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Why won't ball python eat?

Updated: 10/9/2023
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10y ago

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I agree with the answer that said it helps in the taming process. We have 5 balls right now & a couple were fed live when we got them, they would savagely strike & coil tightly for several minutes as is usual with a constrictor but as we switched them to FT like our others, they now quietly take the mice/rats out of our hands, very slowly & there's no "hunter" attitude at all. YouTube the video of "the world's most relaxed snake" and you'll see how a snake acts that has been fed FT it's whole life :)

Note from original responder: A snake's attitude toward its prey doesn't really reflect its attitude toward a human being. I have had many animals that always violently struck and constricted F/T prey. A few that would swallow FT prey that they picked up off the cage floor, without constricting it. Snakes do not see humans as prey. Any aggression toward a human is the result of fear or a dislike for being touched, and not due to hunger. If a snake strikes at a human due to hunger, it is a case of mistaken identity (and the keeper probably forgot to wash their hands after handling the snake's food). Regular gentle handling can condition a snake to accept human contact, and will reduce the animal's stress and fear. Most ball pythons are very laid back, but they are all individuals - and there are a few that simply do not want to be handled. Their diet will not affect this.

ANSWER">ANSWER">ANSWER">ANSWER">ANSWER I am a keeper and breeder of ball pythons. Ball pythons have a very slow metabolism, and don't seem to experience hunger the way we mammals do. As a result, if conditions aren't right for them, they can and WILL starve themselves to death (Even if they are otherwise healthy!) So it is important to get them feeding. Thankfully, because their metabolism IS slow, if you have an animal older than 1 year, you probably have plenty of time. Small hatchlings are much more delicate, and can be in trouble after a month of not eating.

The first step to check whenever you have a reptile that isn't feeding, is its environment. Reptiles will not feed if conditions aren't right. Feeding occupies their mouth, which is the only thing they have to defend themselves with, and ball pythons, with their slow metabolism, can afford to wait for optimal conditions in their native habitat. Ball pythons need a cage with a 90F basking area, and it should be 80F on the other end. This allows them to adjust their body temperature by moving around. They need a small, dark hide cave JUST big enough for them to curl up inside, tightly. There should be one of these on each end of the cage. They should have a dish of water, and the humidity should be 60%. The day and night cycle should be 12 hours of light, 12 of dark.

Don't touch the snake. Don't pick it up, don't poke it, don't look under the hide, don't let anyone ELSE bother it. Leave it alone, completely, for at LEAST 5 DAYS. After 5 days of solitude, quiet, and perfect temperatures, wait about 1/2 hour after the lights go out, and then offer the snake a live mouse or rat that is about as big around as the thickest part of the snake. Sit down, quietly, and watch. If the rodent becomes aggressive toward the snake, remove the rodent immediately. If the snake does not stalk the rodent within 1/2 hour of your putting it in there, remove it.

Schedule a veterinary appointment. Take the snake to a vet. If you CAN, bring a fecal sample--of course, a snake that isn't eating may not produce one. Tell the vet the snake's history. The vet will look over the animal and check for infections and other signs of illness. Illness is the Number 2 cause of 'anorexia' in reptiles, right behind improper environment/stress. (Some would say it's Number 1--but environment is easy to check at home).

If the vet gives the snake a clean bill of health, take it home, put it back in its perfect cage, and wait another week--and try again. Monitor the snake's weight. The vet should be able to tell you if the snake is thin, or has good weight. If the snake is thin, and doesn't eat on the next try, you may wish to take it back to the vet to have it tube-fed a pureed mouse, or a product such as Carnivore Care. Such a thing is VERY stressful for the animal, and should be avoided if at all possible. Do NOT attempt force-feeding, as the esophagus is easily perforated, which will kill the animal. If this is done, at least within 4 or 5 days, you may get your fecal sample--pounce on it before it dries out, and put it in a plastic baggie. Refrigerate it until you can take it to your vet. He will check it for internal parasites--a VERY VERY common cause of failure to eat in ball pythons. If they are found, the ball python should be treated for parasites, and it will probably resume eating once the treatments are done.

If the snake's weight is good, then just keep trying every 5 days. Try a mouse. Try a rat. If you get desperate, try an African Soft-Furred Rat, or a Gerbil. Try a smaller rodent than usual, that occasionally attracts their interest. (Some won't take smaller prey, lol).

If it's winter, and you have an adult male, expect him to start feeding again in April or May. :) Many males stop eating for the entire winter. A few females do, too. They should not lose more than 2 ounces a month during this time. If weight loss is more than that, it's back to the vet again. Remember--only mature snakes will go off feed for the winter. Males over age 1 and 500 grams, and females between 1000 and 1500 grams or larger. If your snake is younger or smaller than this, it should not go off feed for the breeding season.

Finally, when looking for advice on how to care for your animal, seek advice from RECENTLY published books, and from breeders. Don't follow advice from others who only have a few snakes, or who are new to the hobby, and NEVER take advice from pet store personnel. More pet reptiles have died as a result of owners following advice from pet store personnel than perhaps any other cause.

If someone tells you they're not an expert...then they're not an expert, and you need to seek advice from someone who is.

I'm not a vet or a snake owner, so this may or may not be useful. First thing, pythons and other constrictors normally go long periods between meals, sometimes months. In captivity they're probably fed smaller animals than they might catch in the wild, but they still won't be eating three meals a day like we do. Second, I always go on the theory that a healthy animal, no matter how finicky, will not starve itself to death if there is food present that it can reach. So...your python may just be taking a normal break between meals. I'm sure that you can find a book at the library, or information online, that would give you an opinion based on more experience than I can offer, but I wouldn't panic until you know. It's good to see that you're concerned, anyway. Good luck.

Try placing the snake in a container and placing it with it's meal in a dark and quiet closet or bathroom. Make sure the container is secure to prevent it escaping. It doesn't have be very big, a plastic sweater box works well. If the snake is small a brown paper bag stapled at the top works wonderfully. It may be necessary to leave the snake in the container for hours at the time. If it doesn't work the first day skip a day and try again. Be persistent. Shedding could be one reason for not eating as well as incorrect temperatures and humidity. Please read up and your snake and provide the perfect environment for a healthy pet. feeding ball pythons i just bought a baby ball python from petco this Saturday it is my first time having this kind of snake but when i asked the sales person about when to feed them they told me that they feed them every Thursday so ok no big deal today is monday so i decided to drive an hour to the nearest local pet store to buy pinkie mice (frozen so i can feed the baby Thursday)well needless to say i wanted to see if it would eat today!!!!lol......so i bought the frozen pinkies that the pet store had said to be feeding them....when i got home i took one of the frozen pinkies out (i forgot to mintion i decided to go ahead and buy 5 of them so next week i wouldn't have to make an extra trip) and put it in a ziplock baggy and put it in hot water!i waited about 10 minutes and it was hot yea i took it out of the bag but i had to make sure it wasnt too hot please remember this is my first time feeding a snake i have 5 tree frog and 2 aulstrain tree frog i have had for over 2 years now but they eat crickets between all seven i have to buy 1000 crickets a month!!!!which can get expensive/so i buy from Herpfoods, they are the cheapiest online,,,,,,but anyway when i felt the pinkie mouse it felt too warm so i held it!!!!! having washed my hands before touching the mouse frozen or thawed,until it felt right not to cold or too hot ,then i put on a small glove my son has had for awhile clean of course!!!!!i took a new pair of tweezers and took the pinkie by the tail guess what the snake took it the first time i wiggled it!!!!well about 10min later i went back to check on my baby and he was surching the bottom of the cage ficking his tongue very fast i thought there was no way he could still be hungry but to make sure i did the same process again and guess what he took it !!!!honestly i think the store was lighing about when it was fead!!!!!!!so i went threw this every 10 min till all 5 mice were gone !!!!not bad for a first timer you think??????make sure the frozen pinkie is warm not room temp!!!!!!tell me what you think email me at teena72315@peoplepc.com it worked 5 times in a role for me !!!!if the snake eats and then keeps flickering and looking around after the total feeding is threw he is still hungry!!!!!!!i am a biggner but i have had pet frogs all 7 of them are stilll alive and i have had them for over 2 years now!!!!i took what i learned from them in feeding and brought it to my new snake!!!!!but please don't get the mouse hot just warm ok continued PS in response to the frozen pinkie mice i forgot to mintion i was told to feed him on Thursday today was monday but being a new mother of a baby ball python i wanted to try to feed it to make sure he wasn't hungry....he hadnt acted hungry till i wiggled the warm pinkie in front of him!!!!!!we had been handling him all day Sunday and never got bit!!!!!thank god!!!!after you feed him a nice warm pinkie once watch his reaction if he is still looking around the cage and flicking his tongue he is still hungry i garentee it!!!!!try it and let me no what you think!!!!!!teena72315@peoplepc.com

Note from Original Responder: Pinky mice are too small for ball pythons, and should not be used. Some very undersized new hatchlings (30 grams or less) may take crawler mice or pinky rats, but they grow out of this in a month or so. Most normal-sized ball python hatchlings will accept fuzzy rats or hopper (weanling) mice for their first meal. Always offer your ball python an appropriately-sized prey item. It should be as big around as the widest part of the snake. Their neck is very narrow, and you may think they cannot swallow something so large, but the skin is very elastic, and they will take it down with no problem at all! Increase the size of the prey as your snake grows. Most ball pythons will be eating hopper rats by age 1. Pinky mice are not large enough to provide your ball python with the nutrition it requires to maintain weight and grow normally. You would have to feed a ball python a dozen of them at a time, and it would be very unlikely to eat so many at once. Ball pythons are adapted to take a single larger prey item, not a dozen smaller prey animals.

Remember: NEVER take advice from pet store personnel.A

As a manager of a local pet store. having worked with reptiles for over 8 years.... not that that makes me an expert, I will say I recommend frozen over live , it helps in the taming process, and you never have to worry about the rat wounding your snake. Also, your Ball may have been fasting prior to purchase, and I have seen a ball go from eating nothing, to one, to 5 mice in one session in less than a week after a month long fast even when we offer them food as much as every 4 days during a fast. So believe me if it is a reputable store then they should be doing the same. We keep charts on every day we offer food to our snakes. and when they eat what they eat.

Note from original responder:

Frozen/thawed prey does not aid in taming, as ball pythons do not recognize that they are being fed by their owner...and if they did this would simply make accidental feeding bites more likely (misnamed 'cage aggression). Some ball pythons will accept frozen/thawed prey on the first try, while others may NEVER accept it. There are many tricks for winning over stubborn snakes, but ball pythons have their reputation for stubbornness for a reason. Don't give up, however. I had one female who was a dedicated mouser for 3 years, until she clutched for the first time...then she started eating rats as if there had been no problem. I have another female that was in my care for 4 years, turning her nose up at FT rats EVERY time...and just started taking them this past winter. Obviously, most pet owners can't afford to offer a FT rat to an animal that refuses it, every week, for 4 years, but if you have an established collection of healthy animals, it's more feasible (the FT rat went to the next female in the rack, and the stubborn one got her live rat--only recommended in a closed collection, as it could spread disease or parasites if there's a risk of those being present). Frozen/thawed is the safest choice. I do not recommend offering food to a fasting ball python more often than once every 4 or 5 days. Too-frequent offerings will also ensure refusal--your schedule is correct. I am very pleased that your store keeps good feeding records, that sets it apart as one of the best.

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8y ago
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First, do not panic, this species is known to be reluctant eaters and there are tons of methods to get them to eat. My python had the same issue, is the snake captive-bred or wild-caught? Wild caught ball python's have a hard time acclimating and do not usually recognize domestic rodents as food. Try pre-killed gerbil or scenting the mouse with gerbil bedding, never feed live gerbils as they can be relentless to your snake. If captive bred, did you ask for a feeding demo upon purchase? If you didn't call the store and ask what they normally feed their snakes as far as live, pre-killed, or frozen-thawed and try that, but if you haven't let your snake acclimate to it's new home it will not feed. If she doesn't venture out at night "hunting" and still balls up when you handle her she isn't acclimated. Easy fix, do not touch, handle, or even observe her closely, only open the cage to mist or replace water. My python took a week to acclimate but it can take up to 14 days before she feels safe enough to feed. I would give it a week and try feeding her, if you are feeding frozen thawed mice, be sure they're warm enough. Python's use heat-sensitive pits to detect prey. If it isn't warm enough she wont even sense it. The prey should be a warm to your wrist but not hot, if it burns you it burns her. Believe it or not domestic rodents are not as clean as they're wild counter-parts, so washing the prey may help. Try darkening the sides of her feeding tote for security, or using a small amount of her cage bedding in her feeding tank. If after a week this hasn't worked, wait another week. Be sure she hasn't gone into shed, pythons get real dull and then "go blue" but before she even sheds her skin she'll lose the dullness and get dark, her eyes opaque instead of blue. My python sheds about 4-5 days after her eyes lose the blue coloring. Be sure the humidity and temperature of her habitat is correct. Ball pythons can tolerate temps up to 90 degrees (F) comfortably. I usually keep the warm side of the enclosure around 85 degrees (F) and humidity is a must of 45-55%. A snake that does not feed can be stressful but in the wild balls can go 4-5 months of fasting, so do not ever panic. If by the second week she still hasn't ate warm the prey considerably and place it in her habitat before replacing her. Leaving food for her to find was the first step to getting my ball feeding, don't offer her food in the enclosure because if she associates you removing her top with food you can have striking issues due to mistaken identity. If she doesn't eat again, try the punching some holes in a brown paper bag place her in it, offer her prey. If she doesn't eat, fold it over and place the bag with her and the prey still inside in her habitat and leave if over night. Be reminded that I feed frozen thawed and leaving her in a bag with live prey could be disastrous and never recommended, as well as in the habitat. NEVER leave her unattended with live prey, it could be a heart breaker. hope this helps

Edit:

Ball Pythons are great snakes to have as pets but can be very picky eaters. Try feed the snake at night a ASF or African Soft Fur Rat. These are mean little devils so do not leave it in the cage over night. These are what the Balls' eat in the wild and they are more pron to eat what they are naturally supposed to eat. If it is winter time do not worry my snakes sometimes will not eat 3-5 months at a time during the winter months. I do leave the rats in the cage and leave the room for 1-2 hours. Some snakes are really shy and will not eat with someone in the room (very true of balls).

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11y ago

some times my snake gos weeks with out eating , its normal. but if it dont eats for like a month or 2 . u got a problem.

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