Have you noticed your ball python’s breathing isn’t normal? It’s common for a ball python to change the way it breathes in response to external stimuli. There are many reasons why your ball python is taking deep breaths, so what is wrong with the respiratory health of your snake? Is it completely natural a cause for concern?
The most likely reason for deep breathing in ball pythons is a respiratory infection (RI). Your snake is struggling to breathe, so it uses its mouth to breathe instead of its nose. Taking deep breaths due to stress is also a common cause. Inclusion body disease (IBD), a viral infection that affects the nervous system and other vital organs, is a fatal condition in boas. This also affects the respiratory system.
Whistling, sighing, and forceful breathing isn’t necessarily a sign of illness. However, raspy or wheezy breathing is usually a sign of a respiratory infection. You have to identify the other symptoms of similar conditions and try to identify those, alongside the wheezing or labored breathing.
Ball Python Breathing Noises
A ball python can make various noises when it breathes. Sometimes this might be a sign that it’s ill, or it might not be anything at all. You might hear the following sounds:
- A faint whistling sound
- A raspy, crackly breathing sound
- A wheezy, labored breathing sound
- Just breathing in and out, but more forcefully than usual
- A sound that’s a little like a sigh
Ball Python Deep Breaths After Eating
Snakes dislike being disturbed after they’ve eaten because they’re digesting food. They don’t want to move, so they seek a safe place to hide.
If you were to disturb your ball python while its digesting, it might appear nervous and breathe quite heavily—perhaps not loudly, but with its sides rising more visibly than usual.
Be sure to leave your snake alone for at least 24-72 hours after its eaten, until it’s more active, and before handling it again.
Your ball python will also change the way that it breathe while eating. This is essential because snakes swallow their prey whole. It will move its glottis to one side so that it can still breathe while it has prey in its mouth.
The glottis is at the top of the windpipe, which can be moved to one side so that your ball python doesn’t choke.
Heavy Breathing in Snakes Due to Stress
Stress affects the breathing of a snake, just as it does humans. Things that can cause stress in ball pythons include:
- Suboptimal conditions in the enclosure, e.g. it’s too hot or the enclosure hasn’t been cleaned
- You’re handling your ball python too frequently
- The enclosure is too big, which makes the snake feel insecure
- Your snake doesn’t have a hide for when it feels unsafe
- It’s housed with another snake, which most snakes dislike
- Your snake may have trouble shedding, and rub its nose against the enclosure to the point where their skin is raw and broken
You have to do is identify what’s causing stress and make adjustments.
Respiratory Infection in Ball Pythons
A respiratory infection has similar symptoms to a cold or flu. The snake’s nose, throat, and lungs (its respiratory system) become infected by bacteria or a virus. Your snake will experience the following symptoms:
- Its nose will get blocked up with mucus and might get runny
- You might see some mucus running from the corner of the mouth
- The snake will be breathing heavily because its nose is blocked
- Anorexia, i.e. refusal to eat or eating less than previously
- Lethargy and lack of energy
When a ball python’s nose is blocked, it will make a wheezing sound. It may also open its mouth to breathe because its nostrils are blocked.
What Causes RI in Ball Pythons?
Because snakes are cold-blooded, the most common cause of respiratory conditions is when the ball python’s enclosure is too cold for its needs. This affects the snake’s ability to fight off bacterial respiratory infections.
Ball pythons enjoy basking temperatures of between 88 and 94 degrees. Lower than this and they stand a higher chance of becoming ill.
Also, poor living conditions make respiratory infections more likely. If the substrate in the enclosure is dirty and damp, bacteria can accumulate and cause respiratory infections, scale rot, and mouth rot. The likes of parasites and skin conditions will make a respiratory illness worse.
How to Treat RI in Ball Pythons
To treat a respiratory infection, you’ll need antibiotics from your vet. They can be given by mouth, injection, or even inhaled.
It’s vital that you use only vet-prescribed antibiotics. That’s because there are many different bacteria and viruses that cause respiratory infections. One antibiotic will work whereas another may not.
The vet will take a sample and quickly identify which virus/bacteria is causing the infection.
A baby ball python respiratory infection is particularly dangerous, so make sure to treat a hatchling without delay.
Treating Respiratory Infections at Home
To reverse the effects of a respiratory infection, and to prevent one from happening again, it’s vital that you correct any problems you find in your snake’s living environment. A ball python should have:
- A basking spot heated to between 88 and 94 degrees
- A cooler part of the enclosure that’s about 80 degrees
- A hide on each side of the enclosure
- A clean substrate that it can burrow in
Aside from the temperature and humidity of the enclosure, it’s also vital that you provide them with the right type of substrate. Since ball pythons like to burrow, Aspen shavings are a good choice.
Can Ball Pythons Get Inclusion Body Disease?
Inclusion body disease (IBD) is most commonly seen in boa constrictors, but it can also affect ball pythons. One of the symptoms of IBD is wheezing.
But according to Veterinary Record, many other symptoms should make it obvious if IBD is the reason why your ball python is taking deep breaths:
- The snake will find it hard to balance itself when striking, often missing its target.
- The snake can get stuck ‘stargazing,’ where it’s facing upwards.
- Regurgitation of meals, or complete refusal to eat anything, resulting in weight loss.
- Difficulty righting itself when turned over and disorientation.
- Inability to shed because it can’t coordinate itself sufficiently.
What to Do If Your Snake Has IBD
The best thing to do for a snake that has IBD, unfortunately, is to euthanize it. The condition is progressive and will only get worse.
There’s no set timeframe as to how quickly it takes for IBD to kill a snake, but it’s possible that it will progress rapidly.
Not all vets deal with reptiles, but you’ll need to talk to a vet over the phone to verify the symptoms and decide how to proceed.
It would be unwise to bring it in to see the vet without this consultation since IBD is a highly contagious viral condition. There’s a high chance that your snake could pass the virus on to other boas.