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Ball Python Eating and Digestion Problems

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While some people have phobias about snakes, their pet parents appreciate these reptiles’ unique characteristics and know that while some species can be aggressive, many snakes are shy and desire nothing more than a large tank to slither around in, food and a quiet life.  

A pet who hangs out quietly in a tank may seem boring, but snakes are really anything but that. Watching a snake’s day-to-day activities can be fascinating, and observing them shed their skin and develop vivid colors and markings is truly remarkable.  

Just like other pets, snakes have personalities of their own. Some love to hang out with their pet parents, while others prefer to be left alone. Don’t take it personally if your snake doesn’t like to be handled. Depending on their species, snakes can be natural introverts and prefer their own company to that of others.  

An adult ball python pet is often a timid, submissive snake, but they may be more aggressive as juveniles. Ball pythons get their name from their defense mechanism. When startled or scared, they roll their bodies into a ball to appear as small as possible. Their nonconfrontational behavior and ease of care help make them one of the most popular pet snakes. When adopting a ball python, be ready for a long-term commitment—they can live to be 20 to 30 years old.  And don’t underestimate how big your pet will get. Domesticated adult ball pythons usually reach 4  to 6 feet in length.  

Like all pet parents, potential snake adopters should be aware of the challenges they might face. For ball pythons parents, the biggest challenge may be their eating habits. They sometimes completely stop eating for no discernible reason, which can be very alarming, especially if you’re new to the reptile world. Here are some ball python eating facts and strategies you can employ to try to break their fast.  

Table of Contents

How often do snakes eat?

Unlike many mammals, snakes do not eat every day—not even close. Juvenile snakes, who tend to eat more since they’re growing, may eat once a week. Adult snakes who are no longer growing have much slower metabolisms and tend to not eat as much. It’s quite common for them to go a couple of weeks without eating. A good rule is to offer your young snake food weekly and your adult ball python food every one to two weeks. In general, your snake will let you know if they’re hungry and whether you to adjust their feeding schedule.  

Ball phythons can also be very particular about what they consume, when they consume it and where they consume it. There are many different factors that can impact their feeding habits, but stress is a common culprit in their not eating. Here are a few things to consider when trying to regulate your ball python’s feeding schedule.  

The time of day:

Ball pythons are nocturnal (more active at night), so if you’re offering them food during the day, they may have no interest because they’re sleepy. Trying to feed them in the afternoon is like waking up your partner in the middle of the night and offering them a big plate of food—they may just not be interested because you interrupted their sleep. The same could be true for your python  

Their habitat:

An uncomfortable or unfamiliar tank can be a major stressor for your scaly friend. If your ball python is not eating, ask yourself if  there have been any changes in their routine. Did you switch out their substrate type or change their habitat lighting or temperature? Have they had a recent growth spurt and need a larger enclosure? Are they exposed without a safe space to hide? Many reptiles feel uncomfortable if they don’t have adequate hiding spots in their habitats 

How about décor? Ball pythons love to burrow. Did you move one of their hide boxes or tunnels or remove one altogether? Are their hiding spots too small for them now? Did you get a new light or heat lamp, and now it’s too warm or too cold? 

If you’ve recently upgraded your snake’s tank or changed something in their environment, it’s quite common for them to stop eating. Reptiles are typically creatures of habit who don’t adjust rapidly to change and may need time to get used to their new living situation before resuming their normal eating habits.  

Socialization: 

In general, snakes are solitary animals who should be housed individually. If you adopt a second pet snake and try to house both in the same habitat, it can cause major stress, even if the new snake is another ball python. Snakes can be territorial and fight for dominance. If you adopt a second snake and notice a decline in either of your python’s eating habits, they should be moved into separate habitats immediately

When it comes to handling, try to be in tune with your snake. Interacting and bonding with your pet is one of the joys of being a pet parent, but some snakes  don’t like to be handled. If you’re looking for a pet who enjoys endless cuddles and love, a snake is not the right pet for you.  

Snakes may show their affection to pet parents by moving calmly and exploring when in contact with you or by coming to the front of their enclosure when you approach. However, if you reach in to scoop them out of their habitat and they shy away, try to hide or curl into a ball, their body language is letting you know they want to be left alone. Forcing them to come out if they are responding in this way may make them stressed and upset.  

Change in food source: 

Ball pythons can be very particular about rodents. If you change the size or species of their food, they may fast until they adapt. Also, make sure their food isn’t too large—your snake’s prey shouldn’t exceed the widest part of their body  

Shedding:

Your ball python’s feedings may decline right before they shed. It’s normal for them to not want to eat before shedding   

Brumation:

Your pet may try to brumate in winter. Brumation is a period of dormancy that is like a less-intense form of hibernation. Snakes brumate in nature in response to changing temperatures and food availability. When it gets colder and food is sparce, snakes become less active, slow their metabolism and, consequently, need to eat less. Their immune system does not work as efficiently, predisposing them to infection. Since pet snakes should have consistent environmental conditions and food availability, they should not need to brumate. If your pet ball python shows signs of brumation such as decreased appetite, lethargy or inactivity, be sure that the habitat temperature and lighting are appropriate. Seek veterinary attention if habitat conditions are ideal but your snake is showing signs of brumation

Breeding:

In nature, ball pythons typically breed in the fall. Both males and females may stop eating for several months during the breeding season—males when they can smell females, and females when they are full of eggs. Pet pythons who are not within sight or smell of other pythons may not show these changes

Illness:

One of the first signs of illness that snakes show, regardless of the specific illness, is decreased appetite. If you notice changes in your ball python’s behavior, contact your veterinarian to rule out illness. Symptoms and behaviors that may indicate a problem include: 

  • A change in their shedding frequency 
  • Lack of energy  
  • Discoloration, scabs, wounds, bumps or parasites on your ball python’s skin  
  • A change in their droppings or a lack of droppings
  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Discharge or bubbles from their mouth, nose or eyes  
  • Difficulty moving or inability to turn over when on their back
  • Staring or “star-gazing” behavior
  • Excessive rubbing on objects
  • Cloudy eyes after a shed
  • Swelling along the length of the body

How often do ball pythons shed?  

On average, adult python snakes shed every four to six weeks. Younger reptiles who are growing typically shed more frequently.  Snakes should shed their skin all in one piece.

Hydration is an important factor during the shedding process. Even though pythons do not eat every day, they should always have access to clean water to stay hydrated. Their water container should be shallow and large enough for them to climb in—snakes like to soak, and soaking helps them stay hydrated to shed properly. Their water dish should be cleaned and refilled daily.  

If you notice a decrease in your pet’s shedding frequency, or if they appear to have a hard time shedding all their skin in one piece, consult your veterinarian. Never attempt to pull off the dead skin yourself, as you may injure your snake.  

How long can my ball python go without eating? 

Snakes have such slow metabolisms that they can survive months without food. However, if there are no identifiable factors causing your pet to not eat, or if your snake appears to be losing weight, consult your vet. 

What should I feed my ball python? 

While python eating habits may vary from snake to snake, they are all carnivorous (meat eaters). Most ball pythons prefer rodents like mice or rats. Contrary to popular belief, however, feeding your pet live rodents is not ideal, as live prey may injure snakes when they try to defend themselves by biting and scratching.  

Instead, you can purchase frozen dead mice and rats in our ball python shop, along with other essential accessories. We have a variety of ball python food and habitat options.  Frozen rodents can be thawed and offered to your pet snake safely, and they provide all the nutrition offered by a live rodent. Some snakes may resist eating dead rodents at first and have to be tempted by moving the dead prey around to make them think it’s alive. Most snakes, however, can be trained over time to take dead prey.

A ball python’s eating schedule can vary widely. When trying to figure out exactly what and when to feed your pet, it’s best to talk to a vet. The veterinarian can recommend a feeding plan that supports ball python health and wellness needs. 

Trust your instincts. As their pet parent, you’ll get to know your ball python’s routines and habits better than anyone. If a couple of feedings go by untouched and your pet’s behavior, demeanor or appearance seem off, seek veterinary attention to make sure there are no underlying health problems.  

As part of routine ball python care, your pet python should go to the vet for a checkup every six to12 months. That way, your veterinarian can monitor their weight, examine them  and perform any necessary diagnostic tests—like fecal examinations for parasites. As with any pet, snakes should be checked regularly to help detect and treat problems as soon as possible. 

Are you new to the world of reptiles and want to know more? Check out our ball python care sheet. This care sheet is also a great reference for current ball python pet parent who want to brush up on their snake knowledge.  

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Reviewed by Petco’s Animal Care, Education and Compliance (ACE) Team

Petco’s ACE team is a passionate group of experienced pet care experts dedicated to supporting the overall health & wellness of pets. The ACE team works to develop animal care operations and standards across the organization and promote proper animal care and education for Pet Care Center partners and pet parents, while also ensuring regulatory compliance.