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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11418
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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How to tell if my Ball Python is starving What are the signs.

Resolved Question:

How to tell if my Ball Python is starving? What are the signs. He hasnt been eating since I got him which was 4 weeks ago. I know they can go long without eating but what signs should I be looking at that he is starving. Also I have had him for four weeks and he still seems to stress a lot, even if I approach the cage he is breathing very hard. I don't think he likes to be here.
Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Reptile
Expert:  Anna replied 7 years ago.

There are two main causes of a snake not eating. One is that it may be getting ready to shed. Do the eyes have a whitish cast to them? Does the skin look transparent in some places? Is he rubbing against any objects in the enclosure? Those are all signs of an approaching shed. If this is what is going on, make sure he has a water bowl big enough to bathe in, and keep the water clean at all times. The shedding process can take up to two weeks. It's normal not to eat during that time.

A snake will also quit eating if it gets too cold. Check your heating
equipment to make sure it is all functioning properly. Check the temperature in the enclosure with a digital probe thermometer. It should be 80 to 85 degrees during the day, 75 or so at night. A separate basking area should be at 90 degrees. Other incorrect conditions can lead to failure to eat, too. Here's a useful site on ball pythons where you can read more about their care and feeding habits:

Ball Pythons

You can try different foods - for example, if he always gets mice, you could try a small lizard, such as an anole.

Another reason a snake may not eat is that it is sick. The hard breathing concerns me. Your snake may have a respiratory infection. while ball pythons are known for going long periods without eating, if the snake is actually sick, he could die from that. It's always a good idea to have a vet examine a new pet, but when things start to go wrong, it's even more important. This link will take you to a directory of reptile vets:


As for signs of starvation, the snake would lose weight, the spine may become visible, and lethargy will set in. A bigger danger is dehydration. If the skin around the neck is wrinkled or puckered, the snake is becoming dehydrated. A vet would need to give fluids. If no dehydration is present, you can help prevent it by giving the snake a good soak. Buy some unflavored Pedialyte (yes, the kind for human infants), and prepare a shallow bath consisting of 1/2 water and 1/2 Pedilayte. Soak your snake for about 20 to 30 minutes. Be sure to supervise closely. Snakes can absorb the electrolytes through their vents.

If you have more questions, just let me know by clicking on REPLY. I hope it turns out that your snake is not ill, and that he will soon be eating well.

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Hi Anna, Thanks for the quick response again :) I keep hearing different things about what the breathing might be and a huge majority of people tell me he is still stressed. But what your saying that it might be an infection? That sounds more like what it could be. I mean he doesn't breath hard all the time, its only when I approach him. I don't know what a snakes spin looks like so I am not sure if thats his spin or not. But when I see that his body is turned it shows two lines going throughout of his top back. Could that be the spin? or is it just a normal bone structure? I am so lost on what to do, and I don't have the money right now to take him to the vet because they charged 75 dollars just for the visit.
Expert:  Anna replied 7 years ago.
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I was called away and just got back. would it be possible for you to post a photo of your snake? If so, you can upload one by clicking on the little green tree icon in the tool bar. That will give me a better idea of his condition.

Labored breathing can be a sign of a respiratory infection, but there's no way to be certain of that without a vet visit. If you can't see a vet, what I would do is give the snake a soak as I described above and make sure the temperatures are correct. After the temperatures have been right for a day or two, try feeding him again. If you can get a small anole from a pet store, try feeding that. I would also ask the pet store personnel in charge of feeding snakes if your snake ate while he was there. Let them know there's a problem.

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Hi sorry for getting back for so long, I had a family emergency. One last question. What is the best light source for a ball python? I currently have a basking light during the day and then a purple light on the cold side to keep the temperatures from going below 75. I will try and send you pictures of the habitat.
Expert:  Anna replied 7 years ago.
Your present lighting sources are fine if they keep the temperatures in the right range. An under-the-tank heat mat is also suitable. Don't ever use heated rocks. They often result in burns to the underside of the snake.

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
How do I send you the pictures of the habitat? I am looking for that tree icon and I do not see it. I have the temps at around 83 humidity goes down to about 40-45. It looks like he is loosing weight but I am not sure. I dont know the description of a under weight ball python. I currently have the live feeder mouse in his box and will feed him the snake in a little bit. He is very active now, what step should I do next?
Expert:  Anna replied 7 years ago.
Look at the top of the box where you type your reply. There should be either a tool bar there, or the words "Show Tool Bar." If you have the sords, click on them. The tree is in between an icon that looks like the links of a chain and the one that says "YouTube."

Have you been giving your snake baths? Since he'sactive now, it probably would be a good time to try feeding. Let me know how it goes. I'll be back on in the morning, and will look for your reply.


Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Nope he did not eat it. He has his head out as if he was going to eat it but no tongue action at all, should I try frozen thawed ? I feel bad having to let these mice go and die outside but I can't keep live mice here they are very dirty. Sorry I don't see the link or icon to send a picture, can I email them to you?
Expert:  Anna replied 7 years ago.
I would try a thawed frozen mouse that has been brained according to the directions above.

You can e-mail a photo to

You should include a link to your question, which is

Request that it be sent to me, MsAM (Anna).

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Ok they have not replied back to me yet. But I did take a picture of his body weight and such so I have them ready. I did hold him today for a little and he was very relaxed which I am very pleased about. But boy was I shaking, I will feel comfortable when he starts to eat. Should I try feeding him in a box with a live mouse in it?
Expert:  Anna replied 7 years ago.
Have you tried a brained mouse yet? How about an anole?

I would sue the live mouse as a last result. When live mice are placed with a snake that doesn't have an appetite, the snake often gets bitten. The bites are very prone to infection. If youw ant to try live prey, go with an anole.

Anna and other Reptile Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 7 years ago.
I am going to try feeding him in a box. he has been more active lately so lets hope for the best. justanswer still hasnt found the problem on why I cant send you pics. So I am going to accept the answer and apologize for the wait.
Expert:  Anna replied 7 years ago.
I'm sorry about the problems with the pictures. Just before you try the box feeding, give your snake a soak as I described above. Sometimes that can help stimulate the appetite. I hope that will work for you.

Thank you for the accept - I appreciate it. If you need anything else, just let me know.