Ball python obesity is an alarmingly common problem, and the reptile community is just barely becoming aware of it. As with most pets, this happens unintentionally, often being mistaken for healthy growth and/or weight gain. A chunky appearance is sometimes praised by those who think that it makes the snake look “cuter.” Obesity in snakes — or any animal, for that matter — is not cute; it is a form of cruel neglect that robs the animal of health, mobility, and shortens its lifespan.
- Scale wrinkling/folding
- Visible skin between scales
- Round shape
- Fat rolls near the head or cloaca
- Feels squishy during handling, not firm
- Body may appear segmented
- Small enclosure
- Lack of exercise
If you have a fat ball python, the first step to take is to evaluate what you’re feeding it. Could you be feeding it too often for its age? Are you offering prey items that are too large?
If that’s not the case, then the snake is probably not getting enough exercise:
- Add additional enrichment items to the enclosure
- Handle more often, encouraging movement (although not so much as to cause stress)
- Create “obstacle courses” for the snake to explore outside of the enclosure
- Encourage climbing up/down stairs with supervision (I kid you not)
You should also reevaluate the size of the ball python’s enclosure. Your pet will spend most of its life inside its enclosure, so give it room to stretch out, climb, and “hunt” when the mood strikes. Racks and tubs are typically too small for a ball python to get the exercise that it needs, and this popular style of ball python ownership is one of the major contributing reasons why there are so many obese ball pythons today. Give yours the *biggest* enclosure you can possibly build for it — provided that you have the right temperature gradient, humidity, UVB, and enrichment, this is the best thing you can do for your ball python’s health.
As you correct your ball python’s diet and encourage him/her to exercise, use a digital kitchen scale to weigh them weekly. Chart the numbers in a spreadsheet or in a notebook. If the snake hasn’t started to lose weight after a few months, consult your veterinarian. There may be something else going on.