What to Do When a Ball Python Doesn’t Eat?

It can be very stressful to figure out why a ball python won’t eat (especially for newer owners). These reptiles, unlike many other pets, don’t give you many clues! If you want to figure things out, you’ll need to understand their attitudes and needs. For this reason, we put together this helpful guide to walk you through the process to make things easier!

How Long Can A Ball Python Go Without Eating?

Fasting is a normal behaviour for a wild ball python. They are capable of going months without eating. A ball python can go a year without eating if necessary.

This means you don’t have to be concerned right away if your ball python refuses to eat. However, if they refuse meals for several months or show other signs of illness, you should definitely consult with a veterinarian. Read more on ball python care.

Reasons why your ball python isn’t eating

When a ball python refuses to feed, there are many things to consider. Although it may seem to be a little puzzling and open-ended at first, it is actually quite simple.

You can usually figure out the answer using a simple method of elimination. It just takes a little detective work to figure it out!

Anxiety and stress:

Stress is most likely the most common reason why a ball python won’t eat. If you have recently brought your pet home, changed their enclosure, or taken them on a trip, they may be feeling anxious. If you have just brought your ball python home or changed their enclosure, leave them alone for two weeks to allow them to adjust.

Picking up your snake too much can also cause them stress. Ball pythons are nocturnal creatures that prefer to be alone. Many of them don’t like being picked up that frequently. If your ball python stops eating, try to pick them up as little as possible until they start eating again.

Loud noises can also be stressful, causing a ball python to stop eating. This is due to the fact that a ball python hears differently than most other animals. These reptiles are highly sensitive to vibrations in their surroundings. The vibrations picked up by a snake help in them detect prey and predators. If you play loud music on a regular basis, your snake may become stressed and feel unsafe in their environment. Try to keep the noise level in your home as low as possible, especially in the room where you sleep.

In order to eat, your ball python must feel secure in its surroundings. You can make your ball python feel more secure by providing at least two hides in their enclosure. Place one hide on the warm side and the other on the cool side of the enclosure. Read in detail on ball python stress.

Insufficient lighting:

Ball pythons prefer to eat in the dark, and many will refuse to eat if it is too bright outside. With some, the darkness of their hut is sufficient, but others require more darkness to feel comfortable eating.

If your ball python’s enclosure has a bright light that is always on because it is the only heat source, try switching to an infrared bulb or putting a heating pad underneath the enclosure instead. This lets you provide them with the heat they require while also allowing them to enjoy the darkness.

Breeding time:

It is normal for your ball python to stop eating during breeding season. If a male snake detects an ovulating female, he may stop eating for three to six months.

A female snake may stop eating just before laying eggs. If you’re breeding females and this behaviour corresponds to the expected egg-laying timeline, this could be the culprit!

Their enclosure is too cold:

The temperature of your ball python’s enclosure needs to be just right for them to feed, which is why it’s one of the most critical aspects of their treatment. Heat your ball python’s enclosure with a basking light, heating pads, or a ceramic heat emitter. The temperature inside the enclosure should be between 88 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit on the warm side and no lower than 75 degrees Fahrenheit on the cool side. Mount several thermometers to monitor the temperature in the enclosure.

Ball pythons, like all cold-blooded animals, need sufficient heat to properly digest their food. When a ball python’s enclosure is too cold, they won’t feed because they know they won’t be able to digest their food properly. If a snake can’t digest its food, the food they eat will rot inside its body, potentially causing severe health problems.

Diseases or illness:

If your ball python is sick, they may stop eating. Snake mites, respiratory infections, and mouth rot are some of the most common illnesses in snakes.

If you notice any other signs of illness in your ball python, take them to your veterinarian for a thorough examination. Aside from a lack of appetite, other signs of illness in snakes include eye, nasal, or oral discharge, wheezing, or clicking.

Snakes often stop eating due to stress, and a visit to the vet can add to the stress and exasperate the situation. Unless there are other accompanying symptoms, or it has been several months and you have tried everything else, it is usually better to wait it out.

Seasonal changes:

Ball pythons have an internal clock that alerts them when it becomes cold outside. When winter arrives, snakes in the wild will enter a hibernation-like state known as brumation. A ball python stops eating and becomes inactive during brumation. Even when kept in warm enclosures, many ball pythons in captivity will enter brumation.

By learning to recognize these signs you’ll be able to figure out if this is normal behavior or not.

They might not feel comfortable in their closure:

Ball pythons in the wild hide in burrows and wait for their prey to come to them. This strategy works extremely well, but there’s a catch:

Rodents, the ball python’s primary prey, have a good sense of smell. That is why a ball python will seek out a new nest after shedding its skin or defecating. If your ball python is refusing to eat, try thoroughly cleaning their enclosure after each skin shed and defecation. The theory is that if your snake can’t smell himself, he’ll eat more readily.

It’s their shedding time:

When they are about to shed, most ball pythons will not eat. They’re already anticipating a significant task ahead of them, and eating is the last thing on their minds! Their primary goal is to find a safe place to shed.

If your ball python’s scales are ashy and dull, and their eye caps are gray-blue, they are most likely about to shed. As you gain more experience, this will become second nature to you. Once their done shedding, offer them food after a day or two. More in detail on ball python shedding.

They are picky about the food you give them:

Even with all of the above issues addressed, some ball pythons can be extremely picky about how AND what they eat. This is especially the case for ball pythons caught in the wild.

Fortunately, because there are so many captive-bred ball pythons available, this problem is becoming less common. But it can still happen with the odd wild-caught or captive-bred python.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve recognised all of the common reasons why a ball python won’t eat, you can work backward to determine the most likely cause. Fortunately, with time and practice, this becomes easier.  Remember, most of the time there is nothing to be worried about. But it’s always a good idea to play it safe! If you have any concerns about anything you’re seeing, contact your reptile veterinarian to find out what they recommend.

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