Welcome to another article on the topic “how to care for ball pythons”. In this article, I want to address the very important aspect of feeding your ball python and common issues you are probably going to encounter. Ball pythons can be tricky feeders if you are new to keeping snakes but there are many tricks that will make it a lot easier. I also want to get into feeding baby ball pythons that are somewhat stubborn or unwilling to eat on their own.
What should I feed my pet ball python with and how often should I feed it?
In the wild, ball pythons prey primarily on rats, mice, rabbits and other small local rodents. This means that in captivity, they will usually readily accept either frozen-thawed or live mice and rats as they grow. Frozen-thawed mice or rats can be purchased at your local pet shop while live prey may be harder to get. Pythons are opportunistic feeders which means that they will eat almost every time they get the chance. In the wild however, they usually only catch one animal every one or two weeks, which should also be the feeding interval in captivity. In the wild, pythons can go many weeks without food, so don’t stress out if you miss a day or two. Keep in mind that feeding live prey may be prohibited in you state or country, so please do your research first.
Should I feed live or frozen-thawed prey?
This is entirely up to you; there are advantages and disadvantages to both techniques. Feeding only frozen-thawed prey is certainly cheaper in the long run but it has a higher risk of not getting your baby python to eat since they often do only accept live prey. Most pythons will readily accept dead prey from the beginning on, but some baby ball pythons can be very stubborn and accept only live prey. It is certainly possible to get every animal to eat frozen-thawed prey, but it could take a while and a lot of effort. However, in most cases it is absolutely worth the effort. In the long run, you will not have to deal with keeping live prey around will save a lot of money. Additionally, you will not have the in my opinion disgusting smell of keeping live rodents in your snake room. They require much more care than your python and need to be fed and cleaned every day. In my experience, they also tend to completely mess up their cages all the time. I personally love all animals and don’t want to witness any suffering every time I feed my snakes. However, if you feel that this is the more natural way of feeding you pet, go for it.
How should I present the prey to my snake?
I certainly recommend using some kind of grabbing tool such as snake tongs or tweezers to feed your pet. It will put your hand in a safe distance from the python’s strike in case it misses its target.
If you are feeding live prey, I also recommend presenting the prey animal head first to your snake. This way, the prey is killed much faster and your snake will not be in any danger from the resisting prey bites or scratches. You should never just let a live prey animal loose inside the snakes’ cage. It will mess up the entire setup and poop all over the place. Rodent and their sharp teeth can also present a danger to your snakes’ skin and should the snake miss its prey, it is really hard to catch a stressed out rodent.
As for pre-killed prey, I also suggest using tongs for security. Present the rodent as you like but keep in mind that snakes swallow prey only head first. My preferred method is also head first since the snake can then just swallow it directly without having to try multiple times until it finds the head of the animal.
My snake ate some substrate with its prey… should i be worried?
No, absolutely not! Remember that snakes are wild animals and in nature, they are not going to encounter a sterile mouse or hunt in a clean feeding tub. If snakes were harmed by every bit of dirt getting into their mouth, they’d have a hard time surviving out in the wild. So don’t worry, it is completely fine if your snake eats a little substrate. It will most likely spit it out after swallowing the mouse or its stomach acid will dissolve the bit of dirt easily.
How should I prepare the prey and snake before feeding?
Here I suggest you first think about where you want to feed your animal. You can either feed directly inside the cage or in a separate feeding tub. I prefer feeding directly in the cage to avoid stressing out the animal while relocating it. If you have two individuals I recommend feeding them on different days. Remove the one that is not to be fed and place it back inside after feeding. If you do not want to feed on separate days, remove the calmer individual and feed it inside a separate feeding tub. Ideally, you should be able to close the separate feeding tub while the animal is eating. This way you do not have to watch it and it will not stress out or potentially avoid the prey. Of course, if you cage is for some reason not an option, using a separate feeding tub should not provide any problems in most cases.
As for the prey, if you feed live, place the rodent in a smaller cage nearby to make catching it easier before you present it to your python. Avoid letting the rodent run loose inside the snakes cage (see above why). If you feed frozen-thawed prey, I recommend you thaw it out in lukewarm water of under a heat lamp. Right before you present the prey, heat it up under really hot water to simulate body temperature of the rodent. Since pythons have heat pits to detect infrared radiation, it must be tricked into thinking that the rodent is alive. Some animal accepts dead prey without constricting it naturally, but most want to hunt and therefore must be tricked.
What should I do if my baby ball python refuses to eat?
Although most individuals will readily accept both frozen-thawed or live food, occasionally you come across a particularly stubborn baby that refuses to eat at all. Note that if your animal has eaten regularly before but has stopped for a while, that is perfectly normal. Most individuals will go off food for a prolonged period when during shed. Just wait out until your animal has shed and try again. Most males take a break of feeding of about 4-6 months when they reach sexual maturity or sometimes just for a prolonged period during winter. Females will go off food during pregnancy and for some time after laying eggs, so don’t worry too much if your python has not eaten in a while.
But let’s say you have a particularly stubborn baby ball python that refuses to eat at all. One simple trick is to leave the animal in a smaller container with a frozen-thawed mouse. Sometimes the baby is just to stressed out in the presence of a human, so give it some time. Never leave it with a live mouse though, your baby could get seriously injured. If you have live mice or rodents in your household rubbing the prey animal in the substrate of the rodents may help to intensify the scent and trigger a feeding response.
My snake still won’t eat…
If none of these tricks works and your python has not eaten in some weeks, you should consider feeding life. Some individuals just do not accept dead prey and the health of your pet should be your primary concern. If even that does not work, you must switch to techniques like assist feeding. Force feeding is only necessary in venomous snakes since repeatedly trying to assist feed is dangerous. For all constrictors, you should never force feed but take your time and repeatedly try assisted feeding. Here is a brief overview of the process:
First, gently grab the snake behind the head and take the mouse I the other hand. Do not lift your snake too far off the ground to avoid putting too much pressure on its neck. Push the mouse gently onto the snoot of the snake until it opens its mouth. Now push the mouse gently a little down the throat of the snake using either your fingers or some blunt and not pointy tweezers. Close the snakes mouth and pull the mouth slightly back to hook the fangs inside. Now gently set down your snake and give it some distance. Try not to move too much to avoid stressing it out. Ideally, you snake should not be able to spit the mouse out again and start swallowing it after some time. If it manages to spit the mouse out again, just try again.
Remember that this is just a brief overview, please contact an experienced keeper or vet in your area a learn the skill of assist feeding first hand before you possibly injure your animal.
What kind of equipment should I use?
I highly recommend using snake stainless steel tweezers as equipment for feeding to keep your hand at a safe distance and avoid grabbing the mouse with your hand. This way, your snake will not confuse the hand with the prey and your scent will not be on the prey animal. This equipment can be purchased at a cheap price on amazon.com or on amazon.de– just click on the image to get one and always safely feed your snake!
If you are interested in my sources, click HERE!