Every owner of a pet snake has to deal with their animal refusing food at one point or another. It is simply something that we all deal with. In this article I'm going to explain a few time tested methods of getting snake's to eat. I don't claim to have come up with them (they are well known by breeders and hobbyist alike), but I can vouch for their effectiveness.
Before we get into the details it is important to realize that snake's aren't mammals. They are reptiles and this means that they have a completely different metabolism at work. A snake is able to go a long time without food. Several months isn't entirely unheard of for a healthy pet snake. Certain species of snakes are more prone to going on a fast (ball pythons) for example which are infamous for going “off feed" during the fall and winter months. It is important to keep an eye on a snake that isn't eating to make sure they maintain their weight and are generally healthy. If you find that your snake is losing a significant amount of weight it is important to get it eating again.
New snakes that won't eat
A new snake home needs time to settle down. A common practice is to put it in a cage and leave it alone for 5 to 7 days. At the end of that time offer the snake some food; if it eats leave it alone for about three days before you begin to handle it. If it doesn't eat leave it alone for another 5 to 7 days and then try again.
Most people don't know this and wouldn't do it if they did. For most people the best approach is to minimize the trauma the snake experiences. Being picked up and draped around someone's neck is a traumatic experience for a snake. Not to mention the people wanting to poke and prod at it.
A great way I've found to ensure a new snake will eat is to not offer it any food for 2 weeks. This gives them time to settle in, get used to me and others and get over the trauma of being moved to a new place. I've never had this method fail with a normal healthy snake that is kept in the right conditions.
An established snake that won't eat
If you have a snake that has been eating regularly but suddenly stopped you'll want to take some steps to help determine why.
- Is the temperature and humidity correct?
- Is it fall, or winter?
- Have you made any significant changes to their caging?
- Did you move the snake's cage to another part of the house?
- Did you switch the snake's diet?
- Is your snake sick?
Even as little as three degree variance in temperatures and humidity can cause a snake to stop eating. It is important to keep these as stable as possible. If you're not sure what are the appropriate ranges search the internet for “snake species care sheets" and you'll find the answer.
Like I said above some snakes will just stop eating in the fall and winter. As long as they are maintaining their weight and are generally healthy they will be fine.
Adding new stuff (or removing stuff) to a snake's cage can be traumatic for them. If you've done so in the past couple of weeks let them get used to it before expecting them to eat.
Many snake's will start out in one part of the house, and because people want to display them will be moved to another part of the house. For instance people will often get a special cage setup so they can keep their snake's in the living room. The snake then has to deal with all kinds of odors, lights and noise it wasn't dealing with when it was kept in the upstairs closet.
To a snake not all rodents are the same. A sudden change in diet while seemingly insignificant to you can cause a snake to stop eating. If you are going to switch your snake to another type of food (for example from mice to rats) have a few “servings" of the old food available if the snake refuses the new food. If you just toss something completely new in with the snake and expect it to eat you may end up waiting a long time.
Like any other living creature when a snake doesn't feel well it usually won't eat. Because of their nature it can be hard to tell if a snake is sick, but if you suspect it is get it to a qualified vet as soon as possible. Let them determine if the snake is sick or not.
Tricks to get a snake to eat
Sometimes you just have to convince a snake to eat. The following are some methods that are known to work.
- "Braining" Not for the faint of heart but splitting open the animals skull and exposing the brain will often get a snake to feed. This should ONLY be done on a pre-killed animal, not one that is alive. First and foremost it is unnecessary cruelty and second of all it's a good way to get yourself bit!
- The deli-cup method This method is for neonate and babies. Place the snake in a small container (about the size of a deli cup) and then drop a pinky in with it and put it in it's cage. You'll often come back to a full snake and an empty cup.
- Pre scenting the room A few hours before you plan to feed the snake put the prey item in the same room. Since I feed frozen/thawed I let the rats and mice defrost in the same room as the snake's are in. It generally takes 3 or 4 hours and by the time they are thawed out the snake's are going crazy from the scent.
- Coat it in chicken broth Sometimes dipping the food into chicken broth will entice a snake to eat. I've personally never had reason to try this one, but many people say it works great so figured I should include it.
There are other more drastic measures that you can use to get a snake to eat. For example there's something called “assist feeding" where you get the snake started and let nature take over. There is also force feeding which is when you make the snake swallow the food all the way. Methods like those while effective are also extremely traumatic for your snake. It is best to leave those to experts instead of trying to do it yourself.
Ultimately as a good steward of your pet you need to determine if the snake needs medical attention because it isn't eating. Thanks for reading and I hope you found this article educational and useful. If you have any questions please stop by my website and fill out a form. Your question will be answered as soon as we can!
Brook Durant is a long time snake “connoisseur" who has owned and interacted with them for most of his life. You can find more information (or get in touch with us) at http://pet-snakes.com