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Ball Python Poop: A Key Indicator of Health
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Snake poop is probably not your favorite part of owning a ball python, but your snake’s bowel movements can be an important indicator of health. This article discusses all of the important health aspects of snake poop including how often ball pythons poop, the typical digestion process, important health markers to keep an eye out for, and the ideal habitat for your ball python.
Ask an Expert
Ball pythons are beautiful pets with unique diets. But their slow digestion and appetite may make them a little challenging. New and experienced owners can ask their questions on our Ball Python forum. Our informed community and zoologists will help guide you in the right direction.
How Often Should Your Ball Python Poop?
Typically, your ball python should poop about 1 week after eating a meal. This answer is not the same for all snakes as different environments, temperatures, and foods can cause digestion to take longer in some cases. In ideal conditions, your snake should complete the digestion of a meal after 6-8 days, defecating shortly after. If your snake has not defecated 2 weeks after eating, you may want to help them out.
How to Help a Ball Python Poop
To help them, you can simply fill their water bowl with warm water and encourage them to soak. The extra water that the snake drinks and soaks up will help loosen their stool, so they can pass it more easily. This simple trick works most of the time to clear up mild constipation. However, if your snake has not had a bowel movement in 3 weeks, it may be time to take your snake to the vet.
Digestion Basics for Ball Pythons
A snake’s digestive track is one of the most efficient nutrient processing systems in the entire animal kingdom! In fact, only 9% of what they eat will be excreted as feces. The other 91% will be absorbed into the body and used as energy and material for growth. The system is so efficient that nearly 40% of each meal will become new body tissues of your snake.
Ball pythons, and most other snake species, are sit-and-wait predators. In the wild, snakes have no idea when their next meal will wander by. This means that their digestive system goes dormant when they are not feeding. The activity of their digestive tract may decrease by up to 50% as they wait. As soon as they get a meal, many things start to happen.
How Ball Pythons' Digestive Track breaks down food
First, the cells in their digestive tract will become much more active. These cells secrete digestive enzymes and other important chemicals that almost instantly start breaking down their meal. During this time, your snake will also change its behavior.
Don't Disturb Your Ball Python!
To maximize the amount of energy spent digesting the meal, your snake will go “dormant”. They may curl up under their hide, or bury themselves within their substrate. Their heart rate will increase significantly, in order to pump more blood to their digestive tract. The blood absorbs the digested nutrients and carries them to other areas of the snake’s body. It is best to leave your ball python undisturbed during this time, so they can conserve their energy and get the most out of their food.
Ball Python Defecation and Health
It is not only important to keep track of the timing of your snake’s meals and defecation schedule, but it is also important to look at the consistency and color of your snake’s poop. A healthy ball python will produce feces that is light brown to black in color. If you are feeding rodents, you should expect to see some hair in the feces, since hair does not break down easily in the digestive tract.
Healthy Foods - Baby Chicks
Frozen rodents are the most common food item for ball pythons. But are they the best? When compared to rodents, baby chicks offer a greater source of protein and less fat, which is ideal for many adult ball pythons.
One additional benefit of baby chicks is that they can be offered to your ball python alive. Rodents have sharp incisors and will use them to defend themselves, which can injure your snake. This is why live rodents should never be offered to your snake. But live chicks are underdeveloped and harmless. Their cannot peck or scratch, meaning they can roam in your snake's habitat until they prefer to strike. Live food and stimulate a snake's natural instinct to strike, which can lead to a happier habitat and a longer life span.
Watery Feces is a sign of a Health Problem
The feces should be a medium consistency, not too wet or too dry. If the feces is runny or liquid, your snake may have an infection or nutrient deficiency. If the feces are dry or clumpy, it could also be a bad sign. Dry poop likely means that your snake is not getting enough water or humidity, and it could also be a sign that your snake has some sort of infection or nutrient deficiency.
Don’t Forget about Uric Acid!
Like all animals, snakes must release the extra nitrogen in their system from their kidneys. Instead of urine, snakes, other reptiles, and birds produce a substance called uric acid. Uric acid is a white, pasty substance when it is released from the body. And, your snake should urinate more frequently than they defecate.
So, you should expect some uric acid shortly after feeding your snake. Your snake’s digestive tract is actively breaking down the protein in their meal, which releases a considerable amount of protein and amino acids. Some of these will be used to build the snake’s body, while some of this protein is broken down for energy. After it is used up, all that is left is a nitrogen-rich substance called ammonia. Ammonia is toxic, so your snake will convert it to uric acid to be excreted.
Unlike human urine, uric acid can be concentrated into a paste. This means that your snake can use much less water to store and remove the uric acid from the body, compared to human urea and urine. So, when your snake urinates, it will contain only a small amount of water. Uric acid should be white or slightly yellow, with minimal water excreted. If any of these conditions are not met, your snake may be experiencing a health problem.
Learn more about ball python digestion…
If you are interested in learning more about ball python digestion, here is a great article that discusses many different aspects of ball python digestion, and how it relates to other species! While the information is complex, it gives a complete outline of what happens to your snake’s heart rate, digestive system, and behaviors as they digest food.
Adaptive regulation of digestive performance in the genus Python