Ball pythons are amazing reptile pets, famous for their easygoing nature, exotic appearance, and resilience. They can also live up to 20 or even 30 years in captivity, effectively becoming family members with time.
This means you should do everything in your power to keep them safe, healthy, and happy, so they can live long and fulfilling lives.
In this sense, you need to adjust the reptile’s diet, provide ideal housing conditions, ensure the right environmental parameters, and keep it safe from dehydration.
Today, we will discuss the latter because it’s one of the most impactful issues that ball pythons and other reptiles struggle with.
Let’s jump right in!
Signs of Dehydration in Ball Pythons
Ball pythons exhibit different signs of dehydration, depending on the snake’s age, health, and severity.
- Unnatural-looking skin – Your ball python’s skin should be smooth, shiny, and elastic. If it appears wrinkled, dry, and lacks elasticity, your python is most likely dehydrated. The skin’s unusual appearance is due to the underlying muscles and dermal layers no longer being able to stretch the epidermis properly. So, the skin will appear wrinkly and folded. You should also touch the snake and feel its skin, as this provides you with better insight into its condition.
- Sunken eyes – This is a dehydration-specific symptom that’s widespread among all reptiles. Ball pythons normally have round, moist, and slightly protruding eyes. Sunken eyes are the result of the body’s defensive mechanism against dehydration. Python’s eyes retreat inside the orbit to protect themselves from dryness, which can cause permanent blindness. If your ball python has sunken eyes, check its hydration levels immediately.
- Loss of muscle tone and lethargy – Ball pythons aren’t exactly the most active animals in the world, but you should be able to differentiate between an active and a lethargic specimen. The first thing to consider is the snake’s muscle tone. A dehydrated python has flaccid and weak muscles and exhibits low levels of energy. You can see that in its head movement lack precision and stability and in the animal’s lack of interest in anything outside its cage.
- Loss of appetite – This is a natural sign of dehydration because ball pythons can’t afford to eat when dehydrated. The reason is that the digestive process requires water to function properly. A dehydrated python that would keep eating would experience digestive issues, including constipation and impaction, due to the digestive system no longer being able to process the food. So, your python will refrain from eating instead. This can cause an array of additional problems, including nutritional deficiencies and aggravated weight loss. If your snake appears thin with protruding ribs and sunken eyes, the situation is dire. It should never reach that point.
- Change in coloration – A dehydrated ball python will often appear duller and seem like losing its coloring. This is due to the lack of water in the skin, affecting the snake’s natural coloring.
It’s critical to note that many of these symptoms aren’t linked to dehydration specifically. They can suggest a different range of health issues, so you should never rush to a conclusion without a more in-depth analysis of your snake’s condition.
Also, don’t rely on one symptom to diagnose your python, but several. This is essential for an accurate diagnosis.
Causes of Dehydration in Ball Pythons
Ball pythons can experience dehydration for a variety of reasons.
- Improper humidity – Ball pythons thrive in a humidity range of 50-60%. This is typically enough to keep the snake well-hydrated and healthy. However, it’s easy to overlook this point, especially when lacking a hygrometer that would allow for accurate humidity readings. You should always invest in the right equipment to monitor your ball python’s parameters, humidity being one of the vital ones.
- Lacking access to drinking water – Ball pythons get much of the water they need straight from the atmosphere through their skin. However, this isn’t enough. They also need to drink water, which they usually do so from a bowl, a plat, or any other water source you can provide them with. Juveniles drink water more often than adults, typically once every other day. Adult pythons may drink water once or twice per week. You should always familiarize yourself with your python’s water-drinking habits to learn its behavior. Also, keep in mind that pythons are very picky about their drinking water quality. They should always have a fresh source of clean water, or they might refuse to drink it.
- Improper temperatures – Even if humidity levels are in the ideal range, the python may still become dehydrated if temperatures are too high. That’s because the python will lose water at a faster rate than taking it in. The ideal temperature range for ball pythons is in the 75-85 F range. Ensure a temperature gradient and allow the snake the space to migrate between the different regions, depending on its thermo-regulation needs.
- Shedding difficulties – Adult ball pythons shed once every 45-60 days, while younger ones may shed once a month. The older the python gets, the lower the shedding frequency. All reptiles shed multiple times during their lifetime, and the process is strenuous and forces the animal to consume a lot of resources. For instance, ball pythons require around 72 hours to complete the shedding, but the actual process takes place over the span of 2 weeks, give or take. This includes the timeframe necessary for the new skin to begin forming under the old one and for the old one to start separating. The snake won’t eat or drink during the 72-hour window, so humidity levels need to be just right, or the python may become dehydrated. This is even more likely in cases where the snake experiences shedding difficulties like stuck skin or localized infections.
- Health problems – Infections, metabolic disorders, and kidney or liver disease rank as the primary reasons for dehydration. These health issues impact the snake’s ability to retain moisture, leading to dehydration and even nutritional deficiencies.
You can only ensure the right treatment once you’ve identified the condition’s causes. So, always assess the causes accurately so you know what to do next. If you can’t get to the bottom of it on your own, contact a specialist for assistance.
Solutions for Dehydrated Ball Pythons
Now that you’ve determined without a doubt that your ball python is dehydrated consider the following solutions:
- Adjust humidity – If poor humidity is the issue, spray the reptile’s habitat to restore it to its normal levels. Invest in a hygrometer if you haven’t already, which would be unacceptable, to begin with. The hygrometer is critical for detecting dangerous humidity variations, allowing you to act in time. If you can’t spray your python’s habitat as often as you should, consider getting an automatic misting system to do it for you. Just make sure that humidity levels don’t jump the 60% threshold.
- Provide the snake with drinking water – Your ball python should always have a source of fresh water in its enclosure. If that’s not the case, make it so. Provide your python with a bowl of fresh water in case of any sign of dehydration. Keep in mind that this only functions if the snake’s condition isn’t too severe already. If it is, you might need to contact your vet instead. Especially if your snake isn’t drinking water on its own anymore.
- Treat the underlying health problem – If your ball python becomes dehydrated as a side-effect of another health issue, address that health issue in particular. Bacterial infections, parasites, liver or kidney disease, and other medical emergencies can cause the snake to lose water faster than it can take in. This basically creates a life-or-death scenario, which requires the intervention of a professional. Especially if you lack the means for proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Help with shedding – Snakes don’t really need help during shedding, as you’ll most likely make things worse. But you can assist the python during this sensitive period, and that’s by ensuring parameter stability. Keep the reptile’s temperature and humidity at the right values to keep your snake healthy and comfortable. You don’t want your python to stress out during shedding, as this will make the process much riskier and much more strenuous.
- Get professional help – This is usually necessary if your ball python is severely dehydrated and no longer drinks on its own. In this case, you may need the intervention of a professional to provide your ball python with proper care. The vet will either rehydrate your python by injecting fluids directly into the bloodstream on the spot or hospitalize the reptile for more prolonged treatment. Your python may also receive specific medication, while remaining under intense observation, with the veterinarian monitoring the reptile’s vital signs and electrolyte intake.
While these are good measures to consider, the best one remains prevention still. You should always monitor your pet snake, even if it looks healthy.
Familiarize yourself with your ball python’s normal behavior, as this allows you to detect any sign of abnormal behavior in time.
Also, keep in mind that ball pythons can live months without food but only up to 12 days without water. Many pythons will experience health issues sooner, though, depending on their size, age, and health status.
Ball pythons rank as some of the most adaptable snake species in the world. They can survive without food for months and live up to 30 years or more in ideal conditions.
But it’s the water that makes or breaks their health status and quality of life above all else.
You should always keep a close eye on your python’s hydration levels, so you can act in time and prevent more severe damage.