Feeding your snake will be a cornerstone of its care. That’s why, before taking a pet snake home, it’s essential that you do understand what and how they eat. The first thing to keep in mind is that all snakes – wild or pet- are obligate carnivores. This means that no part of their diet can be substituted for any vegetation. Many snakes eat small warm-blooded animals such as rodents and birds. Many others eat amphibians, small reptiles (including other snakes), and even eggs (ovivores).
Snakes themselves are specialized hunters that have many special adaptations that help them consume their prey. While some snakes hunt with venom, many coil around their prey with powerful muscles to constrict their prey. To eat their food once it’s dispatched, the snake will spread its mouth wide enough to accommodate it in a large gape. Contrary to popular belief, snakes do not in fact “dislocate” their jaws when eating. Nevertheless, their feeding response is rather impressive to observe.
What Pet Snakes Feed On
What your pet snake will eat depends on… well… just what kind of snake you have. While, without a doubt, you may not have a steady supply of small birds and reptiles (although there are suppliers of frozen geckos), you can be assured that most snakes will be happy on a diet of frozen mice and rats. If you have an exceptionally large snake, you may need to look into a supplier of prey rabbits. Egg-eating snakes, as the name implies, eat eggs exclusively.
No matter the species of snake you decide to own as a pet, you will have to consider its size and age when purchasing food items. Younger and smaller snakes will need “pinkies” (rat pups under a week old) and “fuzzies” (around a week to two weeks old). If your snake’s food item is too large, it will reject it by spitting it out. A general rule of thumb is to feed your snake an item that is as big as the thickest part of their body.
Giving Your Pet Snake Something to Eat
While most major chain pet stores will carry a steady supply of frozen rodents, many reptile keepers opt to breed their own supply to ensure quality. Regardless of which path you go down, however, we would never recommend feeding your snake live prey. This is unnecessarily distressing for the food item, and can severely injure your snake. Even a small mouse can give your snake a life-threatening infection that requires immediate medical attention.
If your snake is feeling picky at the moment and decides not to eat within 30 minutes, remove the food item. Don’t worry – snakes eat infrequently, and missing one meal is unlikely to bring it harm. It’s also important to know that some snakes (such as the hognose) are notoriously shy eaters, and may prefer for you to be out of the room when it’s eating. Bring your snake to the vet if it is continually refusing to eat, of course.
Once your snake has been fed, it will most likely want to remain more inactive and relax to digest. At this time, you should try not to handle it or cause too much commotion in its enclosure. Any stress when your snake is digesting can cause it to regurgitate, which we do not want.
Here is what you can do to increase your chances of success when trying to give your pet snake something to eat.
- Don’t feed your snake for 1-2 weeks after you bring it home after purchase.
- Feed appropriately sized items.
- Wash your hands before and after feeding your snake.
- Your snake will not find frozen rodents appetizing. Thaw out or warm up your prey before feeding.
How to Not Feed Your Snake
As already discussed, we would not recommend feeding your snake a live animal. However, there are other feeding practices that every snake owner should steer clear of. This includes:
- Feeding your snake by hand. Always feed with a tong or similar device.
- Feeding your snake when it’s shedding. Many snakes will simply not want to eat during this time.
Why Your Snake Might Not Be Eating
While most snakes will be enticed by a thawed mouse, there may be times in your reptile-keeping journey where your pet just won’t eat no matter how hard you try. This can be very distressing, especially for new owners. One of the primary reasons for snakes being picky eaters or just outright refusing food is some kind of issue with their environment. Of course, a new environment or tank can be a stressor for any snake.
Other factors, such as noise, lack of hiding space, and improper humidity/temperature can all impede your snake’s appetite. Before bringing your snake home, make sure that its setup is up to muster with good lighting and heating, enrichment, as well as places where it can enjoy some privacy.
If you have ruled out any environmental cause for concern, it may be time to make sure that there’s no underlying physiological reason for your snake’s pickiness. If your snake has refused food repeatedly, or constantly regurgitates food/defecates, take it to a vet.
It’s also important to remember that water is more essential to your snake’s well-being than food. It not only ensures that your snake stays hydrated, but that its enclosure remains humid. Keeping water in a dish will also allow it to “soak” while it’s shedding, which will help loosen up any stubborn skin. After all, a lack of a proper water source can be a stressor that causes your snake to lose its appetite.
When thinking about what pet snakes eat, it’s important to remember that the how is as important as the when. Whether you feed your snake frozen rodents or an alternative food source, it’s important to make sure that your pet is fed using best practices that experts agree on, and that its whole health is being taken into consideration.
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