Why Is My Ball Python Scared of Its Food?

Have you ever dropped a plump little mouse into your ball python’s tank, only to have your snake take one sniff and quickly recoil? You’re probably wondering how a big, hungry snake could be so fearful of its tiny, furry prey.

Why is my ball python scared of its food? Your ball python may be scared of its food because the meal is larger, faster, or otherwise different from its usual food. It’s also possible that your snake is refusing to eat due to stress, an impending shed, improper temperature or low humidity.

Read on to explore all the possible reasons for an anorexic snake. As terrible as this may sound, there are plenty of things you can do to help your python regain their appetite. Also, keep in mind that it isn’t unheard of for a healthy ball python to go without eating for a month or more.

Your Ball Python is Scared or Does Not Feel Secure

As previously stated, your ball python may be fearful of their latest meal because it is somehow different from the food you’ve previously served. If you’ve gone from frozen mice to live rodents, from small frozen mice to sizable frozen rats, or made another similar change to your snake’s diet, it may be throwing off your reptile. Afterall, change can be scary for anyone.

Another possibility is that your ball python is feeling stressed and intimidated by your presence during feeding time. In fact, ball pythons are a species that are particularly sensitive to stress and feeling insecure1

So why might your snake feel scared at mealtime, specifically? In the wild, snakes are particularly vulnerable to predators when feeding, since their primary form of defense (their mouth) is otherwise occupied.

They are also nowhere near as mobile during feeding time. One of the best things you can do when it’s time to feed your python is to give them their meal and quietly leave the room. If you stand there watching, looming over their tank, they might just be too nervous to eat. 

You can also help your python by providing them with the security they need within their habitat. You should provide several hides for your pet snake. At minimum, they need one on the warm side of their tank, and one on the cool side.

You might need to experiment a bit to see which type of hide makes your ball python feel most comfortable. Generally, they prefer tight, dark spaces that would trigger claustrophobia in a human.

A ball python loves to feel each wall of their hide hugging their body. This tightness means a predator cannot sneak in and that equals a strong feeling of security for your snake. Hides should also be low to the ground and partially buried in substrate.

Another way you can make your ball python feel more secure is by turning down the lights. I know, you love your pet and you want to flood their tank with beautiful, bright light so you can admire them at every hour of the day.

However, this sort of arrangement can be pretty jarring to your snake. Ball pythons are nocturnal, and in the wild, they are most active at dawn and dusk. These low-lit hours are the time at which they hunt and feed.

You should attempt to mimic their natural schedule as much as possible by feeding them at these times of day and keeping the lights off. Don’t expect them to wake up and be excited about a meal when the sunlight is streaming in.

It is also possible that your snake is about to shed. Even though shedding is a natural process, it can cause an increase in stress, which often leads to a decrease in appetite.

Your Python’s Habitat Isn’t Quite Right

A ball python may also lose their appetite because of improper husbandry. If your ball python’s tank is too warm, too cool, or if the humidity level is too low, they may not feel like eating.

One of the most important factors in your snake’s health is temperature. The ambient, or air temperature of your ball python’s enclosure should stay between 82-89℉ and should never exceed 95℉. You can measure the air temperature with a conventional digital thermometer. 

Your snake should have a basking area on one end of their tank. The surface of this area should be measured with an infrared temperature thermometer and should measure between 95-104℉. You can use a heat lamp, radiant heat panel, or heat tape to keep this area nice and warm. The temperature on the cool side of your python’s tank, including the inside of his cool hide, should be about 75-80℉.

The humidity level of your ball python’s enclosure is also very important. Snakes need an appropriate level of humidity to maintain good respiratory health and shed their skin. You can mimic the peaks and dips a snake would experience in their natural habitat by keeping the cool side of their tank at a higher level (between 70-90%) and the warm side at a lower level (about 50%).

You can monitor the humidity level using hygrometers. Place one in your snake’s cool hide and one at the warm side of his tank. A few methods you can use for maintaining consistent humidity include mixing water into your python’s substrate when it gets dry, increasing or decreasing ventilation, and misting as needed.

Finally, be sure that you’re using the proper substrate for your ball python. Natural substrate, reptile soil, or reptile bedding are considered the best options. Never use pine or cedar shavings as the oils in these types of bark can cause neurological damage in reptiles. If your python isn’t eating well and you’ve tried everything else, changing their substrate might help.

You’re Feeding Your Ball Python Incorrectly

First of all, contrary to what you might believe, live prey is not ideal for ball pythons, or for any snake. Live mice and rats have the potential to inflict injury upon your python. These rodents can bite your snake before they are eaten.

Sometimes these injuries can even be fatal to your reptile. The best thing you can do for your captive snake is to teach them to eat dead prey. This is more humane for both the prey and for your snake.

You can find and purchase frozen rodents online, at your local, privately-owned pet store (avoid large chain pet stores as their rodents tend to be of lower quality), at reptile expos, or from a local breeder. Shipping can be expensive since frozen rodents must be shipped overnight, so if you do order online, you may want to order in bulk.

You should purchase feeder rodents that are approximately 10-15% of your python’s body weight. Ball pythons can eat mice, rats, and chicks. Once you find prey that your python really enjoys, you might just want to stick with it.

There are also a few ways you can make frozen prey a bit more appealing to your python. First, thaw the prey in your refrigerator the night before feeding it to your snake. Slowly thawing the frozen prey in this manner discourages bacterial growth.

Then, approximately 15-30 minutes before you present the meal to your python, place it in a BPA-free plastic back and soak it in warm water. You’ll want the prey to be about the temperature of a live mouse or rat (about 98-100℉) before giving it to your python.

Use feeding forceps or tweezers to feed your snake. This will keep your python from associating your hand with their food. They will also allow you to move the prey around in an attempt to imitate live motion, which might just motivate your python to strike.

You should also be sure that you’re feeding your ball python with the correct frequency. If you’re offering food too often, they won’t be interested. A very young ball python can potentially eat every 5-7 days. A full-grown ball python, however, might only eat a good medium-sized rat just once a month. In fact, in the wild, adult ball pythons only eat about ten times per year.2

Lastly, as previously mentioned, feed your python during the time of day at which they would hunt in the wild, and keep the lights off.

Conclusion

It is possible that your ball python is afraid of their prey, but there are lots of factors that can cause feeding issues for these reptiles. Do remember that it’s not entirely out of ordinary for your snake to go a while without feeding.

If you’re housing your python in the proper habitat, offering them the right type of food items, and keeping his environment secure and stress free and they are still not eating, call your veterinarian as soon as possible. There are several health conditions that might affect your python’s appetite, and you’ll want to rule them out immediately.

Sources:

https://pethelpful.com/reptiles-amphibians/Ball-Pythons-Eat-Frozen-Dead-Prey

https://jkrballstreetjournal.com/2014/02/12/the-psychology-of-problem-feeders-get-your-ball-python-eating-again/

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/snakes-feeding