Because ball pythons have a reputation for being difficult to feed, many new keepers are anxious to begin feeding trials.
But don’t worry, I have good news:
The ball python’s reputation for being a poor feeder was certainly well-deserved a few decades ago. But, this isn’t an especially common problem anymore.
In the “old days,” most ball pythons for sale were wild-caught, stressed, and unhealthy. Understandably, they would often refuse food. Sometimes these fasts would last for months at a time.
I’ve struggled with dozens of food-averse ball pythons over the years, and I assure you the battle was incredibly frustrating. Enduring months of failed feeding attempts will take most of the fun out of snake keeping.
On the other hand, the vast majority of ball pythons sold today hatched in captivity. These snakes usually eat readily – many even become quite voracious.
But, before you start trying to feed your new pet, you’ll want to learn a bit about the kind of food your ball python needs and the best way to offer it.
We’ll discuss these things below, and we’ll even provide a few tips for tempting reluctant feeders.
> Further Reading: The Complete Ball Python Care Sheet
What Do Ball Pythons Eat in the Wild?
Wild ball pythons primarily subsist on rodents and birds in the wild. The exact species consumed appear to vary based on location and the abundant prey species in the area. The snake’s size and gender also influence the prey they eat. For example, males – who often climb more than females — appear to feed more heavily on birds in some places.
Ball Python Feeding Chart
Below, we’ve put together a handy chart for figuring out the right size food item for your ball python and the appropriate feeding schedule.
Again, it is always important to tailor the prey size offered and the feeding schedule implemented to your individual snake’s needs, but the information below should serve as a good starting point. Also note that some snakes will grow faster or slower than average – always choose food items based on your snake’s size, rather than his age.
|Snake Age||Snake Size||Prey Type||Feeding Schedule|
|Less than 4 months old||70 to 200 grams||Mouse Hopper||Every 5 to 7 Days|
|4 to 12 months old||200 grams to 700 grams||Small Adult Mouse or Rat Fuzzy||Every 5 to 7 Days|
|1 to 2 years old||700 grams to 1,000 grams||Large Adult Mouse or Rat Hopper||Every 7 Days|
|2 to 4 years old||1,000 grams to 2,000 grams||Small Rat||Every 7 to 10 Days|
|More than 4 years old||More than 2,000 grams||Small or Medium Rat||Every 7 to 14 Days|
How Do You Feed a Pet Ball Python?
Although it can occasionally be difficult to entice a ball python to feed, the vast majority of captive-hatched individuals are eager eaters. Essentially, you’ll need to do the following:
1. Ensure that your snake is healthy and that his habitat is set up ideally.
Snakes – especially ball pythons – will often refuse food if they are not healthy and provided with an appropriate habitat. Most keepers who experience feeding difficulties will find one of these two factors to be the root of the problem.
Ideally, you’ll have taken your snake in for a veterinary examination shortly after purchasing him to ensure he is healthy. And, you can make sure you have the enclosure set up correctly by checking out our Ball Python Habitat Guide.
2. Obtain a frozen rodent of the appropriate size.
The best things to feed your ball python are frozen-thawed rodents (the rodents will be sold to you in frozen form, but you’ll want to let them warm up to room temperature before offering them to your snake). Feeding your pet frozen-thawed rodents eliminates the possibility that the rodent will injure your snake. It also ensures that the rodent won’t suffer.
Big adult mice or very small rats are usually the proper size for adults, but hatchlings will require smaller rodents. You can obtain frozen rodents at most pet stores that sell snakes. Or, you can purchase them online, directly from a rodent breeder.
3. Gently open the enclosure and present the rodent to your snake via a pair of long tongs or forceps.
It is important to avoid startling or stressing your snake before or during the feeding process. Do not handle him for at least a few hours before offering food and try to eliminate any unnecessary distractions. Kick excitable kids or pets out of the room and consider dimming the room lights a bit.
After opening the habitat, use the forceps to grab the rodent’s neck scruff – not the tail. Slowly move it in front of your snake and wait a moment to see if he strikes it. If he does not appear interested, you may need to “animate” the prey item, to make it appear alive.
4. Release the rodent once your snake strikes and constricts it.
With luck, your ball python will strike and constrict the prey item without hesitation. Once he does so, you’ll want to release your grip on the rodent and slowly back away from the habitat. If you want to walk away, you’ll need to close the enclosure very carefully to avoid spooking the snake. If you want to watch your snake eat, just leave the enclosure open until he swallows the food item.
5. Wash your hands, clean up any mess and leave your snake alone.
Always practice good hygiene when feeding your snake. Wash your hands afterward (I always wear latex gloves during feeding just to make things easier), as well as the forceps.
Also, it is important to note that rodents will occasionally leak blood, urine or feces during the feeding process. You’ll want to clean up any such messes promptly, but try to avoid bothering your snake in the process. Handling your snake after a meal can lead to regurgitation, so leave your snake to rest quietly for at least 24 to 48 hours after each meal.
> Further Reading: The Ball Python Behavior & Health
Ball Python Feeding FAQ
Below, we’ll try to address some of the common questions ball python keepers often have.
How often do ball pythons eat?
Wild ball pythons don’t have a set feeding schedule – they can only eat when they either find prey or a prey animal walks by them. However, they probably eat about once every week or two in the wild.
Different keepers employ different feeding regimens for their captive. Most feed their pet once every week, but others feed their snake twice per week, and still, others feed their snakes once every third week. Just be sure to monitor your snake’s weight to ensure you are providing an appropriate amount of food.
How long can a ball python go without eating?
Ball pythons are famous for engaging in fasts that last for several months at a time. This probably stems from the tendency for wild ball pythons to fast during the dry season, when food becomes scarce. Additionally, males of many snake species often cease feeding during the breeding season.
Do not panic if your snake begins to refuse food. As long as he is healthy, he should be able to go several months without eating before suffering any harm. Many captives have refused food for more than a year before finally starting to eat again.
What do ball pythons eat besides mice?
Ball pythons in the wild eat a wide variety of rodents aside from mice, and they also eat small birds. In captivity, you can try to feed them any appropriately sized, commercially bred rodent. This includes domestic mice or rats, multimammate mice, gerbils, and hamsters. You can also feed them very small chicks or ducklings.
What do baby ball pythons eat?
Young ball pythons may consume the occasional lizard in the wild, but most eat rodents. They do, however, require smaller rodents than adult ball pythons do. “Hopper” mice are usually ideal for hatchlings, and it doesn’t take very long for hatchling ball pythons to grow large enough to handle small adult mice.
Why Is My Ball Python Not Eating?
While most captive-hatched ball pythons eat readily, they probably present more feeding problems than any other commonly kept snake species.
A few of the most common reasons ball pythons refuse food include:
Many illnesses will cause a snake to refuse food. Respiratory infections or parasite infestations are two of the most common problems that’ll suppress your snake’s appetite, but anything from dehydration to viral infections can lead to anorexia.
Given these possibilities, it is always important to evaluate your snake’s health when he shows no interest in food. Inexperienced keepers are wise to seek veterinary assistance, as they’re unlikely to notice some of the subtle symptoms snakes can exhibit.
Once you’ve verified that your pet is in good health, you’ll want to turn your attention to his habitat. If you fail to provide your snake with a comfortable environment, you’re almost guaranteed to experience feeding problems.
So, you’ll want to verify that the enclosure provides an appropriate amount of space and at least one good hiding spot. It’s also important to provide your snake with the proper temperatures, light levels, and humidity; many ball pythons refuse food because their habitat is too cool, dry or bright for their liking.
> Further Reading: The Ball Python Habitat
If your snake is healthy and his habitat is well-designed, he may simply be fasting. As explained earlier, ball pythons often fast during the dry season, and some individuals also stop eating during the breeding season. Fasting is probably most common among males and wild-caught individuals.
Seasonal fasting is rarely cause for concern, so you’ll just want to be patient and offer food periodically until your snake resumes feeding.
Some ball pythons – particularly wild-caught individuals – exhibit a preference for a given type of prey. Unfortunately, this can cause some specimens will refuse both domestic mice and domestic rats.
You can try to address this problem in a few different ways:
- Offer your snake a domestic mouse or domestic rat of a different color. White rodents are very rare in the wild, so try to find dark or multi-colored rodents. Some commercial rodent breeders specifically offer rodents of different colors.
- Offer your snake another type of rodent, such as a gerbil, hamster or multimammate mouse. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to find these species in frozen form. You don’t want to offer a live rodent to your pet unless absolutely necessary, so ask your vet to show you how to humanely euthanize live feeders.
- Offer your snake a frozen-thawed bird, such as a chick or duckling. Some keepers have also had success using pet species, such as finches. Just make sure that you discuss humane euthanasia with your vet if you must use a live bird.
- Use scent-transfer techniques to trick your snake. Snakes rely far more on their sense of smell than their vision, so you can often fool them by making a domestic mouse or rat smell like some other species. Experiment with the smells of other rodents or birds until you find one that works. You can transfer scents via direct contact, or by rolling the feeder mouse around in the bedding used by another animal.
You may have to alter your presentation to tempt some ball pythons to eat. Shy ball pythons, for example, may become intimidated if you move the feeder rodent too aggressively. On the other hand, some ball pythons seem to respond best when they’re gently “teased” with the rodent. You can do this by lightly bumping the snake’s face or neck with the rodent.
In other cases, you may need to animate the rodent in a very realistic fashion. Make it wiggle around a bit, dart from one place in the enclosure to the next, and generally act like a live rodent.
How Do Ball Python Drink Water?
Ball pythons drink water is much the same way that most other snakes do. They’ll usually lower the tip of their mouth to the water dish and then draw water into their mouths by moving their lower jaw. Some snakes actually put most of their face in the water while doing so, but this is no cause for concern.
Additionally, ball pythons may drink water droplets from their bodies or the environment. However, they aren’t as likely to do this as some other snakes, such as many tree-dwelling snakes, are.
Many ball pythons hail from relatively dry regions, so they don’t have the water requirements that many rainforest-dwelling snakes do. Many may only drink once or twice per week. However, it is important to ensure your ball python has access to clean, fresh water at all times.
Hopefully, we’ve helped you understand the basic procedure for feeding a ball python, and you feel confident enough to start offering your pet food. Just remember to start by ensuring your snake is healthy and enjoying an ideal habitat, and you’ll likely find that your snake eats readily. And we’ve also explained a few ways that’ll usually tempt finicky individuals.
Tell us all about your ball-python feeding experiences in the comments below, and be sure to share this article with your friends if you’ve found it helpful.