Feeding Your Pet Ball Pythons
Ball pythons make great pet snakes for both beginner snake enthusiasts and more experienced owners who enjoy the varying color morphs. But a common concern among ball python owners everywhere is getting their pet snake to eat regularly.
What Do Ball Pythons Eat?
Ball pythons, like other snakes, eat varying sizes of prey depending on how big they are. Smaller and younger snakes may eat large crickets, but should ideally be eating pinkies and fuzzies until they grow larger. Adult ball pythons will eat adult mice and rats when they get big enough. Some ball python enthusiasts feel strongly that you should only feed various life stages of rats throughout your ball python's life and never offer any insects or mice.
How Do I Know What Size Prey My Ball Python Should Be Eating?
Typically a snake will easily consume prey that is as wide as the widest part of your snake. Therefore, if the middle of his body is one inch wide, he should be able to consume a large mouse that is one inch wide without any trouble. With that being said, some snakes prefer smaller prey, and you may need to experiment with prey size to see which it prefers. Feeding prey that is too large will result in regurgitation or even the prey getting stuck in his mouth or esophagus. When in doubt, feed the smaller prey option rather than the larger one.
How Often Should I Feed My Ball Python?
Your snake may be the best one to answer this question for you but typically an adult snake (over one year of age) will eat once every 10 to 14 days. Younger snakes should eat more often since they are still growing. They should eat at least once a week, or even once every 5 to 6 days while growing. If your snake doesn't want to eat weekly, it is okay to wait longer to feed him again the next time. Also, if your snake seems to be overweight (the tail should slowly taper to a point, not have an abrupt change in width from the vent to the tip), you should wait longer in between feedings as to prevent obesity issues.
What Are Some Reasons Why My Ball Python Wouldn't Want to Eat?
Aside from major medical conditions, snakes can refuse to eat for a multitude of reasons. Being too cold is a common problem for many pet ball pythons, especially in the winter months, but is easily corrected by providing a heat light.
Intestinal parasites can cause your snake not to feel well or not gain weight. An annual fecal examination is recommended to screen your snake for a heavy burden of pinworms, coccidia, or other intestinal parasites that may need to be treated with dewormers.
If your ball python is about to shed, then it won't be eating until it is all done getting rid of the old skin. Signs your snake is about to shed include an ashy appearance to their skin and milky eyes.
Stress is an often overlooked reason why snakes won't eat. New enclosures, other snakes in the enclosure, or too much handling can cause your ball python to get stressed out and not want to eat.
Differences in prey will also cause a picky snake to stop eating. The smell, the size, whether the prey is alive, freshly killed, or frozen and then thawed, the kind of prey and even the color of the prey can all determine whether or not your snake is going to take in his meal.
My Ball Python Hasn't Eaten for Awhile. What Can I Do to Get Him to Eat?
If you've already explored the reasons for why your ball python isn't eating (and make any possible changes including the kind of prey offered or increased the temperature in the enclosure), there are some things you can do to get your snake to eat. But make sure you are feeding your snake in a feeding container (separate from his regular enclosure) and are covering that container with a towel to prevent your snake from being distracted while he should be eating.
First, if you recently acquired your ball python and he hasn't eaten for you yet make sure you are feeding the same kind of prey item as the previous owner, pet store, or breeder where you got your snake from. Subtle changes in the prey can deter a snake from wanting to eat it.
Second, if the prey is pre-killed, make sure it is warm. You could achieve this by placing the prey in some hot water for a minute or two if it was not freshly killed.
If your ball still doesn't eat, try cutting the pre-killed prey open to expose the blood and entice your snake with the scent. Using long tongs, hemostats, or feeding forceps to dangle and wiggle the food in front of your snake can also be helpful, especially if your ball prefers eating live prey. Soaking the pre-killed prey in some warmed low or no sodium chicken broth can help add an attractive scent to the food as well.
If you've tried all of the above tricks and your ball python still won't eat, get him checked out by an exotics vet. Your vet may recommend force feeding depending on how old the snake is, what his body condition score is, and how long it has gone without eating. Force feeding is simple, but you must be careful to avoid injuring your snake's fangs.
Adrienne Kruzer, RVT
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