Ball Python Handling Tips & Advice

Ball pythons are well-known for their relaxed, docile attitudes. This makes them an ideal pet snake for anyone who wants to be able to handle their pet.

It can also make routine tank maintenance and health checks much simpler when compared to faster or more aggressive species. 

Before you reach into the cage and start picking up your ball python, however, there are a few important tips that are worth considering.

By following the guidance in this article you’ll not only help to protect your snake from harm but will also minimize the chances of you getting bitten by a stressed or defensive python. 

Ball python handling

Before You Handle a Ball Python

While there are experienced ball python owners who know their snakes well, and can simply reach into the cage to scoop up their pet, in this article I’m going to assume you’re a newer ball python owner. 

As a result I’m going to walk you through the whole process from beginning to end, giving you points to consider at every stage.

Over time you too will get familiar with your snake – and they will become comfortable with being handled – so the whole process becomes easier and more natural for both of you. 

Successful ball python handling starts before you even open the cage. Here are some important points to think about before trying to hold any snake…

Has Your Ball Python Recently Been Rehoused?

Most snakes, including ball pythons, can take time to adjust to new surroundings.

If you’ve recently purchased your first ball python, or you’ve cleaned out their cage and moved the tank decor around, they may not be fully comfortable yet.

Attempting to handle a nervous or stressed snake can be unpleasant for your ball python. It may also increase the chances of you getting nipped by a defensive specimen.

Generally it is best to let your ball python get familiar with their surroundings for a week or two before attempting to handle them. 

Has Your Ball Python Eaten Recently?

A hungry ball python is more likely to mistake you for food and lunge in your direction when you open the cage.

Furthermore, most experts advise that snakes should not be held for 24-48 hours after they’ve eaten, to give them time to properly start the process of digestion. 

Generally speaking it is best to consider handling your ball python for the first time a few days after their last meal, when their appetite should be low but the discomfort of having swallowed a large rodent has subsided.

Clean Your Hands Thoroughly

Reptiles are sensitive animals, and many chemicals that are part of our everyday lives can cause problems. Cleaning your hands thoroughly before handling your snake minimizes the chances of transferring any cosmetics, cleaning products or other chemicals to your snake by mistake.

Another good reason to thoroughly cleanse your hands before ball python handling is that it removes any food smells from your person. Trying to pick up a snake shortly after eating fried chicken and that rich meaty smell could lead to your snake mistaking your hands for dinner. 

There are two ways to properly cleanse your hands. Washing them thoroughly works well. Just as good, however, is investing in a reptile-safe hand sanitizer. Personally I always keep a tub of this in my animal room, ready for any handling activities. 

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Find a Suitable Location

Generally speaking ball pythons are calm and slow moving snakes, which is one of the reasons why they’re so easy to handle. All the same, it makes sense to consider what you’ll do if your handling session doesn’t go as expected. One key aspect here is your location. 

It is best to handle ball pythons indoors if you are a new snake owner, so there is less chance of them getting away from you.

Additionally it is wise to handle your python over a low and/or soft surface such as a mattress or when sitting on the floor. This ensures that if you accidentally drop your snake they should survive the fall without incident.  

Minimize Noise & Other Disturbances

Ball pythons are sensitive to disturbances, so you’ll want to keep the area in which you handle your snake as calm and relaxed as possible.

Shut out other pets, turn off any music, and prevent unnecessary noise like children screaming or dogs barking.

The quieter and more chill you can make the experience, the more comfortable your ball python is likely to be with the situation. 

Test for Feeding Responses

Some pet snakes develop a “feeding response”. They get used to being fed in their cage, and they start to link the cage door opening with being fed. You don’t want a ball python striking at your hand under the mistaken assumption that you’re dinner. 

While this does in no way occur with all snakes, it’s certainly something to be aware of, especially if you’ve recently brought home a new pet snake. 

When opening the cage check for any obvious signs of your snake coiling up ready to strike. Also, when approaching the snake with your hand try to avoid going straight for the head, and instead focus your attention further along your snake’s body. 

While some experts will sniff at the idea, if you’re uncertain about handling your ball python there is nothing wrong with wearing thick gardening gloves when getting them out of the cage as a form of extra protection. 

Some snake owners use a snake hook to gently coax snakes out of their cages, but this is rarely necessary with ball pythons.

Picking Up a Docile Ball Python

Picking up a docile ball python is simplicity itself. Being docile and slow moving they can be easily and calmly scooped up out of their cage. 

Assuming you’ve followed all the previous steps, and avoiding getting too close to the head end, most ball pythons can be gently lifted up at the thickest part of their body. Try to support the bulk of the snake with both hands, allowing it to crawl gently across your upturned hands. 

Fast, jerky movements can spook ball pythons so try to be confident but slow and steady when lifting the snake up for the first time. 

How to Handle a Ball Python

By this point you should have successfully removed your ball python from their cage. You’re supporting the body of the snake properly. So what should you remember when the snake is actually in your hands?

Introduce Handling Slowly

While ball pythons normally adapt well to routine handling, you should be mindful to introduce handling slowly and methodically. Don’t have your snake out for an hour the very first time, for example. 

Instead build up the period of time you handle your snake over some weeks or even months, starting initially with sessions of just a few minutes each. You want to demonstrate to your snake that they have nothing to fear when being handled. As your snake gets familiar with the process you can extend the handling time.

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Note that some more sensitive snakes can display stress from handling by going off their food for periods of time. If you snake refuses to eat, but isn’t obviously coming up to slough, then you may want to consider scaling back your handling time for a while.  

Move Gently & Calmly

Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to handling ball pythons.

Don’t get stressed, don’t get over-excited. Keep your voice low and your movements slow, calm and predictable.

Doing so will make the experience more acceptable for your snake, and so rewarding for you. 

Stay Away from Your Snake’s Head

Even tame snakes can take offence to objects being placed too close to their head. This is especially if it happens unexpectedly, such as a friend suddenly sticking a smartphone in their face for a photo opportunity.

While you shouldn’t fear your ball python’s head extra care should be taken around it to prevent scaring your pet. 

Returning Your Snake to It’s Enclosure

Once you’ve finished your ball python handling session it’s time to return your pet to their cage. This is normally pretty simple with ball pythons, as they can simply be placed calmly back into their cage and placed onto their substrate. 

An alternative option, particularly useful if you have a front-opening vivarium, is to gently point the head-end of your ball python onto the cage through the open door. Most ball pythons will then slither into their cage of their own accord.

The added benefit of this technique is that you can be sure the head of your snake is far away from you at all times. The downside is some ball pythons just sit almost motionless at that point, refusing to slither into their accommodation! 

It should be obvious – though regular stories on social media suggest otherwise – but be sure to firmly close the tank once you’ve put your snake back! Accidentally leaving the enclosure partly open is a common source of escaped pet reptiles.

Rewash Your Hands

Lastly, cleanse your hands once again. Some snakes have been known to carry salmonella, and while the risks are minimal to most reptile keepers it makes sense to take all necessary precautions just to be safe.

Be sure anyone else involved in the handling session – especially children – follow the same procedure. 

Richard Adams

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