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Do Ball Pythons Like to Be Held and Petted? What You Need To Know


Apr 21, 2023
A young girl holds a small ball python

Ball Pythons, like most snakes, are independent animals. When kept as pets, owners need to meet their care requirements, and may be able to handle the snake occasionally, but, in the majority of cases, Ball Pythons do not like being held or petted. They don’t form a close bond or relationship with their owners. Owners should only really handle Ball Pythons when necessary and avoid any handling during shedding, immediately after eating, or when the snake is introduced to a new enclosure.

Too much handling can cause stress and may also lead to problems with shedding. A stressed Ball Python, although not deadly and having no venom, may still bite.

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Ball Pythons in the Wild

Ball Pythons originate from Western Africa, where they live in rainforests. They can climb, but spend most of their time on ground level, living in underground burrows. These carnivores eat small mammals including gerbils and live up to 15 years. Ball Pythons do have some natural predators, although they are only usually predated when they are young. Small Pythons might be hunted by large spiders as well as birds and wild dogs.

ball python lying on a tree
Image Credit: BikerPhoto, Shutterstock

Ball Pythons as Pets

As one of the most popular pet snake species, the Ball Python is considered an easy snake to care for, at least compared to other snake species. You do need to ensure that their enclosure is kept clean and that they have ideal temperature and humidity levels. You also need to feed them, with most owners preferring to feed frozen mice and rats rather than live ones. Beyond that, snakes are a good visual pet. They don’t like to be disturbed and don’t crave the attention of their humans or others.

Do They Like to Be Held?

In the wild, Ball Pythons lead solitary lives, rarely coming into contact with other snakes and staying out of the way of animals other than prey. Owners need to try and replicate these conditions for their pet Pythons, which means keeping handling to a minimum. With that said, some handling is necessary, for example, if the snake needs to be taken to the vet, and handling is easier if the snake is accustomed to it. Therefore, it is a good idea to handle it fairly regularly.

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The Top 5 Ball Python Handling Tips

Some handling of your Ball Python should be considered part of its care. You will need to remove it from the enclosure while you clean, to take it for any treatment, and in other cases. And if your Python hasn’t been handled at all, it may react negatively to being picked up. You should try and handle the snake twice a week and certainly no more than once a day. Each session should last no longer than 10 minutes. When handling, there are some rules to follow.

1. Wash Your Hands

Snakes rely heavily on their sense of smell because they have poor eyesight. One of the most common reasons that snakes bite their owners is that they mistake the smell of their human for that of food. If you’ve eaten or handled anything that might be considered a good snack, a Ball Python may bite. Washing your hands gets rid of these smells and also helps prevent the potential spread of diseases. Wash your hands before and after handling your snake.

man washing his hands in the sink
Image Credit: Mélissa Jeanty, Unsplash

2. Only Handle When Appropriate

Don’t handle your snake while it is shedding. Snakes already have poor eyesight, and it is worse during shedding. Leave your Ball Python to shed in peace. Don’t handle until at least 2 days after the snake has eaten—handling too soon after a meal can cause the snake to regurgitate its food which, in turn, can be fatal.

3. Let Them Know You’re There

Before picking the Python up, you need to let it know you’re there. Gently touch and brush its back so you don’t startle it when you reach underneath it.

albino ball python in mans hand
Image Credit: Pixabay, Pexels

4. Use Two Hands

Never lift a snake by its tail. It will stress the snake out and may cause injury. You need to pick the snake up confidently but not too tightly. Use both hands, ensure that you support the head with one hand, and lift it out of the enclosure.

5. Let Them Coil Around You

If a Ball Python curls up in a ball while on your hand, it likely means that it is stressed, and you should return it to the safety of its enclosure. The snake should try and coil around your arm and may lift its head to investigate you and what is going on. Let the Python coil around your arm because this is how it grips and prevents itself from falling.

ball python coiled around the arm
Image Credit: Benny Marty, Shutterstock

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Do Ball Pythons Like Being Petted?

Ball Pythons do not like being petted and aren’t keen on being held. They are solitary animals that prefer to be left alone. Some inquisitive Pythons may enjoy a few minutes of investigating your hand and your general smell, however.

Can a Ball Python Recognize Its Owner?

Snakes, in general, may be able to recognize individuals, primarily by their smell. However, they don’t form any kind of attachment or bond, which means that if your snake reacts positively to your presence, it is likely just anticipating food.

What If My Ball Python Hisses at Me?

Hissing is one of the few forms of communication that a snake has, so while it can be a sign of aggression, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Hissing may be a sign of fear or, if it happens at seemingly random times, it could be a symptom of a respiratory infection.

hand holding a ball python
Image Credit: Krisda Ponchaipulltawee, Shutterstock

Do Ball Python Bites Hurt?

If you own a Ball Python, chances are very high that you will get bitten at some point. Whether it is because the snake mistakes you for food or because it is scared, the Ball Python’s natural response is to bite. Ball Pythons are not venomous and are not fatal, but they can bite. While they have sharp teeth, their jaws are not particularly strong, which means that the teeth might puncture the skin, but the bite shouldn’t cause much pain, at all. It has been compared to a paper cut.

If yours does bite, don’t simply pull the snake away because this can cause severe damage to its teeth. Python teeth curve backwards so you need to move the snake toward the bite location to unhook the teeth.

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Ball Pythons are one of the most popular pet snake species. They are considered docile and relatively easy to care for, although you do need to ensure ideal temperature and humidity levels. While they can bite, this usually only happens when the snake is scared or mistakes you for food, and Ball Python bites aren’t particularly painful.

Despite the risk of being bitten, owners need to handle their snakes at least a couple of times a week to get them used to it, and this is necessary for moving the snake when their enclosure is being cleaned and if they need to visit a vet. However, Ball Pythons, like all snakes, are solitary animals and do not enjoy being held or petted for the most part.

Featured Image Credit: In The Light Photography, Shutterstock

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