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Ball Python Care Sheet

Python regius
Developed with and approved by qualified veterinarians

Ball pythons are named for their behavior of curling themselves up into a tight ball. They are found in the grasslands of Western and Central Africa. 

ball python caresheet

Table of contents

Typical ball python appearance and behavior

  • As your ball python gets ready to shed, their eyes will turn a milky blue/gray over the course of a few days and their skin color will start to dull and develop a whitish sheen. They may become irritable during shedding periods. If possible, avoid handling while they’re shedding and right after they’ve eaten
  • Your ball python’s appetite may vary. If your ball python misses more than a couple of consecutive feeding sessions, especially if they’re not shedding at the time, consult your veterinarian

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Good for beginner snake hobbyists
Average Life Span Up to 30 years with proper care
Average Adult Size 4-5 feet long
Diet Carnivore
(Thawed, frozen rodents of appropriate size is recommended)
Minimum Habitat Size 10-20 gallons when adolescent
40+ gallons for adults

Habitat 

Habitat size

An appropriately sized and shaped habitat will accommodate normal behavior and exercise for a ball python. A very young snake can be housed in a 10-20 gallon tank. You will need to increase habitat size beyond 20 gallons as your snake grows to adulthood. A ball python will reach adult size in 3 years. An adult should be housed in a tank that is large enough for them to stretch out fully. A 40-gallon breeder tank is the minimum recommended tank size for an adult ball python. 

Building your habitat

  • Substrate - Paper-based bedding, reptile carpet, forest bedding and Aspen wood shavings can be used as substrate. If Aspen is used, it must be changed weekly to prevent it from becoming excessively wet or soiled. Pine and cedar should not be used as bedding, as they contain oils that can irritate your ball python’s skin
  • Décor - Provide a hiding area for your ball python. Synthetic or natural wood hiding logs are preferred. These hiding areas also provide an opportunity for your ball python to regulate their body temperature by getting away from a direct basking area. The size of the hiding log should be large enough for your snake to fit inside. Hides will need to be increased in size as your ball python grows. Ball pythons like to climb, so providing climbing branches are great for enrichment. Plants and a background can be added to complement the aesthetics of your habitat 
  • Temperature - A temperature gradient of 95°F for the warm end and 78°F for the cool end is recommended. Radiant heat should be provided with an over-the-tank basking lamp with heat bulb. Temperatures in the tank should be monitored daily with at least two thermometers (one in the cool zone and one in the basking zone) or with a point-and-shoot thermometer 
  • Humidity - Maintain 40 to 60% humidity; (70%) during shedding 
  • Lighting - While ball pythons are nocturnal, they do benefit from exposure to UV light during the day. Provide 8-12 hours of light daily. UVA/UVB light has been shown to improve the immune system function and to promote the health and normal behavior of all reptiles. Don't leave white light on at all times; a nocturnal or infrared light should be used at night

Cleaning your ball python’s habitat

Thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once a week: 

  • Place your snake in a separate safe and secure temporary enclosure 
  • Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution. Allow the bleach solution to remain on the enclosure for 10 minutes before washing off to ensure disinfection. If using a commercial cleaner, follow habitat cleaner manufacturer’s instructions
  • Rinse thoroughly with water, removing all traces of bleach or cleaner smell
  • Dry the tank and furnishings completely and add clean substrate before returning your ball python to the habitat

What Do Ball Pythons Eat 

A well-balanced ball python diet consists of:

  • Appropriately sized frozen rodents, thawed/warmed to above room temperature. Live prey should not be fed, as rodents commonly bite snakes and the wounds can lead to life-threatening infections
    • If feeding your snake live rodents, do not leave them unattended. Live rodents can injure the snake, sometimes fatally
  • Snakes should be fed prey that is approximately the size of the snake’s width at mid-body

Things to remember when feeding your ball python:

  • Feed juveniles once a week, adults every 1-2 weeks
  • Ideally, snakes should be fed in a separate feeding enclosure so that your ball python snake doesn't associate your hand or the habitat being opened with feeding 
  • Ball pythons are nocturnal feeders, so they should preferably be offered meals at night
  • Do not use a microwave to defrost frozen rodents, and do not prepare them in the same area that you prepare food. If it is unavoidable, be sure to thoroughly disinfect the area. See the Feeding Frozen/Thawed Foods Care Sheet for more information
  • Fresh, clean, water should be available at all times in a large enough bowl for your ball python to soak in

Ball python care

  • Snakes will regularly shed their skin. Healthy snakes should shed skin in one complete piece   
  • Ensure the humidity in the habitat is at an appropriate level (70% while shedding) to allow your ball python to shed properly 
  • A shallow, open bowl of water, in which snakes can soak, or a piece of damp paper towel or sphagnum moss, plus daily misting with warm water, can aid in shedding
  • The eye caps (called spectacles) should come off during shedding, if they do not, don’t remove them on your own and instead seek veterinary care

Where to buy a ball python

Petco sells ball pythons in stores. Call your local location ahead of time to ensure availability. 

Tank mates

Ball pythons are typically docile with their pet parents but are often antisocial with other snakes and are best housed alone. Housing them with other ball pythons may lead to stress and competition and could negatively affect their eating patterns. 

Health

Signs of a healthy ball python

  • Active and alert
  • Clear eyes (except when shedding)
  • Eats regularly
  • Good body composition
  • Healthy, supple, smooth skin
  • Regularly sheds skin in one complete piece
  • Free of mites and ticks

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)

  • Unusually frequent or infrequent shedding
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargic or reluctant to eat
  • Abnormal feces
  • Bumps or spots on skin
  • Red/pink color to skin possibly indicating systemic infection
  • Labored breathing
  • Bubbles from mouth or nose
  • Difficulty shedding or shedding skin in pieces
  • White, cheesy substance in mouth

Common ball python health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Dermatitis Symptoms or Causes Blisters or crusty scabs may be caused by burns from heat bulbs or hot rocks. Rapid or lack of shedding, or shedding in pieces, may be caused by an unclean habitat or one that is too cold or damp, which can suppress the immune system and lead to secondary bacterial, viral or parasitic infections of the skin. Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian, clean the habitat and lower humidity.
Health Issue Respiratory disease Symptoms or CausesLabored breathing; mucus or bubbles from the mouth or nostrils. Can be caused by a habitat that is too cold or damp, which can suppress the immune system and lead to secondary bacterial, viral or parasitic infections. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and keep the snake warm and dry.
Health Issue Stomatitis White, cheesy substance or scabs inside the mouth; loss of teeth and appetite. Can be secondary to improper temperature, humidity or dirty habitats. If untreated it can be fatal.Symptoms or Causes White, cheesy substance in the mouth or scabs inside mouth; loss of teeth and appetite. Can be secondary to improper temperature, humidity or dirty habitat. If untreated, can be fatal. Suggested Action Immediately consult your veterinarian.
Health Issue Ticks and mites Symptoms or Causes Can cause dermatitis and transmit infection. Can remain in the environment if not eradicated and cleaned properly. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian.
Health Issue Lumps or bumps in skin Symptoms or Causes From infections or tumors. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian.

FAQs 

  • How big do ball pythons get? Ball pythons can reach up to 5 feet long with proper care.
  • How long do ball pythons live? Up to 30 years with proper care
  • Do ball pythons bite? Any snake can bite if provoked. Ball pythons are normally docile and tolerate handling. But, as with all snakes, they may strike if ill or stressed or if they feel threatened or misinterpret your hand as a food source. This sometimes happens during periods of shed when the eye caps can impact their vision. 
  • Are ball pythons venomous? No, ball pythons are not venomous.
  • How often do ball pythons shed? Young ball pythons may shed once a month as they grow. Fully grown adults typically shed a few times per year.
  • How long can a ball python go without eating? A ball python might go weeks to months without eating since their metabolism is so slow, but they often become ill when they go so long without food. If your snake misses more than a couple of consecutive feeding sessions, especially if it is not shedding at the time, they should be seen by a veterinarian
  • How often do ball pythons eat? Juvenile ball pythons should be fed once a week and adult ball pythons should be fed every 1-2 weeks.
  • Are ball pythons nocturnal? Yes, ball pythons are nocturnal.

Additional care sheets

Notes and sources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about reptiles and disease.

Note: The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information contact your veterinarian.