Ball pythons can be picky eaters, and if you're new to feeding a pet ball, it may take several trial-and-error attempts to find the right approach for your particular herp. Keep in mind that eating problems can be associated with health issues. Maintain adequate heat and humidity in your tank and keep good records of your ball python’s eating patterns. Consult a vet who specializes in snakes if feeding problems persist.
Feed Appropriate-Sized Prey
A ball python will not attempt to eat prey that's too large for it to consume. While it will eat smaller prey, under-feeding your ball python runs the risk of depriving it of vital nutrients and can slow its growth. For best results, choose prey, typically a mouse or rat, that is 1.5 times the size of your ball python’s body diameter. If your snake still resists, go down a size and see if he's more comfortable.
Live vs. Frozen Prey
Many reputable breeders raise hatchlings to accept both live and frozen/defrosted prey. Using this approach, the eventual owner has the option to try both feeding methods in the future. Live prey appeals to a ball python’s natural instinct, so if he rejects frozen/defrosted prey, try the live version and see if it makes a difference.
Most feeder mice and rats you get from a pet supply company are white, which is not a naturally occurring color in the wild. As such, some ball pythons hesitate to eat white mice or rats and prefer multicolor or brown rodents. If color seems to make a difference with your ball, experiment with different colored prey.
Create a Feeding Schedule
If you buy your ball python from a breeder or pet store, enquire about how often the ball is being fed and try to stick to that schedule. On average, ball pythons eat once every one or two weeks. The exception is when your ball is getting ready to shed, which is evidenced by the lifting of skin from the snake’s body and by a blue- gray blurry film over your snake’s eyes. Snakes avoid hunting in the wild during the pre-shed period because their eyesight is compromised, and that same behavior is exhibited in captivity. If this is the case, delay your snake’s feeding until his shed is complete.
Utilize Feeding Tanks
Feed your ball python in a secure tank separate from his living habitat, and feed at night to replicate his natural hunting environment. Cover the feeding tank to give your snake privacy. Some ball pythons retain the natural instinct in which they’re wary of predators when they eat, and creating a safe and secure cave-like environment will help your snake relax and consume his meal.
Hand feed your ball python using long-handled forceps, clamps or tongs. This allows you to present the prey directly to your snake. If using frozen/defrosted prey, jiggle the rodent to replicate lifelike movements. Avoid force-feeding your snake, which can result in injury.
Regurgitation and Failure to Feed
If your ball python regurgitates his meal or refuses to eat over several weeks, have him examined by a herpetology medical professional. There could be a medical condition that needs to be addressed.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.