Feeding Your Snake
Frequently Asked Questions about Feeding a Pet Snake
One question that keeps coming up over and over again deals with feeding your snake. How often should I feed it? What should I feed it? What if it won’t eat? Can I feed it live prey?
So let’s get started with the answering the questions.
First of all, snakes are carnivores – they eat meat and only meat. This may seem obvious, but I’ve been asked about how to make a snake a vegetarian before, and I’m sorry, but it can’t be done – you’ll starve the poor thing if you try.
As far as size goes, you shouldn’t feed your snake anything bigger than the widest point of your snake. For example, a ball python isn’t big enough to eat a large rat. A full grown red tailed boa, however, certainly is. Most snakes kept as pets will fall into the range of eating mice or rats (pinky mice when young). Only the largest snakes (Burmese pythons, anacondas, etc.) will need to be fed anything bigger like rabbits.
When it comes time to feeding your snake, here’s the procedure I recommend. First, put together a cardboard box large enough for the snake. Take your snake out of its enclosure and put the snake in the box. The purpose of the cardboard box is to provide your snake with a different hunting environment than its living habitat. This helps keep the snake from striking at your hand when you put it in the cage. If your snake typically hunts at night, darken the room. Now place the prey in the box and wait until the snake is done eating. When the snake has finished eating, remove it from the box and put it back in its habitat. Try to handle the snake minimally when moving them back to their cage. Too much handling of a snake that has just eaten can lead to regurgitation.
If you use live prey, make sure you don’t leave the snake and prey unattended. If the snake isn’t eating, then you may need to remove the prey so it doesn’t injure the snake. Rats, for example, have a tendency to start nibbling on the snake if left alive for too long by the snake. Also, when using live prey, this is where you want to make sure your snake is an effective hunter. The rat (or appropriate sized prey) may start clawing and biting the snake if the animal’s head and feed aren’t under control of the snake. Most people who raise snakes do recommend feeding pre-killed prey since there is always a risk of injury to the snake when feeding live prey. If you have a snake that will eat the pre-killed prey, then I’d recommend you do the same.
Once in a while you may encounter a snake that just won’t eat. There are a variety of reasons for this, and not all of them are bad, so I’ll cover them just in case it happens to you. Most of the time, however, your snake will always want to eat.
The typical feeding schedule for a snake tends to fall between once a week to three weeks with the most common being from 10-14 days. Feeding your snake too frequently can lead to obesity in snakes, so make sure you learn about your specific snake and find out how often it should be fed.
One reason a snake might refuse to eat is that it might be about ready to shed. Snakes typically don’t eat during this time. Even if it’s time for your snake to be fed, wait until the snake has shed until you feed it. (Also, you should not handle you snake during its preparation to shed.)
Another reason is that its current environment might not be appropriate for your snake. The most common environment problem is humidity. It happens with a lot of snakes from tropical regions that snake owners don’t provide adequate humidity levels for their snakes. Also, you snake could be too cold. Snakes are cold blooded and depend on their environment for heat, so again, make sure you know what the temperature range for your snake should be and keep it’s habitat in that range.
Also, know what time of day your snake prefers to eat. Many snakes are nocturnal, so they’ll be most likely to eat at night. If you’re feeding your snake in the middle of the day, and it’s refusing to eat, then try feeding the snake later in the evening.
Finally, if you just can’t get your snake to eat, and you’ve made sure it’s environment is appropriate, and that you’re feeding at an appropriate time, then you may need to take your snake to the vet.