Before I go into today's blog about problem feeding ball pythons and some things you can do to get your ball python to eat, I wanted to address the tons of phone calls and emails I receive on a daily basis.
I keep several hundred ball pythons and rodents so it's very time consuming to care for them all, handle customer inquiries, coordinate shipping transactions, etc. My contact information is plastered all over the website, the Internet, my business cards, magazines, etc. so it's very tempting to phone "Ron Crawford, the Ball Python Breeder" with any and all questions related to ball pythons. Although I don't mind taking time from my day to answer non-sales related questions from people who didn't purchase their ball python from me, I'd prefer general non-sales related ball python questions to be asked in the Reptile Forum. It just makes more sense to have questions and answers posted in the public forum because it helps other people who might have the same questions or concerns.
Now that I have that out of the way, let's talk about why some ball pythons don't eat and what we can do about it.
"Thanks for the food offer but I'm going to have to decline."
I recall a conversation I had with the owner of Radical Reptiles in Philadelphia, PA a few years ago about this topic. He felt that ball pythons were imprinted with what types of food prey they'll eat. It sort of makes sense to me but it doesn't fully explain why some wild caught ball pythons will eat domestic rats or mice born here in the USA. The thought process is that wild caught animals (born in Africa, exported to the USA and abroad) are conditioned to eating local prey items. When they're introduced to our rats and mice, they won't recognize them as food items so they won't eat them when we offer them as prey items.
Wild caught's that don't respond to mice or rats are often given gerbils as a food item because they're a close relative of the Jerboa, a food item that many ball pythons eat in the wild.
Another food item that has gained popularity in recent years is the African soft-furred rat. They are very expensive but the general consensus is that they work well with wild caught ball pythons that refuse mice, rats and gerbils.
Hatchling problem feeders
Although I produce many clutches of ball pythons per year, hatchling ball pythons still continue to keep me scratching my head at times. You could have a healthy clutch of ball pythons hatch, go through their first shed or molt and are now ready for their first meal. Several of the hatchlings will eat but you might get one or more that just won't eat. You should provide a hide box for your hatchlings and make sure the temps and humidity are within a reasonable range in order to help stimulate feeding. There are some ball pythons that still will not eat despite having an optimal environment.
Dr. Steve Gorzula from Ball Pythons in the Wild DVD video notes in section 4.2 (Husbandry) of Study of Royal Pythons in Ghana, Africa, "Ranched hatchling royal pythons survive the first month. However, if they are not fed it is estimated that about 20% will die during the second month and another 50% during the third." If your ball python is not feeding and it's been at least four weeks or longer, you can assist feed your ball python.
Take a pre-killed food item suitable for the size of your ball python and have it available. Gently grasp the ball python behind the head and secure its body. Take the food item and gently press it against the mouth of the ball python. This will cause the ball python to instinctively open its mouth wide as you gently push the head of the food item towards the throat. Calmly pull the food item forward (away from the ball python) gently as this will cause the ball pythons' hooked teeth to implant into the prey item making it challenging for the ball python to release the prey item without effort on its part. The ball python will usually stay still for a minute or so with its mouth closed on the head of the food item. It will then begin to walk the food item down in a normal feeding response. If the ball python ejects the food item, repeat the process but do not overly stress the animal.
You can also try the following in case you choose not to assist feed your ball python:
1. Provide hide boxes to give your ball python a secure feeling in its environment. This can help to spark their feeding response.
2. Try feeding at night instead of the day. I feed my animals during the day because it's convenient for me but in the wild they eat at night since they're nocturnal creatures.
3. Cover the cage or tank completely when you offer a food item so they won't be distracted.
4. Offer a gerbil as a food item if they're legal in your state. Keep a CLOSE EYE when offering gerbils because they're known to be very aggressive and can injure your ball python if left unsupervised.
5. Try different colored mice or rats.
6. Dip a pre-killed mouse in chicken broth or scent them (see my recent blog entry about scenting).
If your ball python is a wild caught or comes from an unknown origin, it could be full of parasites and would require medication from a vet. If your ball python regurgitates after eating a meal, offer a meal at least a week or two later because crucial stomach acids will have diminished as a result of regurgitation and a continued cycle of regurgitation could occur.
If you have a snake that's not feeding and you've tried the above tactics to try to get it to eat, start a thread in the Reptile Forum so we can discuss it further.
Pastel 100% het Albino Ball Python enjoying a rat. :)
My friend would put the python in a "feeding box" I do the same thing, but instead of eating the mouse (which he had no problem with in the past), he just tries to escape. the mouse will walk right up to him and he just cowers away.
Never purchase a pet snake from any outlet if they will not eat in front of you. If they do not eat now, they will have trouble in the future... it also is a sign of sickness
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