Q: Why is my ball python not eating?
My ball python won’t eat!
Ball pythons are not the most cooperative of creatures when it comes to eating on a regular basis. Here’s why and how to manage it.
Remember: fasting is a normal behaviour a ball python uses in times of need. Consider it a ball python super power! Healthy adult snakes can go a year or more without eating. When conditions are just right they will respond with an aggressive feeding response.
Why is my ball python not eating?
There are many reasons why a captive ball python goes off food and when they do it can be the most frustrating of things. You, as their primary care giver, are now responsible for figuring out why. Don’t get me wrong, your husbandry most likely will be within the acceptable range for providing the best of care for your snake but what does the snake think? Here’s where you need to start thinking outside the box.
Ball pythons, while being a predator, are also prey and tend to have a shy and seclusive disposition.
Does your snake rapidly recoil in fright every time you dangle a prey item in its face? Do you lift his/her hut to make sure the they can smell and get a good look at the prey item? Compromising the safety of your snake by scaring it will not lead to a successful feeding. This might be the cause of your ball python not eating. Your snake will learn to associate the smell of food with a compromise in its safety and it will be more difficult to get your snake to eat. Try catching your snake when he/she is in the mood. Look for that S curved neck with their head sticking out of their hut.
Offer food to your snake then take it away. This teaches the snake that food is an opportunity, not a luxury. If the snake doesn’t eat within ten minutes she probably isn’t going to. Do not lift her hut to see what she is doing. Having a giant lifting her safe spot all the time can be very scary to her! If your snake doesn’t have a hut, try giving her one. If she has a hut then change her house to something different. She might think her new house is safer than her old one! I find my ball pythons are most comfortable in a circular shaped hut.
Are you a new snake owner? Is your snake new to your home? Switching environments can be stressful. Be sure to leave your pet alone for the first two weeks so they can settle in.
Over handling a snake can put a ball python off food. Ball pythons are seclusive nocturnal creatures that prefer to be left alone. Depending on their personality, being frequently taken from their safe spot into bright light can seriously stress them out.
Is there loud music being played in your house? Snakes don’t hear the way we do. They are fine tuned to sense the vibrations of their prey and can be sensitive to excessive vibrations. Anything loud can tell them that their environment is not safe.
If your snake is in shed then it’s best to put a hold on feeding until she is done. The shedding process can make snakes very grumpy and they tend to feel very vulnerable and can contribute to your ball python not eating.
Comfortable Living Parameters
I can’t stress correct temperature enough. I remember the story of a guy whose snake wasn’t eating and when questioned about it he was insulted and insisted his temps were just fine. When asked what the exact temperature was he replied: 75F. Ice cold to a ball python! Get an infra red temperature measuring device. Either Zoomed or Exoterra will do. They’re an affordable $30 nowadays and super accurate. What a good investment! I don’t regret getting one. Caution: I may have also spent an entire day temperature testing everything in my house.
If you have a rack, simply moving a finicky eater from one slot to another elsewhere in the rack can make the difference in temperature for the snake to start eating again. This can be true for a ball python in a terrarium. Try changing her location!
Maintaining humidity is most difficult in a glass terrarium enclosure. A flaky bad shed is a sign of low humidity. Try misting your snake’s enclosure once a day. If humidity is very low (read: dry house in the winter) try filling a secondary water bowl with wet vermiculite and place it in the snake’s enclosure. Use saran wrap across HALF of the top of the enclosure and keep in place with the screen lid to keep the humidity in. Maintain good air flow to prevent mould.
Try a heat pad to offer belly heat. Reptiles naturally bask in the sun to warm up and have a natural instinct to seek out warm surfaces.
Ball pythons who are good eaters need only the darkness of their hut to feel comfortable but others are really sensitive. Is there a bright light constantly shining on your ball python? Do you never turn the lights out because the light is your only heat source? Too much light can stress out a ball python. They are nocturnal and don’t feel safe when exposed to bright light. Try switching your heat bulb to an infra red one or alternatively try a heat pad for belly heat.
If you have a rack and clear plastic tubs try switching to opaque tubs or alternatively use opaque tape to block out the light.
When the lights turn off ball pythons come out to hunt. Darkness encourages them to feed. Try feeding one half hour to an an hour after turning out the lights.
For the purposes of this article I am assuming you are feeding frozen thawed. Ball pythons sense their world in infrared with their heat pits. Make sure the prey item is HOT!
Did you recently change your supplier? Snakes have a powerful sense of smell and they know the difference between food from one rattery to another.
Too much food: Are you overfeeding your ball python? Ball pythons that are excessively fed are more likely to go into a fast. This coincides with the plentiful season where a ball python will pack on weight in anticipation of the winter scarcity.
The terrible 800 grams! It is not uncommon for hatchlings in their first year to go off food around 800g. This usually coincides with a temperature fluctuation signalling the coming of winter which brings on this fasting behaviour.
Some will suggest feeding a live prey item to a ball python that is used to frozen thawed. Use live only as a last resort. In my experience this has failed miserably. My picky female was frightened by something strange and alive invading her private space.
Read your snake’s body language. Try to catch your snake when she is in a food receptive move. You know the look. The ‘S’ curve in their neck with their head sticking out of their hut. This is an ambush behavior and your snake will respond favourably to food.
Is your female ball python ovulating? Does your male ball python smell an ovulating female? The breeding season can bring on a fast and this might be the cause of your ball python not eating. When getting close to laying females will go off of food while the males might take a 3-6 month food hiatus while they stalk the ladies. Be patient. They will start eating again on their own.
Is your snake sick?
Your snake may have stopped eating because it is sick. The most common diseases are respiratory infections, mouth rot, and snake mites, Take her to the vet for a checkup!
A note on assist feeding…
Do not assist feed an adult ball python that has gone off its food for less than 7 months. Fasting is a normal behavior. In fact assist feeding may cause more harm that good. It completely compromises the snake’s feeling of security and can cause them to become hand shy and prey shy; the direct opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Improper assist feeding can cause serious harm to your snake. Assist feed only as a last resort after you have exhausted all other options.
Ball pythons are notorious for being picky eaters often leaving their owners wondering: “Why is my ball python not eating?”. We, as their human caretakers, need to take a step back and get into the mindset of how our snakes are feeling and what might be stressing them. I hope this information has helped you tackle one of the most common challenges of owning a ball python. Happy herping and good luck!