Ball pythons are notoriously picky eaters, and there are several reasons why one would suddenly refuse to touch their food.
If your ball python isn’t eating and you want to know why then keep reading!
We’ll also cover all of the ways to solve your snake’s hunger strike, from simple methods like warming up their food to the more elaborate ones like rearranging their enclosure.
Ball Python Illness
One of the most common reasons why a ball python will suddenly stop eating is an illness.
There are a variety of illnesses ball pythons are susceptible to, such as:
- Respiratory infections (usually due to improper humidity or bacteria from unsanitary tank conditions)
- Infectious stomatitis (AKA mouth rot)
- Impaction (often due to oversized prey, ingesting substrate, or ingesting other non-edible materials)
- Metabolic bone disease (due to a lack of calcium in their diet)
- Other bacterial and fungal infections (often from unsanitary tank conditions; sometimes occurs alongside mouth rot)
If you suspect your ball python is ill, be sure to contact a vet as soon as possible to get an official diagnosis and a detailed treatment plan moving forward.
In addition to a lack of appetite, some signs of illness include the following:
- Sudden weight loss
- Lethargic behavior
- Discharge from the eyes or nose
- Heavy breathing
- Stiff, unusual posture (sometimes known as “stargazing”)
- Difficulty shedding properly
Internal Parasites In Your Ball Python
In addition to the many illnesses to look out for in ball pythons, there are also several intestinal parasites they are prone to contracting from their food or unsanitary tank conditions.
These parasites include:
Unfortunately, most of these parasites are too small to see with the naked eye (unless they happen to be passed in their waste), and their eggs are even smaller.
To determine if your snake has contracted one of these parasites, you’ll likely need to contact your vet.
Your vet will need to analyze a stool sample from your snake to confirm or deny the presence of parasites.
However, keep an eye out for symptoms like diarrhea and weight loss, as these are vital signs of parasite infestations.
Ball pythons are known for being friendly and docile, but they are also quite shy and sensitive.
They are known for being very attuned to their environments and are easily stressed out by external stimuli like loud music, bright lights, or sudden movements around their enclosures.
Take a look at where you’ve set up your snake’s enclosure.
Is it in a high-traffic, noisy area of your home?
Are there other animals nearby who are possibly agitating the snake further?
If so, it’s probably a good idea to move it to a quieter, calmer area of your house.
Additionally, avoid any bright or colorful lighting near/outside of your snake’s enclosure, as this will often interfere with the lighting settings in the tank.
It will also confuse the snake and make them uncomfortable.
Remember, you’re caring for an animal in an enclosure far different from what it is used to in its natural habitat.
Even if all of the enclosure settings are correct, your snake can still see outside of the tank, and anything unusual or frightening to them will stress them out.
Improper Ball Python Enclosure Setup
Like with the previous reason on this list, ball pythons are also very sensitive to the way their enclosure is set up.
Thankfully, their needs are fairly simple to accommodate.
Be sure your ball python’s enclosure has the following things inside:
- A large bowl of clean, warm water for them to soak in
- A large, moist hide with a substrate like moss inside to help them shed properly
- A dry hide for them to seek shelter
- Comfortable, moisture-retaining substrate for the rest of the enclosure, i.e., coconut fiber or orchid bark
If your snake’s habitat is lacking any of these items, the snake will likely become either uncomfortable or stressed and, in turn, refuse to eat.
Improper Ball Python Enclosure Size
Proper enclosure size is essential when it comes to keeping your ball python’s appetite up.
Think about it: if you lived in a tiny box all the time, you’d feel pretty depressed, too.
Fortunately, ball pythons don’t require much space despite their large size.
A glass enclosure of at least 30 to 40 gallons is sufficient, though we recommend a tank of around 40 or 50 gallons to be safe.
Alternatively, be sure the enclosure isn’t too large, as this will stress the snake out, too!
50 gallons is plenty of space, and anything larger is likely to make them uncomfortable.
If you need help finding a good one, check out our picks for the 3 best ball python enclosures.
Improper Food Size
When you feed your snake, pay attention to the size of the prey you offer them.
If the animal is too large for them to comfortably and safely eat, they will either struggle to eat it and become prone to choking and impaction or outright refuse it altogether.
As a general rule, any prey animal you feed to your snake should be at most 1 to 1.25 times the width of your snake’s body, or just slightly wider than the widest part of their body.
Anything larger is risky, so stick to food this size or smaller so your snake will be comfortable eating, regardless of the prey you’re offering them.
Read our detailed article on what size mice to feed your ball python.
In addition, live prey should be avoided for ball pythons in captivity, as there is always a risk of injury.
While many wild snakes eat live prey with little issues, many others also suffer painful bites or scratches.
Some of these injuries are even life-threatening if the snake’s head or eyes become damaged.
Another issue with feeding live prey is it’s often extremely stressful for the snake to eat.
Since ball pythons are sensitive to stress, it’s best to stick to frozen prey to make mealtimes go as smoothly as possible.
Shedding In Ball Pythons
If your ball python is currently shedding, it is common for them to refuse to eat temporarily.
Amazingly, these snakes are capable of going many months or even up to a year in some cases without food, so it isn’t too unusual for them to stop eating for a few days or even weeks at a time if they are experiencing a difficult shed.
There are a few signs to look out for which indicate your snake is preparing to shed.
In addition to a decreased appetite, some of these signs include:
- Dull, lighter-colored scales than usual or discolored scales
- Eyes turning a dull or cloudy color
- Hiding away more than usual
- More fearful/anxious behavior than normal
- Rubbing itself against textured surfaces in the tank to remove the shedding skin
Remember, in many cases, your ball python won’t see as well if they are shedding due to the skin loosening around their eyes.
Be sure to not startle them during this process, and don’t touch or interact with them too much, either.
Proper temperature and humidity settings are crucial for ensuring the health and happiness of any pet reptile.
Still, it’s especially important for ball pythons due to how sensitive they are to their environments.
If these settings are incorrect even by a few degrees or percentage points, your snake will become uncomfortable and refuse to eat.
Numerous other issues will arise, too; for example, if the humidity settings are too high in the tank, your snake is at an increased risk of developing a respiratory or bacterial infection.
Alternatively, if the temperature becomes too low, your snake won’t properly digest their food, making them unwilling to eat more until the issue is resolved.
Generally, the humidity level in your snake’s enclosure should be between 50% and 60% at all times.
On the other hand, the temperature is a bit more tricky to control, as the enclosure will need a subtle temperature gradient from the hot side to the cooler end.
Your ball python’s habitat needs a basking spot at the hot side of the tank, which should reach around 90 to 92° degrees Fahrenheit (33° C).
The rest of the warm side should hover around 80 to 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C) or so, with the cooler end staying between 75 and 80° degrees (27° C).
Stress From A New Habitat
Have you moved or altered your snake’s enclosure in any way recently?
If so, your snake is likely a bit stressed from the sudden changes.
Even moving a hide or basking lamp slightly will be noticed by your ball python, as they are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment.
They are also uniquely prone to becoming stressed by these changes.
In addition, if you’ve just brought your ball python home from a breeder or pet shop, it isn’t uncommon for them to refuse to eat while they get used to their new home.
Give your snake some time to adjust to its new habitat before offering food or interacting with them in any way.
At least a few days is recommended to give the animal plenty of space to adapt.
10 Tricks For Fixing The Problem Of Ball Pythons Not Eating
Stick To Frozen Prey
It’s time to get into ways you’ll be able to fix this issue and get your pet eating normally again.
First on our list of solutions is only feeding your snake frozen prey, particularly frozen rodents.
We touched on this briefly earlier, but you should avoid live prey as it is risky and stressful for the snake to eat.
If something goes wrong, which it often does with live prey, your snake will become injured by the prey animal.
These injuries are serious and even life-threatening in some cases if the snake’s head or eyes become damaged.
Yes, in the wild, ball pythons survive on live prey, but it’s also important to note they have significantly shorter life spans in the wild, too.
This is partly because they have to eat live prey to survive and often suffer painful injuries from them.
Plus, since they often don’t get any veterinary care in the wild, these injuries are especially prone to developing infections.
Overall, it’s far safer and more enjoyable for pet ball pythons in captivity to consume frozen prey.
If your snake seems a bit resistant to eating frozen food items, keep reading, as we’ll cover what you should do to boost their appetite and interest in the prey without resorting to live feeders.
One of the issues with frozen prey is some snakes are resistant to eating it at first, as frozen prey doesn’t move.
To solve this problem, many reptile experts recommend using a method known as “tease feeding” to boost their interest in the frozen feeders.
Tease feeding is exactly what it sounds like; you will want to dangle the feeder in front of the snake to give the illusion of movement.
Additionally, some reptile owners will even gently rub the feeder across the snake’s nose to get them to notice and be more interested in the prey animal.
Understandably, this method is risky if you aren’t careful.
It’s a good idea to use very long feeding tongs to assist you and prevent the snake from accidentally chewing on your hand or arm in the process.
In many cases, you’ll be able to simply drop the frozen feeder in front of the snake and allow them to do its thing once they’ve begun to show interest in eating it.
Just be sure to be very careful while tease feeding, and only use this method if it’s necessary.
Usually, once your snake has learned that frozen prey tastes just as great as a live feeder animal, they will have no issues eating frozen feeders regularly.
Scent The Prey
In addition to tease feeding, another fairly simple way to get your ball python more interested in their frozen prey is to “scent” the prey with something more pungent and tasty to them.
Many ball python owners have used things like chicken broth or even raw chicken to make the frozen prey smell better to their snake with a fair amount of success.
Ball pythons have a very keen sense of smell and use this sense to hunt their food in the wild, so in captivity, they also rely on scent to determine if their food is safe to eat.
Another more unconventional method is to scent the prey item with rodent bedding, particularly mice or gerbils.
If you don’t have rodents as pets at home, it might be a good idea to ask your local pet shop if they are willing to part with the used bedding for their rodents.
If you’re uncomfortable doing this, just use animal broth, another feeder, or raw chicken to scent the prey.
Warm Up Their Food
Heating your snake’s food is another great, easy way to boost their appetite.
In the wild, ball pythons often hunt their prey by detecting body heat from animals nearby.
In captivity, they are often a bit picky when it comes to the temperature of their prey.
If it’s too cold, many snakes will be unwilling to eat it as they simply aren’t used to their prey being cold.
To warm up your snake’s prey a bit before mealtimes, be sure to remove the prey from your freezer around 24 hours before offering it to them.
Put it in the fridge rather than just leaving it out at room temperature to prevent harmful bacteria from forming on the animal.
After it’s thawed out for a day or so in the fridge, some snakes will be more willing to eat the prey.
If your ball python is still a bit resistant, though, it helps to heat the feeder a little more under a heat lamp.
Again, be sure the prey doesn’t get too warm, as you don’t want to expose your snake to bacteria.
This method will likely take a bit of trial and error to figure out the ideal amount of time your snake needs the prey warmed up for, so don’t be too discouraged if this doesn’t show success at first.
Feed Your Snake At Night
While many reptiles are diurnal, meaning they’re active during the day like us humans, ball pythons are more nocturnal.
As a result, they tend to hunt and eat their food at night in the wild, so many captive ball pythons also prefer eating during this time.
You don’t necessarily even have to feed them in the middle of the night; in many cases, simply turning the lights down in the room you’ve housed your snake in will be enough to encourage them.
However, if your snake is particularly resistant, offer them food once it’s become completely dark outside, as they will be more active during this time anyway.
Use A Shedding Product
Shedding is often a fairly stressful and annoying process for many reptiles, especially ball pythons, as they are particularly sensitive animals.
If your snake is currently shedding, as we mentioned briefly earlier, it is normal for them to refuse to eat for days or even weeks at a time.
Sometimes, though, your snake will need a bit of help to fully remove all of its dead skin.
To assist your snake in the shedding process, it helps to bathe them using a shedding product.
These products are commonly found at pet shops and online retailers.
We highly recommend using something like Zilla’s Shed-Ease, as it is inexpensive and works well to help soothe your snake’s skin while they shed as well as to remove the shedding skin.
Move The Enclosure To A Quieter Area
Since ball pythons are so sensitive and attuned to their environments, there are many reasons why they will refuse to eat if they suspect something is off when it comes to their surroundings.
One of the biggest reasons a ball python will refuse their food is due to stress from their surroundings.
Even if the enclosure is set up perfectly, none of this will matter if the room the enclosure is kept in is noisy or chaotic.
Keep your ball python’s enclosure in a quiet, preferably isolated room to minimize external stressors as much as possible.
Make sure any other animals in your home, especially dogs or cats, are kept far enough away from the snake’s enclosure so your snake won’t be able to interact with them.
Nobody likes to eat in a chaotic, noisy, or stressful environment, especially ball pythons!
Offer More Hiding Spots
Ball pythons are often somewhat reclusive and shy animals, so providing them with both a dry and moist hide is essential to making them feel comfortable.
If your snake’s enclosure lacks adequately sized hides for your pet to seek shelter when they’re feeling shy, they will quickly become stressed out and, as a result, refuse to eat.
The hides should be large enough for the snake to fit inside comfortably yet cozy enough for them to feel safe and secure.
We recommend something like Zoo Med’s Repti Caves, as they are well-sized and look very natural and attractive in a ball python enclosure.
Add Variation To Their Diet
Nobody wants to eat the same thing every single day, and your ball python certainly won’t, either.
If you’ve been offering your ball python the same type or size of rodent and they seem to be getting a bit bored, switch things up a bit.
Ball pythons can eat various prey animals, from mice and rats to chicks and even gerbils.
Offer different animals of varying sizes (just don’t offer anything too large!) to get your snake more interested in their meals.
Some snakes prefer rats over mice and vice versa.
If All Else Fails, See A Vet!
Suppose you’ve attempted all of these solutions and your ball python still isn’t eating.
In that case, it’s best to just contact a reputable reptile veterinarian to determine the cause of their lack of appetite.
Even though ball pythons can go weeks or even months without food, don’t wait too long, as the lack of nutrition will cause them to quickly lose weight and become prone to other illnesses and health issues.
It helps to keep a feeding diary along with weighing your snake from time to time to keep track of their diet and weight.
This way, you’ll be able to tell your vet exactly when the issue arose, how much weight the snake has lost, and what you’ve been feeding them.
As a result, they’ll be able to more accurately treat your pet and develop a treatment plan for them moving forward.