There are numerous reasons why your ball python may be underweight and not eating. As a reptilian pet owner, you want to ensure you provide the best for your pet python, which includes keeping them at a healthy weight.
Snakes have the ability to store their energy, surviving months without feeding. Ball pythons have survived up to six months without food.
Signs of an Underweight Ball Python
- Ridged back
- Triangular body shape
- Hollow belly
- Hanging skin
- Loss of jaw muscle definition
- Sunken eye sockets
Causes of an Underweight Ball Python
Stress is a common reason why your ball python may be refusing food and losing weight. If you have recently purchased or adopted your pet or you have moved their enclosure to a high traffic area, your pet may need some time to adjust. Give it time to settle into its new enclosure or location, continue offering foods, removing them if it doesn't eat. Your pet will start eating once it settles in.
Constant Source of Light
Even though your ball python is nocturnal, they don't appreciate bright light at night. A night glow light is ample. Leaving lights on all night will only confuse your pet as to when it is day or night. As they are most active at dusk and dawn, your pet may not be eating due to not knowing what time of day it is.
Incorrect Humidity Levels
Every living thing requires humidity to survive, including your ball python. If your humidity levels are incorrect, then your pet may have a lack of appetite and lose weight.
A drop in temperature is seen in colder winter months when your pet will go into a low activity state with a low appetite. While ball pythons don't usually brumate, if there is less movement and a lack of appetite, it could be temperature-related.
Of course, when you bring your new pet home, you want to handle it. Try and refrain, give your pet some time to settle into its new home, and get used to you. If you see your pet is stressed when handling, hold back for a while. Handling can result in unnecessary stress, which can lead to a lack of appetite and unwelcome weight loss.
Feeding in Separate Container
Many ball python owners remove their pets from their habitat and feed them in a separate container. This can make your pet uncomfortable and less likely to eat, which will result in your pet becoming underweight.
Not Enough Hiding Places
Ball pythons are ambush predators, they prefer hiding under foliage and then pouncing on their prey unexpectedly. If you don't have enough hiding places, your snake can become stressed, resulting in it losing weight.
Ball pythons are known to be fussy eaters. If you have brought your pet home and it’s starting to move around move with frequent tongue flicking, then it’s probably hungry. You may have to try a number of different prey options to find what your pet will eat.
Incorrect Size Prey
If you are not feeding your pet enough, it will become underweight. As a rule of thumb, your python will consume prey that is as wide as the widest part of your pet. Measure the middle of the body to help you identify the size of prey that your pet can manage with ease. You may have to try a number of sizes to see which your pet is comfortable in eating, reducing the risk of the prey getting stuck.
When your pet is unwell, it will become less active, try and bury or hide and it will lose interest in food, even when offering its favorite treat. If your pet doesn't eat for a prolonged period, it will become dehydrated, showing sunken eyes and hanging skin. Illness, such as mites, bacterial infections, mouth rot, and egg binding, can all result in a lack of appetite and your pet becoming underweight.
Impaction is the same as constipation in humans and can result when your python accidentally consumes some substrate when catching their pretty or eating prey too big to digest. When your pet becomes impacted, it is going to be uncomfortable and will refuse food, until the impaction passes. Do not ignore impaction, if you think your pet may be constipated, seek veterinary assistance immediately.
Treatments And Prevention
Accurate Humidity Levels
Ball pythons require humidity levels that range from 50% to 65%. Optimum humidity levels help to keep your pet hydrated, helps improve sheds, and reduces the risk of respiratory infection. In order to help your pet remain happy and healthy, you will want to monitor your humidity levels on the cool and warm side of the enclosure using digital hygrometers. It is recommended to purchase two hygrometers, one for either side of the enclosure to ensure both sides stay within the required humidity levels.
When temperatures drop too low, your python will go into a type of brumation, where it lacks energy and appetite. In order to reduce the risk of this happening and helping your pet remain within optimum weight levels, you want to ensure you provide a warm and cool side to the enclosure, with a basking area. The basking area temperate should range between 88ºF and 92ºF. The warm side should range between 80ºF and 85ºF. The cool side can range between 75ºF and 80ºF. Use two digital thermometers, one on either side of the enclosure to ensure you maintain optimum temperatures for your pet at all times.
Feed in Own Enclosure
Ball pythons that are removed from their enclosures to eat are often underweight. It's recommended to feed your pet in its own enclosure. Remember to provide plenty of hiding places, encouraging natural ambush feeding.
Have a Set Feeding Schedule and Feed Right Size Prey
Many ball python owners make the mistake of feeding prey that is too small, not giving their pets the nutrients and minerals it needs to remain healthy and keep its weight at optimum. Ideally, prey should be twenty percent of the snake’s body weight. With a set feeding schedule in place, you are able to ensure you feed your snake enough o keep the weight on.
In order to maintain optimum humidity levels, you will want to use a coco husk substrate, maybe adding some sphagnum moss. The coco husk is not big enough to cause impaction. Stay away from sand, clay, and small pebbles as substrate and rather go for paper towels, if you are unsure to reduce the risk of impaction.
When all else fails and your pet continues to remain underweight, even though you are feeding correctly and you have optimum humidity and temperature levels, then seek veterinary assistance and treatment to identify the cause of the problem.
A healthy ball python will display consistent behavior, it will have clear and alert eyes, its body will be in good conditions with regular sheds. Eating and drinking will remain normal with well-formed droppings which should appear up to three days after eating. If you are concerned your python is underweight, there are many things you can do to improve appetite and increase weight.