Have you ever taken a look into your ball python’s tank or enclosure only to find your scaly friend suddenly looking like they have loose or wrinkled skin? While sometimes this may just be a sign of the shedding period beginning, if your python’s skin looks overly loose or wrinkled, or if you think your python may not actually be going into shed, this can be a cause for concern.
So, why does my ball python have loose skin? Sometimes, loose skin coupled with a dull or hazy look to naturally bright scales can indicate that a ball python is going into shed. However, if the skin is overly loose or wrinkled, or if your snake should not be going into shed, this can be a sign of dehydration in your ball python.
In this article, we will discuss some of the signs and symptoms to look out for if you are concerned your snake might be dehydrated, what to do if you think your snake is dehydrated, as well as list a few proper care tips to avoid dehydration in the first place.
Signs of Dehydration
The first thing to do if you believe your snake’s loose skin is due to dehydration and not shedding is to check for other possible symptoms of dehydration. A dehydrated ball python will often have skin that looks loose, dry, wrinkled, or puckered — this is one of the most visible signs.
In addition, however, your snake may be weak or lethargic compared to their usual behavior and activity level, they may have sticky or dry membranes and sunken-looking eyes, and they may have trouble shedding (if they are in a shedding period at the time that you notice these signs).
If you notice one or more of these symptoms in your ball python, it is crucial that you rehydrate your snake immediately. Dehydration in snakes can lead to a number of severe health issues, including (but not limited to) loss of temperature regulation, shock, organ failure, trouble shedding, or even death if left alone for too long.
Thankfully, the signs of dehydration are generally obvious enough that it is easy to catch the condition in the earliest stages, allowing you plenty of time to rehydrate and nurse your ball python back to health.
In addition, snakes generally do not take too much time to rehydrate, so if you catch your snake looking dehydrated and act immediately, it shouldn’t take very long at all for your snake to be back at full health.
However, if you discover your snake in late or critical stages of dehydration, or if you have gone too long without attempting to rehydrate your snake, you should take them to a veterinarian right away so that they can receive professional medical care.
How to Rehydrate Your Snake
If you suspect your snake is dehydrated, the very first thing you should do is make water or other liquids available to them. In mild cases, water may be enough — however, if your snake appears to be moderately dehydrated, consider giving them an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte diluted with water to restore their internal electrolyte balance, which may have been thrown off by a longer period of dehydration.
No matter what liquid you are giving your ball python, always make sure to place it near your snake’s head for easy access, as dehydration can leave snakes weak and unable to travel longer distances to reach water (even if that just means moving from one side of their tank to the other).
In addition to this, you can use a small syringe (with no needle, of course) or an eyedropper to pick up small amounts of water or electrolyte solution and drop them one drop at a time onto your ball python’s snout. This will let your ball python know that there is hydration available, as well as give them the little jump-start they may need to seek out the source of water themselves.
If your ball python has a more severe case of dehydration, veterinary treatment may be needed. The treatment in question will vary depending on the level of your snake’s dehydration, but a vet may do anything from keeping your snake in a controlled humidity chamber, bathing your snake, or even providing intravenous fluids similar to how a doctor might do to a human.
If your vet decides to bathe your snake, they may do so in water, or decide to do so in an electrolyte solution instead.
If you want to do this at home, you can do so using a mixture of sports drinks or Pedialyte diluted with water — however, you should contact your vet before doing so to ensure that you have a safe ratio of electrolyte solution to water, and are not exposing your snake to too much unwanted sugars.
Ways to Prevent Dehydration
Of course, the ideal situation here is to prevent your snake from becoming dehydrated in the first place. If you have successfully managed to rehydrate your snake, these are a few things to do in order to ensure they do not become dehydrated again.
First, and most importantly, always make sure your snake’s enclosure has the proper level of humidity. The humidity level in your snake’s tank should be between 55% and 60%, and can be supplemented with regular mistings if you feel that the humidity level is too low, or if you live in a particularly dry area.
You can mist your snake’s enclosure 1-2 times a day, either with a handheld spray bottle or with an automated misting system installed in your snake’s tank. If your tank still seems to lose its humidity fairly quickly, you can supplement the humidity of the entire room by placing a humidifier near your snake’s tank.
This is useful in very dry areas such as deserts, which tend to leech humidity even out of closed environments.
In addition, always make sure that your snake has clean drinking water available. You should be cleaning and refilling your snake’s water dish every day, and occasionally even multiple times a day.
Snakes can often push their water dishes over or even defecate in them, and if you notice that this has happened you should clean the dish and replace it with fresh water immediately, even if you have already changed your snake’s water earlier in the day.
Another way to keep your snake’s water clean and fresh is to use a standing water fountain in place of a dish. In the wild, stagnant water often accumulates algae and other harmful bacteria, so your snake’s natural instinct may be to avoid water that is placed in a dish or is otherwise stagnant.
By providing your snake with flowing water, you can entice them to drink from a more natural-seeming source, subsequently ensuring your snake is more properly hydrated. You can also provide snakes with wet prey during feeding times by soaking a thawed rodent in water until it is dripping and waterlogged.
This is not an ideal way to hydrate your ball python, as it may seem unnatural to them, but it can work in cases where your snake refuses to drink enough water or it is difficult to keep them properly hydrated.
If you are having trouble keeping your snake tank’s humidity at the proper levels, consider installing a humidity box within the enclosure. This is a small box filled with damp moss that traps moisture, allowing your snake to retreat into a high-humidity zone whenever they feel like it.
Also, make sure that you are not overcompensating and making your snake’s enclosure too humid, as this can lead to other health problems such as respiratory diseases, scale rot, and fungal growth.
What If My Snake Is Just in Shed?
If your ball python is about to shed, there are other signs that you should look for. Loose skin on a shedding snake will not look wrinkled or puckered, but will instead look dull and hazy, as the top layer of skin has begun to separate from the scales beneath.
Your snake’s eyes will also turn a bluish or milky color, as the skin over them has loosened and separated as well. Your ball python may demonstrate a decrease or full loss in appetite, in addition to hiding more often and becoming skittish or nervous due to their temporary loss of eyesight.
If you see these symptoms instead of the ones listed at the beginning of this article, your snake is likely not dehydrated but just beginning to shed, and you should generally leave them alone as much as possible during this period.
If your snake’s skin looks loose, wrinkled, and/or puckered, this is a sign that they are dehydrated and need to be given fluids as soon as possible. This can be done by giving them water to drink or bathing them in water or an electrolyte solution.
To avoid dehydration in the first place, always ensure that your snake has plenty of water (preferably running, not stagnant) to drink, places to bathe and soak, as well as a properly humidified tank.
You can supplement your tank’s humidity levels by misting once or twice a day, or even by installing a humidity box in the tank and a humidifier in the room at large. If your snake appears dull or pale and displays a loss of appetite and sudden shyness, your snake is likely just going into a shedding period.
This is nothing to worry about, and you should leave your snake be until the shedding period is over. As always, if you have any concerns about your snake’s health, do not hesitate to take them to a vet or reptile expert for professional care and advice.