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Guide To Ball Python Food (What They Eat & Diet Requirements)

Feeding your ball python is perhaps one of the most exciting things you experience as a snake owner.

But what exactly can ball pythons eat?

We’ve got you covered if you aren’t sure about your ball python’s diet. In this guide, we’ll explore:

  • Their feeding schedules.
  • How much to feed them.
  • What to feed them
  • Their hydration needs.

Let’s jump in with the basics of feeding your pet ball python.

python food

What You Need to Know About Ball Python Food

Frozen, then thawed mice or rats are the best diet for a young ball python. You can gradually increase the quantity of ball python food as they grow. Once they reach a larger size, you can transition your pythons to over 200-300 grams of rats per feeding.

Ball pythons find it difficult to transition to new foods. As they grow older, this becomes even more of an issue. So, as long as it’s safe, start shifting your snake to rats as soon as possible to prevent them from becoming a picky eater.

Most baby ball pythons only need one serving of small-sized prey. However, adults could consume up to 2 servings of prey per feeding. For this reason, most snake owners feel it simply makes more sense to feed their snake larger prey like rats.

Key Takeaway:

Adding rats and mice to your ball python’s diet is your best option. Gerbils and rodents can also be fed to your ball python, but they tend to cost more and are difficult to find. Offering prey you can consistently find is important since snakes can grow pickier as they age.

Inside the Ball Python Diet

Explore our ball python feeding chart below.

Snake AgeWeightPrey SizeFrequency
Hatchling50—100 gramHopper Mouse & Pinky Rat—8-12 GramsEvery five days
3 Months120-200 gramSmall Mouse—13-19gramOnce Per Week
6 Months300-370 gramAdult Mouse/Rat Pup—20-30gramEvery 7-10 days
1 Year500-900 gram1-3 adult mice 1 small rat 45-80gramEvery 10-14 days
1.5 Years700-1500 gram3-5 adult mice 1 medium rat or 2 small rats 90-150gEvery 14-21 days
3 Years1200—1800g4-5 adult mice 1 medium rat or 2 small rats 90-150gEvery 14-21 days
5 + Years1800-2300 g4-5 adult mice 1 medium rat, or 2 small rats, 90-150 gEvery 21-50 days

This chart should help you determine the right size prey for your ball python, regardless of age or weight, along with their desired feeding schedule.

The right diet and sized prey help to meet your snake’s nutritional needs, but remember that your snake is an individual. It may need more or less food based on weight, age, and preference. Some snakes grow more quickly, and some grow more slowly, so keep an eye on their weight to create the perfect feeding schedule.

Mice Versus Rats–Which Is Best?

Depending on their size, weight, and age, your ball python might fair better with multiple mice or a single rat.

When you get your new baby ball python, you’re excited and want to give them all the best foods to keep them full and happy. But, it’s important to start slow with their feeding schedule.

For example, hatchling ball pythons should be given smaller hopper mice during their first few feedings. One exception to this is if your ball python is over 100 grams. In that case, you can start giving them rats immediately.

Another important note on feeding rats versus mice is that ball pythons prefer consuming one larger meal over two smaller meals. This is because ball pythons typically accept only one food item at a time. Some also simply don’t want to eat more.

Digesting multiple prey meals requires lots of energy. Sometimes, your ball python might even stop eating, which is another issue altogether. But feeding your snake the food it likes, the way it likes to eat it, is the best way to keep them full and happy.

python eating mice

What Baby Ball Pythons Eat

According to the chart above, a hatchling ball python should eat hopper mice or pinky rats no larger than 8-12 grams.

As the ball python grows and gains weight, it should be switched to larger rodents. This ensures your ball python continues to eat and meet their nutritional requirements.

Another tip for feeding baby ball pythons is to feed their prey thawed before being served. Avoid using a microwave to heat their food because it can easily burn the inside of your ball python as it is digested.

If you want to avoid hurting your snake and prevent bacterial growth and tissue deterioration in your prey, feed it quickly after warming.

Most ball pythons refuse their food if it isn’t warm. In the wild, they consume their prey while it is still alive. This is because ball pythons have heat-sensing pits that help them detect prey.

Key Takeaway:

Thaw frozen rodents in your fridge for at least 12 hours, then heat them in a bag via hot water or under a lamp. Make sure the food is heated to at least 100-105F. Also, ensure you don’t leave food in their cage for extended periods because this can cause bacterial growth.

How Long Can Ball Pythons Go Without Eating?

Ball pythons are widely known for engaging in fasts for several months. This is typical because wild ball pythons fast during the dry season as food becomes harder to find. It’s a natural impulse, but it can nonetheless scare snake owners. Fasting is more common with male snakes during the breeding season, too.

In other words, don’t panic if your snake starts fasting or refusing food. If your snake is healthy and happy, he/she can go months without eating before suffering any issues.

In captivity, some snakes have been known to refuse food for a year before they begin eating again.

What Do They Eat in The Wild?

Ball pythons prefer to hide and wait for prey to walk by them and then strike. Like other snakes, ball pythons hunt through smell. They use their forked tongues to smell their prey. Directly below their nostrils are the pit organs we mentioned above, which help them ‘see’ the body heat of their prey, and they follow that heat to eat.

In the wild, you’ll see ball pythons killing their prey by coiling around its body and squeezing out any oxygen until it dies. Once their prey is dead, they swallow it whole, from the top of the prey’s head onto its body.

Should You Feed Your Python Live or Frozen Food?

Make it your goal to feed your ball python frozen food that is thawed instead of live animals. Yes, in the wild, your ball python will eat live prey. However, in captivity, you’re risking their health for no reason if you feed them live prey. Live rodents are known to bite and injure snakes, even leading to infections, and feeding frozen prey is simply more humane.

Prey that has been recently killed can be a good option for picky snakes or for transitioning young snakes from mice to rats. Keep in mind, though, ball pythons definitely prefer not to be presented with live prey in captivity because it causes them stress.

Some snake owners believe that since the mice they’re feeding their ball python don’t yet have their eyes open, they can’t hurt the snake. That’s not true. Not only that, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of work throughout your snake’s life if you only feed them live prey. Making the switch isn’t as easy as you’d think.

How to Prepare Frozen Prey

To prepare your snake’s frozen-then-thawed prey, we recommend thawing it out in your fridge overnight before feeding your snake the next day. This enables it to thaw safely and slowly in a cold environment, preventing bacterial growth.

About 15-30 minutes before feeding, stick your prey into a BPA-free plastic bag, and submerge it into warm, nearly hot water.

Mice have a similar body temperature to humans, which is what you want your prey to be–somewhere between 98-100F before feeding it. Use a temp gun to double-check the temperature.

Can Ball Pythons Eat Eggs?

No, your ball python should not eat eggs. Not only will your snake not recognize it as food, but it won’t digest it well.

Ball pythons need to eat warm-blooded prey food items to be healthy.

Learn more about why you should never feed your ball python eggs, here.

Alternative Prey Options for Ball Pythons

So, we’ve made it clear that the best foods for ball pythons are mice and rats.

Yet, if you’re still interested in learning more about what alternative prey options are available, the following is a breakdown of some of the other prey animals pet owners can feed their snakes.

Remember, these animals are of poorer nutritional value than mice and rats.

Crickets

Large crickets can be an enjoyable supplement to the diet of juvenile ball pythons. However, don’t expect them to be viable food items for adult ball pythons.

A breakdown of their nutritional value is as follows:

  • Fat–35%
  • Protein–65%
  • Calcium–366 mg
  • Vitamin A–<1,000 IU

Only offer crickets as a snack or treat for your snake. And if it stresses them out to be fed live crickets, you can cause them to retreat. Proceed with caution.

Hamsters

Hamsters are another option for feeding your ball python. Again, they should be considered a treat, not a main food item.

Their nutritional value is broken down as follows:

  • Fat-34%
  • Protein-49%
  • Calcium–2.51%
  • Vitamin A–26,666 IU

Hamsters are not super high in protein but have a higher fat value. Your snake will find hamsters to be tasty because of their fat content.

Various Other Meats

You can also give your pet snake chunks of meat from other prey animals. The type of animals found in chunk meat includes prey they cannot eat whole, which is why it is cut up and served as a treat.

For example, domestic rabbits, minks, and even frogs are found in chunk meat. You’ll find the meat 72% protein, 13% fat, 5.93% calcium, and 6,200 IU of Vitamin A for rabbits. For minks, meat is about 72% protein and 11% fat. For frogs, the meat is 71% protein, 10% fat, 4.29% calcium, and 25,110 IU of vitamin A.

A note about frogs, they are not considered good staple feeder foods since snakes don’t accept them very often, and they are super expensive to buy and feed to your ball python.

ball python eating

When Should You Feed Your Ball Python?

As we’ve learned, ball pythons are nocturnal snakes, so they don’t like eating during the day. It goes against their natural routine. Feeding your ball python after twilight is the best time of day to feed a ball python.

Your ball python’s tank should also be warm enough to support digestion. This breed of snake doesn’t require nighttime temperature drops, they like it to be around 80-83 F when they eat.

Is It Okay to Feed Them During Shedding?

In general, no, you should not feed ball pythons when they’re shedding. Ball pythons typically refuse to eat as they feel stressed and vulnerable during their shedding period.

Can I Give My Ball Python Snacks?

Ball pythons don’t particularly care for snacks, like those mentioned above. So, don’t be surprised if they reject any food you give them in between regular feedings.

How Do I Know If I’m Feeding My Ball Python Too Much?

Pet ball pythons that are taken care of can find themselves with a bit of extra weight. While it might be difficult to tell if your snake is obese, there are some tell-tale signs you should be aware of.

For example, a prominent spine shows that the snake is not eating enough, but a spine that has disappeared into the body means you should probably pull back on the amount you’re feeding them.

Surprisingly, obesity is a common problem among pet snakes, particularly the ball python breed.

You can see a visual of what obesity looks like on snakes via this chart. Keep an eye on your schedule and how your snake responds to determine whether or not you’re feeding them too much.

How Long Can They Go Without Eating?

Adult ball pythons frequently go 3-4 months without food. However, this snake species has no problem going 12 months or even 1.5 years without eating before they need to eat again.

So, don’t be alarmed if your ball python’s diet stagnates for a few weeks. If your snake goes 2-3 months without eating, you might want to start creating a plan to get them back on track.

Another rule of thumb is to be concerned if your snake loses 5-10% of its body weight.

How Do You Tell Your Ball Python Is Still Hungry?

Ball python feeding is weird, but perhaps the greatest challenge is whether or not your snake is still hungry. It’s difficult to know for sure just by looking at your snake.

One sign of a hungry snake is it starts being more alert or testing its cage limits during the nighttime.

Of course, there is always an exception to this rule. If your pet snake is more active the day before and on the day of feeding, it could be because it anticipates its upcoming meal.

Should I Avoid Handling Them Before Eating?

With younger snakes, we recommend you don’t handle them before their first 4-5 successful feedings. Older snakes you’ve bonded with typically enjoy handling before feeding. Otherwise, it’s best not to handle them on feeding day.

Try to avoid feeding your ball python 48 hours before feeding them. Any handling before that period could disrupt digestion, leading to regurgitation.

How to Get Your Ball Python to Eat

Now, what happens if your ball python refuses to eat? First, determine why they’re refusing. A few reasons they might refuse food include:

  • Temperature or humidity is off.
  • They are suffering from lots of parasites.
  • They are dehydrated.

Any of these issues are reason enough to see a reptile vet for a quick checkup.

Once you rule out any of these problems and are still concerned, consider a few tips to get them to eat.

  • Give them a smaller meal.
  • Add fresh blood to their prey meal.
  • Be sure to thaw your prey to their live temperature, if possible.
  • Give them the brain of their prey by puncturing its skull.

How Much Water Does Your Ball Python Need?

Now that you know what your ball python eats, how much they need to eat, and what to do if they stop eating, let’s focus on water requirements.

Besides supporting their humidity levels inside the cage, a large water bowl gives your snake a safe place to soak and stay hydrated.

Keep their bowl filled with clean water, and change it every 2-3 days. If you see it getting dirty before then, scrub it with a mild bleach solution and replace the water quickly.

Pet ball pythons fair much better with access to clean water, so be sure to keep them healthy with clean water.

If you insist on giving your snake distilled water, you could eventually cause dehydration even if they keep drinking it.

A Summary of The Best Ball Python Diet

Ball pythons can eat one meal and then go months without eating again. Since this snake species is super picky about food, don’t be overly concerned if they don’t eat what you’re feeding them.

The most common prey animal for captive snakes is rodents, with mice and rats being the preferred meal for this snake. Feed them according to the ball python feeding chart above for the best results.

Give Your Ball Python The Gift Of A Healthy Diet!

Whether you have young ball pythons or adults, giving them a healthy diet is simple once you understand their feeding schedule and temperament.

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Explore more fun topics about ball pythons over on the blog.

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