Python Care Sheet
Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.
This care sheet covers a variety of python species, including:
Pythons are a group of 41 species of nonvenomous snakes in the family Pythonidae that are found in Asia, Africa and Australia. They are not native to North or South America. Like boas, pythons constrict their prey, but they belong to separate families. Most pythons are very large. Their appearance varies widely by species.
Among the more popular pet pythons are carpet, spotted and blood pythons. Carpet pythons get their name from the wide variety of colors and patterns they display that resemble the stunning woven carpets found in the Middle East. Blood pythons get their name from their coloration, which while widely variable, generally contains some shade of red. Green tree pythons spend a lot of time in trees and, despite their name, they come in a wide range of colors.
Typical appearance and behavior
- Although their appearance varies widely by species, pythons have triangular heads and hook-like teeth to grab and hold prey as they constrict and suffocate them before eating them whole
- Tree-climbing pythons also have prehensile (grasping) tails, and all pythons have tiny remnants of hind legs, called spurs, on either side of their vent
- Pythons have heat-sensing pits on their faces, near their mouths, to help them detect warm-blooded prey
- Unlike most other snakes, who have only one lung, pythons have two
- Pythons have the reputation of being aggressive and nippy when handled. This is generally only if they are grabbed and restrained roughly. Never grab pythons while they are moving, but instead wait until they are relaxed and still. Always pick them up from below rather than grabbing them from above. When holding these snakes, let them move through your hands, and don’t struggle to restrain them
- Juvenile green tree pythons are yellow, red or dark brown, and most change to green and blue as adults
- Blood pythons typically have bright red bodies with patches of yellow to brown patches along their backs and sides. Captive-bred color morphs may not be red but instead maroon to brown to white
- With some variation, blood pythons typically have gray heads that have red stripes from their nostrils to their necks, but they have the unique ability to change their head color to a much darker shade within a few hours
- Carpet pythons’ appearance varies widely based on subspecies. Jungle carpet pythons are black with yellow markings, diamond carpet pythons are black with yellow-white dots, coastal carpet pythons are brown with yellow stripes, and Irian Jaya carpet pythons are brown with tan markings
- Carpet pythons also like to climb trees, so they are more slender-bodied than some other pythons
- As snakes get ready to shed, their eyes will turn a milky bluish gray over the course of a few days and their body color will start to dull and develop a whitish sheen. They may become irritable, so avoid handling if possible
|Average Life Span||Up to 30 years with proper care|
|Average Adult Size||Up to 10 feet long, depending the on species|
|Minimum Habitat Size||Depending on the species:
18”L x 12”W x 12”H for a juvenile;
36”L x 24”W x 24”H for an adult
As many pythons are large and easily stressed when approached from above, traditional glass aquariums are not ideal habitats for pythons. Instead, habitats with side doors are preferred. Whether you house a python in a habitat with a lid or a door, lids and doors should be securely locking to help prevent the snake from pushing out and escaping. Provide a habitat that is longer than the length of the snake (ideally, the snake’s length should not be greater than the sum of the length and width of the enclosure), so that they can stretch out fully. For tree-climbing species, like tree pythons and carpet pythons, the habitat should be vertically oriented to allow for climbing. Habitats should be tall enough for the snake to easily reach the habitat floor from the highest perch in the enclosure. Pythons seem less stressed in a habitat with opaque sides and tops, which can offer them a sense of security from potential predators. Juvenile snakes may be stressed living in a large habitat big enough for an adult, so habitat size should be upgraded as the snake grows. Habitats should allow proper ventilation, with either holes drilled in the sides or top or by having a screened lid.
Pythons will reach adult size in three to four years, depending on their species.
Building your habitat
- Substrate - Commercially available paper-based bedding is ideal, as it is digestible if accidentally consumed. Aspen shavings also are acceptable. Pine and cedar chips should be avoided, as they have oils on them that can irritate the snake’s skin and respiratory tract. Substrate should be deep enough for the snake to hide in. If using reptile carpet as a substrate, be sure to provide at least one hide box to allow the snake to feel secure
- Décor – Green tree pythons and carpet pythons need sturdy, securely fastened branches or other perches to rest on and various-sized climbing branches to crawl on. Blood pythons do not need as extensive climbing décor. Pythons should have a hiding area that is large enough for them to fit snugly inside of to feel secure. Cork bark, commercially available hides and half logs can all be used as hide boxes. Be sure the hide is large enough that a snake won’t get stuck in it. Décor is also important for snakes to rub on when shedding
- Temperature – Snakes are ectothermic reptiles, which means they rely on their environmental temperature to control their body temperature. To help them regulate their body temperatures, provide a temperature gradient (85 to 90°F for the warm end and 75 to 80°F for the cool end) in the tank. Temperatures should not fall lower than the low 70s°F at night. Monitor temperature with at least two thermometers—one in the cool zone and the other in the hot (basking) zone. Heat may be provided by a heat bulb, ceramic heat bulb or an under-tank heating pad. Heat sources should be attached to thermostats to regulate temperatures. Thermostats are especially important with heating pads, which can get hot and cause burns through the tank floor if not regulated properly. Hot rocks should not be used as a heat source, as they can burn reptiles. Reptiles not kept at the appropriate temperature ranges are more likely to become immunosuppressed and get sick
- Lighting - While snakes do not require ultraviolet (UV)B light to survive, studies suggest that UVB light may increase snakes’ activity levels and aid in their overall health. Providing snakes with a low-level UVB light helps provide the clear day/night cycle (with 10 to 12 hours of daylight) that snakes need to perform their normal daily activities. UV bulbs should be replaced every six months, as their potency wanes. Provide 8 to 12 hours of light daily. Don’t leave white light on all the time; a nocturnal or infrared light should be used at night
- Humidity – Maintain habitat humidity at 40 to 60%. Monitor humidity with a humidity gauge. Provide a large water bowl to allow snakes to drink and soak in and to increase humidity. Humidity should be higher during shedding. Humidity may be increased during shedding by creating a humid hide containing moist sphagnum moss. Moss should be changed frequently to prevent mold growth. Increase humidity as well by misting with water as needed
A well-balanced python diet consists of:
- Appropriately sized frozen rodents that have been properly thawed and warmed
- Pinkies up to small mice may be fed to hatchlings/juveniles; large mice or rats are typically fed to adults
- Live rodents should not be fed, as they may bite snakes who are not hungry and cause life-threatening injuries. If, under any circumstances, you must offer live rodents to a snake, never leave them unattended in the tank with the snake because of the potential risk for injury to the snake
Things to remember when feeding your python:
- Do not use a microwave to defrost frozen rodents, as microwaved rodents can have hot spots that can burn snakes’ mouths when they eat them
- Do not prepare frozen rodents for feeding in the same area that you prepare human food. If it is unavoidable, be sure to thoroughly disinfect the area. See the Feeding Frozen/Thawed Foods Care Sheet for more information
- Feed juveniles once a week and adults once every one to two weeks; decrease feeding adults if they are becoming overweight
- Feed in an empty tank, separate from the habitat, so that the snake doesn’t associate your hand or the habitat lid opening with feeding and doesn’t accidentally ingest bedding off the habitat floor when eating
- Fresh, clean water should be available at all times in an untippable bowl large enough for the snake to soak in. The bowl should be placed in the cool end of the habitat so that the water doesn’t evaporate too quickly
- As snakes will not typically eat while shedding, avoid feeding them during this time
Snakes will regularly shed their skin and the covering over their eyes (called the “eye cap” or spectacle); ensure humidity of habitat is at appropriate level to allow snake to shed properly. Skin should be shed in a single long piece
Never try to remove retained eye caps by yourself, as you can easily cause damage. Seek veterinary care if eye caps are retained
Where to buy a phython
Pythons are available for purchase at your local Petco Pet Care Center location. Please call ahead to check availability
- Appropriately sized habitat
- Frozen rodents
- Sphagnum moss
- Water dish
- Hideaway place
- Climbing décor
- Heat light/emitter
- Heat fixture
- Under-tank heater
- Humidity gauge
- Low-level UVB bulb
- UV bulb fixture
- Separate feeding tank
- House pythons individually
- Do not house different snake species together
Signs of a healthy python
- Active and alert
- Clear eyes (except when shedding)
- No discharge or bubbles from eyes, nose or mouth
- Eats and passes stool regularly
- Supple skin without lesions, swellings, scabs, parasites (mites, ticks) or discoloration
- Regularly sheds skin in one complete piece
Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)
- Unusually frequent or infrequent shedding
- Lethargy or reluctance to eat
- Abnormal feces or lack of feces
- Lesions, swellings, scabs, discoloration or parasites (mites, ticks) on skin
- Labored breathing/breathing with open mouth
- Difficulty shedding/shedding in numerous pieces/retained skin after shed
- White, cheesy discharge or redness or scabs in mouth
- Lying on back, unable to turn right side up, or prolonged staring (“star-gazing”)
Common health issues
|Health Issue||Symptoms or Causes||Suggested Action|
|Health IssueDermatitis||Symptoms or CausesBlisters, rapid shedding caused by skin infections from viruses, bacteria, fungus or parasites, or an unclean habitat or one that has inappropriate temperature or humidity.||Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian and ensure proper temperature and humidity.|
|Health IssueRespiratory tract disease||Symptoms or CausesLabored breathing/open-mouth breathing, stretching neck out, mucus or bubbles in mouth, eyes or nostrils. Can be caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, fungus or parasites, or a habitat that has inappropriate temperature or humidity.||Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian and ensure proper temperature and humidity.|
|Health IssueStomatitis||Symptoms or CausesRed, swollen or scabbed gums and/or white, cheesy discharge in the mouth, loss of teeth, decreased appetite, weight loss. May be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections, or inappropriate temperature or humidity. If untreated, may be fatal.||Suggested ActionImmediately consult your veterinarian and ensure proper temperature and humidity.|
|Health IssueTicks and mites||Symptoms or CausesParasites on skin can cause itchiness, inflammation and hyperactivity and can transmit disease.||Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian. Empty habitat and thoroughly disinfect it.|
- What do pythons eat? Pythons can be offered appropriately sized frozen rodents that have been properly thawed and warmed. Pinkies up to small mice may be fed to hatchlings/juveniles; large mice or rats are typically fed to adults.
- How long is a python snake? Pythons can grow up to 10 feet long, depending on the species.
- How long do pythons live? Pythons can live up to 30 years with proper care.
Additional care sheets
Notes and resources
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 bacteria, 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 physicians 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.
The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If your pet is sick or you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.