ULTIMATE Ball Python Feeding Guide

Ball pythons can’t communicate with us so it’s difficult to figure out how and when to feed it. Their body language reveals nothing about what they’re thinking, including when they’re hungry.

That’s why we created this ball python feeding guide with a chart that tells you when a ball python should eat, how often you should feed them, and the proper sized meal.

Your ball python’s rat size should have the same girth as the ball python’s broadest section.

For example, if your ball python is 1.5 inches wide, the rat should be no more than 1.5 inches wide.

At pet stores, you can’t always measure your ball python or the rats, but the chart below shows you the appropriate-sized rat based on the age or weight of your ball python.

The terms in the feeding size chart under “Rat Size” and “Mouse Size” are commonly used in pet stores and rat suppliers.

What Can Ball Pythons Eat

Ball Pythons Can EatBall Pythons Can’t Eat
Rats
Mice
Gerbils
Rabbits
Chicks
Quail
Eggs(of any kind)
Fish
Frogs
Fruit
Crickets
Raw meat

A ball python’s diet consists primarily of rodents including mice, rats, and gerbils. The most beneficial nutrients for a ball python are found in rats.

Unfortunately, ball pythons can’t eat eggs, fish, frogs or crickets. Not only do these foods provide the wrong nutrition, ball pythons won’t be interested in these foods naturally.

In Africa, ball pythons will often feed on African soft fur rats in the wild.

The right-sized rat can still be difficult to determine, so I’ve simplified it in the chart above, however, we’ll go into detail of why, how, and when to feed your ball python to get the best feeding responses and optimal nutrients.

The food you feed your ball python is determined by the nutrients you want your ball python to have.

Mice are less nutritious than rats. 

A rat has more crude fat and crude protein than a mouse of the same size, according to RodentPro, a leading online rodent supplier.

Here is the nutritional comparison between a rat and a mouse of around the same weight.

Crude FatCrude Proteinkcal/g
Rat56.1%27.5%5.55a
Mouse55.8%23.6%5.25a

African soft furs(ASF) are the rodents ball pythons naturally feed on and they have the best feeding response with them. 

They are illegal in California so it’s not an option for me, but be sure to check your local laws.

The Ball Python Feeding Chart 

The size rat you should feed your ball python depends on the age and size of your ball python and how often you feed them.

Ball Python AgeBall Python WeightRat SizeMouse SizeHow often
Hatchling(first 1-2 weeks)<150gPinkyHopperOnce a week
Hatchling(3 weeks – 6 months)150g-300gFuzzyHopperOnce a week
Baby(6 months – 1 year)300g-500gPupWeanedOnce a week
Juvenile (1 year old)500g-1000gWeanedAdult Once a week
Adult (2 years old)1000g-1500gSmallN/REvery other week
Adult 3 years>1500gMediumN/REvery other week
Adult 4 years+>1500gMedium or LargeN/REvery 3-4 weeks
*N/R = not recommended, ball python weight and age are estimates only

Ideally, start feeding your ball pythons exclusively on rats instead of offering mice. Some ball pythons are finicky and will only feed on mice once they have one.

Although the science behind it is unknown, ball pythons are attracted to the scent of mice more than rats.

Later in this article we’ll discuss what you can do if your ball python is a finicky eater.

You’ll see that I placed “N/R” for “not recommended” for adult ball pythons since those sizes don’t have enough nutrition for adults.

Adult ball pythons should not be fed mice unless it is absolutely essential. If an adult ball python refuses to eat the nutritious rat, you’ll have no choice but to feed them a mouse.

It’s unusual for a ball python to refuse two or more feedings in a row, but it happens. Before feeding a snake a mouse, there are several ways to try to get it to eat a rat.

CLICK HERE for 32 Words Every Ball Python Breeder Needs to Know

How Often Should I Feed My Ball Python?

Generally, ball pythons should be fed on a weekly basis, depending on their size and the meal size.

They can eat as soon as their first shed. Afterwards, they should be fed weekly until about 2 years old.

They can be fed every five days, but I recommend that you wait seven days between meals.

As your ball python grows, make sure to increase the rodent size.

When your ball python reaches adulthood at 3 years old, you can cut down to feeding them every other week.

It’s okay if your ball python refuses to eat some days; you’re not a horrible snake parent; they just don’t feel like it. 

On the following scheduled feeding day, they should be ready for a meal.

Ball Python Shedding Guide

Why won’t my ball python eat?

Shedding is the most common reason why your ball python won’t eat. Usually, when a ball python is in any phase during it’s shedding process, it will refuse food.

ball python in blue phase

Temperature and humidity problems also cause bad feeding responses in ball pythons. As always, ensure that your ball python has the necessary climate to digest its food properly.

When a ball python stops eating, the only time this should be a concern is if they are losing weight and become weak. 

In the table, I’ve included the average weight of a ball python based on its age, which you may use as a guide to make sure your snake is in the proper range.

Because the figures aren’t exact, use your best judgment.

YOU KNOW YOUR SNAKE BETTER THAN ANYONE.

What Size Rat Should I Feed My Ball Python?

As I said before, the width of the rat should be the same or slightly bigger than the widest part of your ball python.

pinky rats
pinky rats

A more precise way of determining food size is to weigh your snake and then weigh the food before deciding which one to feed it.

You should see a little bump in the ball python’s body once they’ve finished eating which suggests that they will be well-fed until their next meal.

I never give my adult ball pythons a rodent larger than a medium rat as a personal choice. Ball pythons only grow to be approximately 4-5 feet long, and after they reach adulthood, they can usually devour a medium rat or smaller.

For a guide on how to breed your own rats click HERE

Frozen/Thawed or Live Rats for Ball Pythons?

If you have a way to store them and thaw them when needed, frozen rats are great.

I prefer to give frozen/thawed rodents to my ball pythons because they can’t get injured.

Most pet stores will have both alternatives available, but if they don’t, you can also feed them live.

Ball Python Feeding Slo Mo

The disadvantage of feeding frozen/thawed is that your ball python may need time to adjust to it.

It’s even more challenging if your ball python is used to eating live prey.

If this happens, there are a few things you can do to get them to eat the thawed rat. I’ll go through a few of them below under How to Feed Your Ball Python.

Learn how to feed frozen/thawed rodents to your ball python HERE

Live rats are convenient since almost every pet store carries them. Once you need to start feeding weaned rats or bigger, I would try to find a frozen rat supplier near you since the adult rats can injure your ball python.

You can even find some websites that will ship you some

I’ve heard too many horror stories of rodents biting ball pythons and causing infections and even death, so I try to avoid it as much as possible by feeding them frozen/thawed.

Feeding Baby Ball Pythons

After their first shed, baby ball pythons have the instinct to eat, but some will take longer. They need to gain confidence in order to eat/hunt, and anything can make them fearful of doing so.

Baby ball python and food

Offering them food that is tiny enough for them to eat is one strategy to boost their confidence. They will avoid eating food that is too large. It’s possible that they won’t be interested in it at all.

Make sure the meal is warm enough to mimic the temperature of living prey.

A baby(or any) ball python will show NO interest in food that is too cold.

Feeding your ball python with thongs is always a good idea. If a young ball python refuses to eat from your thongs, try putting a live baby rat in their enclosure and leaving them alone.

They may require a sense of security in order to eat.

If everything else fails, you might have to offer a mouse… However, since mice are not a sustainable food source, try your hardest to get them onto rats.

How to Feed Your Ball Python

Soak the meal in warm water for 20-30 minutes to completely defrost it.

Then place the prey under a heat lamp or immerse it in warm water to raise its temperature to a level that the ball python can sense.

Dangle the frozen rat near the snout of the ball python so it can smell the rodent in front of it. They should immediately display interest by smelling the air and following the prey.

Ball pythons will strike the rat once they scent it and begin to constrict (even if it’s already dead).

They will swallow their prey 99 percent of the time after they constrict their prey.

When feeding live rodents to my ball python, I like to place the rat in the enclosure or feeding tub and let the snake hunt down the prey.

When a live rat or mouse is dangled from feeding tongs, the rodent has a better chance of sinking teeth into the snake, causing harm.

I’ve discovered that allowing them to hunt instinctively raises their chances of striking more accurately and avoiding bites from the rodent.

Rats that have been frozen should be thawed completely. If the meal is still cold when eaten, the ball python’s body temperature will drop, potentially harming the snake. That is if they are willing to consume cold food.

Ball Python Eating Behaviors EXPLAINED

FAQ

What time of day should I feed my ball python?

Ball pythons have a better feeding response at night since that is when they naturally hunt, but it doesn’t mean they only have to eat at night. I’ve had ball pythons eat at any hour of the day. Ball pythons have a better feeding response at night because that is when they hunt in the wild, but it doesn’t mean they have to eat solely at night. Ball pythons will eat at any time of day as long as it is on a regular schedule.

What should I do if my ball python doesn’t eat?

Food that is too cold or too large will not be eaten by ball pythons. If you’re feeding a frozen or thawed rat, give it a 20-second dip in warm water before re-feeding it.

Wiggle the food to make it look like it’s alive and that should get them interested.

If they don’t eat after 30 minutes, try again.

If that doesn’t work, I’d skip the feeding day and wait till the next day; they could still have food that hasn’t been digested or they could shed soon.

How do I feed my ball python frozen mice?

Go to the section of the post titled “How to Feed Your Ball Python.” To get the optimal feeding response, mice should be thawed and warmed.

Here is a full guide on getting your ball python to eat frozen/thawed rodents.

What can I feed ball pythons besides mice?

Ball pythons can eat a variety of rodents like rats, African soft furs, guniea pigs, rabbits, etc. Unfortunately, they won’t show interest in insects or other bugs.

Will ball pythons eat each other?

Ball pythons will never eat each other, even in a lack of food environment. Ball pythons are finicky eaters and will often go through weeks and months without eating. During those times, they won’t eat mice let alone other ball pythons.

When you house same sex ball pythons together, they will only stress out, but never eat one another.