Ball pythons sometimes refuse to eat for a variety of reasons. They usually will not eat when they are shedding.
Female ball pythons won’t eat when they are about to lay a clutch of eggs, and ball pythons of both sexes may refuse food when they are sick, when their enclosures are too cool, or their enclosure is not set up properly.
The simplest solution for feeding your ball python may be offering food at night, instead of during the day.
If that doesn’t work, later in this article we will give you a 10-point plan for making sure your ball python eats when necessary to stay healthy.
Ball Pythons Are Frequently Finicky Eaters
It is not unusual for ball pythons to refuse to eat for weeks, or even months.
Snake owners who have taken care of corn snakes and indigo snakes, which will eat just about anything they can put into their mouths, become concerned when their ball pythons become extremely selective in what they eat or eat nothing at all.
Owners become concerned that they must be doing something wrong if their ball pythons won’t eat.
Fortunately, most ball pythons are just unpredictable in their eating habits, and won’t suffer serious harm if they don’t eat on a regular schedule.
Healthy ball pythons may refuse a meal today, but be ready to eat tomorrow.
As long as your snake is healthy, you shouldn’t worry a lot about whether it is eating. But you need to make sure your ball python is healthy.
Ball Pythons Not Eating – Possible Reasons
If your ball python shows no signs of underweight or malnutrition, there is no reason to become especially concerned if it doesn’t want to eat on any particular day.
Even if your ball python is undernourished, there are certain situations in which feeding won’t happen right away.
Getting Ready to Shed
Ball pythons may need as long as two weeks to complete a shed.
Your ball python’s skin will look dull and darker. Its belly will turn pink. Its eyes may look “glazed over” or turn blue.
During the one to two weeks that your ball python is getting ready to shed, it needs moisture in the air in its enclosure and access to water.
But it won’t eat, because expanding its mouth to swallow food and passing the whole prey animal down its digestive tract can tear your ball python’s skin. If the skin tears, it won’t come off in a single piece.
Your ball python won’t starve while it is getting ready to shed. It may be very hungry once its shed is complete.
Also read: How Often Do Ball Pythons Shed?
Improper Cage Temperature
Ball pythons won’t take food when their enclosures are too hot or too cold.
Reptiles depend on the air around them to maintain their body heat. Digestive enzymes are only active at specific temperatures.
If the enclosure is too hot or too cold, your snake won’t eat because it wouldn’t be able to digest its food.
Decaying, undigested food inside a snake can be deadly. You need to be extra sure to provide your snake with a basking area at 88° to 92° F (31° to 33° C) for at least three days after it eats.
If your snake’s enclosure is continuously cool, its body may shut down for a process called brumation.
This is the snake’s equivalent of hibernating for the winter. It will drink water but it will not eat if its cage is constantly too cool.
Enclosure Not Clean Enough
In the wild, ball pythons find a different burrow after they defecate.
The rodents they eat have a keen sense of smell, and building a new, clean burrow makes it easier for the ball python to catch them.
Your ball python may want its enclosure to be squeaky clean before it “catches” its next meal.
Replacing substrate and giving the cage a thorough cleaning may help your snake’s appetite.
Too Much Light
In nature, ball pythons catch their prey and feed at night. They usually do not feed in broad daylight.
If there is a light shining into your ball python’s cage 24 hours a day, it never has the darkness it needs to feel comfortable eating.
Try feeding your ball python at night. Turn off overhead lights. Use an infrared heat source so its enclosure won’t be brightly lit at night.
Also read: Do Pet Snakes Need Sunlight?
Ball pythons in nature breed in the spring. A male ball python may not eat for several months if it detects the sense of an ovulating female.
A female ball python will not eat shortly before it lays its clutch of eggs.
Once the male has mated and the female has laid her eggs, they will normally be ravenously hungry.
Ball pythons can get infections that interfere with their ability to eat.
One of the most common infections in ball pythons is mouth rot, an inflammatory reaction to bacteria that makes eating and drinking painful for your snake.
Ball pythons also may not eat when they have respiratory infections.
If your ball python is not eating and there are symptoms such as diarrhea, mouth breathing, wheezing, clicking sounds when breathing or eating, or discharge from the nostrils or mouth, you should take your snake to the vet.
Ball pythons may not eat when they feel stressed. Placing your snake in a new enclosure or giving it a cage mate is stressful.
Trips to the vet are stressful, too.
Too much handling may stress out your snake, so, if your snake isn’t eating, try leaving it alone in its enclosure for a few days before feeding it again.
10 Tips to Get Your Pet Ball Python to Eat
Here’s a step-by-step guide for dealing with a ball python that doesn’t want to eat.
- Give your ball python food it is used to. Make sure any previously frozen rodent is thawed out and warmed to room temperature before offering it to your snake.
- Double-check the temperature in your snake’s cage to make sure it is warm enough.
- Leave your snake alone for a week, and then offer it food again. Wiggle the rodent in front of your snake with tongs. Don’t offer the same rodent you offered it the week before.
- Make sure your snake has a place to hide after it eats.
- Offer a freshly killed, warm rodent. Wave it in front of your snake with tongs. If your snake does not eat it right away, leave it in the cage overnight. It may have disappeared the next morning.
- Scent the rodent you are feeding your snake with gerbil litter. You can get gerbil litter at pet stores.
- Keep in mind that pythons may reject food in late winter, if they notice the days outside are getting longer. This can happen even if you keep the temperature in their cage the same.
- Offer your snake a live rodent, but supervise feeding to make sure the rodent does not bite your snake.
- Offer your snake a gerbil instead of a mouse.
- Take your snake to the vet to make sure it is not sick.
How Can You Tell If My Ball Python is Malnourished or Starving?
Ball pythons that aren’t eating enough will be underweight.
It can be hard for first-time ball python owners to know whether their snakes are underweight because they don’t have other ball pythons to compare them to.
Your ball python may be very easygoing, great with kids and other pets, and portable, an animal you can take places without problems.
Even with all of these desirable characteristics, a ball python can be underweight.
The best way to determine if your ball python is eating enough is to weigh them about once a month.
Bathroom scales aren’t suitable for weighing your ball python. The problem is they are not precise enough.
Even if you weighed yourself, then weighed yourself holding your ball python, subtracted to find the difference, and converted the difference to grams, you might have an error of plus or minus 50 grams.
Since ball pythons only gain about 50 to 75 grams a month, you wouldn’t really know if your snake’s weight was going up or down.
Kitchen scales are a better option, because they are more precise. Kitchen scales usually weigh to the nearest gram.
You could measure your snake’s weight in pounds and ounces, but the math is easier if you use the metric system.
Set your kitchen scales to give you measurements in grams. Weigh a Tupperware container with a lid.
Place your ball python inside, with the lid closed, and then weigh them together. The difference is how much your ball python weighs.
Don’t place a ball python directly on scales. They won’t stay still long enough for you to get an accurate weight, and they aren’t really sanitary for scales you use to weigh your food.
Keep a record of your snake’s weight. If your snake is a juvenile, it should put on about 50 to 75 grams a month.
If it is not gaining weight at this rate, or if it is losing weight, then it needs to eat more.
Adult snakes should not lose weight. But how can you tell whether your snake is gaining enough weight?
Signs Your Ball Python Is Malnourished
What your snake weighs on the scales is not the only test of whether it is getting enough to eat.
A ball python that is not getting enough to eat will look “bony.” You can pick it up by the middle of its body and look at the ridge on its back.
In an undernourished ball python, the spine will make a V-shaped ridge underneath its skin. In a well-nourished ball python, the back will be more rounded.
You can also tell a ball python is malnourished by its ribs. If you can see your snake’s ribs when it is stretched out flat, it is not eating enough.
You won’t be able to see your snake’s ribs when it is just sitting still and relaxed if it is getting enough to eat.
It is OK to be able to feel your snake’s spine when you run your fingers down its back. The problem is being able to see your snake’s spine when you look down on its back.
It is not OK to be able to feel your snake’s ribs when you run your fingers along its side. They should be covered with muscle and fat so you can’t see them and you can’t feel them.
A healthy snake will feel “squishy” but not bony when you run your fingers along its side.
One more indication of nutritional status in ball pythons is the width of your snake’s head in proportion to the rest of its body.
Ball pythons have to open their mouths wide to swallow their food. If your snake’s head is a lot wider than the rest of its body, it may not be getting enough to eat.
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