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  1. #1
    Registered User smakemom's Avatar
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    Unhappy (TW: written gore) Difficult BP + Horrifying Nightmares: What next?

    I have a ball python named Smake. He's my first bp, now 3 years old, coming up on 4 at the end of this month. He's been an incredibly difficult first bp. He has gone on long-lasting eating strikes several times, each one harder to break than the last. Now pushing 6 months, he still refuses to eat. I force feed him pinky rats, as that's the easiest for me to manage on a regular basis, roughly once weekly. He's at an okay weight, and has been to the vet a few times now to make sure he's okay. His conditions are close to perfect, and his vet thinks so too. He just doesn't want to eat.

    A few nights ago, I had a traumatic nightmare. In the dream, I wanted to "store" Smake for some unknown reason. I started shoving him inside my mouth and down my throat. I bit clean through him, gained partial lucidity, and realized he couldn't recover from being bitten in half. So I chomped him down faster, thinking he could recombine himself if I was fast enough. Then I gained full lucidity, and was horrified to realize I had killed my snake by eating him. I snapped awake, teary, and found my boyfriend to help me calm down. A night or so later I also dreamt that I was carrying him around with me everywhere, loose, and I kept losing my grip on him because he kept wiggling away, so I'd clench down on him. I have never and would never handle my or any snake that roughly in real life.

    After these dreams, thinking of Smake makes my stomach churn. I don't even feel comfortable handling or holding him. I now dread taking him out, and I've been putting off force feeding him this week because of how sick I feel about him. I really don't know what I should do. I don't know what I'm doing wrong and why he won't eat for me. I don't want to give up on him, and I'm terrified of hurting or killing him. I wish I could do more.

    Please lend me your thoughts and advice. I truly need it right now.

  2. #2
    Bogertophis's Avatar
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    Obviously the stress & frustration you're feeling with Smake's refusal to feed are showing up as your nightmares. I have to say that's the wrong way to show your snake how to eat...

    But seriously, those are horrible dreams you've had. You can't help what you're feeling & if this doesn't change, it honestly might be best to rehome him to a very experienced snake-keeper.

    I feel for you, as I know that some BPs can be very difficult snakes- but it's not good for a snake to continuously be force-fed. Pinkies are not adequate nutrition either- not even for a hatchling, & you say he's 3+ years old now. Ultimately the decision has to be yours. As for what, if anything, you're doing wrong...maybe nothing? But have you double checked the temperatures in his home? A snake that's not warm enough will certainly refuse to eat. Likewise a snake that's handled excessively, or one that's stressed by lack of privacy & feels threatened may refuse to eat.

    If you could post pics of your set-up, & give many more details, maybe we can spot something?

    I can understand you feeling shaken up by those awful nightmares, but maybe the cure is to confront & fix the problem with your snake. It's your call though, as I said. You say you don't want to give up on him, but yet you "dread taking him out"- those 2 things are not compatible.
    Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.
    Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983)

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  4. #3
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    I had some trouble with my first male with long food strikes. It's definitely frustrating when it's the first experience.

    More info on the setup and maybe a photo of Smake as well? Knowing the current body conditions can maybe help.

    I'm so sorry you're having stress related dreams, especially ones that bad. I would consider asking your vet if they know of a rehabilitator or rescue group that may be able to offer a hand as well. That way in case you become further stressed you'll know of someone to call for help. I wouldn't necessarily explain the details of the dreams to them, just that you're having nightmares about his health and hoping that they can help you. You may be able to find someone to get him started on eating again. Or if your boyfriend is willing to help takeover for a bit and give you a bit of a break.

    It's difficult. I'm hoping we can help you out! It's terrible when you need to help yourself and your pet. I've been there. But while you need to do whatever is best for Smake, you also need to do good by you as well.

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  6. #4
    Registered User smakemom's Avatar
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    Re: (TW: written gore) Difficult BP + Horrifying Nightmares: What next?

    I'm sorry for the delay in response. Today, I did a full reset of Smake's tank. New substrate, new layout, and everything cleaned with chlorhexidine solution, except for the wood, which I baked in the oven to dehydrate/disinfect. I also handled him quite a bit, and exposure therapy seems to have helped a good bit. I still feel like there's a lump in my throat, but I'm determined to get over this. Being so close to giving up made me realize how much I don't want to. I want to have more beeps in the future, and if I give up now when I'm being challenged, I could never ethically consider getting another.

    His temps are still stabilizing now, so I will provide readings tomorrow, but normally the cooler side is 75-80 and the hotter side is 85-90.

    His humidity levels vary, as I live in a very dry environment. He has a humidifier to try and combat this, but it's hard for me to regulate how much fog it puts out. I've programmed a timer block to turn the fogger on for 10 minutes/off for 40 minutes, which gives his humidity levels enough time to get low enough that he could benefit from another misting. I've been watching his nose and mouth closely, and he seems healthy. Last shed came off beautifully too.

    Here's a breakdown of everything on and around his tank.
    The tank itself is from dubiaroaches.com ("Reptile Habitats 4x2x2/120gal").

    Decor/Supplies:
    3x ceramic heat emitter
    3x heat dome
    3x thermostat controller w/ probe
    2x thermometer/hygrometer probe
    3x cave hide
    several foraged sticks (disinfected in chlorhexidine solution and baked in an oven at 200+) (mostly beech wood, one grape wood)
    several soft plastic plants
    1x water dish*
    1x humidifier
    1x timer block (for humidifier)
    *He had a bigger bowl, but it started showing discoloration at the bottom of the dish that made me nervous, so I trashed it. So, for now, he's using a disinfected cat water bowl.


    Substrate: coco husk, chunks (just enough for him to crawl under if he so desired)

    Finally, here are some pics.
    You can spot Smake in a few of them. I'm not really concerned about his weight right now, as his vet looked him over thoroughly and feels that he is doing okay. We have been watching his weight, and since we began force feeding him, he has put on a good few grams.





    I hope this information is helpful.
    Additionally, I acquired some soiled rat bedding that I'm going to hopefully try to clean by turning our instapot into a makeshift autoclave. My boyfriend has vacuum seal food grade bags, and my research tells me that doing this shouldn't eliminate the odor. I just don't want to introduce any bacteria or disease to my snake. Once safe, I plan to scent the pinkies with the bedding and try to stimulate his senses so that he will eat on his own. Let me know if you find fault in this idea! Thank you very much.

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  8. #5
    BPnet Veteran Homebody's Avatar
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    Re: (TW: written gore) Difficult BP + Horrifying Nightmares: What next?

    Quote Originally Posted by smakemom View Post
    I have a ball python named Smake. He's my first bp, now 3 years old, coming up on 4 at the end of this month. He's been an incredibly difficult first bp. He has gone on long-lasting eating strikes several times, each one harder to break than the last. Now pushing 6 months, he still refuses to eat. I force feed him pinky rats, as that's the easiest for me to manage on a regular basis, roughly once weekly. He's at an okay weight, and has been to the vet a few times now to make sure he's okay. His conditions are close to perfect, and his vet thinks so too. He just doesn't want to eat.
    Why are you force feeding? Because he won't eat? He's an adult. They do that. If he's not losing weight, and I mean a lot of weight, I don't see the justification for force feeding. Force feeding is traumatizing to the snake. It should be only be done in a case of dire need. I think continuing to force feed, on a weekly basis no less, will only make your BP less likely to feed on his own.

    I think you should leave him alone. No force feeding. No handling even. Offer food at most once a week. He'll feed eventually.

    This is just my opinion based mostly on advice I've heard from more experienced keepers. I'm not a vet. So, if what I'm saying contradicts your vet, please ignore it. Your set up is admirable and shows that you are responsible keeper that really cares about her pet. I really hope he starts eating again soon.
    Last edited by Homebody; 11-02-2023 at 09:44 AM.
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  10. #6
    Bogertophis's Avatar
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    I have to agree with Homebody's spot-on post above, & on top of that, DO NOT try to "clean" the soiled rat bedding you need to scent prey!!! Leave it alone, all of life has bacteria & our immune systems (just like that of a snake) has evolved to function WITH them- some bacteria is good for us, the rest is dealt with. Your snake isn't likely to catch any disease from a rat- or from us, for that matter, since snakes are cold-blooded, & rats, like us, are warm blooded & have very different pathogens hanging around with us. Trying to bake the bedding is likely to change or remove the odors your snake may need to trigger feeding. Life has bacteria everywhere- get over it. There is such a thing as "too clean". (Just to be clear, I'm NOT saying you shouldn't wipe down his enclosure periodically or reasonably disinfect things in use, like the cat's water bowl. But I've just never heard of anyone trying to clean rodent litter...)

    But with all the changes you just made in his home, I wouldn't rush to feed him or expect too much when you do. Snakes feel safest when they can depend on what's around them- that means let him get used to his home as it now is, & quit handling a snake that won't eat. Stop force feeding! Rat pinkies give little more than water for this snake anyway, but the stress you're causing is immeasurable. And I'd stop the fogging as well*- that's disruptive & might be making him doubt the season is right for feeding. Use OTHER ways to raise humidity: provide a humid hide with soaked & drained sphagnum moss, AND use a substrate that holds humidity. (*or use only a room humidifier if you want, just not in his home!) If you don't understand what a humid hide is, ask.

    Feeding also depends on having the right kind of hides so they can sleep well and feel secure- it's hard to see hides in all that- but if you're counting that wide-open tree bark tunnel as a "hide"- it's NOT. Use at least 2 of these (one warm side & the other on the cool side) or something similar- BPs want a closer feel- lower ceiling, smaller door & only one way in to feel safe. They come in different sizes- read the descriptions carefully to get the size that closely matches the size of your snake when he's coiled up, not too much bigger. https://www.reptilebasics.com/large-hide-box

    Afterthoughts: I know that technically there's lots of 'cover' in there- ie. fake plants- but keep in mind they don't provide actual "back pressure" that these snakes are thought to prefer- the feeling of being safe & snug- like in the hides I mentioned above. The plants look great but they're soft & flexible. Also keep in mind that it's best to avoid making changes all the time- one big overhaul is a lot for a snake to take in- this is his whole world, after all, & snakes only feel safe once they know their way around. So if you're going to replace the hides as I suggested, or make other changes, wait until you've got everything together & do it all at once. Snakes need time to adjust, & you just revised his home. Think it through before you act.
    Last edited by Bogertophis; 11-02-2023 at 01:56 PM.
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  12. #7
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    I love how his home looks. You put a lot of work and care into it. But it may not be what he wants.
    One of my pickiest feeders is dead set on living in a tub. She stresses out when she has too much space and can see outside glass. She needs the frosted walls and tight spaces to be comfortable enough to not strike at anything that moves.

    Him not eating may be his only way of telling you he may have too much free space. Even as cluttered as you have it, something may be off.

    If his hides are big and open, try stuffing some crumpled newspaper or moss in for a bit and see if that helps. Tight spaces definitely make them feel better.
    Give him a couple weeks of hiding.
    If he starts peeking his head out of the hide, that's the when you can try again with a meal.

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  14. #8
    Registered User smakemom's Avatar
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    Elaboration on Setup

    Firstly, I didn't realize how disapproved of force feeding was. I know it's traumatizing, but I was under the impression that it was just something that had to happen when reptiles went off feed. I don't WANT to force feed him, so if so many people are saying not to, I'll abstain for now.

    He has three solid and tight caves. He can perfectly fit inside them, pushed up against the walls. Sometimes he even pushes the substrate out from beneath him so he has more wiggle room. The half logs are just there for amusement.

    I used to hang a curtain over his tank to block everything out, and that got him eating several months ago when he stopped eating before, but when I tried it again this time, it didn't work. I don't think he's particularly scared, though. Just the other night I saw him roaming around his tank. All his stuff is familiar, there's nothing new. It's just slightly moved around. But he might not know that, I realize.

    I also understand that cleaning/handling = not going to eat. I don't attempt feedings within 2-3 days of these activities. Per someone's advice, I'll leave him alone for a week, only opening his tank up to change the water.

    I'll remove the humidifier and instead place it just outside his tank. That should also open up some space for him.

    I am familiar with humid hides. I'll use those when he needs to shed. Hopefully he's smart enough to utilize it.

    Please let me know if I missed something. I am trying to be as receptive as possible. Thank you all very much.

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  16. #9
    BPnet Veteran Homebody's Avatar
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    Re: Elaboration on Setup

    Quote Originally Posted by smakemom View Post
    Firstly, I didn't realize how disapproved of force feeding was. I know it's traumatizing, but I was under the impression that it was just something that had to happen when reptiles went off feed. I don't WANT to force feed him, so if so many people are saying not to, I'll abstain for now.
    It's clear from what you've told us that you are a responsible and caring keeper. I didn't mean to imply otherwise. To help you break this fast, it will help us if we know how it started. You said he's just shy of 4 years old. Have you had him that whole time? You said he's gone on several fasts? How many? How long did they last? What was he eating at the time each fast started? How did you break those fasts? Just to the best of your recollection. The more we know, the better our advice will be. Thanks.
    Last edited by Homebody; 11-02-2023 at 08:54 PM.
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  18. #10
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    Re: (TW: written gore) Difficult BP + Horrifying Nightmares: What next?

    Those nightmares really sound like they suck, I'm so sorry you're having to deal with that. It's obvious that you love your smake very much (cute name by the way). There are a lot of reasons a ball python goes off of feeding and ways to help but force feeding as mentioned by others in their replies, should be an absolute last resort. The ambient temps and the warm side temps being off can cause issues and so can season changing and the usual ball python fasting. Too much handling can stress the snake out and cause the snake to not want to eat but sounds like you havent been handling him much obviously. When heating up your F/T rats my advice would be to use a temp gun and make sure the head of the rat is at 105 Fahrenheit, that means that the rat is completely warmed up. I move the rat I'm going to feed my BP from the freezer to the fridge section of our mini fridge overnight in order to thaw it out and then I put it in a sealed ziplock bag and the ziplock bag in a bucket of warm warm water (usually around 125 fahrenheit). I learned this trick from the guy we get rats from, he taught me this when we were having trouble with my snake not wanting to eat and now he barely ever refuses a meal unless he is going on another fast or if the seasons are changing making the ambient temps colder. I believe that you love your smake way too much to ever hurt him, but if it helps try pacing yourself, once he has started eating again to the point of you not needing to go without handling maybe pet him while he's inside the enclosure and move from petting him to fully picking him up and always sitting down when holding him if you worry about dropping him. Sometimes our dreams get the best of us and get us riled up, just fight that, you're strong and you care so much about Smake I know you can do this! Work back up your confidence in your ability to handle him and you will be back to yourself around him in no time.
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