointy or sharp objects in the enclosure which could injure the snake.
Hide boxes are very important to help your pet python feel secure and secluded. It’s good to have at least two of these, one at each end of the temperature gradient so that the python can regulate its temperature as necessary. Hide boxes can be as simple or sophisticated as you wish; such as a cardboard box with holes in the sides, or a ceramic or resin box from the pet store.
The substrate you use in your python’s enclosure should not consist of sand, or cedar or pine shavings, as these can cause respiratory trouble if ingested by the snake. It is best to use paper towels, newspaper or reptile carpeting.
Another important element when housing your python is water. Always make sure there is a bowl of clean, fresh water which is chlorine-free. The bowl should be big enough for your ball python to climb inside and have a soak if it feels so inclined. This also helps maintain the humidity in the enclosure.
When considering keeping your python outside, you would need to ensure that these housing requirements are properly met. But now we come to what is arguably the most vital consideration, that of the temperatures your pet needs to survive and thrive.
Temperatures Required by Ball Pythons
Being cold blooded, ball pythons are seriously affected by outside temperatures. Within their enclosure they need a warmer area (around 90-95°F / 32-35°C) and a cooler area not lower than 80°F / 27°C. This allows the snake to thermo-regulate, choosing the right temperature as needed for its bodily functions like digestion or shedding, for example. The temperature in the enclosure should not drop below 75°F / 23,9°C at night.
The correct temperature range can be maintained with the help of equipment such as reptile heating pads, incandescent lights, and ceramic heat emitters. A reptile thermometer and a humidity gauge (hygrometer) are two very helpful and essential tools to help you ensure that you keep within the required temperature and humidity guidelines recommended for ball pythons.
Coming back to the question of whether you should keep your ball python outside, this issue of temperature may be the final deciding factor. Do you live in an area where temperatures drop very low at night? Or even during the day? Unless you live in a very hot climate, near the equator somewhere, you may struggle to keep your snake warm enough if it is outside.
Unfortunately, an enclosure that is not within the right temperature range, or lacks correct environmental and housing factors, can cause serious health problems for your ball python. Let’s look at a few of these now.
Possible Dangers and Diseases Suffered by Ball Pythons
Ball pythons are known for their shy and reclusive personalities, to the point that they get their name from their tendency to curl up in a ball when faced with any kind of threat. Thus they have a propensity for stress-related problems, such as anorexia, where they refuse to eat if they are not happy in their habitat.
Normally a healthy ball python would be active and alert, eating regularly, shedding its skin in one piece regularly, with clear eyes and healthy skin. If you notice frequent (or infrequent) shedding, vomiting, difficulty breathing, bumpy or spotty skin, abnormal feces or general lethargy and lack of appetite, these may be regarded as red flags which need to be investigated.
Here are five common health issues in ball pythons and their possible causes:
If your python’s habitat is too damp or cold, it may develop labored breathing and mucus in the nostrils or mouth. A visit to the vet is recommended and probably a course of antibiotics would be necessary to clear the infection. Besides that, you would need to raise the temperature and humidity of your python enclosure and keep the snake warm and dry.
If the humidity of the enclosure is not high enough, your ball python may experience stuck shed. You could try letting it soak for half an hour in a shallow bowl of tepid water, and then try to gently remove the stuck shed. If you are unable to remove an eye cap or any restricting piece of old skin, get help from a vet or professional breeder.
Ball pythons are particularly prone to regurgitation. This can happen especially if the temperature is too low and it is unable to digest its food properly. If your snake regurgitates, you would need to wait at least a week before feeding it again, and then try giving smaller helpings for about a month before increasing the meal size again. If the python regurgitates more than once, have it checked by a vet.
Dermatitis or Scale Rot
This is when your ball python develops a rash or blisters. Causes of dermatitis and scale rot include an unclean environment, low temperature and high humidity. It is necessary to move the python into a completely dry area and use paper towels as a substrate, cleaning frequently to ensure the environment is kept warm and dry. Antibiotics from the vet would also be in order.
Ticks and Mites
Sometimes ball pythons pick up parasites such as ticks and mites. You would need to be especially vigilant when bringing a new reptile into your home, in case it has any pests. If you notice your python lying in its water bowl and there are little black specks floating in the water, this may well be mites. You would need to disinfect the enclosure and spray with anti-mite treatment until they disappear.
By now you probably have a better idea as to whether it’s a good idea for you to keep your ball python outside. As you run through the factors discussed above, ask yourself if you can provide an environment that is secure, has ideal housing, and most importantly can stay within the temperature range required by ball pythons.
Your answers to these questions should show you clearly whether or not you can keep your ball python outside.
If you see any of the danger signs or symptoms of illness, take stock immediately and make some adjustments accordingly, or consult your reptile vet. Remember, always do what’s best for your pet so you can enjoy the satisfaction of owning a happy and healthy reptile.