Is your pet ball python refusing to eat?
Ball pythons are notoriously picky eaters and are famous for “hunger strikes” (aka going for long periods without eating).
If your ball python isn’t eating, you’re probably wondering how long can a ball python go without eating.
Today, we’re going to answer this common question and give you a few tips and tricks on what to do if your ball python isn’t eating.
Adult ball pythons can go without eating for around six months (while maintaining a healthy body weight and growth rate). However, some have been known to refuse food for even longer. Baby ball pythons may also refuse to eat for some time, but typically this is only safe for a month or so.
How Long Can a Ball Python Go Without Eating
Ball pythons can go without eating for around six to eight months, although in extreme cases, they’ve been known to last for over a year without any food.
In the wild, ball pythons are often forced to go without eating for long periods due to food scarcity.
Their body’s low energy demands and ability to store and preserve calories make them well suited to food shortages in the wild.
Despite having a regular food supply, it is not uncommon for captive ball pythons to go anywhere from 2-7 months without eating.
Often, hunger strikes occur during the winter months and are entirely normal.
Don’t be alarmed if your ball python starts refusing to eat during the winter.
Surprisingly, during these “hunger strikes” or times of food shortage, ball pythons usually maintain their weight and even continue to grow.
However, it is important for you to closely monitor your snake during starvation to ensure it maintains its weight and isn’t showing signs of other health problems.
We’ll go into more detail on how to care for your ball python during a hunger strike.
How Do Ball Pythons Survive Without Food For So Long
As mentioned before, ball pythons in the wild are often forced to survive without food for long periods due to food supply scarcity.
For example, food sources may grow scarce during the winter months, or prey may be less active, making hunting much more difficult.
Because of this, ball pythons have to survive lengthy periods without eating.
Fortunately, the ball python is well suited to handle the demands of food scarcity.
Their bodies’ ability to go without eating for months on end is a remarkable survival mechanism, ensuring they survive, even if hunting isn’t great for several months.
But how do they manage to go without eating for so long?
First off, ball pythons, like many other snakes, have very low energy demands under normal circumstances.
They can lower these demands even more during starvation or hunger strikes by decreasing their metabolic rate.
Ball pythons have been known to decrease their metabolic rate by up to 70 percent during times of starvation.
In addition to slowing their metabolic rate (the rate at which their body expends energy), ball pythons are also very selective about which types of calories to burn first during starvation.
For example, they typically preserve their protein supply by burning selective fat stores first.
How Long Can a Baby Ball Python Go Without Eating
It is not uncommon for baby and juvenile ball pythons to refuse food like adult ball pythons.
However, since baby ball pythons are much smaller and have less body fat to live on during starvation, they should typically not go without eating for more than 2-4 weeks.
If your baby ball python refuses to eat, the best thing to do is carefully monitor it to determine if it is healthy.
If it is curious and active (especially during the warmer seasons), has healthy skin and no broken scales or blisters, has clear, bright eyes, and is regularly shedding and in one complete action.
It most likely is healthy and will start eating soon.
However, even if your baby ball python appears healthy but is refusing to eat for more than four weeks, it’s best to take it to the vet for a vet visit.
How Often Should You Feed Your Adult Ball Python
We know how long ball pythons can survive without food, but just because they can survive for long periods without food doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feed them regularly.
So how often should you feed your pet ball python?
Your snake will know best when it comes to how often it needs to eat, but since it can’t verbally communicate this with you, you’ll need to offer it food on a regular feeding schedule.
It’s best to feed adult ball pythons once every 10 to 14 days or every 1 to 2 weeks.
It may refuse to eat this often but still offer at least every 14 days until it accepts.
If your snake appears overweight, you may want to wait a little longer between feedings to help prevent obesity.
How can you tell if your snake is overweight?
Common signs of an overweight ball python include visible skin between its scales, a round shape, rolls of fat near its head or cloaca, body segmentation, a soft, squishy body instead of a firm one, and an abrupt change in its width from the tail to the vent.
How Often Should You Feed Your Baby Ball Python
Baby and juvenile ball pythons are at the peak of their growth period, meaning they use up much more energy and grow faster than adult ball pythons.
Because of this, they require more frequent feedings than adult ball pythons.
It’s best to offer your baby and juvenile ball pythons food once a week or every 5 to 6 days.
It may not eat this often, but continue to offer it food weekly.
Once it reaches two to three years of age, you probably only need to feed it every 10 to 14 days, but again, let your snake’s appetite be your guide.
Why Your Ball Python May Not Want to Eat
Ball pythons may refuse to eat for various reasons, ranging from severe medical conditions to simple things like a change in temperature or shedding.
We’ll now dive into some of the most common reasons your ball python may not want to eat to help you better determine why your ball python may be refusing food.
One of the most common reasons ball pythons refuse to eat is that they are too cold.
Ball pythons are native to equatorial climates.
Their bodies need warm temperatures of around 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C) to maintain their body heat and adequately digest food.
Without adequate heat (and thereby the ability to properly digest their prey), your ball python may refuse to eat.
If you live in a cooler climate or with seasonal temperature drops, your snake may have trouble digesting and therefore refuse to eat.
Correct this temperature problem by attaching a heat lamp or light to the top of your snake’s enclosure.
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Another common time ball pythons refuse to eat is during shedding.
Shedding is an awkward and stressful time for ball pythons, so they will often refuse to eat until after they’ve shed their skin.
If your ball python refuses to eat, look for signs (like a dull, ashy appearance, pink underbelly, and cloudy eyes) indicating your snake is about to shed.
Many people don’t realize one of the reasons ball pythons often refuse to eat is because they are stressed out.
How can you tell if your ball python is stressed?
Signs of stress may include hiding its head when being handled, being overly active during the day, and refusing to eat.
If your ball python is showing signs of stress, you’ll need to figure out why it’s stressed to address the problem.
Common causes of stress include handling your snake too often (aim for no more than 1-4 times a week and never more than once per day), handling during problematic times (like right after feeding or during the shedding process), being in an enclosure with other snakes, new enclosures, and transportation to a new home.
We have an article covering ball python stress if you want to learn more about the different causes.
Changes in Food
Ball pythons are often picky eaters, and changing up their prey can often cause them to stop eating.
Small things like the size, smell, type, or color of prey can often turn ball pythons away.
Other factors like whether it’s offered alive or freshly killed or frozen and then thawed will affect your snake’s appetite.
If your snake refuses to eat after switching up its food, you may consider going back to the original feeding routine or being patient and letting your snake adjust to its new prey.
Another reason your ball python may not be eating could be because it has intestinal parasites like pinworms or coccidia.
Intestinal parasites can cause ball pythons to feel sick and even stunt their growth and prevent weight gain.
It is recommended to have an annual fecal examination to help discover and treat possible intestinal parasites growing in your snake.
What To Do If Your Ball Python Won’t Eat
If you’ve already looked at the possible reasons your ball python isn’t eating, and you’ve made any necessary husbandry changes (like adjusting its prey type or increasing its enclosure temperatures) to remedy the problem.
However, your ball python still refuses to eat; it may be time to try a few other tricks.
Same Kind of Prey
First, if you recently brought your ball python home and it’s refusing to eat, you may want to find out what types of prey it was eating in its previous home.
As we mentioned before, ball pythons are very picky eaters.
So if their food is different than what they’re accustomed to, they may refuse it.
So do a little research and find out what the previous owners, breeders, or pet stores were offering your snake (plus find out whether it was provided live, freshly killed, or thawed).
If you give it the prey it’s been accustomed to, it will start eating again.
Warm Up the Prey
Second, if you’re offering pre-killed prey, ensure it’s warm before providing it to your ball python.
One way to warm up prey is to place it in hot water for a few minutes before giving it to your snake.
Cut Up the Prey
Although cutting up prey isn’t an enjoyable task, it may help your ball python’s appetite.
How? By cutting the prey, you’re enticing your snake’s appetite with the scent of fresh blood.
You may even use long snake feeder tongs to dangle the prey in front of your snake.
Soak the Prey
Another trick is to soak the pre-killed prey in warm chicken broth (make sure it’s low or no-sodium).
This adds an appealing scent to the prey, further enticing your snake to eat.
See the Vet
If you’ve tried the above tricks, but your ball python still won’t eat, you’ll need to get him checked out by a reptile or exotic pet veterinarian.
Depending on your snake’s age, condition, and the amount of time your snake has gone without eating, your vet may prescribe force-feeding.
If you’ve been wondering how long can a ball python go without eating, we hope this article answers your question.
And if your pet ball python is refusing to eat, remember first to determine the possible cause (cold temps, shedding, stress, overhandling, changes in diet, etc.), and then make any husbandry changes necessary.
If your ball python still isn’t eating, you’ll probably need to take it to the vet to make sure no other problems are going on.