Ball pythons are popular pets because of their small size and docile nature. However, like most other reptilian pets, they aren’t the cuddly type.
While each snake has its preference for how much it likes to be handled, most ball pythons tolerate it well. Older snakes are more tolerant of handling than younger ones, and you should always limit handling your pet to 15-20 minutes, 1-3x a week, with a maximum of once daily.
How should you handle your snake, and are there any benefits, or are you simply annoying your ball python? Read on to learn more!
Benefits of Handling Your Ball Python
Even though it may not be your pet ball python’s favorite activity, regular handling has some benefits.
- They become comfortable around people. Handling them regularly makes them more friendly and trusting toward their owner and people in general, therefore becoming safer.
- They get exercise. Taking your ball python out of its cage allows it to explore its surroundings, move about, and stay active. This activity is vital for your pet’s health!
- They enjoy your body heat. Snakes are ectothermic cold-blooded reptiles that need to absorb heat from their environment to stay warm. If your snake begins curling around your arm while you are holding it, it is likely enjoying your body heat!
- Your snake will “like” you. Unfortunately, a pet snake will never love you the way a pet dog would. They are solitary creatures through and through. However, they will link you to food and heat and develop a positive association with you over time.
When Should You Not Handle Your Ball Python?
Though handling your ball python has benefits, there are times when it’s inadvisable.
Your pet snake is new
Never hold a new pet snake. It is still adjusting to its new environment and is under a lot of stress.
Give your new pet snake at least seven days to adjust to its new home before attempting to handle it.
Your pet snake has just finished eating
Do not handle your ball python less than 24 hours after its last meal. It will be much better if you can wait 48 or even 72 hours.
Doing so may cause your pet to regurgitate its food and cause health problems or complications.
They are shedding
There are three reasons for not handling your snake while it is shedding.
First, they cannot see very well.
Snakes do not have eyelids. Instead, they have a transparent scale called a brille or eye cap over their eyes. This scale is also shed and replaced when a snake sheds its skin.
During the process, this eye cap becomes cloudy or may appear blue and opaque, temporarily affecting your snake’s vision.
Handling them during this time can cause extreme stress since they cannot see where you are taking them.
Second, their skin is very delicate during this time. You may accidentally pull off its old and new skin by handling it.
Third, by touching your snake, you risk removing some of the natural oils that help loosen its skin and make it easy to slough off. Therefore, this may lead to an incomplete shed.
Ball pythons shed once every 4 to 6 weeks.
Your snake is sick
When your snake displays symptoms such as lethargy, weakness, and lack of appetite, it may feel unwell. It is best not to handle it during this time, and call your vet if symptoms persist.
Your snake is irritable
If your snake is not in the mood to spend time with you, don’t force it!
Signs your snake is stressed or irritable include
- Striking or pulling back its head as if about to strike,
- Tense body language, and
- Running away from you.
Additionally, if your snake curls into a ball while you are holding it, it is a signal that it wants to be returned to its enclosure and be left alone.
How Long And How Often Should You Handle Your Ball Python?
Your pet snake’s age plays a significant role in determining how much handling you can give it.
|How often||How long|
|Hatchlings And Juveniles||Once a week||10-15 minutes|
|Adult Ball Pythons||1-3x a week, maximum of once daily||15-20 minutes|
Hatchlings and juveniles are still uncomfortable with human touch and will be much more skittish. Keep the handling time of hatchlings and juveniles short and sweet, only about 10-15 minutes once a week.
Meanwhile, older snakes are more tolerant of handling, especially those that grew up in captivity. If your ball python is at least a year old, you can spend more time with it, about 10-15 minutes up to three times a week.
Regardless of age, only handle your pet snake once daily. Never try to squeeze your adult pet’s allotted three handlings within 24 hours!
How Should You Handle Your Ball Python?
How you handle your ball python plays a big part in your pet’s reaction to your touch. Here are a few simple steps to make it enjoyable for you both.
- Move slowly around your snake. Sudden movements may startle them and cause them to run away.
- Always use gentle, light touches with handling your pet snake. Squeezing or holding it roughly may harm or scare your ball python and cause it to lash out at you.
- Snakes can sense when you are tense, which will make them uneasy too! Try not to be anxious about handling your pet snake.
- Never cover its head with your hand. This may frighten it and trigger its fight or flight response.
- Never pick up a sleeping snake.
Prepare your hands with alcohol or hand sanitizer
Before picking up your pet ball python, wash your hands and rub alcohol or hand sanitizer on them. This ensures you do not smell like food, and your snake won’t accidentally nip your fingers!
Give it enough support
Pick up your snake with two hands: one behind its head and one supporting its body.
Since ball pythons are constrictors, they will feel more comfortable wrapped around something. Drape its lower one-third around your arm to give it ample support. If your ball python is still small and young, you can support it with your fingers.
Once your snake is secure in your arms, you can let go of its head and let it look wherever it wants to. However, note that snakes will go wherever their head is facing. If you want to control where your snake looks, turn your body or move the snake in a different direction.
If necessary, you can also move your snake’s head by holding the back of its head. This is to keep you safe from its fangs.
Ensure you do not grip it too firmly by its throat, though, since you may squeeze its windpipe. Understandably, this will cause your snake to become irritated!
Never pick up your pet snake from its tail! You may damage its spine.
Notes on petting and stroking
Petting often makes snakes uncomfortable, not because of the action itself but because their owners are hovering above them in a seemingly predatory manner.
Generally, ball pythons do not like being touched at the back of their heads or necks. If you want to pet or stroke your pet snake, it may be better to do so along the middle part of its body.
Always stroke your pet snake from head to tail, following its scales. Rubbing against its scales can be uncomfortable for them.
Tips For Getting Your Ball Python Used To Your Touch
Can you train your ball python to tolerate your handling? Yes!
Despite your excitement, resist the urge to hold your snake the moment it reaches its eighth day as your pet.
Instead, simply spend time around it and place your hand in its enclosure near it now and then. This will give your pet time to get used to your smell and presence.
After doing this for a few days or weeks, begin with small “doses.” Hold it for only a minute or two initially, and slowly increase the time as you both become more comfortable.
Note that it’s also better to train your ball python young. If you can begin training your snake while it is only a few months old, it will have much more time to be comfortable with your touch as the years and decades pass.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Happens If I Get Bitten?
Don’t worry. Ball pythons are non-venomous. However, remember to disinfect and clean the wound carefully to prevent infection.
If you get bitten, and the snake won’t let go, pull it toward you, not away from you, to dislodge it. This is because a ball python’s fangs are rear-facing.
If it doesn’t let go, try sprinkling cold water onto your snake’s face.
How Do I Know I’m Handling My Snake Too Much?
Handling your snake too much may cause it to become stressed too often, leading it to distrust you. Chronic stress may also eventually affect the immune system.
You’ll know your snake is being handled too much when it balls up, doesn’t flick its tongue, has labored breathing, moves quickly and hides from you, hisses, and shows heightened alertness (displays a striking pose) when you approach.
Though ball pythons are docile pets, be careful not to test their patience. While they can tolerate the occasional handling, too much can irritate them and cause them to be aggressive toward you.
However, always remember that each snake is different.
Your particular snake may enjoy more or less handling time than others and may even occasionally enjoy head pats or chin scratches from you. Only you can tell!