Ball pythons are popular pet reptiles, and feeding these snakes a proper diet is essential to keep them healthy. By understanding this snake's nutritional needs and dietary preferences, it is possible to feed one well without too much difficulty.
What Wild Ball Pythons Eat
The ball python (Python regius), also called the royal python, is native to Africa and is one of the most popular pet snakes because of its relatively small size and easy care requirements. In the wild, these snakes regularly eat a variety of rodents such as shrews and mice, and their diet may also include small birds, amphibians or fish. These are carnivorous snakes that require a diet of meat both in the wild and when kept as pets.
Pet Ball Python Diet
The most popular foods for a pet ball python include:
The exact food depends on the snake's age - younger snakes are smaller and cannot swallow or digest food that is too large. Ideally, the prey offered to the snake should be the same as or only slightly larger than the widest part of the snake's body. Very young snakes should be fed baby mice, while older, more mature snakes can be fed a wider variety of foods. As a matter of course, ball pythons will not eat crickets or insects.
Where to Get Python Food
Pet stores commonly stock small mice that can be purchased for a ball python diet, or interested snake owners can breed their own mice for a ready supply of food. It is not wise to capture wild mice to feed pet snakes, since wild mice may host lice, fleas, ticks or other parasites that can be hazardous to the snake as well as its owners.
Vegetarian Diets Are Not Appropriate
Squeamish snake owners often fantasize about the idea of training their snake to be a vegetarian, or conditioning the python to eat only insects or eggs instead of small mammals or rodents. While a few rare snakes may adapt to this type of diet temporarily, it is not nutritious and does not fulfill their dietary needs. Snakes that don't eat meat will develop nutritional deficiencies and poor health. As a matter of course, snakes do not benefit from nutritional supplements and must get the proper nutrition from the proper diet.
How to Feed Your Python
It is always best to feed snakes whole mice or rodents; the organs, skin and other parts of their prey supply essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are critical for a healthy pet. It is also important to kill the snake's prey before feeding it; even small mice will fight for their lives, and a minor scratch or bite from frantic prey can quickly cause an infection that could be fatal to the snake. Pre-killed prey can be purchased from pet stores, and dead mice and rodents can be stored in a freezer for several weeks if necessary. The prey should be fully thawed - although not cooked - before feeding it to a python.
If a young, inexperienced python has difficulty understanding how to eat already dead prey, it is possible to condition the snake to pre-killed prey by wiggling the prey near the snake to simulate movement before it strikes. After a few feedings, the snake will become accustomed to the already dead prey.
- Age-appropriate feeding schedule: Young ball pythons typically need to eat one to two times per week, while older, larger snakes can eat just once a week.
- Best time to feed: Snakes will be more active in the evening and near dusk, and will more readily attack prey if fed at that time.
- Digestion: After feeding, it can take four to five days for the snake to fully digest the prey. A warm, dark hiding spot will help smooth digestion. A snake will defecate after digestion is complete.
- When to feed again: Once the python has defecated, another feeding can be presented within a day or two. While feeding schedules can be helpful to monitor how much a snake is eating, slightly randomizing the feedings will more closely simulate how a snake would feed in the wild and can be a healthier diet pattern.
If Your Ball Python Doesn't Eat
Ball pythons can be picky eaters and may avoid food for several reasons, including:
- The prey is too big.
- The snake is shedding or preparing to shed its skin.
- A female snake is incubating eggs.
- The temperature or humidity of the enclosure is incorrect.
- The snake is stressed from its environment or too much handling.
- The snake is ill.
It is perfectly normal for ball pythons to avoid eating for several weeks, especially during the winter breeding season. If a snake stops eating, watch it closely for any signs of poor health, especially weight loss. If the snake has not eaten after 45 to 60 days, or if it shows other signs of distress, it may be necessary to consult a veterinarian experienced with pet snakes and other reptiles.
The Right Diet Is Crucial for Good Health
By understanding what ball pythons eat and how to feed them properly, it is possible to provide your pet snake with a healthy, nutritious diet. Combine that diet with good husbandry, and your pet will likely live a longer, more contented life.