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Ball Python Feeding Tips
Food! Few things can excite your snake more than the scent of its next meal, and few things can frustrate a keeper more than the ball python that does not get excited or even remotely interested in its food. Many factors can affect a ball python's feeding response; we explore some of those factors.
Keepers have offered a variety of different prey to their ball pythons, including rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, African soft-furred rats, and hatchling chicks. With the exception of mice and rats, the other listed food items have mainly been used to entice reluctantly feeding, wild-caught ball pythons to feed. Once these snakes have begun to feed regularly, keepers generally do not have much difficulty switching them over to more readily available food sources, such as mice and rats. Breeders usually offer for sale hatchling ball pythons that are already established feeders on either mice or rats.
Many ball pythons will imprint on a single food item. For example, they will recognize a mouse as a food item, but not a rat. Many ball pythons will only eat mice their entire lives. Others will only eat rats. Then there are those that will eat anything that is placed into their cage. Still others will switch between mice and rats. Because ball pythons will often refuse one type of food in favor of another, it is best to feed your ball python what it is accustomed to eating. Be sure to clarify with the person you are buying the ball python from exactly what they have been feeding the snake and how often it has been eating. If you need your snake to feed on frozen thawed rodents, make sure you clarify that with the breeder, so that there will be no surprises when the snake arrives and you find it will only eat live prey (possibly a big problem if you live in an area where obtaining live rodents regularly is difficult). A word of caution: Do not, in an attempt to save money, feed your ball python wild-caught rats, mice, or any other small animals. Such wild-caught animals may be more aggressive in defending themselves from a predator, and they may also carry parasites that could be harmful or potentially fatal to your ball python—not to mention that this is a good way to bring fleas and ticks into your home.
It is important to feed your ball python appropriately sized food items. Hatchling ball pythons eat large fuzzy mice (young mice that have just grown their fur) or hopper mice slightly older and larger mice that are beginning to actively move about).They do not eat pinky mice (newborn mice that lack fur), unless they are unusually small hatchlings, such as may occur with twin snakes. If the food item offered is too small for the ball python, it may fail to elicit the appropriate feeding response. Often, when a meal is too large for a ball python, the snake will not eat it; if they are able to swallow a large food item, it may be regurgitated a day or so later. Regurgitation can lead to refusal to feed and other health issues. Avoid this problem by feeding appropriately sized prey.
An appropriate-sized food item is one that will leave a slight bulge in your snake. Adult ball pythons that eat mice will need to be offered an appropriate number of mice at their weekly feeding. The number of mice offered will vary depending upon the size of the ball python. Ball pythons 2 to 3 feet (61 to 91.4 cm) in length can be fed two mice at a feeding. Ball pythons that are 3 to 4 feet (91.4 to 121.9 cm) in length can be fed three or four mice at a feeding. These should be offered one at a time and after the previous mouse has been completely eaten. If you are feeding rats or rat pups, one should be plenty for your snake.
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