Like all snakes, ball pythons are exclusively carnivorous. Generally, small or medium-sized rats and mice work best. But if you use live prey, there’s a real risk it might attack and seriously injure your snake. If your pet store doesn’t sell pre-killed prey, you may have to do the killing yourself. A swift blow to the back of the base of the skull is the quickest and kindest way to do this.
For young ball pythons, a mouse every five to seven days should provide the right nutrition. As your pet gets older, offer increasingly larger prey, less frequently. Adult ball pythons only need to be fed every 10 days to two weeks. If you keep more than one ball python, you must feed your snakes in separate enclosures, otherwise there’s a real danger that one snake could eat another.
The prey you give your ball python should be appropriate to the size of the snake – this means the prey’s circumference should be no greater than the girth of your pet. If you give your python an animal which is too large, it could regurgitate it.
You can use feeding forceps to dangle the prey before dropping into the tank, and some owners feed their ball python in an enclosure other than its usual home. This means the snake will associate the other enclosure with eating and means it’s less likely to think your fingers are on the menu, and bite the hand which feeds it!
Sometimes, it can be hard to get ball pythons to take pre-killed prey, especially if it is frozen. Indeed, it is not unheard of for ball pythons to go for months without taking food. This need not be a problem in the short-term, but if your ball python’s lack of interest in food is prolonged, and it starts to lose weight, consider taking action. Force feeding is a last resort, and best left to the experts.
Instead, there are other things you can try. Ball pythons are sensitive to changes in temperature or habitat, and stress, so ensure your pet is calm, and that no environmental changes could have triggered its reluctance to eat. You could also try feeding your ball python at night, or covering its enclosure at meal times. Some owners dip their prey (which, incidentally, must be properly defrosted) into chicken broth before feeding. Some snake owners puncture the prey’s brain (referred to as "pithing") in order that the smell will entice your snake to take the prey.
Other ideas include changing the color of the mouse or rat you are giving, or changing its diet more. It’s therefore important to understand your ball python’s likes and dislikes.
Finally, some owners supplement their ball python’s diet with crushed vitamin pills or vitamin powder, sprinkled on the prey before you give your snake its dinner. The good news is that you’ll soon get to learn your snake’s tastes, and how to coax it to eat, making feeding your ball python a pretty straightforward business.