Feeding guidelines by snake size:
- Hatchling to 150g — rat pup/adult mouse every 5 days
- 150g to 500g — weanling rat/jumbo mouse every 5 days
- 500g to 1000g — small rat/2-3 mice every 7 days
- 1000g+ — medium rat/3-5 mice every 14 days
- (if they won’t take a medium rat, stick with a small every 7 days)
Ball pythons are obligate carnivores, which means they need to eat whole animals in order to get the right nutrition. Frozen prey is generally considered optimal. Learn how to properly thaw frozen prey items here.
There are several ways you can buy frozen rodents:
- Online (Perfect Prey and Layne Labs are my favorite)
- At your local small pet store (avoid Petco/Petsmart/etc, as their rodents tend to be low quality)
- At reptile expos
- From a local breeder
Most snake keepers prefer to buy their rodents in bulk, since shipping costs are expensive (since they’re frozen, they must be shipped overnight) and buying one rat a week can be inconvenient. Save even more money by combining orders with a friend and splitting the shipping cost.
Live prey is okay. Rodents are notorious for injuring captive snakes, sometimes fatally — but only in cases where the feeder was left in the snake’s cage instead of being supervised. While frozen/thawed is still best, the goal is to make sure your python eats regularly. If live prey is the only way to accomplish that, just keep a close eye on the interaction and remove the feeder if it isn’t eaten within 15-30 minutes.
Do not stun live feeders. Not only is this an inhumane practice, but if/when the feeder wakes up, it may go into “oh my gosh I’m going to die” mode and start attacking your pet.
There is no need to feed mice instead of rats (unless that’s all your BP will eat). Mice are slightly less nutritious (with African soft-furred rats being an exception), but of greater concern is the way they smell. Ball pythons are notoriously picky eaters, which means that a change from mice to rats can cause them to stop eating. Fortunately even hatchling ball pythons should be able to handle rat pups with no problems.
Do not buy rats from chain pet stores like Petco or Petsmart; they have occasional salmonella outbreaks that can infect your snake. Instead, buy from independent local pet shops, or buy in bulk from reputable breeders (this saves money, too).
Feed **inside** of the enclosure. Many snake keepers claim that feeding a snake inside its enclosure will create a phenomenon known as “cage aggression.” This should not be a problem as long as the keeper uses a paper towel roll or snake hook to alert the snake before handling. Ball pythons are ambush predators, which means that they don’t go hunting for their prey — they wait for it to come to them. Removing a ball python from its enclosure for feedings only stresses the snake out and often results in a refusal to eat.
It is NOT okay for ball pythons to skip meals. Refusing food happens often enough with ball pythons that many keepers think this is simply normal behavior. Ball pythons get hungry just like humans do, so if they’re not eating, something is wrong!
If the thought of feeding whole animals to your snake makes you squeamish, a company called Reptilinks offers an alternative that contains all the nutrition your snake needs without the rodent cuteness. But they carry the risk of your ball python refusing to eat. Do whatever it takes to make sure your ball python eats regularly.
PRO TIP: When buying your ball python, ask the breeder if it is a good eater!
Aside from regulating humidity, a large water bowl gives your snake a place to soak, as well as (obviously) stay hydrated. Keep filled with clean water and change every 2-3 days. Naturally, if it gets soiled before then, scrub the bowl with a bleach solution and replace water immediately.
Note: There is a common belief that distilled or softened water is better for reptiles than tap (hard) water. This is false. While it is better to use these for misting because they don’t leave mineral residue, the lack of minerals creates osmotic imbalance within the snakes body after ingestion. As a result, the body has to give away its own minerals and electrolytes to restore balance. Over time, this can actually lead to dehydration, even when the snake is drinking regularly.
For more information, I recommend reading Water Treatment Precautions: Hard vs Softened (Filtered) Water.