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  1. #1
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    Please Help, Me and My Baby Ball are Desperate

    Iíve been debating on whether or not to post on this forum because the community intimidates me a little. Iíve used this forum to research my snakeís issues and even used some of the tips and tricks Iíve found. However, Iím just not getting the responses from my baby that Iíve hoped for so I thought it would be better to submit our specific case instead.


    This is going to be long but I know the more information you all have the better you can help us. Thank you so much ahead of time for reading all of this.


    First, my history: I have cared for a ball python in the past but she was an adult (8 years old) and a good feeder and I never had any real issues with her. She belonged to my school and I looked after her during breaks and the summer for several years. So I have experience with a ball python, set up, feeding regimen, etc.


    Fast forward now, in mid March I got a baby ball python from Petco. I really hope I donít get any shame for this. When I posted about my baby on other sites, I was ridiculed and degraded for buying from a pet store. Iím not going to justify myself further than: when I saw her in her tank and she slithered towards me all cute with her lovely red eyes, I just fell in love and that was it.


    I could see there was something ďwrongĒ with her from the moment I saw her. She was soooo skinny. I could see her spine and her neck was so very thin. I thought she was just a hatchling at first but after questioning the employees, they told me she was 5 months old. She had some stuck shed on her neck. Other than a dirty water bowl, I saw nothing else wrong with her tank at the store (no mites or anything). Over the course of about two weeks, I was in and out of Petco asking for all the info about her they could give me, which to my shock, was not much. They even lied to me about several things including her feeding habits. After sifting through the garbage employees there, I got the truth. She hadnít eaten for four weeks and her feeding had been sporadic before that.


    They would not let me have her feeding log because of ďcompany policyĒ but here are the highlights:
    She arrived to them in late November weighing 105g (they assumed she was around 6 weeks old but I donít have a hatch date for her)
    She started off eating a f/t hopper once a week
    She refused for two weeks and they lowered her to fuzzies
    She ate a couple times on fuzzies but refused several times and was lowered to pinkies
    She ate a couple times on pinkies (normally 2 or 3 in a sitting)
    She refused for 4 consecutive weeks up until the day I purchased her
    Her weight a few days before I got her was 58gÖ A huge loss that the employees said was ďnaturalĒ.


    I purchased her anyways. Again, please donít shame me. Iíve had enough of that. Iím here for help and if youíre serious about helping me, Iíd greatly appreciate it if you read all the info I give here. I apologize for it being so long.


    Her name is Pythia. She is an albino.
    I got her new tank all set up:
    20L Tank covered on three sides with dark, foresty wallpaper
    Aspen substrate
    Basking area (heated by overhead light) avg: 90-93 degrees
    Hot side (heated by undertank pad) avg: 86-88 degrees
    Cool side avg: 75-78 degrees
    Ambient temp: ~83-86 degrees
    (Temps taken with one of those laser thermometers not the cheapy pet store dials)
    Humidity: between 50-60% (she has a hollowed rock with sphagnum moss in it under the lamp to provide extra humidity if needed during shed)
    Two small hides (a half log pressed against back wall of tank and a hollow rock with sphagnum moss)
    Lots of plastic plants creating additional hiding spots
    Water bowl with enough room to soak
    Branch to bask on


    Her tank is in my bedroom which has no traffic during the day since Iím at work and not much when Iím at home either other than me.


    I left her alone in the tank for three days and offered a f/t fuzzy. I was afraid of how small she was to wait the full suggested week to leave her be so I went ahead and tried to feed her. She refused. Fearing that she might die if she didnít eat, I assisted her (I did not force feed her). I watched several videos online on how to do it. She took the fuzzy just fine. She didnít even attempt to spit it out. Whilst opening her mouth, I noticed something stuck in her upper lip. It looked like a piece of her old substrate. I tried to dislodge it but couldnít and didnít want to harass her more than I already was.


    The next day I got an appt with my vet. He removed the substrate from her mouth; he thought it had probably been in there for quite some time and it was preventing her from flicking her tongue. He checked her belly and found no bumps or obstructions and it was nice and soft. He weighed her and found that she was 69g so I assume Petco just did not weigh her properly because I did not give her a 9g fuzzy. He diagnosed her with a small case of dermatitis and gave me a cream to put on it. He suggested assist feeding 2-3 pinkies every 3-4 days for two weeks to get her weight up. He seemed very concerned about her weight as I was.


    I assist fed her just as instructed. I do attempt to have her eat naturally if she wants but she just isnít interested. She took every pinky just fine, in fact she seemed to slam them down. I noticed that after three feedings (including the first fuzzy) she had not pooed. I gave her a soak in a warm bath and she released her bowels. The stuck shed also came free.


    About a week in to this regimen, she shed. A perfect shed, all in one piece. After the initial poo she went just fine afterwards without any additional soaking or anything. The two weeks passed. She looks like sheís gotten a little bigger. Unfortunately, I donít yet have a scale to weigh her (still waiting on the order to arrive) so I canít tell her actual weight. She has gotten rounder and doesnít look quite as triangle shaped. Her spine doesnít stick out nearly as much but is still visible. Her skin doesnít wrinkle anymore either.


    I attempted to let her feed naturally in her tank with a f/t pinky. I dangled it in front of her hide with some tongs. She seemed sort of interested for a moment and then nothing. I left the pinky in the tank with her overnight and she did not take it. I called the vet and told him what was happening. He instructed me to drop her feeding to two pinkies once a week, instead of twice a week. He wanted to rule out parasites so he got me some dewormer to administer to her. I gave her the first dose last Tuesday (4/9). The instructions state to administer the first dose then wait a week to give the second.


    She pooed last Monday and after a few days, I noticed she was very active. Because of her skin condition, I have to handle her daily to put on her cream but it is never for very long (maybe 5 minutes max) and Iíve had her out for longer only a couple of times. The dermatitis has all but disappeared but after her shed, a few more little dots popped up so Iíve been treating them as the vet instructed.


    I hoped the activity may have meant she was getting hungry. Saturday night (4/13) was feeding night. I thawed a pinky in warm water and dangled it in front of her hide again. This time, I got a huge feeding response for Pythia (lots of tongue flicking, lots of interest, following its movements). She was so alert and I thought this would be the one but after several minutes of doing the ďzombie danceĒ with this pinky, she didnít strike. So I left it in her tank, turned off the lights and left her alone for the night with the pinky. In the morning, the pinky was still there.


    I waited a few days to give her another chance before assisting so she went about 10 days between feeding. I dangled the pinky into her tank and to my surprise, she struck at it! Because I was not prepared for her striking it (because she never has), I jerked and dropped the pinky. I felt awful because she would have nailed that thing and I messed her up. After that she just wasnít as interested. I assisted her and she ate one pinky. I also administered her other dose of dewormer. Now, Iím just going to leave her alone for the next week and then see how feeding goes next time.


    Iím at a loss, though. Iíve tried different things to get her to feed naturally before assist feeding her, like braining the pinkies (ew, messy). I make sure theyíre nice and warm for her. I give her time to eat naturally if she wants (normally around 30-45 minutes) before I decide to assist her. I always feed her at night. I tried boopin her on the nose lightly with the pinky several times to get her to strike but no dice. Now she appears to be afraid of the pinkies and jerks away from them. I just donít know what else to do. It breaks my heart every time I have to assist her because obviously she doesnít care to be manhandled like that.
    And before anyone gets upset with me for assisting her, the vet said my baby was probably days from death from starvation and our main concern is getting her weight up. Even though weíve dropped her feeding schedule down to once a week, he still wants me to assist her if she refuses. I really hate doing it but I know I have to to get her weight up.


    She is the sweetest snake ever and clearly is showing quite a bit of patience and trust with me after all the harassment Iíve been dealing to her (if I were her I definitely would have bitten me by now). She likes to explore her tank every now and then. She uses the hides equally but has been hanging out on the cool side the last few days. Every now and then sheíll burrow into the aspen shavings. I noticed that behavior more when she was about to shed. She hasnít really done it since. She drinks normally from what I can tell and she doesnít appear to be dehydrated. Iíve never noticed any problems with her mouth and believe me, Iíve seen the inside more than I want to. Breathing seems normal so I donít think she has a respiratory infection and I think the vet would have caught that since he was so thorough with her exam.


    The vet is very against live feeding and really wants me to continue with the f/t. I fed live rats to my other snake after she had a long feeding strike so I could go either way but Iím inclined to trust the vetís opinion.


    After all this information, if youíre still reading, youíre a saint. I just want thoughts at this point. Tips, tricks, whatever you can offer as help for us. I just want her to be healthy and happy, she must have been so miserable in that store.

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  3. #2
    BPnet Veteran JodanOrNoDan's Avatar
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    Going to try to help but a picture of your setup and the animal would be helpful.

    First. Pinkies are way too small for a ball python even at birth. The food needs to be the same width as the body of the animal. It may not even be recognizing the pinkies as food.

    Now I am going to disagree with the vet. I do not feed my 100+ snakes live often. I prefer ft because it is easier. However, in the case of a severely malnourished animal that needs to eat to live, live should be tried before assist feeding. If the vet was so super concerned about the animal's weight, there are other things he should have done to ensure that it got back to health quickly.

    My confidence in the vet is not high.
    Last edited by JodanOrNoDan; 04-18-2019 at 01:13 PM.
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  5. #3
    Registered User pretends2bnormal's Avatar
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    Re: Please Help, Me and My Baby Ball are Desperate

    Even a 60g ball python should be eating much more than punky mice. I have a thread up on a rescue BP earlier this year who weighed that much and even she could handle small hopper mice.

    It is much better to feed the right size in one prey item than to do multiple and pinkies have so little calcium from undeveloped bones that it isn't as good for her anyway. I would 100% suggest trying a large fuzzy or small hopper. Around 6 grams would be a good size to start with, but I would also only feed every 7 days. Underweight snakes can digest slower especially when they hadn't eaten for a bit, so they have less digestive enzymes going. She seems to have been eating fine, if small food, for a bit, so I doubt that is a big issue here, but slow and steady works best for putting weight safely onto a snake.

    You probably won't ever get much weight gain on pinkies. 3 to 4 pinkies is probably 3 to 4 grams unless you have larger ones sold in store than around me has.

    Additionally, since the prey is so small, she may simply not see it as food. Once it is in her mouth she realizes it is, but won't strike it as it may not be worth the effort or be too small for her heat pits to pick up.

    I'd try a F/T hopper first, but if a week or two trying that fails. I would definitely try a live one. It is best to switch them away from live for safety as their prey gets bigger, but hoppers are pretty small still and move enough to be enticing. In my opinion it is better for her to eat a few live now to get her weight where it should be without continuing to assist feed, then push the issue switching back to frozen or pre-killed once she can handle having a few meals skipped. Hunger is a good motivator, but risky on an underweight snake.

    Getting her eating without help to lower her stress as she recovers and getting her weight up are both top priority, and I think bigger single prey items or potentially live ones for a bit are your best chance.

    With live feeding, a few precautions can eliminate most chances of injuries to the snake.

    1. Only leave a rodent in with the snake while you supervise and watch closely, but not so close your hovering spooks the snake. Standing off to the side with a clear view works well for me.

    2. Only offer for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove. You can return the feeder to the store if it is uneaten, as hoppers they are still nursing and may not survive without mom yet. If the snake hasn't eaten in that time, they are not going to eat that week.

    3. As soon as you see the strike, visually check how they grabbed and wrapped it. You can see if the rodent has teeth anywhere it could bite the snake or not and if it is a risk you can use tongs to gently hold its head where it cannot bite the snake (or offer it a pencil/eraser to chomp into instead of the snake).

    Hope this helps, and I'm sure someone else will chime in with more questions/comments.

    (Also, "how DARE you fall in love with a snake at a pet store and buy it??" Kidding!! Buying there isn't ideal for a good experience as you've found out, but it isn't the end of the world.)

    Posting pictures of her would help give a visual assessment of her condition as well of you can.

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  7. #4
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    Re: Please Help, Me and My Baby Ball are Desperate

    Thank you for your advice. That's very interesting about her maybe not registering them as food. It never even crossed my mind. The vet did suggest pinkies because she was so small but as I said, I think she's gotten bigger. My vet is a good guy and specializes in reptiles but I always value a second opinion and understand that the vet isn't always right. I may get her a live fuzzy but that may even be a little smaller than her width. My concern is the mouse hurting her but because I've never had a snake this small, I don't actually know at what age a mouse or rat can start to hurt a snake. Obviously pinkies don't have claws or teeth yet and I don't think fuzzies are very dangerous but if I were to go up to a hopper, is there a chance she could get hurt? Again, thank you for your help. I appreciate it so much.

    I will attempt to post photos a little later. (I'm at work right now and don't have access to the photos on my computer.)

  8. #5
    BPnet Veteran Sonny1318's Avatar
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    I read it, and Iím sure others will chime in. Never a good idea to gently bop a snake on the nose (I wouldn't be hungry if someone smacked my face with pizza)Lightly rub it up against the neck or midsection and see if it takes defensive action like tensing up or pushing back with its coils. Make sure they prey is properly ďwarmed upĒ. Of course people are going to mention itís never a great idea to buy a snake from a chain, You now see why first hand. Also your hot temp is definitely a little high for a juvenile. I just donít think you should be assist feeding so much. If it takes live to getting going, then thatís what it takes, itís part of being a snake keeper. Best of luck, hope some of this helped.
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  10. #6
    BPnet Veteran JodanOrNoDan's Avatar
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    Re: Please Help, Me and My Baby Ball are Desperate

    Quote Originally Posted by traveling_classicist View Post
    Thank you for your advice. That's very interesting about her maybe not registering them as food. It never even crossed my mind. The vet did suggest pinkies because she was so small but as I said, I think she's gotten bigger. My vet is a good guy and specializes in reptiles but I always value a second opinion and understand that the vet isn't always right. I may get her a live fuzzy but that may even be a little smaller than her width. My concern is the mouse hurting her but because I've never had a snake this small, I don't actually know at what age a mouse or rat can start to hurt a snake. Obviously pinkies don't have claws or teeth yet and I don't think fuzzies are very dangerous but if I were to go up to a hopper, is there a chance she could get hurt? Again, thank you for your help. I appreciate it so much.

    I will attempt to post photos a little later. (I'm at work right now and don't have access to the photos on my computer.)
    The smallest thing I have fed to a ball is a hopper mouse. Normally I start with rat fuzzies or pups depending on the size of the baby. A hopper is not going to be able to do much damage to the snake, that said if there is live food in with the snake you should monitor the progress.
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  12. #7
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    Re: Please Help, Me and My Baby Ball are Desperate

    Fuzzies aren't developed enough to fight back, so they would be safe, but unless you find big ones it is still a bit too small I think. Especially if she is growing.

    Hoppers do have teeth, but are quite small critters still and once wrapped tend to not be able to move far enough to reach and bite unless the wrap was poor (maybe 1 in 20 odds in my experience). As I said, being on hand with something to keep its head away is generally plenty for that size rodent to keep injuries from happening.

    I am breeding mice and rats and have been doing live feeding with my rescue girl and even at her extremely weak state at the start she was able to subdue them easily.

    Here is her initially when I got her 3 months ago... just some perspective. She felt like a limp noodle when held back then.



    However, if you are super worried about bites, you can try something else.. a small fuzzy rat of about 10% her weight would be developmentally similar to the mice but weighs more. A live one of these is harmless, but since she has been eating mice she may be a bit confused by it because they smell different. Some have no issues with switching and others are picky, but if possible this may be another thing to try.

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    Last edited by pretends2bnormal; 04-18-2019 at 01:32 PM.

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    Is your under-tank heater regulated by a thermostat?

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    Re: Please Help, Me and My Baby Ball are Desperate

    I appreciate the helpful advice from you all. Here are some photos of her:
    This was the day I brought her home. The tank was not fully set up so ignore it. I used coconut substrate for the first week I had her until I realized that was what was stuck in her mouth.




    This photo was taken a few days ago


    This is her tank today (ignore the dials in the back, I don't use them, they're now just crappy decoration)


    -----

    To bcr229: No, her undertank heat pad is not regulated with a thermostat.

    Sonny1318 makes a good point about boopin her on the nose with her food. I stopped doing that after she reacted rather strongly by jerking her head away. I have tried gently rubbing it on her side as well but didn't get much of a reaction beyond her tensing. I do keep them warm. I defrost them in warm water and periodically take them away to warm them in my hands when they've been there for a while. But it makes sense that even if I did that, if she doesn't register them as food or they're too small for her heat pits to sense that she still wouldn't strike.

    pretends2bnormal: what a cutie! I hope she's doing much better now! I'm a little concerned about her food hurting her but if these babies aren't much of an issue at that age than I feel a little better about trying to feed her live in the near future.

    I think after hearing what you all have said, I'm definitely going to move her up food sizes. I think I'll first try a f/t fuzzy or hopper. The place I get my feeders from is pretty cool and they'll let me see the feeders first to see their size. I'll see what they've got and go from there. If she doesn't eat that, then I may try a live fuzzy and see how she does with it.

    Thank you all for your gentle responses. I don't regret for a second getting her, even though things may be a little "difficult" right now. I didn't really expect it to be easy given her state when I got her. I hesitate to say I "rescued" her but I'm pretty certain she would have died at Petco and that's a terrible thought to me. I want to take care of her and give her a good life. I think she deserves it.

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  18. #10
    BPnet Veteran JodanOrNoDan's Avatar
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    She looks better than when you got her which is good news, but still as you know, still way too thin. I'm actually surprised the vet did not tube her. Eating needs to be a priority on a 4 to 5 day schedule until she gets up to weight however you can get it done. She is going to be a pretty girl when she gets older.

    If those dials are on the inside of the tank and they are stuck on with anything sticky, please get rid of them or you may end up back at the vet. Any kind of tape and snakes do not mix. The worst injuries I have seen with snakes have either been caused by heat or tape.

    A thermostat is a must if any heat is being supplied to the enclosure. This is not an optional thing. Look up snake burns and you will see why I say this. Ball pythons are stupid when it comes to heat. They would rather burn than be cold.
    Last edited by JodanOrNoDan; 04-18-2019 at 03:46 PM.
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