As pet owners, the health and comfort of our animal companions are a high priority. The signs of happiness in some pets may be less well-known and sometimes misunderstood. People may even believe them to be emotionless.
Ball pythons are one such animal. Have you ever looked at your snake and wondered how they’re feeling? Are they happy right now? Is anything stressing them out? Is there even a way to know?
The answer is yes! Your ball pythons’ behavior and body language can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling. With a bit of knowledge and close observation, you will soon see your snake is communicating its feelings to you and how to tell if they are happy.
Four Signs of a Happy Ball Python
Hiding but Active
If you see your ball python spending much of its days curled up in a hide, you may be worried something is wrong. But this is actually expected behavior.
Ball pythons are primarily nocturnal, so they often spend most of the day hiding while they rest. But a happy ball python won’t spend all of its time hiding. They will be active as well.
You may see them slowly roaming the enclosure at night. The following day, they might be in a different hide than when you went to bed.
Sometimes you may even see them relaxing on décor in the enclosure during the day. These behaviors are all signs your ball python is comfortable in its environment.
A happy ball python will have a healthy appetite and eat on a regular schedule. Juveniles need to eat more often to maintain their growth rate.
The very young can eat as often as once or twice a week. As they age, though, ball pythons eat less and less frequently.
Some adult ball pythons may only eat once every month or two. But as long as their appetite remains steady, you can rest assured they are content and healthy.
Do be careful not to overfeed your snake, though. If they become too chunky, it can cause serious health problems and affect your snake’s quality of life. A lean, fit ball python is a happy, healthy ball python.
It’s also essential to make sure your ball python always has access to fresh drinking water. The water bowl should be deep enough for them to soak in but not so deep they may become trapped.
Shedding properly is vital for a ball python’s well-being. Shedding in juveniles is part of growing.
Depending on their growth rate, they can shed as often as every couple of weeks. Older snakes still shed as well, although it may only happen a couple of times a year.
The shed skin should come off all in one piece. Struggling to get the old skin off can stress a snake, and any components that remain stuck can seriously impact their health.
Making sure the process goes smoothly will help keep your snake happy. If your snake struggles to shed in one piece, there are things you can do to assist them.
First, try increasing the humidity in its enclosure. If they continue to struggle, giving them a soak can help loosen any stuck skin.
Make sure to never pick off any shed that is stuck firm; this can damage the scales underneath.
While signs of a ball python’s contentment may not be as overt as signs of discomfort, there is still body language you can look for.
A happy, comfortable ball python will have a relaxed and loose body language. They appear unhurried, with slow and steady movements.
Flicking its tongue is another good sign. It means your ball python is alert and curious about its surroundings.
Signs of Discomfort in a Ball Python
Loss of Appetite
There are a few innocuous reasons your snake may skip a meal or two. Sometimes they might refuse to eat if they are about to shed.
But usually, right after, they will accept the meal when offered. Another reason is that your ball python may go into brumation, the snake version of hibernating.
This isn’t common in captive snakes, but not unheard of. If you know your ball python has a habit of brumating, try to feed them a few extra times to ensure they have enough energy stored.
If you have a day with really nice weather while they are brumating, you can also offer them a meal since they become a bit more active then.
But if your snake is refusing food and there is no obvious reason, it could be caused by stress or illness. Knowing how often your snake eats is vital to detecting an issue before it becomes too serious.
This allows you to make changes to its environment to try and determine the cause of its distress.
If these measures don’t help and your snake continues to lose weight, take them to the vet to be checked for illness or parasites.
If your ball python begins to have a triangular body shape, this is a strong sign of malnourishment and needs to be addressed immediately.
When in distress, a ball python’s body language is very easy to understand.
They will typically coil tightly around themselves or “ball” up when they feel threatened. Its movements will be swift, especially if they try to flee.
You might see them rubbing their nose repeatedly on items in the enclosure. This can be a sign of something as simple as trying to start a shed.
But it can also be a sign of stress, illness, or parasites. Repeated rubbing can lead to scale damage and infections, so appropriate actions to determine the cause must be done quickly.
Hissing and Striking
Hissing may be a clear sign your ball python can give that they’re uncomfortable. Your snake may adopt a strike position in an attempt to scare off what they deem a threat.
A strike position is when they have its head pulled up and back. Any sudden movements may cause a snake in this much distress to actually strike at you. These are all warnings and, if ignored, may lead to a bite.
Trying to Escape
If your ball python isn’t comfortable in its surroundings, it might attempt to escape.
They will inspect every inch of the enclosure, testing for weak spots. When you open the enclosure, they might seize the moment to try to flee.
They may even escape without your knowledge. This could lead to disaster for your ball python, especially if you have other, larger pets in the house or if they manage to get outside.
Bonding With Your Ball Python While Keeping Them Happy
Observe Its Body Language
When handling your ball python, always be aware of its body language. This is especially important for new snakes when you’re both still getting to know one another.
If your snake seems apprehensive, start with simply placing your hand in its enclosure. Keep your movements slow, and this is very important, don’t jerk your hand away if they strike at you.
It goes against instinct, but any sudden movements will only cause more stress. Instead, slowly pull your hand out of the enclosure and try again later.
Your snake needs to learn they can trust you, so don’t rush the process. With time, most snakes adjust well to being handled.
If your snake is comfortable with you, they may hang out for as long as you let them. But if they start to seem antsy, return them to the enclosure, so they don’t become too stressed.
Know the Best Times to Handle Your Ball Python
Ball pythons are primarily nocturnal, being more active and alert at night for hunting. This means it may be easier for you to handle them during the day when they are more calm and tired.
Keep your initial handlings short, making sure to never overwhelm your snake. Shorter, positive moments of interaction will build trust faster than longer ones that end with your ball python being stressed out.
Also, make sure you don’t handle your snake in a couple of days following a feeding. They are digesting the meal in that time and, if stressed, they may regurgitate the food.
If, for any reason, you absolutely need to handle them during that time, keep the contact brief while still being as slow and gentle as possible.
Be Mindful of Your Body Language
Being aware of your own body language is equally as important. Keep your body relaxed while handling your ball python.
Snakes can’t “sense fear” per se, but they can feel if your body is tense or not. And tension may be interpreted as aggression.
When you want to take your ball python out of its enclosure, announce yourself by gently touching its back. Be mindful not to put your hand over its head; this may be seen as a predatory move.
With your hand on its back, slowly lift its body, supporting its weight. This will help them feel more secure. Don’t hold them too tightly; just be there as support.
Keep your movements slow to reduce the possibility of startling your ball python. The more you practice this, your snake will start to feel comfortable being handled for longer times.
How to Create an Environment for Maximum Comfort
Provide a Proper Enclosure
Every snake breed has unique needs for its environment. Setting up an enclosure to those specifications will create a home your ball python finds very comfortable.
Doing thorough research will help you determine which supplies you need. Everything from the size of the enclosure down to the type of substrate is important.
Having a proper setup will reduce stress and lower the risk of escape attempts.
Create a Feeding Schedule
Creating a feeding schedule is another way to set your ball python up for success. Having a schedule will help ensure your snake is receiving proper nutrition.
It will also make it easier for you to notice if your ball python is losing its appetite. You can track when was the last time they did eat and how often they’ve refused a meal.
This information will be a helpful report for the vet should your snake need medical care.
Learning to be aware of your ball python’s actions and body language can help you understand how they feel and what you need to change to make them happy.
Knowing how to properly handle your snake will keep both you and them comfortable and safe while you build your bond.
These steps, plus a proper routine and enclosure, will help your ball python live a long and happy life in your company.