A nutritious diet is vital for the growth and overall health of a ball python.
Because of a ball python’s slow digestive system, the reptile does not need to eat every day.
Knowing when to feed your ball python may be confusing, especially for first-time snake owners.
Feeding your python too often will lead to obesity, while not feeding it enough may cause the animal to starve.
So, how often do you need to feed your ball python?
A hatchling ball python will need to eat once every five days. Juvenile ball pythons should be fed every 7-14 days. Adult ball pythons will start eating one meal every 10-14 days and gradually increase the time between feedings as they age.
As a ball python ages, growth and metabolism slows down, along with appetite.
Keep reading to learn more about how often to feed your ball python, including a handy feeding chart based on the reptile’s age and weight.
We will also compare live and frozen prey and list the most common reasons for a ball python to stop eating.
How Often To Feed A Ball Python
Adult Ball Pythons
The answer is simple but shocking for many new owners: adult ball pythons need to eat every 10-14 days.
It’s hard for many of us to wrap our heads around because it’s so much unlike almost any other pet you may own.
But this feeding schedule is quite common with snakes.
They don’t need a lot of energy to function, and therefore, don’t need to eat a lot.
When they swallow their food, it takes them 1-2 days to fully digest the meal, and then they have enough to function on for weeks afterward.
Many people would accept this if the snake ate a lot at this one meal, but this isn’t the case either.
Ball pythons also only eat one prey item during this single meal every 10-14 days.
This is just the way their digestive systems have evolved to work.
The important part as an owner is to make sure the prey item is appropriately-sized.
Too small, and the snake won’t get enough nutrition and will become malnourished.
Too large, and the python may choke or regurgitate its meal.
So what’s the right size of food for a ball python?
The general rule is this:
The food should be no larger than, but close to, the size of the python’s body at mid-length.
This is important to remember, as we mentioned above.
Some snakes are OK to go up to 1.5 times the size of their bodies, but this isn’t the case with ball pythons. So it’s better to play it on the safe side.
The prey items need to be either a large mouse or rat.
Rats are generally considered better as they align with what the python eats in the wild.
Rats also come in larger sizes and are more likely to satisfy the larger ball pythons.
However, large mice are more readily available as they are a staple food for many pets.
Baby Ball Pythons
Even baby ball pythons don’t eat often.
Learn more about ball pythons going without eating in our dedicated article here.
The typical feeding schedule for a baby is every 5-7 days.
Don’t be surprised if they learn towards the 7-day mark early on in their development.
With baby ball pythons, you must make sure the size of the food is smaller than the body’s size at mid-length.
This may seem difficult to meet as ball pythons are born relatively small.
The common choice for baby ball python food is pinky mice.
These are newborn mice who haven’t grown out all their fur yet.
These will often meet the size requirement and are readily available through online and in-person pet retailers.
How Often To Feed Ball Python Chart
The following feeding schedule chart gives you a handy reference for how often and how much to feed a ball python based on its age and weight.
As a general rule, do not feed your ball python any prey which is larger than the snake’s midsection.
|Ball Python’s Age||Ball Python’s Weight||Amount of Prey||Feeding Frequency|
|Hatchling||50-100 grams||1 small mouse or pinky rat (8-12 grams)||Every 5 days|
|3 months||120-200 grams||1 small mouse or fuzzy rat (13-19 grams)||Every 7 days|
|6 months||300-370 grams||1 adult mouse or rat pup (20-30 grams)||Every 7-10 days|
|1 year||500-900 grams||1-3 adult mice, or 1 small rat (45-80 grams)||Every 10-14 days|
|1 ½ years||700-1500 grams||3-5 adult mice, 1 medium rat, or 2 small rats (80-150 grams)||Every 10-14 days|
|3 years||1200-1800 grams||4-5 adult mice, 1 medium rat, or 2 small rats (90-150 grams)||Every 14-21 days|
|5+ years||1800-2300 grams||4-5 adult mice, 1 medium rat, or 2 small rats (90-150 grams)||Every 21-50 days|
Live Prey vs. Frozen Prey
In the wild, ball pythons enjoy various prey, such as rats, mice, and birds.
Males spend more time in trees, eating more birds than the ground-dwelling females, who eat more mammals.
In captivity, feeding your ball python live mice or rats has a couple of issues.
Obtaining live mice and rats is more difficult than finding them frozen, but it is less convenient.
If your snake is not hungry at feeding time, you will have to take care of the live prey and keep it healthy until your python is ready to eat.
Never feed your ball python any live-caught mice or rats, as they may be infested with parasites or carry diseases.
Another issue with live prey is the risk of injury to your python.
Live rats or mice have been known to bite pythons to defend themselves, often causing a great deal of injury to the snake.
Frozen prey is not only safer for feeding to your ball python, but it is also easier to store and more economical.
You will easily find frozen mice or rats of all sizes at your local pet supply store.
Before feeding your ball python, be sure to thaw frozen prey for 5-8 hours, depending on the size.
Remove any uneaten prey after twelve hours.
Common Reasons a Ball Python May Refuse to Eat
There are several reasons a ball python may refuse to eat, no matter what you do.
The most common reasons for a ball python’s lack of appetite include:
- Poor enclosure conditions
- Inability to recognize its food
- Breeding season
- Being stressed or sick
- The shedding process
Most of these issues are easily remedied, but stress or sickness requires veterinary care for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Here is our more detailed post on why ball pythons won’t eat if you’re having a significant issue with your snake refusing food.
Improper Enclosure Conditions
The temperature, humidity, and size of the ball python’s enclosure all play a role in your pet snake’s appetite.
If the temperature is too low, the ball python’s metabolism will slow down, and the snake will lose its appetite.
Improper humidity, either too high or too low, will also affect a snake’s appetite as well as the shedding process.
It is important to maintain the proper temperature and humidity in your python’s enclosure at all times.
A ball python’s enclosure needs a temperature gradient with the cool side measuring between 75-82° degrees Fahrenheit (28° C) and a warm basking area with temperatures ranging from 87-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
A very large enclosure may disrupt your python’s appetite as well.
Ball pythons are very shy reptiles, and a large enclosure will cause them to feel unsafe and become stressed.
For a baby ball python, a 10-gallon tank will work well. Adults will do well in a 30-40 gallon enclosure size.
The Ball Python Does Not Recognize Its Food
If a pet ball python is used to being fed live prey, it may not recognize frozen prey as food.
Likewise, a python that is usually provided with frozen prey may be afraid of a live rodent.
Many a snake keeper feeds their snake frozen prey, as it is much safer for the reptile.
To help your python make the transition from live to frozen prey, a few steps need to be taken to make the process easier.
Always thaw frozen rats or mice for 5-8 hours, depending on how large they are.
Once the prey is fully thawed, place it in a sealed plastic bag in a bowl of warm water.
Warm the prey until it’s warmer than room temp.
Thawing and warming the prey make it more palatable for the snake.
If your python still does not seem interested in the pre-killed prey, cut the mouse or rat open to expose the blood and internal organs.
The scent of the prey’s blood will entice the snake to eat.
It is Breeding Season
Breeding season for ball pythons usually happens between September through November, although captive pythons may breed any time of year.
A python may start eating less before mating because of the lower temperature requirements during the breeding process.
A female ball python will refuse to eat when she begins ovulating, but she will resume her appetite after laying the eggs.
The Ball Python is Stressed or Sick
Loss of appetite is one of the most common signs of stress or sickness in a ball python.
If you have just brought your python home or moved it into a new habitat, the snake will likely become stressed and refuse to eat.
Allow the animal to acclimate to its new surroundings before attempting to feed it again.
Illnesses such as an upper respiratory infection or parasite infestation will also cause a ball python to stop eating.
Monitor your snake’s behavior for any signs of sickness such as discharge from the eyes or nares, lethargy, weight loss, or diarrhea.
If you suspect your ball python is ill or if the animal has not eaten in more than four weeks, seek veterinary care right away for proper care and treatment.
The Ball Python Is Shedding
Shedding impacts diet in a big way.
Younger ball pythons frequently shed (some as often as a week or more) as they grow faster than in adulthood.
Adult ball pythons shed less frequently (every 3-6 weeks), but they still do it often.
If you want to learn more, check out our answer to how often ball pythons shed.
How does this affect the diet?
During a shed, ball pythons won’t eat at all!
It would be best if you waited until they’re done.
Many times, you’ll go to feed your pet, and it refuses to eat.
This is when you look for signs of shedding, which are:
- White skin
- Glassy eyes
- Cranky personality
When you see this, wait.
If your ball python doesn’t end up eating for 16 days, it’s OK.
If your baby python ends up going to 10 days, it’s OK.
Watch for signs of shedding and be patient. It will typically finish shedding within 48 hours.
Don’t hurry along the process by bathing, spraying, or rubbing the snake.
This may cause injury.
How Long Do Ball Pythons Go Without Eating?
This is an area of small debate for ball python owners.
The best answer is 2-3 days beyond their normal feeding timeline.
This means up to 17 days for adults and 10 days for babies.
However, ball pythons can technically go into a state of brumation.
Brumation is like hibernation when the temperatures drop in their native habitat.
During this time, ball pythons move less and drink less.
This can last for months (up to 3-4 at times).
During brumation, they’ll eat almost nothing.
This is the answer some pet places will give.
However, unlike many snakes and reptiles, the ball python’s natural habitat isn’t prone to such temperature drops.
They don’t even need to go into brumation.
This means there is no need for them to last so long without eating.
Call the vet for advice if you notice your ball python stretching beyond the 17-day mark for eating.
While it may just be brumation, this isn’t a norm for the ball python, and it may be an illness.
Baby and juvenile ball pythons will never go into brumation.
They need to eat at least once every two weeks.
These stages are from birth to 1.5 years.
We hope you found the information on how often to feed ball pythons helpful.
10-14 days is a long time, but this is normal for these animals.
Watch for signs of a shed to extend the timeline and be on the lookout for signs of illness.
Keeping a vigilant eye on your pet and sticking to the recommendations is best for giving your ball python a long and happy life.
Commonly Asked Questions
Will a baby ball python starve itself?
It is common for ball pythons to go through fasting periods where they refuse to eat in the wild.
These fasting periods usually last for up to a month.
While fasting for this length of time is not harmful to an adult ball python, a baby python might end up starving itself.
If your baby ball python is refusing to eat for more than two weeks, seek veterinary care right away to diagnose the cause and get proper treatment.
Is my ball python still hungry?
When a ball python is hungry, it will start to display specific behaviors.
A hungry python will become more active, often spending more time in the front of its enclosure and becoming more focused on your movements as you come near.
The python will also flick its tongue more often.
If your ball python exhibits any of these behaviors after being fed, you may need to increase the amount of food you offer to the reptile.
Do ball pythons need water?
Your ball python needs a dish of fresh, clean water available at all times.
Ball pythons like to soak in water to stay hydrated and help them shed, so be sure the water dish is big enough for them to curl up in.
Check the water throughout the day, and change it when it is dirty.
You may need to change the water several times per day to accommodate the snake’s soaking habits.