How to Feed a Ball Python (Schedule, Cost, and Tips)

Before purchasing a pet snake including the ball python, it is important to understand what it will eat and how best to take good care of it. Feeding a pet snake doesn’t have to be a daunting task. After doing some research I found taking care of a ball python can be rather easy and exciting.

How should you feed a ball python? Juvenile ball pythons need to eat a pre-killed mouse once a week to help them grow whereas adult ball pythons should eat an appropriately-sized mouse once every two weeks.

There isn’t a specific size of a mouse for each age of a snake but a good rule of thumb is to feed the snake a mouse that is as big as the largest width of the snake. As the snake grows larger, so should the food she eats.

What do I feed the Ball Python?

Mice! Ball pythons love mice above any other option presented to them.

The size of the snake is an essential element as well.

The mouse should be roughly the same size as the largest part of the python’s midsection.

It may be hard to understand but this python can fit and swallow food much larger than its head. The mouse can be slightly bigger than its midsection but remember your pet snake shouldn’t look like a tennis ball trapped in a garden hose. The snake will have intense problems if it eats a rodent that is different from its size.

It goes without saying that mice and rats are not for human consumption. Do not prepare and thaw the mouse in the same area normal food is prepared. If unavoidable, be sure to completely sanitize the area once you are done.

Mouse Sizes

Here is the complete size chart for frozen mice.

Mouse identifier nameAgeSize
PinkyDay(s) old0.5 to 1 inch
Fuzzy
One to two weeks old1.25 to 1.5 inches
HopperTwo to three weeks1.5 to 3 inches
WeanlingsThree weeks to a month3 to 4 inches
AdultOver thirty days4 to 6 inches

It is important to use the frozen rodents that are thawed or warmed to above room temperature. Complete the following instructions to successfully and correctly thaw a frozen rodent.

How do I Thaw Frozen Mice or Rats?

Since snakes are cold-blooded, their food needs to be warm or else it can be harmful to them. Imagine eating a snow cone but it never warms up or melts. Talk about the ultimate brain freeze!

Because transporting and storing frozen mice is the most convenient and practical for the commercial market, we will need to thaw the mice before we feed one to our ball python. Here are the steps.

  1. Take the mouse or mice from the original packaging and place into a ziplock or another similar bag. Remove as much air from the bag as you can. Seal the bag.
  2. Place the bag with the selected mouse into a small to medium sized Tupperware container. 
  3. Take the container and fill with warm water, this can either be from a sink faucet or water that has been heated up. It shouldn’t be boiling as that will do more than thaw the mouse.
  4. Once filled to the top, close the container and leave it for fifteen to thirty minutes. Check at the halfway point to make sure the water is still warm.
  5. After fifteen or thirty minutes, remove the bag from the container of water. Feel the mice through the bag to make sure they feel at least room temperature.
  6. The mice are now prepped for your snake. Place snake in a separate tank (not required) and introduce thawed mouse.

You may wonder why we put the mouse in a bag and not just run it under warm water. The scent of the mouse is important to the snake. They use scents as a tool in their hunting and can identify food vs. other items this way.

By running water over the body, the oils and scents of the mouse have stripped away, making it harder for the snake to find interest as well as locate the prey. This can also make it harder to distinguish between your human hand and the mouse. Leaving the mouse in an empty bag retain these smells and helps the snake locate the food.

People may be tempted to simply thaw the mouse in the microwave or on a hot surface. This is highly discouraged for several reasons. Microwaving a mouse can easily burn the mouse, its fur, and potentially cause the mouse to explode.

In addition, it is crucial not to prepare the mouse in the same area as the normal preparing and eating area for yourself and others. This can cause contamination of other food for you and others. Always wash your hands and any other surface that the mouse touched after feeding the snake.

Schedule

Like watering a cactus plant that doesn’t need water every day, it can be challenging to know when and how much to feed your pet snake. Luckily, the schedule for a ball python is straightforward. We will break up the schedule into the three basic age groups.

  1. Baby ball pythons
  2. Juvenile
  3. Adulthood

Baby ball pythons are growing the most of the three groups and need to be feed accordingly. Feed her weekly or even every five to six days.

Juvenile ball pythons are between one and three years on average in captivity. In the wild, they can take four to five years to reach adulthood due to inconsistency of meals and parasites. 

Feed the juvenile ball python weekly. It is 

Ball pythons are full grown at four to five feet. Once they have reached this adulthood, it is recommended to feed the snake once every two weeks. You may find adult mice are no longer big enough for the python. If this is the case, you may want to move onto rats.

Rats follow a similar size chart as mice. Rat pups are generally the same as weanling mice and weanling rats are the same as adult mice. Adult rats are a big range, anywhere from an extra-large mouse to rabbit size.

What do I do if My Ball Python Isn’t Eating?

Sometimes you will discover that the python has left his meal untouched for several days. Remove any rodent that hasn’t been touched in several days to eliminate the possibility of parasites. A ball python, or many snakes for that matter, that isn’t eating may be an indication of one of several things.

  • Shedding
  • Digestive or other health problems
  • Cage temperature too hot or cold
  • The snake is in a seasonal fasting period.
  • Other stresses

We will cover these reasons and how to react to all of them here.

Shedding is a natural and regular process for snakes. While shedding, snakes can be at a higher level of stress and will typically refuse to eat just before and after this process. Just wait it out before attempting to feed again.

Digestive or other possible health problems should be discussed with a reptile vet who can expertly offer guidance on how to proceed.

Check the temperature and humidity levels. Are they at the optimal place? If not, correct this and wait till the cage has adjusted before feeding.

If you are still unsure why your ball python is not eating then visit with your reptile vet to see what could be causing this extra stress.

How Much Will The Snake Cost?

The initial cost of a snake is just the beginning. Whether you use pre-killed, freshly killed, or live mice, the cost will be something to consider for your pet. Mice are typically purchased in bulk so distributing the cost into a weekly amount can be difficult.

It’s generally known that for every mouse, you can expect to pay $1 to $2 dollars.

Rats are about three-fourths more expensive than mice so that will need to be taken into account if you ever need to upgrade from an adult mouse.

I figure if you are a new ball python owners than you most likely own a baby or juvenile. I found a good option on Amazon of a bag of the smallest mouse- the pinky mouse which is only a day or two old and a half inch to an inch in diameter. This 25-pack is competitively priced and keeps its cold temperature well during shipping.

The next size up is a fuzzy mouse which is about a week old and has developed a fur coat, hence the name. This product comes in a pack of 50. or roughly a year supply depending on the growth of your snake. You can find this pack here. The size goes from 1.25 inches to 1.5 inches. This bag is from the same company as the pinky mice bag. They use dry ice to keep the mice frozen which lends a hand to their well-received and valued brand.

Pre-Killed verses Live or Freshly Killed Mice

If we want the snake to feel at home and since they are wild creatures, shouldn’t we put live mice into their cage to hunt? That would most mimic their experience in nature.

While this is true, they also would have a much larger playing field to chase the mouse with than the habitat they occupy in the cage.

Because they have a much smaller home, it is best not to use live mice.

The three methods: frozen, freshly killed, and live mice can all be employed but frozen is the best option by far.

Freezing the mouse eliminates any parasites that may have existed or yet does exist within the mouse that has been freshly killed or otherwise still alive.

Freshly killed mice can be tricky, same as live mice. Not only do you have to take care of the snake but you have to raise the mice as well. Do not trust your good mice hunting skills that you’ll be able to catch one every week. The frozen mice are cheaper to keep and can be purchased in bulk that can last an entire year.

Furthermore, live mice, when put in direct opposition of a snake might attack it. Mice among other prey will fight to the death. The snake should obviously win but there are several factors that need to be weighed.

Many snakes don’t use traditional fighting technics especially the ball python, some use an ambush approach to catching prey.

If a snake is tired or shedding, she may not try to eat the mouse. If the snake lets the mouse run around, she could get scratched up and hurt to the point that you would need to take the snake to a vet for special treatment.

I did a Google search of snakes that have been attacked by mice and rats and its not pretty. Rats, stronger than mice, can even bite snakes down to the bone.

Don’t let this happen to your snake. It takes an expert eye to understand what a snake is feeling and feed accordingly. For this reason, is it widely recommended to use pre-killed or frozen mice.

If you do end up using a live mouse or rat do not leave the cage unattended. Keep a watchful eye on the snake until it has killed the prey.

Additional Tips

Feed in a separate tank to avoid the snake associating your hand and the habitat opening to strictly feeding.

Don’t overfeed the snake. You can tell if a snake is becoming overweight or already is by examining their scales. If the scales on the body look like they are being stretched apart, even when the snake is relaxed, or you can see the skin between the scales easily- the snake is overweight.

If you notice your snake has unexpectantly become obese, you can feed her smaller mice or wait a week or two extra before feeding again to help the snake come back down to a healthy weight.

After a snake has eaten it may be a good idea to limit the handling because it may be uncomfortable for the animal. Imagine eating the biggest meal of your life, maybe at Thanksgiving or Christmas. You’ve finished and all you want to do is take a nap when someone gives you a back breaking hug. That’s how a snake feels.

Don’t handle your snake while they are feeding or digesting. This handling can agitate them and make them nervous, potentially causing the snake to lash out or panic and lose the mouse by vomiting.

Some snakes do not like to eat for several hours after they have been handled. If you notice your snake to be like this, plan when you will feed the snake and make sure to not handle the snake hours before this allotted time. 

Fresh, clean, chlorine-free water should be available at all times in a large enough bowl for your ball python to soak in. This can be a great identifier that a snake is about to shed, as they will spend an increased time soaking in the bowl.

Related Questions

How long can a ball python go without eating? In the wild, many snakes including the ball python are known for going up to six months without food. Their already low metabolism can be altered to accommodate for these long periods without eating. Check out this article that explains more.

How long after feeding my python should I wait before handling her again? Juveniles should be given a few days after they digested before being handled. Adult ball pythons are just fine after twenty-four hours. 

Can ball python snakes eat fish? Ball pythons aren’t able to switch their diet to extremes as humans can. It isn’t possible to make a ball python an egg-eating or fish-eating snake.

Do ball pythons have teeth or fangs? Ball pythons do not have fangs but do indeed have teeth. These little teeth help the python grip and swallow mice.

Chase Bryan

Chase is a freelance writer and stand-up comic. He currently lives in Idaho where he works on a collection of short stories for children about the son of a Native American Chief.

Recent Content