You are the proud new owner of a new ball python. The enclosure is perfect, and it likes to be held and is comfortable with you.
You know what to feed and either have frozen food in the freezer or the number of a live food supplier saved in your contacts. The question remains: how often should you feed your sweet ball python?
It is important to note that snakes are cold-blooded and have slower metabolisms than other, more common house pets like dogs and cats. They will not require daily feeding ever, unless under direct recommendation from your vet.
A Quick Note On What To Feed:
The size of the python plays a role in how often you feed the correctly sized feeder. Larger snakes will eat larger meals less often than a smaller snake eating a smaller meal.
The best practice with feeding your ball python is to base the size of the feeder on the size of the snake. Professional keepers recommend to feed one feeder of the correct size versus two smaller feeders that make up the same weight.
Weighing your snake on a regular basis is a good habit to integrate into your snake husbandry routine, and a simple kitchen scale will do the trick. However, if a scale is not available, you should feed your snake one feeder animal (usually a mouse or rat) that is the same size as the widest part of your snake’s body.
Another way to decide what to feed is to use a feeder that is about 10% of your python’s body weight. For example, if your ball python weighs 150 grams, or a little over 5 ounces, you could feed a medium mouse or a rat fuzzy which both weigh in at around 13-18 g.
Feeding A Python During Its First Year
With smaller ball pythons, you should feed them more often than older and larger ball pythons. Smaller ball pythons will eat every 5-7 days.
This more frequent feeding happens because they digest the small feeder more quickly than the larger feeders
Feeding A Python During Years 2-3
Generally, a python that is in its second and third years of life is still growing, but the growth rate has slowed down. They will be eating larger feeders less frequently than when they were small and younger.
These snakes should eat about every 10 days.
Feeding A Python Over 3 Years Old
After you snake is over 3, their growth rate will level out, slow and even. These snakes usually require feeding every two weeks or so. You will want to monitor weight carefully.
If you notice that your snake is losing weight, you will want to feed a little more frequently.
Feeding A Baby Ball Python
The average hobby snake owner is not going to have to worry about baby pythons, as most breeders make sure that pythons are eating consistently and eating well. Baby pythons may not eat for a couple of weeks because they are still full from their egg; however, offering food is still a good idea.
Once the first couple of weeks have passed, a baby ball python should be fed about every 5 days.
A snake is capable of not eating for up to 6 months (Bryner 2007). This is an extreme survival reaction and should never be attempted for your pet snake. Snakes thrive on consistent, predictable feedings.
However, there are different times in a ball python’s life where it will refuse food, like during the cooler winter months, around shed, and during breeding season. These are perfectly normal. There are also times when a ball python might refuse food, indicating a sign of sickness or injury.
Some snakes will limit their food intake for a while in the winter. This is nothing to worry about and is perfectly normal.
Not all snakes will do this; but it is fairly common. Simply keep offering your snake food at the regular feeding intervals until feeding picks up again.
If you notice that your snake is looking thin (you can see a pronounced spine), refusing to drink water, or acting very strangely, check with your local exotic animal veterinarian.
Shed time is always a slightly off time for snakes. They can be a little more irritable, and they can skip a meal or two.
You can tell that your snake is getting ready to shed by watching for milky or blue-looking eyes and dull or cloudy skin, especially on the underside. Snakes in the shed will often hide more and try to find rough spots in the terrarium to help ease their shed off.
It is very common for snakes to fast or refuse food during breeding season, especially if there are both male and female snakes in the same area. They tend to be focused on other things – *wink wink*. So, don’t worry.
Keep offering food. Keep monitoring weight. Your snake will soon start eating again like normal.
Like other pets, snakes will let you know that they are hungry. However, it is important to know that because ball pythons, as well as other snakes, have lower metabolisms.
This means that they do not need to eat as often as your average house pet, like a dog, cat, bird, or small furry pet.
When a ball python becomes hungry, it will become more active, effectively “hunting” throughout their enclosure. You may see them climbing along the branches or other enrichment pieces in their enclosures.
You may see them stretch out and slither along the bottom of their vivariums. My snake will come completely out of her hide when she is wanting a mouse.
Other snake owners have seen their snakes poking around their enclosure openings, as they remember where and how their food comes to them.
Flicking Tongues And Heightened Awareness
Hungry snakes will often track objects placed next to their glass walls, and you will see more flicking tongue as they scent and sense their way through their space. This tongue flicking increases as your snake gets more hungry, all building up to excitement for the incoming food.
She will also be more attentive to voices around her terrarium.
One of the major benefits of snake ownership versus other common household pets is their slow metabolism. Even with young snakes, you will only be feeding your snake every 5-7 days.
This makes getting away, even for a long weekend, extremely simple. There are, however, some precautions to make sure your ball python stays happy and healthy while you are away.
When you know you are going away for the weekend, you can make minor adjustments to your snake’s feeding schedule. For example, if you normally feed your young, small snake every 5 days and the next feeding would land on a Saturday.
You could offer food a day early, or you can hold your snake off for a couple days until you return. A day or two of extra wait time will not hurt your snake.
With an older, larger snake, there is even more time between their feedings, so you have more freedom to adjust the days.
Make sure that your ball will have access to extra water. This may mean switching its normal water dish for a larger or larger one, or placing a second dish of water in the vivarium.
An extra precaution that will help ease your mind is to do a dry run with the water. Track how quickly your snake drinks and it evaporates; then, you will know for sure your snake will always have enough water.
Heat And Light
If your snake vivarium has a heat and uv light that you usually turn on and off by hand, it may be time to invest in a timer. You can purchase something as simple as a timing device that turns on and off every so many minutes.
There are also more sophisticated set ups that can adjust the heat and light by monitoring the temperature of the enclosure.
A Friendly Neighborhood…Snake Man?
If you have taken all of the above precautions and are still worried about spending a few days away from your scaly baby, you can always get in touch with a friend, family member, or neighbor to check in on your ball python. They can simply check to make sure that the snake has water and the temperature in tank is normal.
Owning a snake, like owning any pet, is an adventure. They are unique and easy to take care of. They are friendly (most of the time) ,and unlike furry pets, they don’t require as much daily care.
As you care for your ball python, you and it will continue to learn more about each other and grow more and more comfortable together.