Feeding Habits of Ball Pythons - Picky Eaters
Ball pythons are one of the best beginner snakes in the pet trade today. They have earned this title because they are calm and docile with easy husbandry needs, not because of their feeding habits.
Ball pythons are VERY picky eaters. It is very hard to successfully get a ball python to eat F/T mice or F/T rats. But, not impossible. Many petstores feed live mice and rats to their ball pythons, so when you get them home, it become quite a challenge getting them on frozen foods.
I've tried. I've tried many methods. I haven't gotten one to work. I've attempted leaving the frozen mouse in the cage overnight, leaving it in his hide over night, covering the cage with towels, and dipping the mouse in tuna juice. The only thing I have not tried is putting the snake and thawed mouse in a pillow case-type bag.
For the past year my ball python has eaten live rats, except the 1 thawed pinkie and 1 thawed mouse that he has recently taken.
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Feeding Ball Pythons
Not just looking at feeding ball pythons from a live or frozen standpoint, in general they are proven finicky feeders. It is not uncommon for a ball python to go without food for over a year. Not because he's not hungry, but it could be due to various reasons.
My ball python decided to go without food for five months this past winter. I had trouble keeping the tank temperatures up high enough for him, so he chose not to eat, which is not uncommon for ball pythons.
The slightest change in temperatures, too hot or too cold, upgrading enclosures, changing habitat décor, or even the placement of the tank, could all upset a ball python into not eating.
Sometimes you have to force feed them to get them started eating again. I have heard of times where a ball python will begin to loose substantial weight, even after just six months of not eating. And, a veterinarian told the customer to begin force feeding. In some cases, force feeding is the only option to getting a ball python to eat, but should NOT be attempted unless you know what you're doing. Force feeding a snake is not the best option, but if the snake starts to lose weight, and still refuses to eat, it may be something that you want to consider. It's best that you use smaller F/T than the snake could actually eat; it'll be easier for you to get it down the snake.
You can, also, look at what you're feeding him. If he's used to eating frozen and stops eating, you could try feeding him fresh killed. This way, the rat or mouse is still naturally hot, but it's dead or at least stunned so that it won't hurt the snake. This is a much better option than going straight to live when the snake starts to give you trouble eating, as in most cases the rat will still twitch and appear live to some extent.
I would wait several months before attempting live, and not do so until you've tried every option possible. Remember that it is VERY hard to get a ball python, much less any snake, to go back to frozen feeders after they have had a live feeder, so if your goal is to feed F/T, then I wouldn't suggest even trying live.
Before trying fresh killed or live, you can try dipping the F/T in tuna juice or even chicken broth (tuna juice works better), patting the F/T so that doesn't drip juice, and then offering it to the snake. In many cases, this is a good way to get the snake to start eating. Once the snake is eating regularly, you can start thawing out the frozen feeder regularly without the juice.
You can also bust the head of the F/T open after thawing so that it has the brainy smell. This may not be the most pleasant method, but it works in most cases.
Sometimes, ball pythons can get even more picky than frozen versus live. Sometimes, they will only take one color mouse or rat, if that's what they're used to. I've even heard it so bad, that a particular ball python would only eat white, female rats. It would NOT eat a male rat.
The biggest thing that you, or any ball python owner, must figure out, is your pet snake's tastes. I know it sounds funny, but some times that's the case.