Besides being one of the easiest pets to care for, Ball Pythons are one of the most docile animals on the planet. Cats and dogs have to eat each and every day. Cats must have their litter boxes cleaned, and dogs have to be walked. Ball Pythons only eat every seven to ten days, and go just about as often. This makes them a great pet for people who travel, or simply don’t have much time. Ball Pythons however, are cold blooded. This means that they have a few extra requirements (temperature and humidity). Once their home is set up properly, these extra requirements don’t take much extra time or effort. These requirements are however, nonnegotiable.
Most snakes should eat a meal that is the same diameter as the snake in it’s thickest spot. If the thickest part of your snake is about one inch in diameter, then the meal that you feed it should also be an inch in diameter. If your snake eats a meal that is too small, then it will not be getting enough nutrition. If they eat a meal that is too large, they could have trouble getting it down. If they do get it down, then it could upset their feeding cycle, or the snake could even stop eating for a while.
Typically with the correct sized meal Ball Pythons eat every seven days. I know people that always feed every ten days and their snakes do just fine. However those snakes are pets only. If you plan on becoming a snake breeder then your snakes should eat more often than every ten days (in my opinion).
Ball pythons eat rodents, typically mice or rats. As the snake grows, mice will become too small of a meal. Rats are a better choice of food to keep them on. Sometimes if your snake is used to mice, they can be very stubborn when switching to rats. Ball pythons can eat live rodents, or frozen rodents that have to be thawed. There are pros and cons to each. We always prefer to feed frozen/thawed (FT), over live for the following reasons;
One – It is much easier. It is much easier to keep bags of rodents on hand in the freezer, than to keep live rodents that need to be cared for. There are times when local pet stores are out of specific food items. We prefer to keep plenty on hand.
Two – It is safer for the snake. Sometimes the rat can chew on the snake causing injury. Many of the snakes that we have are rescues. Some of them have injuries from being fed live rodents. One of them is missing most of its tail due to a rat chewing it off. We are glad that we got the snake out of that environment.
Three – It costs less. We can get medium rats for roughly $1.50 each when frozen. They cost over $5.00 when live. I realize that costs would be greatly reduced if we produce our own rats, but for now that’s an unnecessary headache.
The big pro to feeding live rodents in my opinion is that Ball Pythons prefer it over frozen/thawed. This is very important to understand. Ball Pythons are hard wired to kill their prey before they eat it. When feeding frozen/thawed some snakes need to be tricked into thinking the rodent is still alive. This is done simply by wiggling it to make it look alive. Most of the time this is not necessary. The smell of rodents in the air can make them go crazy, and they are usually ready to eat.
Unlike most types of snakes, Ball Pythons are known to fast: They can actually go months without eating. Our record was a male that went almost nine months without eating. Even though he lost virtually no weight, we were very concerned. Finally we gave him a live rodent while being supervised. Instantly he took it. The next week he took frozen/thawed, and has been back to normal feeding habits ever since.
There are many ways to thaw frozen rodents. We prefer to let them thaw slowly. Once they are thawed, we then heat them up with warm clean water. Do not feed your snake rodents that are partially frozen. Do not feed your snake rodents that are over 100°F. Before feeding the snakes, we semi dry the rodents with paper towels. If your snake refuses to take the rodent, try leaving it in with him. Some ball pythons seem to like a little privacy when they eat. Just make sure to remove the rodent if they don’t eat it within about 6 hours.
One more consideration, is to leave them alone after they eat. Don’t handle them for a good 24 hours after they eat, or they could regurgitate their rodent. If this happens don’t feed them again for a week. Regurgitating rodents can hurt their throat.
Ball Pythons also require fresh water to drink. We change the water about every week, unless it gets something in it. Then we change it out sooner. If you have a nice looking tank, you can find some really good looking natural style dishes. Always try to use distilled or filtered water if possible.
Shelter – (Heat, Humidity, Security, Bedding)
One of the most important things to understand about Ball Pythons is they require a certain temperature and humidity. They come from Africa and have to be kept warm. They require an ambient temperature between 79°F and 85°F. If they are kept much cooler, they can easily develop a respiratory infection or even die. Its also essential that they have a hot spot. This means that part of the cage is a warmer temperature than the rest of the cage. The hot spot should be between 88°F and 95°F. This hot spot is essential so that the snake can digest its meal. Without it they can develop health problems. Because we are warm blooded, we do not have this problem. Most people either use a heat light to give a hot spot, or an under tank heat pad that uses a thermostat. NEVER USE A HEAT ROCK. The temperature of a heat rock cannot be properly regulated. I have seen plenty of reptiles injured by heat rocks over the years. We recommend an under tank heating pad with a thermostat. Do not use one without a thermostat. The thermostat is what regulates the temperature, and keeps the snake from getting hurt. Heat lights can also work if they are set up properly. Just make sure that the heat light does not get too hot. Some of our rescued snakes have permanent scars from being burnt by heat lights. Under tank heaters with thermostats are much easier to get right.
Two essential tools that every reptile owner should have is a temperature gun, and a thermometer that also tells humidity. Temperature guns are very inexpensive. They can be found online for around $20. A good thermometer is around $10. The temperature gun can tell you exactly what the temperature is of your hot spot, or even your ambient temperature. If you use heat lights, this is a great way to make sure that they are not too close to your reptile.
The humidity should be around 65%. If it drops below 65%, the snake could have trouble shedding its skin. If the humidity drop way below that, then the snake can develop other health problems. Some people that live in dry climates add a humidity box in with their snake. This can be useful to the snake especially before he sheds. Another option is to cover most of the lid trapping in the humidity. Just make sure to leave enough of a gap so that the snake can breathe.
Ball Pythons also should have a way to feel secure. This can be accomplished by providing them with something to hide under, such as a box, log, or cave. Ball Pythons like security more than most other kinds of snakes. In the wild they can live in termite mounds. In captivity a big open tank can be quite intimidating. For this reason Ball Pythons tend to thrive in rack systems. The whole tub acts like a hide. If your snake is not happy it might not eat, or hiss as you go to handle it. Snakes are often crabby when they are about to shed. Their eyes turn foggy, making it hard to see. They can become nervous during this time and hiss or refuse food. During this time I just leave them be.
The final consideration is the type of bedding to use. You can use anything from aspen chips, to paper towels. Being from Minnesota our winters get pretty dry. So we prefer to use coco. There are many types from many sources. Coco holds moisture well, while also resisting mold. During the summer months when humidity is high, we mostly use paper towels, or liners. With a light mist we can hold 65% humidity pretty easily. Make sure to clean the enclosure regularly. If they sit in their own filth they can easily get sick.
Ball Pythons can be one of the easiest pets to take care of. Besides giving them food and water, make sure that they have a constant ambient temperature of 79-84°F with a hot spot of 89-95°f and humidity averaging 65%. Those numbers are not optional. Once your snake’s habitat is set up properly, only minimal maintenance will be required.