A ball python about to bite

Ball Python Bite 101: Causes, Treatment & Do They Hurt

Understanding ball python bites is important for all owners of this species. While rare, there’s a lot of information a bite can give you about how to improve certain aspects of their care.

Not only that, but you should know what to do in the event of a bite so you don’t injure yourself and your snake.

Read this resource to learn everything you need to know!

Do They Bite?

So, let’s start with the obvious question. Do ball pythons bite?

Yes. They are snakes after all!

But there’s more to it than that. Ball pythons are generally docile snakes, which is one of the many reasons why they’re such popular pets (check out this guide on them to learn more). This means that bites are not very common at all.

However, there are occasions in which they may bite you. Ball pythons typically bite for one of two reasons – hunger or defense.

We’ll dive into these causes further on in this guide, but it’s worth pointing out a couple quick things…

A hungry ball python biting you is always an accident. They simply got confused about what the food is!

If your ball python bites out of defense, it’s because they are stressed or nervous. You can reduce the chance of this happening significantly by practicing smart handling and paying attention to the signs your snake gives you. Sometimes they just want to be left alone!

Does A Ball Python Bite Hurt?

Ball pythons are not venomous, and like most other non-venomous snakes, they do not have fangs. Instead, ball pythons have up to 100 inward-facing teeth – four rows on top and two rows on the bottom.

This sounds pretty intimidating, and leads many people to believe this would hurt more than fangs. We disagree.

Don’t get us wrong, a ball python’s teeth are very sharp. They are designed to capture and restrain its prey.

If you are bitten, it will definitely hurt a little bit (we’re not going to lie to you). Your snake’s teeth may scratch, puncture, or bruise your skin.

However, the pain from a ball python’s bite is relatively mild and you’ll probably shake it off rather quickly. This can obviously depend on your level of pain tolerance, but the general consensus from owners is that it doesn’t feel too bad.

Are They Venomous?

Venomous snakes inject their prey with venom, and ball pythons are not venomous. Rather, ball pythons constrict their prey by wrapping their bodies around it.

Like we mentioned above, this is reflected in the kind of teeth they have. Their teeth are simply meant to help grab and restrain whatever is on the menu.

Expert Tip: Interestingly enough, many owners say that this knowledge can actually help the pain feel a bit less intense. If someone gets bitten by a ball python and assumes that venom is now in their bloodstream, they typically panic and become far more concerned. This can actually heighten how bad the bite feels!

Common Reasons Why They Bite

Your ball python might mistake your hand for food when it’s hungry. That’s why it’s recommended to use tongs to give them their meals.

It’s also important to wash your hands thoroughly after handling your snake’s meals so that your hands don’t smell like their prey. Your snake may also bite you if you try to handle them while they’re still digesting their food (since they’re more vulnerable).

There are several reasons your snake might give you a defensive bite, which is the other most common cause.

These include handling your ball python incorrectly, handling when it’s young and not used to you, or when it feels threatened. Your python may also bite you if they’re ill and not feeling well.

Expert Tip: If your snake is hiding excessively, lethargic, exhibiting skin color changes, or won’t eat, take them to your veterinarian to get checked out. These signs may indicate your ball python has a health problem.

Your ball python may become irritable when it’s shedding as well. You can aid your snake in the shedding process by providing them with fresh water it can soak in and by using a spray bottle to mist them every day.

How To Remove Them If They Are Latched On

A ball python will typically bite and release quickly. However, there are occasions where they may latch onto you.

If this happens, it’s very important that you remain calm. Your reaction will affect your snake (and how easy it is to remove them from your hand). Don’t panic if your ball python wraps its body around your hand or arm. This is their natural behavior when constricting prey.

Do not jerk your hand or arm away even though this is a natural response to a bite. Do not try to pry your ball python off your body, either. Doing so can result in ripping out some of their teeth, which can in turn cause health problems. Trying to pry your snake off your body may also cause worse injury to yourself.

So what can you do to unlatch them?

If your ball python bites you and latches on, you should try giving your snake a minute to release you  first. As we’ve established, they’ll bite most often when they’re hungry, stressed, or feeling threatened. If you give your snake a minute, it will realize you aren’t prey and will likely release you.

If it still doesn’t release you, you can pour cold water or drinking alcohol over the bite area. Though alcohol will sting a little, pouring alcohol over the bite area is known to effectively make ball pythons unlatch and release you.

Expert Tip: You can also try pouring cold water or drinking alcohol into your snake’s mouth. If you use this method, make sure your snake’s head is pointing downward so that no liquid gets into their airway.

Always use drinking alcohol, and never use rubbing alcohol for these methods.

Remember that ball pythons are not venomous snakes, so you won’t need anti-venom if you’re bitten. With that being said, there are still some things you should be aware of when it comes to treating the bite.

The way you treat the bite depends on how severe it is. If you want to play it safe, you should consult your doctor any time you get bitten no matter how minor or severe the bite is. While ball pythons are not venomous, their mouths contain bacteria. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for you to prevent infection.

For minor bite wounds, immediately wash the wound with soap and warm water. Using an antiseptic soap is recommended. Be sure to rinse out the bite with a lot of warm water.

If your wound is bleeding, apply pressure to it to encourage clotting. Once your wound is clean and stops bleeding, you may want to put a bandage on the injury site to help prevent infection. Watch the wound for signs of infection.

If your bite is more serious, you may need a higher level of care. A severe bite is most likely to occur if your snake latches onto you.

Immediately wash more serious wounds with soap and warm water. If you experience severe discomfort or pain around the bite wound, you should seek immediate medical care.

How To Avoid Getting Bitten

There are several things you can do to prevent your ball python from biting you.

Let’s start with feeding advice:

Make sure you feed them on a regular schedule, and do not handle your ball python before or after mealtime. Also, don’t put your snake’s prey into their tank with your hand. Use long-handled tongs instead. Wash your hands thoroughly after feeding your ball python so that you wash the scent of their prey off your skin.

There are also some tips for you to remember when it comes to handling.

Handle your ball python regularly so that it gets accustomed to being handled and to your scent. Snakes can pick up on your emotions, so always be calm when you are handling your ball python. Your snake will sense your fear if you are afraid, and this may make them defensive and more likely to bite.

Shedding can make your ball python irritable. Avoid handling them while they’re shedding. Additionally, avoid handling your snake in loud environments or in large crowds.

Expert Tip: Learn the warning signs of a possible strike. One classic warning sign your snake is getting ready to strike is if their head and neck form an S shape. If you see your snake in this position, calmly put them back into their tank right away.

When A Doctor’s Visit Is A Good Idea

While a ball python isn’t venomous, its mouth still harbors bacteria. These bacteria can lead to infection. You’ll need to watch your bite wound for signs of infection. The most common signs of infection include pain, redness, swelling, and inflammation of the wound.

Pus coming from the wound, a loss of feeling around the bite, red streaks near the injury, fatigue, breathing difficulties, fever, swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, muscle weakness or tremors, and tenderness around the bite may also occur if your wound becomes infected.

If you are bitten on your finger or hand, an infection can cause limited use of the finger or hand. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any signs of infection.

Note: Everything below is only in rare, worst-case scenarios. We’re including it to make sure you’re totally informed, but it’s highly unlikely that things will progress this far.

If your bite is severe, your doctor may want to get an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of the wound to determine if you have any underlying damage. Magnetic fields and radio waves are utilized to develop detailed pictures of your body’s tissues in an MRI.

The removal of tissue or foreign objects may be necessary to help heal your bite wound. If there is damage to your nerves or tendons, they may need to be surgically repaired.             

Closing Thoughts

Ball python bites are rare and not dangerous. In other words, there’s really nothing to worry about!

As long as you know what to do if it happens, you’ll be just fine. As long as you follow our recommendations you should be to keep yourself and your ball python safe, and find out how to prevent a bite from happening in the future.