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Can a Ball Python Eat Rats and Mice?

Are you scared of feeding your ball python live animals like rats? Many think that mice may be safer since they are smaller, but is that true? It’s essential to understand what part rodents have in a reptile’s diet to ensure its safety and well-being.

Ball pythons can eat both mice and rats. Rats and mice provide a good calorie, fat, and protein intake for a ball python’s diet. In addition to this, their availability made these feeders the best and most common food a ball python can have.

Wild ball pythons eat mice and rats with not much distinction. But, for your beloved python, what is the best food choice? Keep on reading to know all about these topics!

Effects of Feeding Mice and Rats to Ball Pythons

After a ball python is fed with a rodent, its digestive organs become more active. This is followed by the animal hiding and staying immobile so as to use its energy for digestion. This can take up to 7-10 days and they should secrete the waste at the end of such time frame. [1]

Ball pythons, like most snake species, are ambush predators which means that they do not eat regularly in the wild. Do you know that when they have not been fed yet, their digestive organs are dormant and may decrease by up to 50% in energy consumption?

Almost 90% of their prey’s nutrients are absorbed into their body and only 9 percent are excreted as wastes. Another interesting fact is that almost 40% of every meal will be converted into a new tissue for the snake.

Benefits of Feeding Mice or Rats to Ball Pythons

Mice and rats are beneficial feeders for ball pythons because of their accessibility and nutritional value. Since there is an abundance of these feeder rodents in the pet market they have become the most common choice not only for ball pythons but for other snakes and carnivorous reptiles.

1. Accessibility

Mice and rats are prolific breeders regardless of their species. Most countries have breeding mills that supply most test laboratories and pet shops. Due to high supply, prices are usually very low even for retail. A rat in a pet shop in the USA might cost around 4-6$ depending on size.

For frozen rodents, even though they are more expensive, these kinds of feeders are easier to ship and can be accessed by anyone around the world as long as you have enough financial resources.

2. Nutritional Value

Mice and rats offer a sufficient amount of nourishment for ball pythons given their high protein and good fat content [2].

Here are 2 comparison tables on the nutritional content of rats and mice.

AgeProteinFatKcal/g
Pinkies64.2%17.0%4.87
Juvenile44.2%30.1%6.65
Adult55.8%23.6%5.25
Nutritional Value of Mice as Ball Python Feeders

AgeProteinFatKcal/g
Rat pups57.9%23.7%5.30
Juvenile56.1%27.5%5.55
Adult61.8%32.6%6.37
Nutritional Value of Rats as Ball Python Feeders

Mice vs Rats? Nutritional Content

Some keepers prefer feeding ball pythons with rats because of their higher fat content and to feed only one big prey rather than small multiple ones at a time. However, based on experience, ball pythons can live healthy only by eating mice or rats.

Here is a comparison table with data gathered from a study with consideration to their equivalent weight [3].

NutrientRat (10-50g)Mouse (>10g)
Crude Protein56.155.8
Crude Fat27.523.6
Kcal/g5.55a5.25a
Calcium2.072.98
Magnesium0.120.16
Vitamin A (iu/kg)151, 389578, 272
Vitamin E (iu/kg)139.2100.4
Iron (Mg/kg)133.2137.9
Zinc (Mg/kg)81.967.5
Copper (Mg/kg)11.36.7
Manganese (Mg/kg)2.67.7
Comparison of the Nutritional Value of Rats and Mice

The biggest difference here is the vitamin A and the reason for this is that a 10-gram mouse is older than a 10-gram rat and older prey always has more vitamin A than younger ones. But as long as you are feeding the right size of feeder to your ball python their nutritional needs will be met regardless of whether you choose mice or rats.

However, there are many keepers whose ball pythons are picky eaters and say that their pets can determine whether the prey is a mouse or a rat based on its scent. Though there is no scientific research to back this up.

From my experience, I have kept and maintained a healthy male ball python with purely a mice diet. I have fed my ball python a small adult rat once and he still took it then proceeded to eat mice again a few weeks after.

Guidelines in Feeding Ball Pythons Rodent (3 Factors to Consider)

You cannot just feed any mice or rats to any size of ball pythons. It’s not as simple as some people think.

There are general guidelines to note when you are planning for this kind of diet for your ball python namely:

  1. Species
  2. Feeder Condition
  3. Frequency

1. Species

The most common breed of feeder mouse and rat is the common house mouse (Mus musculus) and the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus). The domesticated form of these rodents is called Fancy mice/rats. Here are two lesser-known variants of these rodents:

  • African Short Fur rats (ASFs) are slightly smaller and have less odor than your typical captive-bred brown rat. These species are less common but are a great alternative if you are planning to breed your own feeders because of their smell and their adult size is the perfect size for your full-grown ball python.
  • Dumbo-ear rats are sub-species of the brown rat and are similar in appearance except for their distinct ears that are pointed downward.

2. Feeder Condition

Ball pythons must only be fed rodents that are in good condition. A mice or rat is a good quality feeder if they exhibit 1) soft fur, 2) bright eyes, 3) erect ears, and 4) proper posture[4]

Healthy Rat feeder for ball python
Signs of a Healthy Mice and Rat

As previously mentioned, the most common breed of feeder mouse and rat is the common house mouse and the brown rat. So it is safe to assume that the feeder mice and rats you see in your local pet stores or breeding mill are in the same genus as those common house pests

But do not worry, as long as these feeders came from a sanitary breeding mill, the chances of it transmitting parasites and toxic chemicals (pesticides, etc.) are very low.

Will a rat’s color determine if it is a good feeder for ball pythons?

The color of captive-bred feeder rodents like rats and mice doesn’t determine whether or not they are good for ball pythons. It has no effect on their quality. The reason most feeders are white is they look sanitary and are uniformly bred for research purposes which resulted in their abundance.

3. Frequency

The frequency of feeding ball pythons will depend on their size and the size of the feeder. Feeders should only be around one and a half the size of the snake’s stomach which is located around the center of its body. To be more exact, a feeder should be roughly 15% of the ball python’s weight.

rat size ball python
Prey Size Relative to Your Snake

Based on different forums and threads here is the most common feeding regimen ball python keepers follow.

Ball Python Weight (Grams)Prey Size (Grams)Feeding Frequency
50-1001 hopper mouse(8-10g) or rat fuzzy(8-12g)Once every 5-7 days
100-3501 small adult mouse (12-18g) or rat pup(20-30g)Once every 7 days
350-5001 jumbo mouse(30-50g) or juvenile rat (30-40g)Once every 7 days
500-9002 jumbo mice(66-100g) or small adult rat (50-90g)Once every 9-12 days
900-15002 jumbo mice (80-130g) or small adult rat (70-120g)Once every 14-21 days
Above 15002 jumbo mice (90-150g) or medium adult rat (90-150g)Twice or once every 30 days
Recommended Serving Size and Feeding Schedule for Ball Pythons

Based on the table you can see that as your ball python grow, the recommended frequency decreases while the prey size increases.

Additionally, you can feed your scaly pet multiple mice in one seating as long as your ball python still accepts it.

As an owner that took care of his ball python from 2 months old to 6 years old, I can say that this table is highly recommended. In fact, I currently follow the 4th row—feeding my male ball python 2 adult mice per 14 days.

7 Factors Why Your Ball Python Refuses to Eat (And Solutions)

Ball pythons are known to be picky eaters compared to other species in the python family. But do not worry, because these are some of the reasons why your ball python refuses to eat, provided with solutions for each problem.

This list is ranked from the most common to rare instances

Husbandry

This is the most common reason for the ball python’s refusal of food. Even small differences from their natural habitat can have an effect on their temperament and appetite.

Solution: You must check whether certain parameters are in the proper order like the temperature, humidity, lighting, and hiding spots.

  • Temperature must be at least 78F on the cool side and 85F on the warm side.
  • Humidity must be between 65-80%.
  • Lighting should emulate natural light from morning to nighttime.
  • Hide spots must be fit to the size of the ball python to give a sense of security to lessen stress.

New Environment

This happens when you get your new ball python from a store or just a simple rehoming. This sudden changes and the travel time causes stress to ball pythons.

Solution: Allow your ball python to get accustomed to its new home for at least 1 week for yearlings and above and 3-4 days for hatchlings before you offer any kind of food.

Switching From Live to Frozen

Live food and frozen food have a very different feel to them which is why some ball python specimens only eat live food and have a hard time transitioning to frozen-thawed.

Solution: First is to ensure that your thawed feeders are at a proper temperature of around 100-107F in order to imitate body heat from live food. You must also shake your feeders to emulate movement to enrich your ball python’s appetite. If this does not work try again after a week.

Switching Prey Sizes

Whether live or frozen, the feeder’s size can intimidate a ball python especially if that is its first time transitioning to a certain size of feeder.

Solution: I recommend following the standard ball python regimen indicated above, or to be more accurate, the feeder’s weight must be 15% the weight of your ball python.

Shedding

This happens when ball pythons grow in size, and be able to change their skin. They are more vulnerable at this stage which causes the occasional refusal of food.

Solution: There are no solutions for this because shedding causes them to have poor eyesight and feel more vulnerable. Some ball pythons may still feed but others won’t, which is perfectly normal.

Illness

Some examples of illnesses may be parasites, respiratory disease, scale rot, stomach rot, and other diseases. This will often cause ball pythons to refuse food due to discomfort and pain.

Solution: First aid for external illnesses can be treated by soaking the ball python in water with an anti-bacterial substance in it like betadine. Other complications besides this must be immediately brought up to an exotic veterinarian.

Gravid

A female ball python with eggs inside is a sluggish and vulnerable snake which will cause it to often refuse food.

Solution: Should this happen, it is recommended that you wait it out until the female lays eggs. Normally, female ball pythons after laying eggs are hungry due to the energy they expended in laying the eggs.

Do Ball Pythons in Nature Eat Small Rodents? Is it Normal?

Eating rodents is totally normal and natural for ball pythons. Indeed, in the wild, pythons eat small terrestrial mammals which are often different kinds of rodents. Here are some common examples: [5]

  • Typical striped grass mouse (Lemniscomys striatus)
  • Fraser’s musk shrew (Crocidura poensis)
  • Murids of the Muridae family (mice, rats, and gerbils)

Another example of a ball python’s staple prey in the wild are small birds such as the African grey woodpecker (Dendropicos goertae) and Rufous-winged Cisticola (Cisticola galactotes)

Further Questions

Should you handle your python after eating?

The digestion rate for ball pythons varies on the temperature and size of the prey. But in general, recently fed ball python should only be handled after at least 24 hours but I recommend at least 48 hours to avoid stress and regurgitation.

Is breeding mice beneficial for a ball python keeper?

Based on my experience, breeding mice is recommendable whether you feed frozen or live feeders as long as you have the peripherals needed. Not only can it save you money, but you can be sure that they are taken care of properly which will lead to them less likely to be in bad condition.

How do I know if a ball python was overfed?

There are three common signs of obesity in ball pythons. The first sign is skin near the neck and rear area is folded or looks flabby. The second is the skin under the scale shows up, there must be no white outline on its scales. Lastly, is when the snake feels soft and squishy. Solutions for these are larger enclosure, smaller prey, basking/heat spots, and moderation of feeding.

Summary of Can a Ball Python Eat Rats?

In the wild, ball pythons are ambush predators that eat small mammals and birds, including a variety of native rodents. As such, mice and rats comprise the majority of their staple diet in captivity.

More importantly, ball python owners must take three key factors into account when feeding them rodents: the species, feeder condition, and frequency.

References

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6590359_Ott_BD_Secor_SM_Adaptive_regulation_of_digestive_performance_in_the_genus_Python_J_Exp_Biol_210_340-356

[2] https://southfloridarodents.com/nutritional-values/

[3] https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/jrr/v031n03/p00267-p00272.pdf

[4] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221893206_Acute_experimental_Trypanosoma_cruzi_infection_Establishing_a_murine_model_that_utilises_non-invasive_measurements_of_disease_parameters

[5] https://sci-hub.se/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1998.tb00141.x