Ball pythons are one of the most popular starter reptile pets. However, that means there can be quite a big learning curve when it comes to feeding them since for many owners this is their first time feeding a snake. If you find yourself in this position, this handy guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to feed a ball python.
What To Feed a Ball Python
Unlike other exotic reptile pets like lizards or turtles where there is a wide variety of food options, snakes keep things pretty simple. The vast majority of snakes are carnivores whose diets primarily consist of rodents. However, snake owners will still need to make several important decisions such as:
- Whether to use mice, rats, or perhaps even larger prey
- What size mice or rats to use
- How many to feed their snake
- Whether to use live prey or frozen rodents
Fortunately, the correct answer to most of those can easily be determined by one small factor: the size of your ball python. Figuring out what and how much to feed your snake is always going to be relative to its size. The rule of thumb is that a snake’s prey should never be larger than the snake’s widest point (its middle). Following this guiding principle, you can quickly determine whether you need smaller rodents (mice), mid-sized rodents (rats), or extra-large rodents (like guinea pigs).
Choosing Rodent Sizes
Knowing the proper size and quantity of food to give is an important part of how to feed a ball python. Whether you plan on using live or frozen rodents (more on that later), you’ll need to know specifically what size rodents you want. There are pinkies, fuzzies, hoppers, and then the full-grown varieties—categories that apply to both mice and rats. These terms refer to the age of the rodent, from newborn to mature adult.
Smaller-sized rats are similar in weight and size to larger mice. This allows for some flexibility when making your selection. Ultimately, choosing the type of rodent will depend on your snake’s feeding preferences. Experience and see which rodent species your pet ball python is more responsive to.
Live Rodents vs. Frozen Rodents
There’s a lot of back and forth regarding live prey or frozen, pre-killed prey. While there are snake owners that are über passionate about one or the other, both sides agree that frozen mice and rats are the safest way to feed a pet snake. Even a tiny mouse can do considerable damage to a full-grown snake. Sharp claws and teeth can lead to scratches and bites that can quickly become infected and life-threatening.
Additionally, frozen rodents are much easier to store and more economical to purchase. They can be kept in the freezer for months at a time. It can also be useful for those who are squeamish at the thought of killing an animal (or watching it be eaten). As such, the convenience of using already dead rodents is another perk that shouldn’t be overlooked for first-time snake owners.
How To Feed a Ball Python
Ball pythons are sweet and agreeable pets but they can be somewhat finicky in the eating department. The act of actually getting them to eat can sometimes be a task within itself. Fortunately, there are a few tips that can make feeding time much easier.
If you’re using live prey, it’s imperative to supervise your snake during feeding. The claws and teeth of a rodent can quickly be dangerous. You may need to extract the rodent if things go south.
Frozen prey is a lot less nerve-wracking, but requires more preparation. Thaw the rodent the night before, allowing for at least 12 hours for it to defrost in the fridge. Once it’s defrosted, bring it up to temperature by putting it in a warm—not hot—water bath. This better mimics the body temperature of a live animal and will help to make the frozen rodent more appetizing. If you’re still having trouble enticing your ball to eat, try dipping it in warm chicken broth.
Regardless, never use your bare hands to feed a ball python. The warmth of your fingers coupled with the smell of an animal could lead to the unfortunate association that your hand=food.
When (and How Often) To Feed a Ball Python
As for the precise time or day to feed a ball python, do so when they are most active. This species of snake is either nocturnal (active at night) or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). Feeding them during their natural cycle is the best way to catch them at a time when they would normally feel hunger.
If you’re wondering how often to feed a ball python, that will depend on their age. Full-grown ball pythons eat infrequently, only needing to do so every 7-10 days. Juveniles will need to eat more frequently, about twice a week.
What To Expect After It’s Eaten
Eating and digesting food takes a lot of energy. Your ball python will likely retreat to hide somewhere for the next 24 hours. During this period, avoid handling or otherwise disturbing them. Picking them up could cause indigestion, which could result in them regurgitating the food and choking.
Help, My Ball Python Isn’t Eating!
Don’t panic just yet if your ball python has seemingly lost all interest in eating. There are several perfectly normal reasons why they might be skipping a meal.
One is that your snake is preparing to shed its skin. This is a highly energy-consuming process that leaves them with little appetite. Ball pythons shed every 4-6 weeks and keeping track of this can help avoid wasted food.
Another reason is the color of the rodent itself. White mice and rats may be the most abundant in pet stores, but it isn’t the color that’s normally found in the wild. If your ball seems uninterested in its food, whether it’s live or pre-killed, try switching to different colored prey.