Frozen-thawed (F/T) rats are in the opinion of many the best meal for your pet ball python. F/T is cheaper, easier to keep, and safer for your snake. Rats are better than mice because when they get bigger you can just feed larger rats instead of multiple mice. This is again cheaper and easier.
But what if she doesn’t want to eat your F/T rats? Probably hardest part of ball pythons is that they can be picky eaters. But good news, most likely there’s something you can do to transition her over. Often not eating is a result of stress, and stress is often the keeper’s fault.
You need to establish whether your snake is not eating at all, or just not wanting the kind of food you are presenting. If they had been eating F/T rats with no problem before, most likely that is not the problem. Ask yourself, what if anything has changed in the recent past that could have caused them to stop eating? Sometimes this will give you ideas of what to try first.
Most snakes will eat live the easiest. If they’re used to eating live mice, you have two transitions to help them through: mice to rat and live to F/T. If you have problems you may want to tackle these one at a time. For example, first get them eating live rats instead of live mice. Then try to get them eating freshly killed rats, then finally frozen thawed rats. Most pythons can go straight to F/T rats though.
Reasons She Might Not Eat At All
Stress (many possible causes). This is something you are responsible for as the snake keeper. It could be a wrong environment (e.g, temps), or it could be over handling. Not eating is one of her only ways of telling you that something isn’t right.
- If your snake is not eating regularly (e.g. several weeks in a row), until it does, it’s strongly recommended that you not handle it so as to eliminate any stress of this kind. Once it’s eating again, you can gradually reintroduce handling, say at 2x a day at 15 minutes each, and continue to do so while it still eats.
- Double-check your whole list of proper practices (TODO: link).
- Being in shed (pink belly, gray eyes, faded skin); lasts about 10 days. You cannot control this, so if they reject food (some will still eat), just wait until after they have shed. May happen once to every few months.
- Sickness (e.g., wheezing). This you definitely need to take action on.
- Breeding or Pregnant (if they’ve been paired up with other snakes).
- For more information, read ball python care.
General Good Feeding Practices
- Offer food only once a week. If they don’t eat, wait 7 more days to try again. If you offer food that they reject too often, they may form this rejection habit. Larger snakes especially can go a long time without eating. Monitor their body weight however, as you don’t want them to lose too much weight doing this.
- Offer food that is 10-15% of their body weight, until they are 500g. Then
- Make sure the food you’re presenting is warm to the touch, but not cooked (90-95 degrees is good). Snake scan SEE the heat and this makes it look live.
- Present the food with tongs by holding it 3-5 inches in front of your python by holding it between the shoulder blades or on back of neck. You can try jiggling it slightly as if it’s alive. You can try making it “crawl” around the cage.
- Feed at night, when they are most active.
- Try to move a minimal amount so she doesn’t see you or become distracted by you. Privacy = safety. Disturb the snake as little as possible during the process (ie. don’t let them see you). Definitely don’t move them to another container. You want to remove yourself from the situation so that they think they are in the wild with only them and the rat.
- Let her smell the food several minutes before opening the tub to present. Their tongue will start flicking when they smell it.
- Try leaving the dead rat in the tub for overnight. Some pythons will eat this way, others never will. Especially useful for timid eaters. Throw out the rat if overnight. Most discourage re-freezing ever.
Husbandry Issues to Double-Check
- Make sure are your environmental factors are correct, such as temperature: hotspot at 90 degrees. Ambient temps ideally at 80-85. See other care sheet.
- Try handling your snake less or none at all. Too frequently handling or for too long of times causes stress. Twice a day for 15 minutes is recommended, but if I have a problem eater I may not handle them at all for weeks or more while I try to get them eating. As hard as this is it for the long term benefits.
- Make sure their cage is completely clean. Change all bedding.
- Try adding more/better hides for security.
- They may not feel comfortable in a cage that is too large. Ball pythons need a lot less room than people think, especially when they are are young (e.g., even a 20 gallon may be too big for a baby). Lots of hides may mitigate this.
- Try a different environment. After a change, give them 2 days to adjust.
- Try moving their tub to a less active environment/or putting cardboard on the sides to give them more privacy and less stress.
- Try moving them to another sized tub, bigger or smaller. Too large a tub can make them feel insecure.
- Try moving the tub to a different place (or different spot in a rack) which may be warmer or colder.
- Try when they are sitting in their hide with just their head showing, this gives them a chance to ambush. Others may do better when they are crawling around and active.
- Get substrate/bedding from a live rodent and put a little in their cage to get them excited, if they will take only live.
- Try dipping it in chicken broth.
- Try exposing the brain of the rat with some pliers.
- Try presenting downsizing the prey item (e.g, fuzzy instead of pup).
- Try 30-40m warm bath in container with holes (not so much water to cover them up). Feed 2 days later. - I have not verified this. (source).
- Try fresh killed a few times if they will take that to get them back in the habit of eating.
- Especially if it’s a baby, try feeding her live for a few months just to get some weight on her and get her eating again. Then try freshly killed then F/T.
- As a last resort, switching prey type can be good to get them eating again. Mice and ASF’s are two options.
Be persistent, this can really wear you out – esp. when you only get to try once a week. Don’t be afraid to try different stuff to learn what works! You’ll discover a new trick. Eventually you are likely to figure it out.