What To Do If Your Ball Python Won’t Eat

Are you worried about your ball python and its eating habits?

Do you think there’s something wrong with your python pet because it doesn’t seem to want to eat?

Understanding a ball python’s diet is important for all owners.

It lets you know when you need to take them to the vet and when they’re just cranky.

Without this knowledge, it’s stressful when your pet isn’t eating.

We’re here to help with our helpful tips on what to do if your ball python won’t eat.

If your ball python doesn’t eat, you need to check for signs of illness and separately check for signs of shedding as these affect appetite. Without these signs, you know your pet’s hunting instincts haven’t been triggered. Help activate these instincts by getting the python’s attention with the prey food.

Look at the rest of the article for more specific information.

what to do if your ball python wont eat

How Often Should Ball Pythons Eat?

First, you need a good idea of how often a ball python will eat.

Most new owners panic when they’re pet won’t eat within seven days, but this is normal.

Snakes in general, and ball pythons, need to eat only every 10-14 days as adults.

For babies and young pythons, they still only need to eat one every seven days.

It takes snakes a few days to digest their food, and you should never handle the python for 24 hours after its feeding.

This may cause it to regurgitate the food.

This may help some of you who attempt to feed your snake every other day.

Don’t do it, and just wait longer.

Why Is My Ball Python Not Eating?

If you’re feeding every 10-14 days and your python still isn’t eating, you need to help determine why this may be.

This section covers the common reasons a ball python won’t eat and how you determine which reason is the one in effect here.

Shedding

Ball pythons won’t eat when they’re about to shed.

They get cranky all around when they’re about to shed.

Shedding happens every 4-6 weeks as adults and more often as young snakes.

You’ll know your python is getting ready to shed when the eyes turn milky or blue, the skin turns translucent and starts to lift, and the snake gets irritable.

When you see these signs, you don’t need to do anything other than giving the python time and space.

Don’t handle the snake (it probably won’t let you anyway) and don’t attempt to help along the process.

If you rub the dead skin off before it’s fully disconnected from the snake’s body, it will likely cause an injury to the snake.

The same will occur even if you bathe or spray down the snake.

Just leave the pet alone.

After the shed has happened (most of the skin is off in a single piece), then you should feed the python again.

If you notice some skin still left on, then use a special shed aid (check out this one from Zoo Med) to spray and gently rub the dead skin. 

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Incorrect Temperature

Ball pythons and reptiles, in general, won’t eat as much if the temperature in the tank isn’t right.

Too high, and the snake is focused entirely on cooling its body temperature.

Too low, and it won’t have the energy or desire to eat.

Check the temperatures to make sure they hit these marks:

  • Basking temperature = 88° – 96° degrees Fahrenheit (31° – 35° C)
  • Overall temperature = 78° – 80° degrees Fahrenheit (25° – 27° C)
  • Hide/cool spot = 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C)
  • Nighttime temperature > 65° degrees Fahrenheit (18° C)

If they aren’t, you need to adjust your heating elements and consider adding a heating pad.

Of course, you also need one of the best heating lamps for ball pythons.

If the temp isn’t right, adjust it to the correct settings, and let the snake get used to it for a day.

Then, feed the ball python again.

Brumation

Brumation is similar to hibernation.

It’s a state of low activity and low appetite for reptiles, which aligns with a drop in temperature during the winter months. 

Ball pythons don’t often go into brumation as part of their natural cycle, but if you notice slower movement and appetite, you may want to see if the temp was too low.

If it is, the snake may have slipped into brumation.

This is still uncommon in ball pythons.

Make sure the temp is up where it needs to be, give it a few days.

If the snake still isn’t eating or moving much, it may be time to take it to the vet.

Illness

Illness will make your pet not want to eat.

Don’t assume your pet is sick, though you always have the right to take it to the vet.

We recommend looking for a couple or more of these symptoms in combination before taking the ball python to the vet:

  • Visible injuries or “kinks” in their bodies
  • Raspy breathing
  • Pus and discharge in the mouth or eyes
  • Changes in droppings
  • Lethargy (lack of movement in the extreme)
  • Mouth breathing
  • Lack of appetite
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Stargazing (stiff body with head stuck up)

Hunting Instinct Untriggered

If none of these sound right to you, your ball python probably hasn’t had its hunting instincts triggered.

In short, it doesn’t recognize the food as prey.

When this is the case, the tips in the next section will help.

What To Do If Your Ball Python Won’t Eat

This section gives our foolproof tips for encouraging a ball python to eat.

Note: This will only work if the python isn’t shedding or ill, and the temperature in the tank is correct.

Live Prey

If you’re using live prey, your ball python won’t have any problems hunting it down and eating it.

Make sure the live prey is placed in the tank in front of the ball python, so it knows the prey is there.

For frozen and thawed prey, look for the next few tricks.

“Brain” The Food

This trick is the most effective of them all, but it’s kind of gross for most people.

Take a small knife and make a deep cut on or at the back of the rat’s or mouse’s head.

This cut should go through the skull of the prey.

Take the body of the food and squeeze it firmly, putting pressure towards the head, so the insides pop out through the cut.

Wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

This may sound gruesome, but doing this will almost instantly get the python’s attention.

Frozen and thawed mice or rats don’t have much scent.

Without a strong scent, the python doesn’t even know the food is there.

After letting the food thaw and braining it, the scent will become strong, and the python will notice it much quicker.

However, if you don’t want to go this far, there are a couple of other tricks to attempt.

Let It Thaw In A Small Container

This is one I recommend to use with your snakes when it seems reluctant to eat its frozen meal.

After the food is thawed naturally (no microwave or hot water ever!), place the mouse or rat in a small container with air holes in the top.

An old Tupperware container works well for this purpose.

Place the container with the food inside in the tank and let it sit for a while.

As the food thaws more and gets to room temperature, it will start to smell somewhat.

The small container with the small holes amplifies this smell for the python.

Soon enough (up to a couple of hours), the python will begin to inspect the container as it recognizes there’s food inside.

When the snake begins to inspect the container, carefully remove the lid.

The python will almost always go after the prey quickly.

“Tease” The Python

The final trick may be used along with any of the previous two or on its own.

Frozen and thawed prey doesn’t move naturally, and this lack of motion makes it harder for the ball python to realize it’s food.

Take the mouse or rat and drag it along the ground in front of the python.

Watch for the python to lock on the food.

When it does, take your hand away swiftly but not so fast the snake thinks it’s food as well.

If it still doesn’t lock on to the food, dangle it in front of its eyes or gently tap it on its head.

Even as an experienced snake owner, this trick may make you nervous.

Be sure to watch for signs of attention and hunting from the python during the process and get your hand away when you see these signs.

Signs of attention include:

  • Eyes locked on the prey
  • Body still
  • Head raised slightly

Conclusion

Now you know what to do if your ball python won’t eat.

It’s not a big reason to panic unless you see other active signs of illness (in which case take it to the vet right away).

When you see signs of shedding, just wait until the shed is done.

If everything seems normal, activate the python hunting instincts by braining the food, increasing its smell by letting it sit in a small container, or teasing the python by tapping the prey in front of it.

You may also want to know how to care for a ball python.