The first step in owning a Ball Pythons is to make sure the tank (or whatever enclosure you have it living in) is set up correctly. When a Ball Python is kept in a tank that isn’t set up in a way that is beneficial to the snake it can become stressed, which can cause an array of issues. One of these issues can be that the snake refuses to eat. If using a tank, check out this blog post on how to set it up properly.
Once you’re sure that your snake is happy in its enclosure and its had at least 7 days to become accustomed to its new or improved home, the next step is to feed!
In order to select the proper size feeder, you need to know what your snake weighs. Kitchen scales work great. The feeder needs to be about 10% to 15% of your snakes body weight. Lets check out the numbers below to see what size feeder you’ll be needing.
BALL PYTHON FEEDER SIZE SCHEDULE
Ball Python – Juvenile up to 200 grams
Rat Fuzzy/Small Mouse weighing 10-18 grams
1 every 7 days
Ball Python – 200 to 350 grams
Rat Pup/Adult Mouse weighing 18-30 grams
1 every 7 days
Ball Python – 350 to 500 grams
Weaned Rat/Jumbo Mouse weighing 30-50 grams
1 every 7 days
Ball Python – 500 to 1000 grams and over
Small Rat weighing 50-85 grams
1 every 7 days
DO NOT REMOVE THE SNAKE FROM ITS ENCLOSURE TO FEED!
There is a ridiculous myth going around (it just won’t go away!) that if you feed your snake in its enclosure it will become cage aggressive, will be more likely to bite you, or will mistake your hand for food. This is completely false! Do NOT move to feed! The BEST thing for the snake is to feed in its enclosure. This is where the snake feels secure. Ball Pythons in the wild prefer to stay in their hiding places, and when food passes by they will grab it. If hungry, yes they will go searching for food, but they are not constantly on the move. They find comfort in their hiding place and stay there as long as they can, only leaving their hide if it becomes soiled or they need to seek out a cooler or warmer location. Do not take the hides out when feeding either. Leave the tank as is.
Feeding inside the enclosure will not make the snake think you are food and it won’t cause him to become cage aggressive. A snake will strike at you if it feels threatened, feels unsafe in its enclosure, or your hands literally smell like food! Wash your hands if you’ve been handling rodents before you attempt to handle your snake. Sometimes, a snake will strike if it’s sick or injured. Unfortunately, some snakes strike because it’s just who they are. They all have their own little personalities. Get to know your snake so that you will be able to tell what they will and will not tolerate.
Substate, if you choose one that is safe for your snake, is not an issue if swallowed. Snakes can digest bone and teeth. They naturally, on occasion, accidentally ingest dirt and debris in the wild. They are perfectly capable of safely digesting a little bit of substrate if some happens to get into their mouths when feeding. They are actually very careful eaters and do a pretty darn good job of not picking up substrate when eating. Types of safe substrate are Reptichip (NOT Reptibark), Cypress Mulch and Aspen.
Some Ball owners like to place a paper plate inside the enclosure and drop the frozen/thawed feeder onto it to try and keep a barrier in between the food and the substrate. If eating substrate is a huge concern of yours, you can try this method. The snake will either tolerate it or not.
If your snake is injured or sick and is undergoing treatment, sometimes the substrate needs to be removed from their enclosure. Its best to follow the advice of your herp vet when it comes to feeding a sick snake. One option is to remove the substrate from its enclosure and use paper towels instead. This will keep the snake in its comfort zone but allow a cleaner environment while nursing your snake back to health.
Do not handle or move your snake, or clean its enclosure for 24 hours before it eats.
Do not handle or move your snake, or clean its enclosure for 48 hours after it eats.
Handling and introducing too much activity to your snake prior, during, or after a feeding can cause stress. This can turn a healthy, content snake into a “cranky” one. It can even cause them to regurgitate their food (a survival instinct that kicks in when they feel threatened).
Its best to feed at night since this is when Ball Pythons are awake, alert, and ready to eat.
Keep quiet. Try not to be right up in the Ball Python’s personal space. Its very fascinating to watch them feed. If you want to watch, go ahead. But be quiet and calm. Only interfere if absolutely necessary.
If feeding live, quickly place the mouse or rat into the enclosure on the opposite end of the tank that the snake is hiding. If your BP is not in a hide and is actively moving around the tank, and you feel you cannot safely place the live feeder into the tank without being struck, you can wear a glove or use tongs. Keep watch. Do not leave your snake unattended with a live feeder! Mice and rats, if left alive in an enclosure with a snake, are capable of biting and nibbling on the snake. It can be absolutely detrimental to the snake. Please do not leave your beautiful Ball Python alone and unattended with a live rodent for any length of time. Ever.
If the rodent bites the snake once the snake grabs hold of it, take the back end of a pen or pencil and gently stick it in between the rodent’s teeth to pry it off your snake. Do not separate your snake from the feeder. Let your snake eat. Get a good look of the injury as best as you can without picking the snake up. If its a serious bite (major tissue damage, bleeding) you need to call your vet. If its a superficial bite, leave the snake be. Give it a good check after 48 hours when you’re able to handle your snake again. Keep the area clean and check it daily until it heals. Any marks from the bite should clear up with the next shed or two.
If the snake seems uninterested and the feeder starts to bother the snake, or tries to get inside the hide with the snake, just remove the feeder and try to feed again in a about 5 to 7 days.
First things first, make sure you thaw correctly! Inappropriate thawing can create a plethora of bacteria growth in your feeder, resulting in a sick snake. Not good!
Place feeder in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Then, with a blow dryer or placed under a heat light/CHE bulb, heat the feeder to about 100 degrees. You can also put your feeder in an air tight zip bag and place in very warm water for 10 to 15 minutes. Use your temp gun to check for the correct temperature on the feeder. It is perfectly safe to feed a rat or mouse at refrigerated temperate as long as your temperatures inside the enclosure are correct. Snakes need heat to digest their food. Heating the feeder ensures your snake takes interest in the food, since it is the body heat and motion that attract snakes to their prey.
If feeding frozen/thawed, using your tongs, wiggle the feeder around a bit inside the enclosure just in front of your snakes hide to get the snakes attention. Once the snake moves towards the feeder drop it and give it some space. If your snake seems uninterested, leave the feeder in its tank over night. Close up the top securely and place the CHE back into its spot. Check back in the morning. If it still has not eaten its meal, remove the feeder and throw it away. Never refreeze a feeder. Try again in 5 to 7 days.
REFUSING TO EAT
Sometimes the snake refuses to eat when its about to shed. This is nothing to be concerned about and its quite normal for some Ball Pythons. If the snake is showing signs of an up and coming shed (cloudy eyes, pink belly) you can offer a feeder after the shed is complete. If the snake does not shed within 7 days, offer the feeder again. Try every 5 to 7 days until it accepts the feeder.
Unfortunately there can be other undetectable reasons a snake refuses to eat. Keep a close eye on your snake. Look for signs of a respiratory infection, mites or even possible injuries that you may have missed. If your Ball behaves unusually take it to the vet to rule out any sort of illness.
WHERE TO BUY FEEDERS
Live – LLL Reptile (locations in Escondido, San Diego, Vista and Oceanside)