What Do Ball Pythons Eat? A Guide For Optimal Health

Ball Pythons are known for being difficult when it comes to feeding, but that is an outdated term.

Historically, Ball Pythons were wild-caught, stressed, and unhealthy, and were fussy as they were being given feeding schedules they weren’t used to. No wonder they had no appetite.

Nowadays, most Ball Pythons kept as pets are captive-bred and know only the feeding schedules we as owners provide them.

In this article, I will discuss what Ball Pythons eat, and provide feeding schedules, tips, tricks, and more to better help your pet’s quality of life.

What Do Ball Pythons Eat In The Wild?

In the wild, Ball Pythons have a diet consisting of small mammals and birds. They’re not fussy when it comes to what sort of animal they’re eating so long they can fit it in their mouth.

The difference in diet typically comes from the gender of the Ball Python as males are more arboreal and will have a diet consisting of birds. Females don’t climb as often and stick to mice and rats.

How Do Ball Pythons Hunt?

Ball Pythons are ambush predators, meaning instead of going to hunt for their prey, they sit, wait, and hide until an opportunistic moment arises.

They use their eyes, and tongues to identify prey. Ball Pythons smell through their tongues using the vomeronasal organ (Jacobson’s organ). 

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They’ll rapidly flick their tongue up and down swirling the molecules and sticking them to the tips of their tongues to transport it towards the vomeronasal organ to smell the surrounding area.

Ball Python Feeding Schedule Chart

I’ve put together a chart below as a guide to help you identify the correct size needed to ensure your pet Ball Python thrives. 

Protip: A good rule of thumb, the size of the prey should be equal to or slightly larger than the widest part of your snake.

Snake SizeMeal SizeFeeding Schedule
Hatchling8g – 12gEvery 5 days
200g13g – 19gEvery 7 days
200 – 350g20g – 35gEvery 7 days
350g – 500g35g – 50gEvery 10 days
500g – 1500g50g – 150gEvery 14 – 21 days
1500g150gEvery 14 – 21 days

Step-By-Step How To Feed A Pet Ball Python

When it comes to feeding your pet Ball Python you’ll want to follow these 7 steps to ensure you’re providing them with the properly prepared meal.

  1. Wash hands thoroughly
  2. Remove the prey from the freezer the night before feeding day
  3. Place in Ziploc bag overnight
  4. Submerge in warm water to heat temperature to 98°F – 100°F 30 minutes before feeding
  5. Use tongs to offer the meal to your Ball Python safely
  6. Clean up any mess promptly after feeding to maintain hygiene in the habitat
  7. Don’t handle your Ball Python for 24-48 hours after feeding to prevent regurgitation

Important: If your Ball Python regurgitates their meal, they’re unable to eat for 14 days to allow the damage from the stomach acid to recover.

Always feed your Ball Python frozen thawed prey and not live prey. 

This is to protect your Ball Python from injuries such as scratches and bites and also to protect the prey from any unnecessary stress.

In my experience I find this to be the most humane and efficient way of feeding Ball Pythons.

Why Is My Ball Python Not Eating?

Sometimes Ball Pythons will go on hunger strikes or fasts, and there are numerous reasons for this. Some are concerns and some are a natural part of a Ball Pythons life.

I have listed the 4 most common reasons why your Ball Python may refuse to eat.

4 Reasons Your Ball Python May Refuse Food

#1 They’re Unwell

Like most animals, when unwell we don’t really have an appetite, snakes are no different. If your Ball Python is suffering from parasites, respiratory infections, or impaction they’ll lose their appetite for extended periods of time.

Signs of a sick Ball Python are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Discharge from eyes/nose/ears/mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble shedding
  • Lethargic
  • Scabby/dry scales

If you suspect your Ball Python is sick, seek expert veterinary advice immediately.

#2 Incorrect Enclosure Setup

If you’re not providing the correct environment for your Ball Python, they’ll stop eating.

Ball PYthons are ectothermic so need specific external heat temperatures to be able to properly digest their food and function.

If the temperatures are too cold, they’ll likely go into an unplanned brumation which is the reptile equivalent of hibernation.

#3 They’re Fussy Eaters

Depending on the type of Ball Python you have, it could enjoy a wider variety in their diet. 

Wild caught Ball Pythons are prone to this as they eat different things when they get the opportunity. Whereas captive-bred Ball Pythons don’t know any difference and will usually eat what is provided to them.

#4 Fasted Seasons

Sometimes, Ball Pythons will fast during the winter months or during their mating seasons and this is completely normal and nothing to be concerned about.

Male and wild-caught Ball Pythons are more likely to fast in this way compared to females.

How To Encourage Your Ball Python To Eat

There are a few things to try when your Ball Python isn’t eating to encourage them to do so. 

Try Different Prey

If your Ball Python is a fussy eater, you may have to switch out the food you’re providing. For example, if your pet snake isn’t a fan of the mice you’re feeding, attempt a rat or a gerbil.

Remember, Ball Pythons do eat small birds, so if the rodents aren’t enticing enough you can attempt frozen thawed chicks or ducklings instead.

Change Your Feeding Method

Sometimes your Ball Python can be intimidated by the way you’re feeding them, if you’re using tongs the movement and size of them could cause your snake to be startled and not want to eat.

You can simply place the prey in the enclosure instead of feeding with tongs to allow your snake the freedom to approach it when it feels comfortable.

On the opposite spectrum of that, and you normally place it in the enclosure, you may want to switch to tongs and animate the prey to make your Ball Python feel more like it’s hunting.

It comes down to trial and error when it comes to feeding Ball Pythons as they all have their individual quirks and preferences.

Contact Your Vet

In any case, if your pet Ball Python has stopped eating, you need to contact your vet. They can rule out any serious health implications the snake may be having.

In seriously malnourished snakes your vet can tube feed them to start the healing and recovery process from the illness they could be suffering from.

Ball Pythons FAQ

Do Ball Pythons Need To Drink Water?

Yes is the short answer. Ball Pythons need to drink water to survive, they can go without water for up to 12 days, however, this is not recommended. Fatalities that occur in Ball Pythons are around 30 days of dehydration.

I recommend providing your Ball Python with a fresh water bowl every 2-3 days for optimum hydration.

How Often Do Ball Pythons Eat?

The feeding schedule I have provided above demonstrates the regular feeding of captive-bred Ball Pythons.

Wild-caught Ball Pythons, being ambush and opportunistic hunters don’t have a set schedule. They’ll eat whenever the opportunity is there for them to do so. On average, wild-caught Ball Pythons will eat once every week or two.

What Do Baby Ball Pythons Eat?

A baby Ball Python’s diet doesn’t change much from adults. They just require smaller portions, I recommend feeding your baby Ball Python hopper mice. It won’t take long for them to grow and start on their adult diet. 

Follow the feeding schedule chart above for guidance on meal quantity.

How Long Can A Ball Python Survive Without Eating?

Adult Ball Pythons are capable of surviving without food for up to 6 months, however, this is detrimental to their health if they’re not brumating.

Before you begin to be concerned with your Ball Python’s reluctance to eat, do all of your enclosure checks and contact your vet for expert advice on the situation.

How To Tell If My Ball Python Is Underweight?

A healthy-sized Ball Python will have well well-developed and defined backbone, accompanied by a musculature structure on either side of its body.

When Ball Pythons are malnourished their skin will look sunken and gaunt, causing the skin to be saggy and loose.

Other symptoms of underweight Ball Pythons are:

  • Visible skeletal structure
  • Sunken eyes
  • Lethargic

What Other Foods Can I Feed My Ball Python?

Any appropriately frozen thawed small mammals, birds, and rodents are perfectly acceptable to feed Ball Pythons. It all boils down to their personal preference.

Summary

So long as you follow the guidance provided in this article, your Ball Python will thrive in their home for many years to come.

Remember, there are many ways to persuade a fussy Ball Python to eat their meals, it just sometimes takes time and patience to achieve the desired results.