What to know before you buy your first pet ball python
For people thinking of getting their first pet ball python, knowing what questions to ask a breeder or pet shop before deciding to buy from them makes a huge difference in their first months as a new snake owner. The internet is replete with information about husbandry and care for after they get their snake, but less so with tips on what to be aware of before choosing a breeder or store to buy from. We hope this page helps equip potential new ball python owners with the knowledge they needed to make an informed decision about their new pet.
Frozen/Thawed vs Live Food
Mice and rats can be fed to ball pythons either live or frozen/thawed. Before buying a ball python, It is important for you to know what the breeder or store feeds their snakes to make sure you are able to acquire that food and feel comfortable feeding it to them.
Mice and rats are sold frozen, then when ready for use as feed, are thawed and gradually heated to body temperature before being presented to the snake with tongs. Unlike live feeding, it is not at all dangerous to the snake, and is a more humane way to die for the mouse or rat. We have never met a vet who recommends feeding live over F/T.
A live mouse or rat, dropped into your ball python’s enclosure. Many breeders choose to feed live because it is simpler to get a snake eating with live prey, and it is cheaper as many can breed their own rodents. Some will transition their snakes to frozen\thawed, some will do upon request, and others will only feed live. It is important to ask which they feed before you buy, and be aware of which types of food you have access to.
Note for Metro Vancouver: The closest place to buy live is in South Surrey, and it is not near a skytrain route. Aa car (or a day on the bus!) is needed to pick up food if you buy a snake eating live prey.
Which to Choose?
We recommend frozen/thawed for convenience and your pet’s safety, though the choice is yours! It also depends on what is available to you in your area, so you need to ensure you can buy the type of feed you prefer before you make your choice.
We do recommend F/T because it is simpler to feed that way for many reasons:
- When your snake is an adult and needs larger prey, there is a risk that the rat may fight back and injure your snake. It is always requires medical attention to ensure the wound does not become infected.
- If your snake is not hungry, you suddenly have a rat or mouse to take care of until they are ready to eat. You absolutely cannot keep the rodent with your snake because that increases the risk of injury exponentially.
- Many ball pythons are prone to fasting based on the season. We have one snake who regularly fasts 7-8 months straight every year! It is much simpler and more cost-effective to adjust how many times you offer your snake food if you are using frozen/thawed.
Snakes can be switched from live to F/T, but this is not a task for beginner snake owners. Even experienced breeders will tell you it can be a huge headache, so if you are a new snake owner, it is recommended you purchase a snake already eating F/T if this is what you wish to feed yourself.
Our Personal Thoughts
In nature it’s survival of the fittest, and wild ball pythons aren’t eating a frozen/thawed meal! But we think it’s important to acknowledge that these are captive bred animals and pets, so the laws of nature don’t have to apply. If we can mitigate the suffering of any animal, even a mouse or rat, we will. Some suppliers even use hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) to put them to sleep, which is incredibly humane, fear-free, and painless.
Resellers vs. Breeders
This is important to know about, especially if you are thinking of buying your snake at a reptile show: Not everyone selling ball pythons is a breeder. There are wholesalers who sell reptiles to resellers, who then resell them to the public at reptile shows. Some of these resellers pose as breeders, and other are actually breeders but want to pad the number of available reptiles at their table with wholesale-purchased animals.
Some resellers are honest people who care for every animal they sell, but some are not and are just looking to turn a quick profit. If you see a table with an incredible amount of different species there is a good chance you’re looking at someone who buys some or all of their reptiles from a wholesaler to resell. It is very common for breeders to sell a few different species (many ball python breeders breed other species of python or boa) so in this case, we mean a TON of different species. Some people who import or resell are fantastic, honest people, but because carrying a huge variety of species increases the risk of parasites or disease, we recommend exercising extra caution with resellers.
No matter who you buy from: Read reviews and get opinions
When purchasing from a reseller OR a breeder, we recommend doing your homework by reading their reviews and comments on social media, and asking others in your local reptile community about their experiences with them. If you don’t know anyone else in your reptile community, look for local reptile and amphibian Facebook groups. No matter where you buy your reptile from, hearing honest opinions from others before choosing where to purchase them from is very important.
Our personal experience…
When we began getting into ball pythons as pets, we weren’t aware of breeders vs. resellers. We went to a reptile show and basically lucked into talking to a good breeder! We did notice his prices were higher, but he spent a lot of time with us and really seemed to care for his animals, so we bought from him and had no regrets doing so.
Since becoming involved in snake breeding and our local reptile expos, we’ve definitely seen the darker side of the community via some dishonest resellers AND breeders though. We were lucky we stumbled onto a good breeder for our first pet ball python, but stories we’ve heard from friends in the community and experiences we’ve had have led us to be very cautious before purchasing any animal. As with anything, it’s buyer beware. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Reaching out to your community and asking opinions is your best way to choose where to get your pet snake.
How to Choose Who to Buy From
Read reviews and get opinions
We recommend doing your homework before deciding who to buy from by reading reviews and comments on Morph Market and/or social media about the breeder you’re thinking from. Another excellent resource for information is asking others in your local reptile community about their experiences with them. If you don’t know anyone else in your reptile community, look for local reptile and amphibian Facebook groups.
No matter where you buy your reptile from, hearing honest opinions from others before choosing where to purchase them from is very important. We have encountered some breeders and resellers we wouldn’t recommend, but they are fantastic sales people and know all the right things to say to make a sale.
In the drop down tab below this one, there is a list of questions to ask someone about a specific ball python you’re looking at, as well as the responses you want to hear to help identify a responsible breeder. This should also factor into your decision!
About Pet Stores…
Not all pet stores are created equal. We talk about them more on our Pet Ball Pythons around Vancouver page under the ‘Note about large chain pet stores…’ header. We’ve always invited questions from people, even if they aren’t our customers, and over the years we have helped many people who had poor experiences after buying from large chain pet stores. Ball pythons who likely never had their first meal, snakes who were underweight, incredibly stressed snakes because the pet shop gave them incorrect advice about their care…
Of course, not all pet shops are awful. But if you want to buy from a pet store, we don’t recommend large chain shops. Look for small, local shops specializing in reptiles and other exotic pets. The staff there will always be more knowledgeable, many purchase from local breeders, and you’re supporting a local business!
Questions to Ask About a Specific Ball Python
Before you decide to take a snake home, we recommend doing some due diligence on the snake itself. The reasons are twofold: You get a good picture of the snake you’re buying, and you get an idea of how much care care they’ve been given.
When did they last eat?
Always good to know when your snake ate last, plus what they ate. Sometimes babies have little feeding quirks (some are shy, some like their frozen/thawed meal to be wiggled around a lot, some of them are voracious… it goes on!) so asking if they have any are also good for you to know before bringing them home.
Also, this can’t be stressed enough: especially if you are buying a snake from a pet store, you MUST ask about feeding. If they don’t know or can’t give you a solid answer (‘We feed them once a week, so they probably ate recently’ isn’t good enough) then we don’t recommend you buy from them. You should be asking this no matter what, but it is very pertinent to large chain pet store snakes. It is not uncommon for them to send snakes that aren’t eating or haven’t eaten before.
When were they born?
Another question that a reputable breeder can answer with ease. Most pet store snakes or resellers will not know when a snake was born and will give an approximation rather than an actual date. Keep in mind that most breeders won’t be able to tell you the exact date off the top of their head, but should be able to check their birth records for that information.
Do they eat frozen/thawed or live?
If you don’t want to feed live or can’t get live feed in your area, it is important to know this so you don’t inadvertently bring home a pet you can’t feed.
What is their temperament?
Some ball pythons are timid, some are used to people, and some just need a bit longer to settle in. It’s important to know this to help you settle your snake into their new home and give you an idea what to expect. For example, shy snake might take a bit longer to begin eating, or a confident snake might be prone to be ready to snap at anything once the scent of food is in the air!
Looking for any other first time pet ball python tips?
We want to do our best to help first time snake owners find the right animal for them. If you have any other questions or think this page is missing something, please get in touch and let us know!