How do I feed my Ball Python?

There is no doubt ball pythons are popular home pets. They are relatively small and don’t need a lot of maintenance. Ball pythons are also quite docile and don’t bite easily. However, one aspect that frustrates first-time keepers is feeding their snakes. Ball pythons are picky feeders, and it is common for your snake to refuse a meal once in a while. They may also prefer freshly killed prey over frozen/thawed rodents and vice versa.

In their wild habitats, ball pythons rarely eat consistently, and you must find a happy medium between providing adequate nutrition and respecting the way the pet’s body behaves naturally. Snake keepers should keep track of the ball python’s physical conditions to guide the meal’s size and frequency to be fed at a particular time. Ball pythons are typically obligate carnivores. The snakes should therefore be fed on whole animals for them to get the ideal nutrition. In this piece, we cover all the essential feeding tips that guarantee your python thrives under your care.

Ball python feeding schedule

Although there is no standard size of prey for each age of the snake, you should always strive to feed the ball python a rodent that is as big as its body’s largest width. The rule of thumb is to slowly increase the food your python eats as it grows larger. Frozen prey is the ideal meal for your snake. Your pet will get a spectrum of nutrition when fed on frozen rats, mice, chicks, quail chicks, or African soft furred rats. The following is an ideal feeding schedule based on the three basic age groups:

Baby ball pythons feeding – Baby ball pythons are typically under one year of age. The babies should be fed every five to six days. You can feed them appropriately sized pinkies, fuzzies, crickets, or hoppers.

Juvenile baby python feeding– juvenile baby pythons are aged between one and three years. Like the baby ball pythons, juvenile pythons cannot go into brumation. You should, therefore, feed them at least once every two weeks. Juveniles should be fed on appropriately sized pinkies and fuzzies until they grow larger.

Adult ball pythons – although each ball python has an individualized feeding habit, you should strive to feed the ball python once every 10 to 14 days.

Can I handle Ball python handling before feeding?

When you bring the snake to your home for the first time, you should make sure it settles in first before you handle it. A new environment is quite stressful for the ball python. Ball pythons are generally shy and secretive pets, and exposure to a new environment can disturb them. It would help if you, therefore, avoided any handling before the snake is fed. Allow the snake to acclimate to your home for two weeks before feeding. You can then handle the python after it has had a few days to digest the food. Your priority is to make the pet eat in its new captive environment. Once you have achieved that goal, you can now begin handling it regularly.

Ball python feeding tips

When it comes to feeding ball pythons, you must understand your pet’s unique feeding habits. Ball pythons come in several morphs, and their feeding habits can be highly individualized.

The following tips will be essential when you first bring home a ball python:

Understand your snake’s feeding personality

You should avoid adopting a generalized feeding schedule for your pets. Unlike other snake species with voracious appetites who rarely refuse to eat, ball pythons have their own highly individualized feeding responses. You can keep several ball pythons in the same room under the same conditions only to realize that they have quite different feeding personalities. Some of the common feeding personalities of ball pythons include:

  • A ball python that eats anything and at any time of the day
  • A ball python that only eats freshly killed prey. Such a pet will not touch anything that had been frozen and thawed.
  • A ball python that will eat only after sunset – Such a pet cannot be coaxed to eat during the day no matter what you do.
  • A ball python that loves to hunt and strike a dead rat – You should use a set of feeding tongs to make the rat “run” around the cage and elicit the snake’s hunt instincts.
  • A ball python that can never miss fasting once winter season sets in.

Customize an ideal feeding schedule

As a general rule, you can feed the pet every 7 to 10 days. Feed babies and juveniles frequently because they have a higher rate of growth.  Typically, adult ball pythons have a slow metabolism and thus should be fed less often. Adult ball pythons can go for long periods without eating. However, as we mentioned, ball pythons have an individualized feeding response. It is imperative to understand your pet well and customize an ideal feeding schedule that meets their nutritional needs.

Use frozen/thawed over live rodents.

Unless your ball python is too picky, it is advisable to use frozen/thawed food over live rodents. Frozen rodents are not only convenient for you but also safe for the snake. The following are the benefits of feeding frozen rodents to the ball python:

  • Less risk of infections – frozen rodents will not pass parasites to your pet snake. Ideally, the freezing process gets rid of any parasites present in the prey’s body.
  • Less risk of injuries – a frozen rodent cannot bite and injure your ball python. Rodent bites are not only nasty but often accompany many severe infections.
  • Cheaper and convenient- frozen rodents can be stored for long. You can buy the food items in bulk and store them in a freezer for future use. Bulk purchases typically come with great discounts.

Provide cage temperaments and hiding areas.

There is a significant correlation between the cage temperatures and the appetite of the ball python. If you fail to provide proper cage temperatures, your ball python may refuse to eat. Ball pythons are typically very sensitive to husbandry errors and cannot tolerate well any deviation in cage temperatures. If you notice any sudden feeding troubles with your pet snake, troubleshoot the cage temperatures. You should also provide ideal hiding places inside the cage. Ball pythons are typically timid creatures and can be over-stressed when exposed to threatening environments. Offer a good hiding place on both the warmer and the cooler side of the cage to reduce stress. A stressed ball python will rarely eat, and ideal cage temperaments and hiding places are crucial for any feeding regimen.

Choose the right prey color

Most feeder rodents that you buy form your pet supply are typically white. The white color is not a naturally occurring color in the wild. Ball pythons in the wild usually feed on brown to dark grey prey. Your ball python may therefore hesitate to eat the white mice you are offering him. If you suspect color to be the cause of the pet’s refusal to eat, try experimenting with different colored rodents. It would help if you also created an ideal feed schedule. When buying a ball python from a breeder, find out his feeding schedule and stick to it as much as possible.

Minimize music and loud noise

Snakes typically sense loud noise as vibrations. When the snake is feeding, try to limit loud disturbances within its enclosures. It is also vital to train your dog not to bark at the snake as they may frighten and stress the ball python.

Use feeding tanks

It would help if you considered feeding the ball python in a secure tank that is separate from its cage. Ideally, a ball python should be fed at night to replicate the pet’s natural hunting habitat. If you prefer feeding during the day, ensure you cover the tank to provide darkness and some form of privacy. Captive Ball pythons retain some elements of their natural instincts, and it is crucial to provide them with a safe and secure cave-like environment to help them relax and enjoy their meals

Understand why your ball python won’t eat

There is a high chance your pet snake will refuse food once in a while. Understanding the cause of this behavior is at the heart of excellent husbandry. A ball python may refuse to eat for one or all of the following reasons:

1. During the shedding process

You should expect your ball python to shed throughout its life. However, baby ball pythons tend to shed more frequently because they grow fastest. The shedding process is quite stressful for the pet snake, and it is common for them to refuse food just before and during the shed process. Therefore, you should familiarize yourself with the shedding signs of the animal so that you stop feeding. If you notice the skin and eyes becoming blue, it is time to leave the snake alone.

2. If the snake’s cage is too cold or too hot

The right cage temperament encourages a better feeding response in ball pythons. A temperature gradient of between 80 to 95 degrees can work well for the ball pythons. If the cage temperatures drop too low, the snake may refuse food.

3. If the snake is stressed

A ball python that is stressed will not feed regularly. Stress in ball pythons can be triggered by many factors such as over handling, overexposure, underlying illnesses, and injuries. Ensure the pet snake is happy and healthy at all times if you want to achieve an excellent feeding regimen

4. If the ball python has health issues

Snakes that are ill will not eat. Should your ball python suddenly refuse to eat, investigate for any signs of illnesses. Keenly check the pet’s body for any signs of ticks or mites. If you notice any signs of respiratory troubles like wheezing or fluids that come out from nostrils, take the pet to your vet.

5. When the ball python is on a seasonal fasting period

While most ball pythons eat throughout the year, others may refuse to eat in response to seasonal weather changes. The snakes typically detect subtle changes that indicate the changing of seasons. When the nights colder and the days get shorter, it signals wintertime, and some of the ball pythons will automatically get into a seasonal fasting period. However, season fasting usually doesn’t take place until when the ball python has reached sexual maturity. Sexual maturity age in males is generally around age two, while females achieve sexual maturity on their third birthday.

Checklist for pythons that refuses to eat:

  • Check temperatures at ground level inside the cage.
  • Investigate signs of illnesses
  • Reduce the frequency of handling
  • Skip a few days before you offer the next meal
  • Feed the next meal only after sunset
  • Use a pair of thongs to wiggle the prey item and make it look live.
  • Change the prey type from frozen/thawed to live.
  • Leave the frozen/thawed prey item overnight inside the snake’s cage. However, don’t leave live prey inside the snake’s cage.
  • Offer the ball python a gerbil. Ball pythons love gerbils.
  • Consult with your vet if all the above is unsuccessful

Ball python handling after feeding

After feeding your ball python, it is essential to wait 24 to 72 hours before holding him. In warm temperature, the snake may digest a small mouse in two to three days. If the ball python still exhibits a huge food bulge after the three days has lapsed, give it more time before handling. Typically, wait for another 48 hours before reevaluating his statutes. If you handle the snake too soon after r feeding, he may regurgitate the food he has eaten. Regurgitation is a painful process for the pet.

However, if you are presented with unavoidable circumstances to force you to move the snake immediately after feeding, do so with great care. Put on appropriate hand gloves as some pythons tend to be aggressive immediately following a meal and may strike at your hands.

Ball python feeding force-feeding/assist feeding

If you are worried the ball python is losing too much weight because he refuses to eat, then you may have to force-feed him. Typically, force-feeding involves forcing solid food like a pinkie down the throat of the ball python. Alternatively, you can also use tube feeding. Force-feeding should be the last option after every other method has failed.

How to force-feed using solid foods

When force-feeding using this method, prepare a pre-killed pinkie and cut off its head. Hold the food using a pair of tweezers and push the pinkie firmly against the ball python’s mouth. This action will force him to open his mouth, and thus you’ll push the food down the throat. If the ball python refuses to swallow the food, use a thin steel or plastic rod to gently push the food down the snake’s throat. Once you have pushed the food past the python’s neck, gently massage the snake towards its

stomach. Typically, a ball python’s stomach is located a third way down the body. Once you are sure the pinkie has been swollen, leave the python resting in a dark warm place inside its cage.

How to tube feed the ball python

Tube feeding involves using a plastic syringe to feed the ball python. The ideal syringe should be between 3 millimeters and five millimeters capacity. It should also come with a soft rubber attached to it. Draw liquated cat food or beaten eggs with calcium and vitamin into the syringe. Hold the ball pythons head and force open the mouth before you push the tube down its throat. Empty the contents of the syringe and keep the ball python’s mouth closed to prevent vomiting. Return the ball python to its cage and ensure it rest in a warm dark place

Ball python feeding during the breeding

The breeding season may bring on a fast in female ball pythons when nearing the laying time. On the other hand, when the male pythons smell an ovulating female, they may take a fast that lasts for over six months. However, you should only assist feed the ball pythons if their fasting hiatus goes past six months. Fasting during breeding time is normal behavior, and force-feeding may cause more harm than good.

Can my ball python become obese?

Ball pythons can gain too much weight if they overeat. Ball pythons are sedentary and can get very large. A snake that is overweight has scales that overspread. Typically, the snake’s skin will show through the gaps between the scales. Obesity symptoms in ball pythons include:

  • Large round middle- if the snake has an excess weight around its gut, then it is probably overweight
  • Softer and heavier- snakes should feel firm and muscular when you hold them. An overweight ball python will be very heavy and softer than a snake of average weight
  • Inactivity- inactivity during handling is a sign of obesity in ball pythons

Obesity problems in ball pythons

Just like other animals, snakes that eat too much can experience health problems.

Common issues that come with obesity include clogged arteries, liver, and kidney problems due to excess fast. Obesity problems in snakes can shorten their lifespan. Therefore, it is essential to do something about the ball python’s weight should you notice him getting obese.

What to do when your ball python is obese

Do the following if your ball python is obese:

  • Adjust your feeding schedule so that you feed the ball python less regularly
  • Half the amount of food you feed the snake to help him she off some weight
  • Double the amounts of time in between the feeds
  • Add branches to the python’s enclosure to allow him to climb and burn some fat.
  • Increase the handling intervals to enable the snake to move more often

Frequently Asked Questions on Ball Python Feeding

What should I inquire from a breeder when buying a ball python?

When you are buying a pet snake for the first time, it is crucial to ask your breeder the following questions:

  1. How often is the ball python eating?
  2. Is it eating live, fresh pre-killed, or frozen/thawed?
  3. What prey are you using?
  4. Are there specific seasons the pet goes into fasting?

What is the difference between ball python live feeding vs. frozen?

Frozen/ thawed feeding is feeding the ball python with dead rodents that are frozen and warmed to ideal temperatures before feeding. Live feeding involves feeding the pet snake living rodents. Ideally, the pythons have to hunt the live mice around their enclosure. It is advisable to feed your pet snake on frozen/thawed rodents. Rats tend to fight back when cornered, and they may injure your ball python.

How much does ball python food cost?

The cost of the ball python food will depend on several factors. Topping the list of these factors is the age of the ball python. Ideally, it will cost you more to feed a baby or juvenile python than the adult one. This is because the baby pythons eat more due to their growing body. However, compared to other popular home animals, snakes are less costly to feed. To get started on the food, budget for about $20 to $30 per month to feed your ball python.

How many mice should I feed my ball python?

As a general rule, you should feed only one mouse to the ball python. The mice should be as wide as the broadest part of the snake’s body. Two adult mice can be okay for some adult ball pythons.

Can I feed my ball python during the day?

In ideal cases, the best time to feed your ball python is after sunset. Ball pythons are nocturnal and crepuscular in their natural habitats. They, therefore, have a better feeding response at night. However, the pet snake you bring home could have an individualized feeding pattern, and you may have to do some trial and error.

Nothing should go a miss when it comes to feeding your ball python. Ideally, you should feed your pet snake whole rodents or mice for him to get a supply of essential minerals, vitamins, and nutrients that are critical for their health. Ensure you feed the ball python at the right time using suitable prey.  

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