How to Tell if a Ball Python is Stressed? (16 Signs)

Like any other pets, ball pythons can experience stress, which can have a significant impact on their health. That’s why it’s important for us, as their owners, to recognize the signs of stress and take appropriate action to ensure our slithery friends lead happy and healthy lives.

In this article, we’ll delve into the various indicators of stress in ball pythons, exploring both the physical and behavioral signs that can signal your pet is feeling overwhelmed. We’ll also discuss the potential causes of stress and provide practical tips to help alleviate these stressors and create a comfortable environment for your ball python.

Ball Python Stress Signs

You can tell your ball python is stressed from the changes in its body language and eating habits, such as rubbing its nose against objects or hissing/striking at you. The causes could be poor living environments or improper/over-handling on your behalf. The following are some tips to tell whether your ball python is relaxed or stressed.

1. Loss of Appetite

If your snake is stressed, the first sign you’re likely to observe is a loss of appetite. A stressed ball python may lose interest in eating, even if offered their favorite meal. This can be due to several factors, such as environmental stressors or underlying health issues.

It’s generally not a cause for concern if your ball python refuses one meal, particularly if it had a large meal earlier. However, if there are additional indications of stress, it might be worth examining further.

On the other hand, if your ball python repeatedly declines to eat, it certainly is a problem that requires investigation.

Keep an eye on your python’s eating habits and consult a veterinarian if the loss of appetite persists.

2. Weight Loss

Along with the loss of appetite, weight loss is among the initial indicators to look out for.

If your ball python is stressed, they may lose weight as a result of reduced food intake or increased activity due to restlessness.

Regularly monitoring your python’s weight can help you detect any changes that might indicate stress.

3. Rubbing Their Nose Against Objects in Their Tank

A stressed ball python might rub their nose against objects in their enclosure, such as hides, the water bowl, etc which can lead to irritation or injury. This behavior can be a sign of agitation, discomfort, or an attempt to escape an unsuitable environment.

Snakes commonly rub their faces when they are preparing to shed their skin. If you observe other signs of shedding, such as a change in color to a blue, it is likely that the snake is about to shed.

4. Hissing

Hissing is a defensive behavior that ball pythons may exhibit when they feel threatened or stressed. While it’s natural for pythons to hiss occasionally, frequent hissing could be a sign of chronic stress.

Hissing is a way for them to appear threatening. In such situations, it’s best to step away or stop the activity that may be causing distress, such as handling.

5. Striking

A stressed ball python may strike at objects, their environment, or even their owner. This aggressive behavior can be a response to fear, discomfort, or other stressors, and it’s essential to identify and address the root cause.

Striking is a natural defense mechanism that snakes use when they feel threatened or stressed and need to protect themselves from perceived danger, which in this case might be you. It’s possible that you may be handling your snake improperly or for too long, and that it’s time to return them to their tank.

6. Attempting to Escape

Snakes are naturally curious creatures and may attempt to escape from their tanks if given the opportunity. While some may simply explore their surroundings, others may become agitated and frantic in their efforts to break free.

If your ball python frequently tries to escape its enclosure, it may be experiencing stress due to an unsuitable environment, such as incorrect temperature, humidity, or lack of hiding spots.

Thoroughly inspect the tank and surrounding environment for potential hazards or sources of discomfort.

7. Regurgitation

A stressed ball python may regurgitate or throw up their food, which can be a sign of digestive issues, improper feeding, or stress caused by factors such as handling too soon after eating.

After feeding, it’s recommended to give them 24 to 72 hours (depending on the size of the meal) to digest before handling them again.

It’s important to note that if your snake regurgitates its food, you should wait at least two weeks before feeding them again. This will give their esophagus time to heal from any potential damage caused by the regurgitation, preventing further harm to your snake’s health.

8. Constriction

A stressed python might constrict objects in its enclosure, such as branches or hides. This behavior can indicate discomfort or anxiety.

It’s natural for ball pythons to hold onto things. However, if they start to constrict something that’s not their prey – like when a ball python constricts your hand or arm – it’s a sign of stress, not a desire to eat you.

If you notice this behavior, remove them from the stressful situation immediately by putting them back in their tank and leaving them alone to relax.

This behavior doesn’t necessarily mean you mishandled your snake. Sometimes, they may not be in the mood to venture outside their tank, or the change in their environment might be stressful for them.

For example, when they are placed in a new tank, a cleaned tank, or a tank with rearranged decorations. In most cases, they will recover from the stress quickly and start roaming around their enclosure normally.

If your snake continues to show signs of stress and doesn’t relax in their new space, there may be something wrong. Check the temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors to ensure everything is in order.

9. No Flicking of the Tongue

A ball python that is stressed may not flick its tongue as frequently, which can be a sign of reduced curiosity or exploration due to anxiety or fear.

When relaxed, shall python will leisurely flick their tongue at a slower pace. However, if they become overly stressed, they may cease this behavior altogether.

10. Flinches or Jerks When Touched

If your ball python flinches or jerks away when touched, it could be a sign of stress or discomfort, suggesting that they feel threatened or unsafe.

If your snake is startled and doesn’t expect your touch, it may flinch and potentially strike at you. However, if your snake is aware of your presence and still flinches or jerks away, this could be a sign of stress.

If you’re dealing with a rescue snake or one that has been mishandled in the past, be patience and take the time to establish a trusting relationship with your snake.

11. Defecating and Urinating (On You)

Ball pythons may defecate or urinate on their handler when stressed or frightened as a defense mechanism.

One of the less pleasant ways that snakes respond to stress is by defecating or urinating, or both. This can often occur when they’re being handled and cannot communicate their discomfort to their handlers. As a result, snake owners may find themselves on the receiving end of this bodily response.

12. Heavy Breathing for Prolonged Periods

Heavy breathing can be a sign of stress or an underlying respiratory issue in ball pythons.

It’s normal for a snake to breathe heavily shortly after catching live prey. However, if your snake continues to breathe heavily for an extended period, it may be a sign of stress.

Consult a veterinarian if you notice this behavior persisting.

13. Forcing Themselves into a Small Space

A stressed ball python might try to hide by forcing itself into a small space or corner of its hide. This behavior can indicate a need for more security or a better hiding spot in the enclosure.

While it’s normal for snakes to spend time in their hides, they shouldn’t rely on them as a constant place of refuge.

You may notice that your snake is exhibiting hiding behavior if it appears tense and tries to retreat as far back as possible into its hide.

In such cases, it may also prove difficult to coax the snake out, and even if you do succeed, you may observe signs of stress such as hissing, striking, or constricting.

14. Biting

Biting is a defensive behavior that can be a sign of stress or fear in ball pythons. It’s essential to address any potential stressors to ensure your python feels safe and comfortable.

Although rare, it is possible to be bitten by a ball python, as with any animal. Ball python bites occur swiftly and are challenging to avoid. The bitten area may bleed slightly, and the bite itself can be somewhat painful.

However, it is essential to note that ball pythons are non-venomous, and a bite will not result in much damage. Nonetheless, a bite from a ball python should alert you that something is wrong with your snake.

15. Head-Hiding

When a ball python hides its head by forcing itself into a small space or corner of a hide, it could be a sign of stress or discomfort. This behavior may indicate that the snake is feeling threatened or insecure and needs a more suitable hiding place.

There are several behaviors that indicate a snake is feeling defensive, and hiding its eyes and upper body is one of them.

This behavior is actually an adaptive survival strategy. Most snake species can tolerate attacks to their tails, but an attack to the head can be fatal. For example, a ball python that tucks its head away and only exposes the very tip of its tail is likely indicating that it is feeling threatened or scared.

16. Sedentary Behavior

If your ball python is spending most of its time inactive and showing little interest in exploring its environment, this sedentary behavior could be a sign of stress or an underlying health issue.

Ball pythons, like most reptiles, tend to be sedentary when digesting food or trying to maintain their body temperature. However, if your ball python has been motionless for a considerable amount of time and it’s not digesting food or trying to regulate its body temperature, it may be stressed or unwell.

Common Causes of Stress in Ball Pythons


1. Improper Temperature and Humidity

As a ball python owner, I’ve learned that maintaining the right temperature and humidity levels in their enclosure is crucial for their wellbeing.

Ball pythons need a temperature gradient, with a basking area around 88-92°F (31-33°C) and a cooler area around 78-80°F (25-27°C). Humidity should be kept between 50-60%, with occasional spikes up to 70% to assist in shedding.

Failure to provide the right conditions can lead to stress in your pet.

2. Incorrect Enclosure Size

Ball pythons require an enclosure large enough for them to stretch and move comfortably. A common mistake I’ve seen is keeping a growing snake in a too-small tank.

As a rule of thumb, the length of the enclosure should be at least equal to the length of your snake.

3. Insufficient Hides and Enrichment

Ball pythons are shy creatures and need multiple hiding spots to feel secure. I’ve found that providing them with two or more hides, along with branches, rocks, and other natural items, helps create a more stress-free environment.

4. Parasites and Infections

Health issues like mites, ticks, or respiratory infections can cause stress in ball pythons. As a responsible owner, regularly checking your snake for signs of illness and seeking prompt veterinary care is essential.

5. Shedding Complications

When my ball python had an incomplete shed, I realized the importance of monitoring the shedding process closely. Stuck shed can be stressful for your snake, and may require your intervention to help them shed successfully.

6. Excessive Handling

While ball pythons are generally tolerant of handling, excessive or improper handling can stress them out. I’ve learned to give my snake time to adjust to my presence and limit handling to short sessions, particularly during shedding or after feeding.

7. Loud Noises and Vibrations

Ball pythons are sensitive to loud noises and vibrations, which can cause stress. I make an effort to keep my snake’s environment as quiet and calm as possible, avoiding loud music, television, or excessive foot traffic near their enclosure.

8. Changes in Routine

A consistent routine is important for your ball python’s wellbeing. I’ve noticed that significant changes, such as rearranging their enclosure, switching food sources, or moving to a new home, can cause stress.

To minimize the impact, I try to introduce changes gradually and monitor my snake’s behavior closely.

Signs of a Relaxed Ball Python

  1. Your python will be seen resting its head on its body or on top of other things in its enclosure.
  2. It may move slowly and explore its environment.
  3. It might curl when their muscles are feeling relaxed.
  4. You can tell your ball python is deep in sleep but not by looking at the eyes because they don’t sleep with their eyes closed. Other signs to tell if it’s sleeping can be the python not flicking its tongue out and staying still, breathing slowly and steadily.
  5. Periscoping is a behavior your python might exhibit by raising its neck high and putting its head forward. This happens when the python wants to explore its surroundings, but do not get scared thinking it might strike as that would scare it to be defensive as well.

Tips to Reduce Stress in Ball Pythons


1. Creating a Comfortable Environment

Provide an appropriate-sized enclosure: Make sure your ball python has enough space to move around and explore, but not too large that it feels exposed or insecure.

Offer hiding spots: Supply multiple hides, one on the warm side and one on the cool side, to give your ball python a sense of security and help regulate its body temperature.

Maintain proper temperature and humidity: Keep the enclosure within the ideal temperature range (88-92°F on the warm side and 75-80°F on the cool side) and maintain a humidity level between 50-60% to prevent dehydration and shedding issues.

2. Establishing a Routine

Consistent feeding schedule: Establish a regular feeding routine to help your ball python feel more secure and avoid unnecessary stress.

Handling your ball python: Gradually increase handling sessions to build trust, but avoid handling immediately after feeding or during shedding.

3. Monitoring Health and Behavior

Regular health checks: Regularly inspect your ball python for signs of illness or injury, and consult with a reptile veterinarian if needed.

Observe changes in behavior: Keep an eye on your ball python’s activity levels and habits, as sudden changes can indicate stress or health issues.

4. Additional Tips

Limit exposure to loud noises and vibrations: Keep your ball python’s enclosure away from high-traffic areas, speakers, and appliances that produce vibrations or loud noises.

Minimize sudden movements or disturbances: Approach your ball python slowly and calmly to avoid startling it.

Use enrichment items: Provide items like climbing branches, artificial plants, or substrate for burrowing to help keep your ball python mentally stimulated and reduce boredom.


Recognizing and addressing stress in your ball python is a crucial aspect of ensuring their overall health and well-being. As a fellow ball python enthusiast and keeper, I understand how much these fascinating creatures mean to us, and providing them with a comfortable and stress-free environment is of utmost importance.

Remember to stay proactive in monitoring your ball python’s behavior and well-being, and don’t hesitate to consult with a reptile expert or veterinarian if you notice any concerning signs of stress. By being attentive to their needs and maintaining a suitable habitat, you can greatly reduce the chances of stress-related issues and contribute to a happier, healthier life for your beloved pet.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to ask, and let’s continue learning and growing together as a passionate and knowledgeable ball python community. Here’s to many years of happy and stress-free ball python companionship!

Filled under: Snakes

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