Ball Python Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Jun. 22, 2023
Ball python

In This Article

Species Overview

Ball Python Overview

Named for their habit of curling themselves into a tight ball, ball pythons are one of the most popular pet snake species. 

Ball pythons reach their adult size after about 3 years. And with proper care, they can live for 30 years or more!

Ball pythons are nocturnal snakes, so feeding sessions should happen at night. As solitary creatures, ball pythons should be housed in their own habitat, away from other animals. 

Ball Python Handling

Most ball pythons are docile and tolerant of handling once they’re socialized. But, like all snakes, they may strike if they feel ill, stressed, or threatened. On occasion, snakes may mistake human hands as a food source. This sometimes happens during shedding periods, when the clear scales that cover the snake’s eyes (eye caps) become loose and impair their vision. Always approach a snake calmly and quietly and minimize handling when they are shedding. Ball pythons are not venomous. 

Ball pythons are not venomous.

All reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases including Salmonella bacteria, which is a zoonotic (transmittable to people) disease. Pet parents should always wash their hands before and after handling their snake or its habitat’s contents. 

Ball Python Shedding

Young ball pythons shed about once a month as they grow, while healthy adults usually shed only a few times a year. When ball pythons get ready to shed, their eye color turns cloudy blue or green, and their skin develops a whitish sheen. Snakes may become irritable while shedding, so avoid handling them during those periods. 

Ball Python Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 

Beginner 

Average Life Span 

Up to 30 years with proper care 

Average Adult Size 

4–5 feet long 

Diet 

Carnivore 

Minimum Habitat Size 

10–20 gallons for juveniles; 40+ gallons for adults 

Ball Python Supply Checklist

To keep a ball python happy and healthy, have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately sized habitat (10–20 gallons for juveniles; 40+ gallons for adults) 

  • Substrate 

  • Moss 

  • Water dish 

  • Hideaway box 

  • Plants 

  • Heat emitter 

  • Heat fixture 

  • UV light emitter 

  • Feeding tongs 

  • Thermometers 

  • Thermostat 

  • Humidity gauge 

  • Frozen rodents 

Ball Python Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

Young ball pythons need a tank that’s at least 10-20 gallons. As the snake enters adulthood, pet parents must increase their ball python's habitat size to accommodate their growth. All enclosures should be well-ventilated and have a secure, screened lid to prevent the snake from escaping. 

A ball python will reach its adult size within 3 years. An adult ball python should be housed in a breeder tank 40 gallons or larger. Always provide the largest habitat possible. 

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Tanks for Juvenile Ball Pythons (10-20 gallons):

Tanks for Adult Ball Pythons (40+ gallons):

Setting Up Your Habitat 

Ball pythons are solitary animals that should be housed alone. Keeping more than one ball python in the same habitat can encourage stress, aggression, and competition. Never keep different species of animals in the same habitat. 

Temperature  

Pet parents must check the temperatures of their ball python’s habitat daily. Two thermometers—one in the warm area and one in the cool area—should be placed in the enclosure so that both zones can be checked at once. A digital point-and-shoot thermometer can also be used to read habitat temperatures instantly. 

Ball pythons need a thermal gradient in their enclosure so they can warm up and cool down as needed. The recommended temperature for the warm end of a ball python’s habitat is 95 F, while the cooler end should be kept around 78 F.  

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Lighting & Heat Support 

Pet parents should install an over-the-tank basking lamp with a heat bulb to supply radiant heat in their snake’s habitat. The wattage needed for the bulb depends on the size of the enclosure, the distance of the bulb from the snake, and the ambient temperature of the room where the enclosure is kept. Adjust the wattage of the bulb to maintain the recommended temperature gradient within the tank.

In addition to over-tank heating bulbs, under-tank heating pads may also be added to maintain appropriate tank temperatures. Under-tank heat mats should always be attached to a thermostat to help ensure the pets sitting on them do not get burned. 

Note: Some light bulbs provide not only light to the tank but also heat and/or ultraviolet (UV) light. Pet parents should check the light sources they are considering before placing them in a habitat.

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Light Fixtures & Hoods:

Heat Support:

Although ball pythons are nocturnal animals, studies show that daily exposure to UV light can benefit their overall health. UVA/UVB light can improve the immune system function and promote normal behavior in all reptiles. Pet parents should provide their ball python 8-12 hours of UV light daily to imitate natural sunlight.  

Since UV lights differ in intensity, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on bulb placement relative to the pet.

Replace bulbs every six months (even if they still emit light) as their potency wanes over time. A day/night timer can make it easier to maintain a consistent day and night cycle. 

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UV Light Emitters:

Timers:

White lights should not be left on continuously, as they will disrupt the snake’s natural sleep cycle and negatively affect their health. At night, switch to a nocturnal or infrared light, like the Exo Terra Infrared Basking Reptile Spot Lamp to ensure the snake can rest. 

Humidity 

Ball pythons need humidity in their environment to stay hydrated, support their respiratory systems, and encourage healthy shed cycles. The ideal humidity range for a ball python’s habitat is 40% to 60%. During shedding cycles, increase the enclosure’s humidity to around 70%. Use a hygrometer (humidity gauge) to measure the enclosure’s humidity every day. 

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Substrate 

Paper-based bedding, reptile carpet, cypress mulch, coconut husk, and aspen wood shavings are all suitable choices for substrate. Pine and cedar bedding should not be used, as they have oils that can irritate ball pythons’ skin and cause illness. 

If aspen is used as a substrate, it must be replaced weekly to prevent the substrate from getting excessively wet, soiled, or molded. If wood shavings, mulch, or coconut husk bedding of any kind is used, the snake should be fed in a separate enclosure without loose substrate. Otherwise, the snake may accidentally consume bedding particles that are indigestible and can cause gastrointestinal obstruction. 

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Décor & Accessories 

Hiding area: Pet parents should provide their ball pythons with at least two hiding areas—one kept on the warmer side of the enclosure and one on the cooler side. Aside from offering the snake some privacy, hideouts can help ball pythons regulate their body temperature, as they give the snake a space away from their enclosure’s direct basking area. 

Pet parents should monitor their snake's behavior to be sure they are not always hiding, as they won’t have a chance to benefit from UV exposure. 

Synthetic or natural wood hiding logs are recommended. Hiding logs should always be large enough for the snake to fit inside comfortably. Pet parents need to increase the size of their hideout boxes as their ball python grows. 

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Climbing branches: Many ball pythons enjoy climbing, so climbing branches can be installed in their habitat to enrich the snake’s environment and encourage exercise. 

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Moss: Add moistened sphagnum moss to the inside of a hideout box kept on the warm side of a ball python’s enclosure to create a humid hide. Moss holds moisture well and can aid in healthy shedding. 

Moss should be replaced often to prevent mold from forming. 

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Plants and terrarium background: Adding plants and a terrarium background to a snake’s enclosure can enrich the snake’s environment and add some aesthetic flair. Make sure that any live plants added to the enclosure are non-toxic.

Cleaning & Maintenance for Ball Pythons

A ball python’s habitat needs to be cleaned and disinfected at least once a week with either a commercially available habitat cleaner or a 3% bleach solution. Always wash your hands before and after handling your snake or its contents, as all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases. 

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To clean a ball python’s habitat, take these steps: 

  1. Move the snake to a secure environment. Remove any old substrate, décor, and accessories from the habitat. 

  1. Scrub the empty tank and any furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution. The bleach solution should stay on the habitat for at least 10 minutes to ensure that the surfaces are disinfected properly. If using a commercial habitat cleaner, follow the manufacturer's instructions. 

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution.  

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new substrate and clean accessories into the habitat. 

  1. Return the snake to the clean habitat. 

Ball Python Diet & Nutrition

Ball pythons feed on whole, thawed frozen rodents, such as mice and rats. Because ball pythons are nocturnal feeders, offer food at night and use feeding tongs rather than fingers. Ball pythons should always have access to fresh, clean water.

A nutritious and well-balanced ball python diet consists of: 

  • Appropriately sized frozen rodents: a ball python’s ideal feeding schedule will depend on its age, size, and activity level. Juvenile ball pythons should be fed once a week, while adults only need to be fed every 1-2 weeks. Baby snakes can be fed every other day. 

  • Start juvenile snakes on a diet of “pinkies,” or young and nearly hairless mice. As the ball python grows into adulthood, they can be transitioned to a diet of larger mice and rats. 

  • Prey should be around the same size as the snake’s width at mid-body. For example, if the snake’s midsection is 1 ½” in diameter, its prey should also be no wider than 1 ½”. 

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Fresh, clean water; water should always be available and replaced daily. Since reptiles absorb water through their skin to stay hydrated, especially during shedding periods, their water dishes should be large and shallow enough to allow them to soak.

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Feeding Guidelines for Ball Pythons

Do not feed your ball python live prey. While still alive, rodents can become aggressive and cause severe wounds that may lead to life-threatening infections.

Ideally, feeding sessions should take place in a separate enclosure. That way, the snake will learn not to associate its pet parent’s hand or the opening of its usual habitat with feeding. Instead of your fingers, use long feeding tongs to offer food.

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How to Thaw Frozen Food for Ball Pythons

To thaw frozen prey:

  1. Remove the needed number of food items from the bag. 

  1. Put the frozen food in a sealed plastic bag and place it in a thawing container filled with cold water. The thawing container should only be used for preparing your reptile’s frozen meals. 

  1. Keep the food in the water until it thaws. Discard the cold water. 

  1. Refill the thawing container with warm water. 

  1. Place the thawed prey, still in the sealed plastic bag, in the warm water. Allow it to soak for 10-15 minutes before discarding the water. 

  1. Just before feeding, run nearly hot water over the thawed food to warm it above room temperature. 

  1. Remove the thawed food from the container and plastic bag.  

  1. Using feeding tongs, offer the food to the pet immediately.  

Never use a microwave to thaw or warm frozen rodents, and never offer food that's still frozen to a pet. Frozen food that is not consumed should never be re-frozen for future use, as this encourages bacteria to form in the food. 

Avoid preparing frozen rodents in the same area that used to prepare food. If this is unavoidable, be sure to disinfect the area thoroughly after use. 

Grooming & Care for Ball Pythons

Shedding: Ball pythons shed their skin regularly. Healthy snakes should shed their skin in one complete piece. 

During shedding periods, keep the ball python’s tank at a suitable humidity level (70%) to encourage a proper shed. 

A snake’s eye caps, also called its spectacles, should come off with the rest of its shed skin. If the eye caps do not fall off, do not try to remove them, contact your veterinarian.

Ball pythons can soak themselves in a shallow, open water dish to help them shed. Damp paper towels and moistened sphagnum moss should be placed in the snake’s enclosure to encourage healthy shedding. You may also mist them to support proper hydration. Ball pythons may become irritable and lose interest in eating while shedding. 

Due to their slow metabolisms, ball pythons can go weeks and even months without eating. However, they often become ill if they don’t eat for extended periods. If a snake misses more than a couple of feeding sessions, consult a veterinarian, especially if the snake isn’t shedding at the time. 

Ball Python Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Ball pythons should be seen by a veterinarian once annually. They can be transported using a ventilated plastic lidded bin, with or without a snake bag. It is recommended to take pictures of their enclosure, diet, heaters, lights (including exact specifications from the packaging), etc., so your veterinarian can assess their care as part of the exam.

Signs of a Healthy Ball Python

  • Clean, clear eyes

  • Intact skin with no ulcerations or stuck shed

  • Clean vent

  • No swellings or bumps

  • Regular flicking of their tongue

  • Relaxed demeanor

When to Call a Vet

  • Cloudy eyes or eyes that appear to have something stuck to the surface

  • Blisters, ulcerations, stuck shed, or other lesions on the skin

  • Discharge around the vent

  • Tumors

  • Lethargy

  • Loss of appetite

  • Sudden inability to move a section of their body

Common Illnesses in Ball Pythons

  • Anorexia

  • Internal or external parasites

  • Skin infections

  • Respiratory disease

  • Oral infections

  • Dysecdysis (stuck shed, retained eye spectacles)

  • GI obstruction or constipation

  • Dystocia (stuck eggs)

  • Trauma including bite wounds if fed live prey

  • Prolapses

  • Inclusion body disease

  • Burns

Ball Python FAQs

Are ball python snakes harmful?

Ball pythons are rarely harmful. They generally have docile personalities and rarely bite.

Are ball python snakes aggressive?

Aggression is rare in ball pythons and at mostly usually consists of whipping their tail or hissing; bites are rare.

Are ball pythons the most powerful snake?

No, ball pythons have neither the strongest bite force nor the strongest constriction force. In fact, pythons in general hold neither of these titles.

Is a ball python snake friendly?

Though these animals are very comfortable with solitary living and may not seek out attention, socialized ball pythons are often affectionate and friendly with their family.

Do ball pythons make good pets?

Generally, ball pythons make great pets. They require a bit of experience and come with a learning curve as they are prone to a couple health issues that can necessitate troubleshooting, like chronic anorexia or issues with parasites.

Can I have a ball python as a pet?

Usually it is okay to keep a ball python as a pet. Snakes are not allowed in Hawaii and some other states may require permits. Local laws may restrict the ability to keep ball pythons, so be sure to check the laws for your area.

How much does a ball python snake cost?

Cost for a ball python can vary. A traditional ball python can cost about $20 but specific morphs often cost at least a couple hundred dollars and rarer varieties can cost several thousand dollars.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Wirestock


Maria Zayas, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Maria Zayas, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...


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