If you are planning to bring home a Ball python then you might be wondering how you are going to feed them. What do they even eat? And how often do they need to be fed? Well, good news is that Ball pythons are not quite demanding when it comes to feeding them. If you know what you’re doing then feeding them requires very little attention and effort.
Ball pythons are usually fed small or large sized mice. How often they need to be fed strictly depends on the size and weight of the python. A fully matured adult python needs to be fed once every 2 weeks. While Juveniles and hatchlings need to be fed a bit more frequently to support their growth phase.
Seems pretty easy right? And it kind of is. But no matter what the animal a thorough understanding of its feeding habits is essential for any pet owner. So, in this ball python feeding guide I am going to talk about everything you need to know about feeding ball pythons in great detail.
What Do Ball Pythons Eat?
Mice! Ball pythons love mice that vary in size. Besides, they also eat other prey like large crickets, gerbils, chicks, and shrews, among other things. Ideally, it’s best if you feed mice and rats to your pet snake in the different stages of their lives.
The size of the prey you feed your ball python mainly depends on a couple of things. The first is the stage of life they’re in, and the other is how wide the midsection of your snake is.
You should never feed your snake prey that’s larger than the midsection of the snake. Doing this could lead to obesity issues and other health problems. As they grow and reach different stages of their lives, the prey’s size should also change.
Besides rats and mice, you could also feed the following prey to your ball python.
- Guinea pigs
- Multimammate mice
You may need to alternate between prey species when your pet ball python refuses to eat along with other conditions. If that happens, you can consider these options that I’ve just mentioned.
How to Feed Ball Pythons
There are some basics that you need to be aware of before you begin feeding your ball python. These are critical factors if you’re a beginner snake enthusiast and haven’t provided for ball pythons before.
It’s worth mentioning that you probably shouldn’t feed a hatchling ball python if you’re a beginner. They’re very delicate like every other hatchling so leave their feeding up to experts. Here’s an outline of the fundamentals in the feeding process of ball pythons.
Firstly, you’ll have to select the prey size. As I’ve mentioned before, selection depends on your snake’s stage of life your snake is in and the midsection of the snake. Once you’ve determined the appropriate size, you’ll want to use a pair of tongs to grip the prey if you’re feeding a thawed prey. Make sure you’re using a long pair of tongs.
Before presenting the prey to your snake, it’s best if you’ve warmed it. Then wave the prey in front of your snake’s face. When the snake strikes the prey, let go of the prey and back away. You can then observe the feeding process and make sure your snake completes it.
I’m sure it doesn’t seem that difficult because it isn’t. Wash your hands once you’ve fed your snake and repeat this according to a schedule. I’ve also covered the schedule and frequency of feeding in detail below.
1. Choosing a Prey
This is the first step in the feeding process of a ball python. You have to make sure that you’re choosing a prey of appropriate species and size along with correctly preparing it. If you’re not doing this in the right way, you will be risking your python’s health and growth.
–Size of the Prey
The size depends on how wide your snake’s stomach is and should be no larger than it. If it’s too large, your snake will refuse to eat. Even if it does manage to consume large prey, it’ll probably vomit it back. Though this doesn’t often happen, feeding a large prey might cause harm to its digestive tract.
Select a prey that’s 1 – 1.25 times the size of your snakes mid area diameter. Some expert enthusiasts also feel comfortable feeding a prey that’s one and half times the snake’s midsection diameter. But if you want precise measurements on what size mouse to feed your ball python, refer to the size chart below.
If the prey creates a bulge inside your snake, don’t panic. That’s what’s supposed to happen anyway, and it’ll shrink within a few days. Once you’ve mastered how to select prey size, you can refer to rodents’ size labels when you order them online.
|Snake Age and Weight||Prey Size||Prey Name|
|Hatchling (71.4 grams)||10-12 grams||Hopper mice|
|Twelve months (500 grams)||31-45 grams||Jumbo mouse|
|Twenty four months (700 grams)||46-80 grams||Adult mice|
|Adult (1500 grams)||150-265 grams||Medium rat|
If you are confused about how to check the age of your ball python then you can check out this article – How To Tell the Age of A Ball Python?
–Live vs. Frozen vs. Stunned Prey
Snakes usually catch live prey in the wild. But it is preferable to feed thawed prey to captive snakes. It’s a better transition for them if you plan on feeding them live prey sometime in their lives. Besides, captive snakes learn to accept thawed prey.
Thawed prey is a better option for several reasons. Firstly, your snake will be safe from injuries caused by the prey. If it’s a live one, it’ll fight for its life and may harm your snake in the process.
You’ll also be eliminating the risk of infections and illnesses with thawed preys. Additionally, they’re also effortless to store and handle. However, if you choose to feed live prey to your snake, I recommend monitoring the process.
You can check out this informative article “Snakes Feeding” for a more comprehensive understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of live and frozen prey for snakes.
Although many pet owners stun the prey to feed their snakes, it’s unethical and inhumane. You shouldn’t put another animal through this. If the feeder wakes up in the middle of being fed to a snake, its instincts will kick in, and it’ll fight for its life, possibly harming your snake.
2. Preparing the Prey
Once you’ve chosen a suitable prey of the appropriate size, it’s time to prepare it. If you’ve decided on feeding live prey, there isn’t much to do. You’ll only have to make sure that your snake eats it. Ensure that there aren’t any bedding issues and that the prey’s fur is clean.
But if you’re planning to feed your snake a frozen prey, you’ll have to follow some rules. You’ll begin by thawing the prey out. If you’re confused by what thawing means, then I’ll explain it for you to understand it better.
Thawing is a simple process. To serve the prey to your snake, you have to warm a frozen rodent. The process is no different from thawing regular meat before cooking. You should leave it in warm water to heat until the temperature is slightly higher than the room.
3. Feeding the Prey
When feeding a live rodent, open the tank’s lid and drop it gently inside and let your snake do the rest. But make sure you don’t risk a bite from your snake, so don’t wave your hands in front of it. If you do, it might strike your hand first.
Observe the process and make sure your snake doesn’t get harmed by the rodent. It’s safe to stop monitoring once the snake starts consuming it. If you’re feeding a thawed rodent to your snake, then you’ll want to place it inside with a pair of long tongs. Here’s how to feed frozen mice.
Place the head directly in your snake’s line of sight. Ensure enough room between the pair of tongs and the rodent so that the snake has sufficient space to bite the prey. If it faces your snake’s direction, it will be more encouraged to strike the prey.
But if for some reason your snake isn’t showing recognition to the rodent, move it around a bit so that it appears alive till the snake grips the rodent. Once the grip is firm, you can release the rodent and observe.
Ball Python Feeding Schedule
Ball python feeding schedule is not very straight forward. But depending on their age and size the frequency of feeding also should be changed.
- Feeding a Hatchling
Usually, a hatchling is provided once a week. Since it’s going to need extra nutrition for growth, you should feed a hatchling every four to six days. Most snake enthusiasts feed pinky mice to hatchlings.
- Feeding a Juvenile
Generally, you should provide for juvenile snakes once every eight to ten days. This feeding routine can last till your snake is a couple of months old.
- Feeding Adults
You should change the prey size as the snake grows. For adults, you can feed a medium rat or a couple of adult mice. But it is recommended to give your python a single prey per feed. So, rats are more preferred.
You should feed it once every 2 weeks. It’s also okay to feed them once every three weeks. They’ll maintain a reasonable body weight though the gap between meals has increased. But make sure you keep an eye on their weight. Based on their body weight you might have to do some tweaking to your ball python feeding routine.
Hydration is Important
You should keep a large ceramic bowl inside its habitat that the snake fits in and change the water every couple of days. This will give your snake a place to stay hydrated, soak, and occasionally defecate in it.
So replacing the dirty water bowl with a clean one every two to three days is imperative. You can scrub the bowl with bleach and fill it with filtered water. Keeping the snake well hydrated will also contribute to proper shedding.
Avoid Overfeeding Ball Pythons
In the United States and Europe, one out of three people overfeeds their snake. Overfeeding can cause several harmful side effects to your snake. The community of snake enthusiasts is not as aware of this problem as it should be. So here’s a little insight on that.
Overfeeding your python could lead to them being obese, and even though they may look.
“cuter,” it’s not. You’ll be neglecting your snake if you make it obese and steal its good health besides shortening its lifespan.
There are several symptoms of obesity. Some of those I’ve mentioned here.
- Wrinkles in the scales
- Squishy and segmented body
- Fatty cloaca or head
- The excess skin between the scales and round body
If you see these symptoms in your snake, I recommend you to increase the feeding gap. Encourage more movement or exercises. It’s best if you consulted a vet and weighed them regularly. Keep track of its weight and monitor the progress.
What Makes Your Snake a Reluctant Eater?
Ball pythons are known for having long starving periods, so it’s not uncommon to pass reluctance to eat as normal behavior. But most of the time, if your pet snake isn’t, it’s a red flag. It could, for sure, mean that something is wrong. Here are some of the things that might be making your snake a reluctant eater.
Infections or Illness
Illness is usually the most common reason why your snake might not be eating. They might not want to eat if they’re having problems with passing out their last meal. These constipation issues depend on meal size, the enclosed space’s temperature, or issues in the intestines such as intestinal parasites.
You can increase the temperature of the enclosed space because humidity can contribute to these issues too. Besides, you can also soak your snake in lukewarm water. Bathing the snake is not recommended unless necessary.
Stress can often cause your snake to become a reluctant eater. It might often be overlooked. So if your snake is not eating, you should consider what might be causing your snake stress.
If you house multiple ball pythons in the same cage can cause severe stress to your ball python. The same goes for too much or improper handling. Besides, if it is a picky eater, alternating between the kinds of rodents might also make them stressed.
Additionally, if you change the location of feeding your snake, it might feel stressed and confusing. Try to keep the feeding place constant to prevent this. You’ll know that your snake is stressed if it keeps moving in the enclosure.
Your ball python will shed its skin every four to six weeks, depending on its age. Your snake might refuse to eat unless it has completed its shedding. You can tell that your python is about to get rid of its old skin by looking at its skin and eyes. They will appear to be ashy and milky, respectively.
Sometimes snakes will refuse to eat if it’s in a noisy environment. They’re known to feel vibrations of loud music and noise as they don’t have ears like us. You should limit disturbances from loud noise or music around your snake.
Temperature and Feeding Time
Aside from these reasons, your snake might not be comfortable in its enclosed space. As mentioned before, humidity could be a reason for snakes feeling reluctant to eat. But it could also be the other way around.
For instance, it might be feeling too cold in its tank or cage. During the winter, they might feel more reluctant to eat. But you can quickly fix this if you increase the temperature of the enclosure.
Additionally, there should be two specific spaces in the enclosure: a basking space and a cold end. The basking space should always be 31 to 32 degrees Celsius, and the cold end should never be less than 23 degrees Celsius. You can invest in a hygrometer like the GXSTWU Reptile Hygrometer.
Snakes are nocturnal reptiles, so they’re more active during the night. If you’ve been feeding them in the afternoon or daytime, this habit could also contribute to reluctance in eating.
Your snake could be refusing to eat because you’re over handling it. This could lead to stress and then not eating.
I recommend not handling them for two weeks until it starts eating regularly. A snake should handle a couple of times every week, but it might trigger stress if you overdo it.
You should also refrain from handling them during shedding or right after feeding them. A ball python needs two to three uninterrupted days to digest its food. You must follow this rule and not leave them alone till they’re done with digestion.
What to Do If Your Ball Python Refuses to Eat?
Most ball pythons are bred in captivity. But if your ball pythons have been caught from the wild, it’s most likely to refuse to eat. Even if it isn’t, you can do the following things to make your snake eat. Remember not to force-feed your snake and if the reluctant eating habit persists, consult a vet.
Here are some tricks you can try out that might tempt your snake to eat.
Setting Up the Habitat Ideally
You need to ensure that your husbandry is proper. It should have an appropriate temperature gradient with the right humidity level. The habitat should also have sufficient hiding space that’s snug.
It should have at least a couple of hiding spaces. These spaces should be on the cold end and warm side of the enclosed area, respectively. If you give access to more hides, it will also be even more ideal. These hiding spaces should be right but more massive than the snake for it to fit inside.
You can have a separate feeding tank that’s more secure isolated from its living space. Plus, you can cover the lid of the feeding tank for privacy and let your snake yield to its instincts.
Feeding in Low-Light
You can combine this trick with having a secure and separate feeding tank. Doing this will reenact the python’s natural hunting environment. Snakes are nocturnal, so they typically feed during the night in the wild.
If you switch feeding time to the night from day, then it might bring a better outcome. It’s best if you tried sticking to this schedule.
Alternate between Prey Species of Different Colors
Snakes can distinguish between light and dark-colored prey though they are not capable of seeing colors. Domestic prey is usually light-colored. But wild rodents are dark. You can try switching between prey of different colors and experiment.
Try getting some dark-colored prey for the next few meals. You can pick out black, brown, or multi-colored rodents.
Keeping the Snake in a Small Container with a Thawed prey
This trick is known to be surprisingly effective. You only have to keep your snake in a small container with frozen and thawed prey in an enclosed space. Leave the food overnight, and you might find your snake accepting the food.
But I strongly advise against using live prey for this method. The live rodent might harm your snake and even kill it.
Luring Your Snake with Scents
Pythons recognize their prey by scent, among other things. In this trick, you’ll have to make the frozen-thawed prey smell like a more difficult-to-acquire animal. These animals could be lizards, birds, or other animals.
You can rub the rodents back with a lizard or your animal of choice before presenting it to your snake. This technique may not always be as effective as others, but it’s still worth a shot.
Experimenting with Different Prey Species
Sometimes picky pythons want a more exciting diet. They’ll wish to eat rodents of different sizes, colors, or species. You feed your snake rats, hamsters, gerbils, and other guinea pigs. Its best if you offer these animals pre-killed or thawed.
African soft-furred rats are preferable target species in the wild. So you can try feeding them these to make them eat.
The prey should also be appropriately sized as the snake will refuse to consume it if it’s too big. So make sure you’re feeding a prey that’s appropriate for its age and weight. You could also try sitting the prey in hot water wrapped inside a plastic bag. Python’s heat-sensing pits will detect a prey near to it and strike.
Feeding Live Prey and Other Feeding Techniques
You should only use this method as a last resort. As I’ve mentioned before, feeding live prey to your snake needs extra precautions, and despite that, there’s always a lot of risks involved.
Feeding techniques like wriggling the rodents in front of them or “braining.” Use a sharp object to pry open the prey’s head and let the scent of the brain flow towards your snake. However, be careful while you’re doing this because things can quickly go off the rails if you’re squeamish.
If you’re planning to feed your reluctant snake, don’t try a couple of these tricks together. It’s best if you tried one of these tricks at a time to prevent confusing your pet snake.
But if nothing works, consult a vet as the lack of appetite could be caused by parasite infestation or other reasons. Additionally, if it is losing weight rapidly, you should book an appointment with the vet.
The most important thing is not to stress your snake even more or to force-feed them. Don’t panic and deal with this situation with how I’ve advised you to.
Feeding Safety Precautions
A ball python bite is harmless, but it is best if they didn’t bite you. Even if your pet snake becomes an adult, it won’t be big enough to threaten your safety. When you’re feeding, you should avoid being bitten by them and take the necessary precautions.
Firstly, make sure that you’re using a pair of tongs. If you reenact wild hunting environments and waving the feeder in front of your snake, always try to be safe and keep the safety of your snake in mind. You should be careful to keep the tips of the pair of tongs back so that the snake doesn’t strike it.
Feeding a live prey will pose a threat to your snake, and it’s best if you didn’t do that. Frozen and thawed rodents are undoubtedly safer and eliminate several risks of contamination and infections.
Besides, I’ve already mentioned that you can’t disturb a snake’s digestive period, and you also have to leave it alone. Ensure that it has enough and warm basking areas, or else the prey might decompose faster than the snake’s body can digest it. This will ultimately cause your snake to throw the food back up.
Additionally, you’ll also have to be careful about the feeding period and the gap between each period. You’ll want to give a week’s rest to your pet snake’s digestive system before presenting it with food again. Also, keep its habitat clean and disinfected to encourage regular feeding.
As you can see feeding your ball python is nothing to be concerned about. They are resilient creatures and require very little effort to look after. And after reading this ball python feeding guide, I’m sure you are equipped with all the information that you might possibly need to feed your ball python.
Thanks for reading till the end. Wishing you and your ball python good health.