Do you want to handle your ball python for playtime or socialization, but you’re not quite sure how long you can keep your scaly friend out of their cage for? While ball pythons can (and should!) be taken out of their cages for some much-needed social time, you should try to avoid your snake becoming stressed out or upset at the loss of their habitat for an extended period of time.
How long can a ball python be out of its cage? You can handle an adult ball python between one and three times per week — however, when handling your ball python, they should be out of their cage for no longer than 20 minutes at a time, and you should not be handling or taking out your ball python more than once per day.
In this article, we will discuss ways to safely and properly handle your ball python while they are out of their cage, as well as reasons that you may want to handle your snake and what to watch out for or avoid when handling your snake.
Why You Should Handle Your Ball Python
Contrary to what some may believe, ball pythons should not simply be left alone in their tank. While ball pythons are not social animals at heart, it is important to acclimate your ball python to the feeling of being handled by you and humans in general.
This should be done in order to make sure your snake does not bite you or others on occasions that you do take them out of the tank or interact with them for something other than feeding.
Also, if you plan to have individuals other than just yourself interacting with or holding your ball python, then you should acclimate your ball python to the feeling of being out of its tank and in human hands.
Snakes are interesting animals in that they do not require socialization for mental health and happiness, but it is still a good idea to socialize and get your ball python used to handling for the benefit of you as a snake owner as well.
Ball pythons who are not used to being out of their habitat can associate handling only with feeding and try to bite you when you try to take them out of the tank, whether you do so for feeding, handling, cleaning their tank, or any other reason.
Also, handling your snake regularly can help with your snake’s daily activity level and provide opportunities for exercise that your snake may not have when living exclusively inside their tank or terrarium.
The age of your snake will determine how much handling they should have and can tolerate, but a general rule of thumb is to handle your snake at least once or twice a week (but never more than one time each day).
Younger snakes will require less frequent handling and more care, but don’t be afraid to socialize your snake as they grow older. Simply treat your ball python with patience and gentleness, and always make sure that you are not stressing out or otherwise upsetting your snake while they are outside of their terrarium.
How to Properly Handle Snakes
The first thing you should always do when handling your ball python is to wash and properly sanitize your hands. This will remove bacteria and other germs from your hands that you as a human may be immune to, but your snake may not be so lucky with.
Because snakes have evolved differently from humans and are not accustomed to encountering many of the germs and other diseases humans may encounter on a daily basis, you can run the risk of making your snake seriously ill if you do not wash your hands before handling.
Also, washing your hands ensures that they do not smell like food in any way, shape, or form. Ball pythons primarily use scent to find their prey, so if your hands smell even remotely like animals, especially small animals, or even anything edible, then your ball python may confuse it for food and bite you.
Once your hands are clean, you can take a small paper towel roll or other soft, stiff item to gently tap the top of your snake’s head. Doing this every time you handle your snake will let your snake know that tap on the head signals handling time rather than feeding time, and is one more way to ensure that your snake does not bite you or mistake you for food when you are trying to handle them.
Once you are sure your snake is calm and ready for handling it is safe to pick up your ball python. Always pick up your snake with both hands, using one to support the head and the other to support the rest of the body.
Avoid picking your snake up in other ways, such as picking them up by the tail or the middle of the body with only one hand, as this can stress them out and cause them to attack as well, and doing so can run the risk of severely hurting your snake’s spine.
If your snake bites you, try not to become angry with it. Ball pythons and other snakes are not intentionally malicious or mean animals, they simply react based on instinct when they are placed in a situation that feels dangerous or unsafe to them.
If you want to avoid being bitten by your ball python, always treat them gently and kindly, and make sure that you are following proper handling and care guidelines at all times so that your snake does not view you as a threat.
If you are letting a child handle your snake, properly instruct them on how to pick up and hold a snake, so that they do not make sudden movements or grasp your snake too tightly. Always supervise children when allowing them to handle snakes.
When Not to Handle Your Ball Python
While it is good to handle and socialize your ball python from time to time, there are occasions when you should not be handling your snake. A general rule of thumb for when you should not handle your ball python is this: you should not take them out of their tank or handle them in any way within 24 to 30 hours after they have been fed.
This is less about keeping their associations with food and handling separate, but more a way to avoid stressing them out, as ball pythons who have recently been fed and then become stressed can try to throw up or regurgitate their meal, which can be distressing or even deadly to your snake.
Also, if your snake is in a period of shedding, do not handle them. You will be able to know if your snake is in shed by taking a look at their eyes. If your ball python’s eyes are blue and milky, this means that they are getting ready to shed their top layer of skin, and cannot see very well.
Because your snake’s vision is impaired during shedding, they will be more jumpy and less trusting of any foreign object that comes into their tank, even your hand, and this may result in them panicking and biting you. Always make sure your snake has as little stress as possible, especially during transitional periods in their life, such as shedding.
In addition to this, if your ball python is younger or has not fully reached adulthood yet, you should limit your handling sessions to no more than once per week.
While adult snakes can generally tolerate handling multiple times a week (as long as you do not handle them more than once a day), baby and juvenile snakes can become incredibly defensive and lash out during handling, which can both hurt you as the owner and the snake itself, as they can become stressed or disoriented and begin to associate handling with a negative environment.
Always pay attention to your snake’s mood when handling — even if you are under the recommended 20-minute limit, if your snake shows signs of discomfort or distress, be sure to return them to their tank immediately and end your handling session for the day.
Ball pythons are not naturally social animals, but both you and your snake can benefit from regular handling sessions roughly one to three times per week if you have an adult snake, or once per week if you have a baby snake.
Do not handle your snake more than once per day. When taking your snake out of their cage, be sure not to keep them out for more than twenty minutes at a time, and to put them back into their habitat immediately if they begin to show signs of distress.
Never handle your snake within 24 to 30 hours after you have fed them, as this can cause distress that may lead to regurgitation of food, which can be deadly to your snake. If your snake is in shed, as well, do not attempt to handle them, as this can distress them while they have impaired vision.
As always, be gentle and kind with your snake, and make sure to watch them for cues on when handling is appropriate and when you should put them back in their tank or leave them be.