Ball Pythons (Python Regius) are small to medium snakes native to Central and Western Africa’s open grasslands and scrub forests. When scared, they tend to curl up into a ‘ball.’ One of the most common and popular snakes in the hobby, which has been bred in a variety of morphs.
Have you recently gotten a ball python, or maybe you have had one for some time but are still figuring out the ins and outs of ball python care? One of the most frequently asked questions among ball python owners is, “How often should I handle my ball python?”
This is an important question, both for your snake’s health and safety, so we’ll answer it today and give you some tips on how to handle your pet ball python!
Table of Contents
Wash Your Hands First
Before removing your ball python from its enclosure, wash your hands and scent them with hand sanitizer. This removes potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites from your hands while also leaving your hands odorless. Ball pythons use heat sensing and smell to locate prey.
Your pet may mistake your (warm) hands for food if they smell like rats, animals, or anything remotely appetizing. (See the section below titled “What if it bites?” for more information.)
Even if you are bitten, it is not a major issue. Ball python bites cause very little harm and appear much worse than they are. Read more on Ball Python Caresheet.
How to Pick up a Snake
Once your hands are clean and smell like chemicals, tap its head with a paper towel roll (gently). This signals to the snake that it is time for handling, not food, and avoids potential mishaps caused by a misunderstanding. It is safe to pick up the snake after it calms down, slow tongue flicks
Pick it up with two hands, one behind your head and the other supporting the rest of your body. Picking up a snake by its tail can cause severe spinal damage. During handling, continue to support the snake’s body and use a loose grip to allow it to move freely. If the snake is moving in a direction you don’t want it to, gently guide its head away with your free hand. Fast movements should be avoided because they can frighten your snake.
Snakes use their powerful muscles to wrap around objects for stability because they don’t have hands or feet to help them climb. During handling, your ball python will act like a tree, wrapping around your body, arms, and so on to keep you from falling. This is normal, and not them trying to kill you.
Safety with Snakes
There are no aggressive or malicious ball pythons; they simply lack the brain development required for such complex thought processes. They do, however, act instinctively, and they are unaware of their own strength. Always supervise children when they are handling any type of snake to ensure their safety.
This is for the safety of both the snake and the child. Keep the snake’s head away from your face and away from your neck. If it starts to wrap around your neck, you can move the snake or put a hand between you and it to keep it from getting too tight.
What if it bites?
Ball pythons are unlikely to bite humans, but it is likely that it will attempt or even succeed in biting you at some point. Bites usually occur for one of two reasons: 1) the snake mistook you for food, or 2) the snake perceived you as a threat. Because ball pythons are not particularly intelligent, expect to be bitten at some point and don’t be alarmed if you are.
Don’t yank the snake off of you; doing so risks ripping out its teeth, which can cause a nasty infection in your pet. Because the teeth of a ball python are facing backwards, pulling the snake toward you (rather than away, as your instincts will tell you) should dislodge it. If that doesn’t work, try sprinkling cold water or Listerine on the pythons face.
Why Do Ball Pythons Need To Be Handled
Some of you may be wondering why ball pythons even need to be handled. Isn’t it true that they’re happier when they’re left alone? Ball pythons need to be handled on a regular basis for several reasons.
For starters, handling them on a day-to-day basis keeps them docile and friendly. It also helps them become accustomed to you and humans in general, ensures that they do not only associate people (and their cage opening) with feeding time, and encourages them to exercise and stay active.
Do Ball Pythons Like to Be Handled
While ball pythons are not typically emotional or “cuddly” creatures (they will never come running towards you to be picked up), they do tolerate handling quite well. Some may even enjoy getting out of their tank and getting some exercise while you handle them.
Just remember to be on the lookout for signs of ball python stress. If your ball python becomes stressed when you handle them, it could be because you handle it too frequently or at inconvenient times.
Handling ball pythons too much can cause them to bite you. Therefore, it’s important to know when to hold and when to leave them alone.
Do not handle when…
Although it is important to handle your ball python on a regular basis, there will also be times when you should leave it alone. Pay attention to the following situations and signs to avoid stressing your ball python or causing potential health problems.
When you bring them home
When you first bring your pet ball python home, they will most likely be stressed from the ordeal of transportation and change in environment, so give them time to settle in and adjust to their new surroundings before attempting to handle them.
If you try to handle your new ball python too quickly, they may perceive you as a threat and attempt to defend themself.
A general rule of thumb is to wait a week or two or until they have eaten and digested their first meal before trying to handle it for the first time.
When they’re shedding
Another time to leave your ball python alone is when they are shedding. When shedding, almost all ball pythons become grumpy and agitated, so you shouldn’t add to the stress by attempting to handle them.
During shedding, ball pythons refuse to eat. They do, however, get thirsty regularly, so you should always keep clean water on hand for them! Read more about Ball Python Shedding.
When they’re stressed
You should never handle your ball python when they are stressed. Ball pythons can become defensive and agitated when stressed, and they can also develop stress-related health problems.
How do you know if your ball python is stressed and should be left alone?
Not eating, trying to hide its head when you’re handling it, and being overly active during the day are all signs. If your ball python is showing these signs of stress, keep an eye on them, from a distance to see if it relaxes, and most importantly, don’t handle them until it calms down!
Read more about Ball Python Stress.
Right after they eat
This one is crucial, so even if you break all the other rules, don’t ignore this!
After eating, a ball python requires ample time (at least 48 to 72 hours) to digest their food without interruptions or pressure.
Handling is included. Why is this so? When the ball python feels anxious or threatened, one of their main predator-avoidance strategies is to vomit up their food. They do this to ensure that they can move as quickly as possible without being slowed by the weight of their undigested meal.
If you handle your ball python soon after it has been fed, they may regurgitate and vomit up its meal. This is not only stressful for the snake, but it also causes temporary damage to the inside of their throat. If this happens to your pet ball python, make sure you wait around 2 weeks before handling them again.
What about salmonella?
Salmonella infection from reptiles, contrary to popular belief, is extremely rare if proper hygiene and husbandry protocols are followed. If you keep your snake’s terrarium clean and thoroughly wash your hands after each handling session, you should never have a problem.
How Often Should I Handle My Ball Python
Now that we know why we need to handle ball pythons regularly, and when it is best to leave them alone and not handle them, let’s talk about how frequently you should handle your ball python.
It is best to handle your ball python 1-3 times per week.
However, keep in mind that you must wait at least 48-72 hours after it has eaten to allow for proper digestion and to reduce the risk of regurgitation. So, in simple terms, the number of times you can safely handle it each week is determined by how many times you feed it.
Handle your ball python no more than once per day. For example, if Monday is your day to handle your ball python, don’t make the mistake of handling them on Wednesday after you already picked them up.
How Often Should You Handle Young Ball Pythons
If you have a hatchling or juvenile ball python, you should probably limit handling sessions to once a week.
Keep in mind that they are very defensive at this age, so you must be persistent, patient, and gentle when holding them, but never overhandle them.
How Long Should Handling Sessions Last
Although there is no strict rule about how long you should handle your ball python every time you pick it up, it’s best to keep it under 20 minutes.
Again, snakes are solitary creatures who prefer to be left alone, so handling them for an extended period of time can cause stress and possible health problems.
Keep an eye on your ball python’s mood while holding it to determine when it’s time to return to its tank.
If you’ve ever wondered, “How often should I hold my ball python?” We hope this article has helped. While it is important to handle ball pythons on a daily basis, you should never overdo it. Handle your ball python no more than 1-3 times per week, and no more than once per day.