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  1. #1
    Registered User Namea's Avatar
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    Exclamation A tricky rehab, help and advice much appreciated!

    A tricky rehab - Thoughts and advice needed.
    Hello all! I have a bit of a challenge on-hand currently.

    A little background: My Dad is a herpetologist, he loves all animals and reptiles but his specialty is ophiology, aka Snakes. Growing up we always had at least a half dozen snakes in our home, usually rehab snakes or snakes in transit to permanent homes. Of course we also had our personal beloved pets. Raising snakes and nursing them to health has been a lifelong passion for me as a result and I've been doing it for almost twenty years now. I've seen snakes at death's door that were healthy and happy when I was done with them but this little guy is a different conundrum altogether and I'd like some advice from you lovelies. Of course I'm consulting my Dad as well but even he is starting to wonder.

    Ball pythons are without a doubt my favourite snake to have as a personal pet. I love their temperment and with the right care they really are an amazing pet to have. Recently I decided to finally attempt to find one for our family. My son is old enough now to appreciate and handle snakes safely with supervision. All of my rehab snakes have previously been in my snake room with various areas for different kinds. We've had ball pythons in there before but it's time for us to have one to keep. I talked with local breeders and had found one I liked when someone contacted me out of the blue and needed emergency help with a ball python that their friends needed to get rid of. So I took him. Cuz I'm a sucker.

    Anyway, he's approximately 10 years old and while the previous owners claimed a lot of stuff I can tell they lied about most of it. They gave me a tank with him (It was filthy and had a film of excrement on the bottom) and heat lamps and such. None of it is appropriate for a ball python whatsoever so it's sitting newly cleaned in my spare supplies closet. He now has an appropriate set up, we've done the incubation period and he's comfortably eating now and pooping solidly and predictably. So far so good. He's a little over three feet long, he was underweight when I got him with his spine showing too clearly but he's in perfect shape weight-wise now.

    He looks relatively healthy for the most part, good weight, bright scales and eyes, no mucus or evidence of common ball problems except some very minor beginning stage scale rot on his belly and given the condition of his habitat when I got him I'm not surprised. I treated it and it's now gone as of yesterday's shed. He sheds perfectly, a lovely scaley rolled out condom every time. He eats perfectly, no fasting or refusal. I feed frozen of course.

    The issue with him is different, it's his temperament. Contrary to normal ball python behaviour this little guy is downright aggressive. Not shy or skittish, full on aggressive. Of course I am the only one handling him at the moment.

    I've dealt with bps who were a bit nasty at first due to lack of handling or discomfort and always they've tamed down nicely after a bit of work.

    Not this poor baby. I've had to put him in a completely secluded area at the back of my snake room where I won't have to walk past him to get to anything else. His enclosure is a custom wooden/plastic made by me with three sides completely solid. I tried him on a typical full solid enclosure first but he seemed miserable, he was striking at the corners of the tank any time he felt movement in the snake room. He calmed down a lot when I switched to one side open. Even so when there is any movement in front of him he strikes out in its direction. If I move his lid he strikes at that, he strikes at his own shadow, seriously. I'm worried he's gonna hurt himself if he keeps it up. Can't be pleasant going nose first into solid stuff all the time. He also refuses to use his hides except for right after eating. Otherwise he'll lay on top of them. I've tried switching hides but he just doesn't seem to like anything. I finally got the old owner to admit that the hides they gave me (the hollow log kind, the kind you DON'T want a ball python to have!) weren't ever used because they wanted to be able to see him all the time. Ugh.

    The previous owner had him for 9 years and claimed he used to handle him daily until his wife recently got pregnant. I'm not so sure about that personally. I'm worried that he was kept more as a piece of art than a beloved pet. I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't handled very much at all in those 9 years.

    I've gotten him to the point where I can gently move him into my hands with my hands fully in the enclosure for a couple of minutes and let him put himself down as he pleases. As long as I don't withdraw my hands too quickly he doesn't strike then. Even that has taken more time than any other rehab I've done. I don't use a snake stick or tongs with him because he automatically goes defensive when he sees or feels them and will strike over and over at them. I don't want him to hurt himself or lose a tooth. When I use just my hands he is less likely to strike and if he does I don't mind. I'd rather get a nip than have him injure himself.

    Vet says he's healthy other than the mild scale rot he had when I got him. I made sure to get a herp-inclined vet that was recommended to me by a breeder I trust.

    So, tips? Advice? Anything I might not have considered as I try to get him calmed down and acclimated to humans? Even if I can't do that I'd like to get him to a stage where he's comfortable enough to not strike at everything and possibly hurt himself. I'm fine if he ends up being a snake I only handle when moving him for cleanings and such as long as he's healthy and as content as he can be. I'm not giving up on this guy, he deserves a safe environment.

    Oh, and his name is DangerNoodle NoodleSnoot. My son named him. We call him Snoot for short.

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  3. #2
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    Time, that's about it. You can do the water taming an all the other tricks. But with an old snake that wasn't taken care of, just take your time. You would be able to tame a wild snake faster then this one. Tap train him an handle for short periods.

    Now, did the Vet check his eyes? Old snakes sometimes go blind, mine at 13-15y. Poor feeding can bring it on sooner.


    Good luck!

  4. #3
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    It sounds like he may have been underfed for a very long time and thus assumes that fast or sudden movement is food until proven different. I would try treating his behavior as an extreme food response rather than defensiveness or aggression.

    So, start by using a small hook. When my retics show me that they're being extra stupidly foody one trick I use is to rub a tiny bit of scented hand sanitizer on the hook and on your hands. Scents like lemon or "fresh scent", which are very sharp, work well. Just crack the door or tub lid enough to slip the scented hook into the enclosure and let the snake smell it. Usually once they smell it they back off. Then rub or touch the snake with the hook, and then open the door after the snake's posture shows you that it knows it's not getting fed. At that point you can put your hand into the enclosure.

    With my bigger snakes I do the above steps every time I open the door. It might be overkill but I really don't need an ER visit because one of my 16 footers mistakenly thought that my hand was a rabbit.

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  6. #4
    Registered User Namea's Avatar
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    Re: A tricky rehab, help and advice much appreciated!

    Quote Originally Posted by 303_enfield View Post
    Time, that's about it. You can do the water taming an all the other tricks. But with an old snake that wasn't taken care of, just take your time. You would be able to tame a wild snake faster then this one. Tap train him an handle for short periods.

    Now, did the Vet check his eyes? Old snakes sometimes go blind, mine at 13-15y. Poor feeding can bring it on sooner.


    Good luck!
    Hi! Thanks for your response. His eyes seem to be in good shape according to the vet. I do think it's just a rather intense feed response. Heck, snakes aren't that bright but they do have enough cognitive ability to know if a human scent always meant either stressful situations or food, either of which would trigger that response. I've just never had it take so long with a bp before.

    It's funny that you mention wild snakes because literally the day before we got him we ended up with an injured little garter snake from the local animal control. They call me when they find a snake that needs help. She's tamed down perfectly already and actually got so accustomed to us that I went against my usual rehab and release policy and decided to keep her. Especially knowing that my son was so excited about his own first snake and Snoot just isn't going to be it, at least not any time soon. He'll be a spoiled family pet someday but he's probably gonna end up being mine. So yeah, definitely taming down a little wildling was quicker than this boy. He's worth the effort though!

    Quote Originally Posted by bcr229 View Post
    It sounds like he may have been underfed for a very long time and thus assumes that fast or sudden movement is food until proven different. I would try treating his behavior as an extreme food response rather than defensiveness or aggression.

    So, start by using a small hook. When my retics show me that they're being extra stupidly foody one trick I use is to rub a tiny bit of scented hand sanitizer on the hook and on your hands. Scents like lemon or "fresh scent", which are very sharp, work well. Just crack the door or tub lid enough to slip the scented hook into the enclosure and let the snake smell it. Usually once they smell it they back off. Then rub or touch the snake with the hook, and then open the door after the snake's posture shows you that it knows it's not getting fed. At that point you can put your hand into the enclosure.

    With my bigger snakes I do the above steps every time I open the door. It might be overkill but I really don't need an ER visit because one of my 16 footers mistakenly thought that my hand was a rabbit.
    I'll try that. I've been doing so with my hands but I'll see if scenting the hook makes him back away rather than attacking it.

    I feel you with the caution though! Last week I finally was able to declare a 15 foot retic ready for home and I'd been using that trick with him for months. I do have a 13 foot burmese girl that I don't ever do that with but she's been with me for about 6 years now and I swear this gal is the most chill gentle giant ever. I'd keep her as a pet too if she wasn't already spoken for.

    Today he's been exploring a ton and showing some more positive signs of being comfortable. I'll do some light tap petting tomorrow when he's more sedentary.

  7. #5
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    Re: A tricky rehab, help and advice much appreciated!

    Quote Originally Posted by Namea View Post
    I'll try that. I've been doing so with my hands but I'll see if scenting the hook makes him back away rather than attacking it.
    I've found when the hook is scented that even if they do strike at it they back off and go "OH YUCK" really fast.

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  9. #6
    BPnet Veteran Bogertophis's Avatar
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    IF & only IF it's not a food response you've been getting, I would try cuddling him on my lap after dropping a small towel over him & wrapping him up in it, for at least
    30-60 minutes at a time while you watch tv or read, so he gets to know your scent and touch, and can learn to associate that with being warm & safe. I once took in a
    very scared yearling BCI that had changed hands many times in her first year, each time getting more scared & "aggressive" (actually defensive!) and she sure wanted
    & tried her best to bite me too...at first. But after only about 2 months (being cuddled as described for a couple times a week) she was allowed to peek out from under
    the towel to see this "big monster" that was holding her, and she never did try to bite me after that, not in all the years she was mine. She became face-tame-reliable
    too, and loved being cuddled...the only battle I had with her was getting her back in her enclosure sometimes, lol. Good luck with this BP...I can remember years ago
    seeing a rescue (in Virginia, I think) that had a similar snake (a BP also) that they needed an experienced keeper for because of the relentless biting...wish I'd heard the
    rest of the story though.
    Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.
    Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983)

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  11. #7
    Registered User Namea's Avatar
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    Re: A tricky rehab, help and advice much appreciated!

    I might try that. He does react well to being wrapped in a towel. When I was treating his scale rot I'd wrap him in a really soft one after his betadine baths and hold him for a minute and his breathing was relaxed and he seemed to feel safe after.

  12. #8
    BPnet Veteran Bogertophis's Avatar
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    Re: A tricky rehab, help and advice much appreciated!

    Quote Originally Posted by Namea View Post
    I might try that. He does react well to being wrapped in a towel. When I was treating his scale rot I'd wrap him in a really soft one after his betadine baths and hold him for a minute and his breathing was relaxed and he seemed to feel safe after.
    That could be a big part of his problem...he's just afraid...that's normal & with patience, usually an easy fix.

    It's important not to do it for too short a time, so if you don't have 45 minutes to work with him, just skip it until you do. Snakes are MOST afraid when we approach them, and then again when they feel themselves being "dangled helplessly back into their homes"...those are when they're most likely bite, because they just feel vulnerable- short sessions just stress them more than is helpful. (Yes, I know some ppl think you're supposed to only handle snakes for "a few minutes"...I've only been doing this for some 35 years, what could I possibly know? LOL)
    Last edited by Bogertophis; 07-31-2020 at 07:06 PM.
    Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.
    Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983)

  13. #9
    Registered User Caitlin's Avatar
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    It sounds like with time and patience and some of the strategies already suggested, he will be OK. He's just a sad combination of neglect/abuse (no hides is abusive as far as I'm concerned), leading to a frantic feeding response plus the fact that he's probably been terrified.

    You have already gotten good advice so I won't repeat that; I'd just like to offer one suggestion that may sound a little odd, but I've seen notable results with it. When you try the 'cuddle' approach, use SUPER soft material. I have several 'snake cozys' made from a velvety material called 'minky', and almost all of my snakes just love these things. I use them in several ways, but the one that applies to your situation is that I use them to habituate snakes that are skittish. I've found that even very nervous snakes will happily crawl inside of these soft 'snake sacks' and peacefully sit on my lap for hours. I'm including photos of my Ball Python and one of my Children's Pythons using them.[IMG][/IMG][IMG][/IMG]
    1.0 Jungle Carpet Python 'Ziggy'
    0.1 Brazilian Rainbow Boa 'Mara'
    1.1 Tarahumara Mountain Boas 'Paco' and 'Freda'
    1.0 Stimson's Python 'Jake'
    0.1 Children's Python 'Miso'
    1.0 Anthill Python 'Cricket'
    1.0 Ball Python (BEL) 'Sugar'
    1.0 Gray-banded Kingsnake 'Nacho'
    1.0 Green Tree Python (Aru) 'Jade'

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  15. #10
    Registered User Namea's Avatar
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    Re: A tricky rehab, help and advice much appreciated!

    Quote Originally Posted by Caitlin View Post
    It sounds like with time and patience and some of the strategies already suggested, he will be OK. He's just a sad combination of neglect/abuse (no hides is abusive as far as I'm concerned), leading to a frantic feeding response plus the fact that he's probably been terrified.

    You have already gotten good advice so I won't repeat that; I'd just like to offer one suggestion that may sound a little odd, but I've seen notable results with it. When you try the 'cuddle' approach, use SUPER soft material. I have several 'snake cozys' made from a velvety material called 'minky', and almost all of my snakes just love these things. I use them in several ways, but the one that applies to your situation is that I use them to habituate snakes that are skittish. I've found that even very nervous snakes will happily crawl inside of these soft 'snake sacks' and peacefully sit on my lap for hours. I'm including photos of my Ball Python and one of my Children's Pythons using them.[IMG][/IMG][IMG][/IMG]
    It's funny you mention that! I had just been talking to my grandma about him and she decided she wants to make him something like that. for now I've been wrapping him in a really soft sherpa blanket. I reconfigured his habitat yesterday and he seems happy with it, finally went back into one of his hides. Unfortunately the other one broke so I actually had to dig out a half log one for now until I can either order a new one today or run by somewhere and grab one. I spent some time creating a back and front with just a small hole for it though so that it's not two huge open sides at least.

    He's doing well in his custom setup but I'm considering getting something from AnimalPlastics with the installed heat emitters.

    All in all I'm hopeful for him but I feel so bad for what he had to endure. The previous owners weren't stupid, they knew enough to google and lie about how they had him kept so as far as I'm concerned it was willing negligence on their part.
    Some girls were horse girls growing up. I was a snake girl.

    Daughter of a herpetologist, student of the "Snake Man" Al Robbins, lover of all animals.
    Almost done with my DVM! Finally!

    I specialize in rehabilitation and work with local fish and wildlife for rehab/release of native species. For exotics I work with reptile sanctuaries to rehabilitate and rehome to either qualified private owners or humane licensed facilities. I do not believe in fatal population control.
    Please feel free to message me with any questions. I don't know everything but I can point you towards resources.
    Do not message me with images of a snake you killed to identify it. I will ignore you.

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