Scale rot is something you will come across at some time or another when owning a ball python. The problem is that this problem can quickly get out of control if not treated quickly, which can result in serious health problems for your reptilian pet. In order to provide your pet with the best care, you want to know about scale rot, how to prevent it, and treat it. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about scale rot in ball pythons.
What Is Ball Python Scale Rot
Scale rot is a term used by veterinary professionals to describe a host of skin conditions that your snake may experience during its lifetime. This includes dermatitis, blister disease, and more. It is used to describe bacterial diseases, bacterial infections, and abrasions.
All snakes are prone to scale rot, even those considered very low maintenance, such as the ball python. If ignored, the bacteria will make its way into your pet’s bloodstream, resulting in septicemia, which can be fatal.
Ball Python Scale Rot Symptoms
Knowing the signs of scale rot and what to look for will enable you to identify the disease sooner rather than later, enabling you to provide efficient treatment, helping your pet remain comfortable and happy. There are a number of symptoms you can look out for, these include:
Skin discoloration is one of the first signs that your pet may have a problem. Discoloration is usually noticed on the scales under your pet’s body. The area most affected is the scales that are found above the cloacal region. Some discoloration may include scales looking brown, green/black, or even yellow or red. Note that while the scales under the snake are often the first infected, the rest of the scales on the body can also be infected.
Blisters are pus-filled and will appear on the scales of your pet. The blisters are more likely to be seen on scales that have contact with the substrate. The pus that comes out of these blisters can be clear or yellow. Blisters are not always infected, but if you ignore the signs of scale rot, the bacteria can get into the blisters, causing them to become infected and resulting in a fungal infection. Infected blisters are swollen and red in color with pus. The risk of the blisters rupturing and scales falling off on infected areas is also high.
Scale rot has the ability to cause blood to collect under the scales, which causes them to lift. These scales should feel different to the touch when running your hand down your pet python's body. If you feel any raised scales, look for other signs of scale rot, such as discoloration and blistering.
By understanding the cause of scale rot is important to help you remain informed and ensure the best care for your pet. Some of the causes of scale rot include:
Ball pythons thrive in a humid environment of between 50% and 65%. When they have high humidity, the risk of scale rot is significantly increased. The humidity you provide plays a vital role in the shedding process, but too much humidity can cause scale problems, including scale rot.
Your ball python needs a warm and cool side to its enclosure. The basking area should range between 88ºF and 96ºF with the cooler side being around 78ºF to 80ºF. Temperatures should never drop lower than 75ºF. Keeping the enclosure at the right temperature is vital to your pet’s overall health. Without being able to regulate their body temperature effectively, your python will become susceptible to various illnesses and diseases, which include increasing the risk of scale rot.
Keeping the enclosure clean is essential in reducing the risk of scale rot. When the enclosure is dirty, brimming with pee, poo, uneaten food, and unshedded skin, you put your pet at risk. An unhygienic enclosure is a breeding ground for bacteria and this can result in unwelcome scale rot in your ball python.
If your pet’s skin has been damaged, then it is easier for scale rot to make its way in. Maybe you have something sharp in the enclosure that your pet cut itself on. This can also be a result of uneaten food, which has fought back. An uneaten mouse can bite your snake, protecting itself against a predator.
If you think you have noticed scale rot on your ball python, then you are going to want to act quickly.
Scale rot is contagious to other pet snakes, so if you have more than one ball python, remove the one with scale rot immediately and put it in a quarantine enclosure. Never use substrate in the quarantine enclosure, rather use paper towels, which are quicker and easier to clean. In the event you only have one python, remove any substrate from the enclosure and replace with paper towels during the treatment and healing process.
Clean the Infected Area
The next step is to soak the infected area in diluted Betadine solution, using one part Betadine to three parts water. Soak the scales in this solution for five minutes twice daily for a week or two. Gently dry the scales with paper towels after soaking.
The next step is thoroughly clean the enclosure. Remove everything and thoroughly wash and disinfect the tank and any accessories. Place paper towels in the bottom as a substrate for now. Check the temperature and humidity levels a few times daily, making any necessary adjustments.
If you don't notice an improvement within a few days, then it's time to visit your vet for further assistance and treatment.
Prevention is the best method, reducing the risk of your reptilian pet becoming susceptible to scale rot. There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of scale rot in your ball python. This includes:
Manage Humidity Levels
The first step to preventing the risk of scale rot is to manage humidity levels. This is easily achievable with two digital hygrometers, one on the warm and one on the cool side of the enclosure. Monitor your humidity by regularly checking the digital displays to ensure they stay within the preferred 50% to 65% humidity levels. If you notice humidity levels dropping, mist the enclosure to increase the levels again.
The type of heater you use will determine if your humidity levels are increased or reduced. Heat lamps and ceramic heat emitters tend to dry up the habitat. In some instances, heat lamps can also increase the temperature, making it too high. Ensure you keep the enclosure within required temperature limits. If you are using a heat lamp or CHE and you are struggling to maintain accurate temperature and humidity, opt for a heating pad instead.
It is very important that you select substrate that isn't sharp and will not cause damage to your pet, while also helping you maintain humidity levels. Coco husk is preferred as it remains damp, helping maintain humidity inside the enclosure. Do not use sand, as it tends to harbor both fungus and bacteria. Cedar and pine should be avoided due to their toxicity to reptiles. Paper towel is still the safest, it's quick and easy to keep clean and affordable to purchase. Paper towel also makes it easier to see mites and other parasites.
Scale rot can be such a headache if your python gets infected, the good news is that if you have the knowledge and understanding to detect it early, your snake will get treatment sooner, enabling you to fight the infection with relative ease. Due to the fact that scale rot is mostly caused by humidity levels being too high and incorrect temperatures, regular monitoring can reduce the risk of your levels reaching dangerous highs or lows.
Keep the substrate clean. If you are listing to keep your humidity levels at optimum, allow the substrate to dry between mistings.