Among the reptile community, ball pythons are known to be one of the more notoriously picky eaters. It may raise concern with new or future reptile owners with little experience but can usually be remedied quickly with some of these techniques.
How was your snake previously cared for?
If this is a reptile you have not yet purchased, consider asking the breeder or previous owner what and how they fed their snake or contact them after purchasing if you have purchased them already. For example, were they fed live or frozen mice or rats? Already there are two key variables that you may have unknowingly changed in their diet.
Live animals have a fresh, stronger scent, are warmer and in addition, move around more. A snake raised on live rodents may not recognize frozen thawed mice and rats as food.
Some care guides suggest starting ball pythons on rats at a young age. This is because ball pythons are guaranteed to outgrow mice and it may be difficult to convince them to eat something completely different than what they have been eating their entire life later. Your snake may have been eating the opposite of what you are offering them. Colubrid snakes generally do not seem to mind the change but pythons notice these differences. It can go down to the color and shape of the rat or mouse your snake is eating. Pythons that have been eating white mice their entire lives may not recognize a black mouse as food.
What time of day are you feeding your snake?
Ball pythons are a nocturnal species and are generally more active at night. If you have been offering your snake food during the day or afternoon, consider trying at night after it gets darker. It is also just as likely that their previous caretaker fed them during the day and that is when they are expecting food.
Where are you feeding your snake?
Where you are feeding your snake is a huge factor to why your snake is not eating because it is linked heavily to stress. There is speculation that moving your snake out of their enclosure and into a tub or a separate tank will change their behaviors (watch Should You Feed Your Snake in its Cage? for details). If you have been moving them to a separate enclosure, it may be doing more harm than good. A snake that has been fed in their enclosure their entire lives can gain stress from being moved for feeding. It may also confuse the snake into feeling the need to defend itself, lessening the chance of them eating even further.
It is also possible that the snake is used to being fed outside of their enclosure and is confused because they have not been moved.
How is their setup?
Inconsistent temperature and humidity levels can also stress your snake into not eating. Other stressors include not having enough hides and feeling too exposed without the ability to hide properly. Moving hides and other items may also stress them because their environment is changing.
How do you know if your snake is stressed and what is causing it?
A common sign of a stressed snake is one that is moving around the enclosure. Snakes are very likely to be stressed after being moved to a new enclosure, meaning it is not uncommon for them to refuse food after recently being introduced to a new environment. Giving them a few days to adjust is very okay and may even be preferable. In the first week of being in their new home, strange behaviors should not be worried about. However, if you have had your snake for a while and they begin acting strangely and are showing signs of stress, there may be an element that has changed in the enclosure. Check your heat mats, humidity, and control it with a thermostat. A snake that is too hot or too cold all ties into stress.
Another thing to watch out for is if they are being disrupted before, during, or after your attempt at feeding them. Moving your snake or messing with their enclosure can cause stress, as well as there just being a lot going on in the room such as other animals being distractions.
The most common physical problem in snakes is constipation. It is not uncommon for snakes to not eat if they have not passed their last week’s meal. Factors that may cause constipation are meal size, intestinal issues, and the enclosure being too hot or too dry. Low humidity may cause your snake to become constipated because the moisture contributes to how they digest their meals. After all, a dehydrated person is more likely to be constipated than a hydrated person. Some home remedies for constipation are fixing the enclosure or soaking your snake in warm water (90F-95F, not hot). Still, you should not bathe your snake unless completely necessary.
Parasites also cause a snake to not eat but must be diagnosed by a licensed veterinarian.
Should you immediately see a veterinarian?
The short answer is no. The most common answer you will hear from a veterinarian is that your snake is fine and to keep trying to feed them. Of course, visiting a vet is never a bad idea in the end.
Should you force feed your snake?
Force feeding is not a recommended technique and should be the very last resort. Take your snake to the veterinarian and consult with them before even considering force feeding you snake, and only after your snake has refused food for a couple months.
Techniques to try
Braining a thawed rat/mouse; braining makes it so that your snake can smell the food easier and trigger a feeding response that may bring their appetite back.
Scenting a frozen mouse with a live mouse/rat; this means buying a live mouse/rat, buying a frozen mouse/rat, and rubbing them together.
Double check meal temperature; a common mistake is that the thawed mouse/rat is not warm enough for the snake to acknowledge it as food. Make sure it is the desirable temperature for the snake.
Pre-killed mice/rats; buy a live mouse/rat and kill it. Immediately try to feed it to your snake while it is fresh and still warm.
Live mice/rats; when leaving a live mouse or rat with your snake, make sure to supervise it well to ensure your snake does not get injured.
It is extremely rare, but some ball pythons can go a full year without a meal depending on their metabolism. The most common time that ball pythons go off feed is their breeding season. Overall, ball pythons are tough snakes. It may take some of trial, error, and patience but your snake should start eating eventually. See more in the video below.