A snake refusing to eat can be a stressful experience for novice and experienced keepers alike. Snakes have much slower metabolisms than mammals and as such are able to go for long periods of time without eating. Particularly massive species, such as anacondas, can survive up to a year without food after successfully consuming large prey such as caimans or pigs. Even smaller species more commonly kept as pets regularly go weeks without eating in the wild.
What snakes are more likely to stop eating?
Some species commonly sold in the reptile industry are well known for having finicky eating habits. Ball pythons and Western hognoses are very popular pet snakes, and both species may occasionally go on “hunger strikes”. When keeping unusual species such as sunbeam or vine snakes, it is a distinct possibility that you will have to deal with the hesitance to eat common to wild-caught snakes.
My snake refused to eat – what do I do now?
The very first thing you should do if your snake refuses more than one offered meal is double-check your husbandry. Most snakes will refuse to feed if the temperatures, humidity, and amount of hiding spaces provided in their terrarium are not to their liking.
Is your snake warm enough?
As ectothermic animals, all snakes are dependent on external heat to provide the energy used to break down food. If insufficient heat is available, most snakes will refuse to eat as without heat, food items will decompose inside their digestive tract and likely poison the snake. Be sure to check that your heating pad or heat lamp is plugged in and emanating enough heat to warm your pet. If your heat source is plugged in to a thermostat, check that it’s set to the proper temperature, and further ensure your pet is receiving enough heat by checking the temperature with a thermometer gun or a thermometer placed inside the terrarium.
Is your snake living in the correct humidity?
Next, check that the humidity in your pet’s enclosure is appropriate for its species. Hygrometers are an essential tool for this purpose, as they will help you determine whether or not your snake is living in the appropriate humidity. Too little or too much water in the air can stress sensitive snakes and make them more likely to refuse food.
Does your snake have enough places to hide?
Lastly, check that your snake has access to a sufficient amount of hiding spaces. Most snakes are very reclusive animals and will feel unsafe in a terrarium that doesn’t have at least two hides. As they are the most vulnerable to predation in the wild, young snakes are particularly likely to go on a hunger strike related to feeling overexposed. Having one hide on the warm side and one on the cool side of the terrarium is a good way to ensure your snake will feel comfortable in its home.
My husbandry is perfect and my snake still refuses to eat! Now what?
The most frustrating hunger snakes are those which happen for no obvious reason. Though it may be frustrating to throw away feeders and have to worry about your snake going hungry, patience is key. When faced with a stubborn eater, it is sometimes best to simply continue offering food as scheduled. Your snake will eventually get hungry enough and decide to eat. If you feel the need to try a new strategy on feeding day, the following ideas may be helpful to try over the course of multiple feeding attempts.
Switch up your feeding method:
If you have been laying the prey in front of your snake, you can try dangling it instead, using a wiggling motion that emulates that of a live animal. Try feeding your snake in the dark – many snakes feel safer in darkness and are more likely to eat. You can also try feeding your snake in a small, breathable container outside of its terrarium and leaving it in there with its food for multiple hours.
Braining your snake’s food:
A snake’s sense of smell is significant in its determination of whether or not to eat something. One method of enticing snakes to eat is “braining” their prey item. This involves taking a pin or other sharp object and poking a few holes into the DEAD prey’s head and squeezing it to extrude some of the brains. This process makes your snake’s food smell much more interesting and will often elicit a feeding response from even the most stubborn of snakes.
How to scent your snake’s food:
As mentioned above, it is important for a snake’s food to smell enticing. One way to make a prey item more appealing is to “scent” it. This can be done with a variety of things ranging from dirty rodent bedding, a live rodent, birds, or a different species of rodent (if your snake prefers one over another). Species that eat animals other than rodents in the wild can often be switched over to a more convenient diet via the scenting method. If you have a species of snake that prefers to eat birds, lizards, frogs, or even fish, scenting a rodent with one of these other animals can be helpful in convincing your snake to try a new kind of food. Scenting entails taking the item that smells appealing to your snake and rubbing it against the food you’re offering.
Check out this link to see the variety of feeders we stock for your pets:
Feeding your snake live prey:
Though it is a fairly common practice in snake keeping, feeding your pet a live rat, mouse, or other feeder is not without risks. Though they may appear cute and cuddly, rodents have long, sharp teeth that can inflict fatal damage to your snake. Live feeders will usually elicit a strong feeding response from your snake, and as such they can be useful in breaking a hunger strike. If you choose to feed live, be sure to keep a close eye on your snake the entire time the rodent is in the enclosure. Walking away for a moment can prove deadly to your pet.
Assist feeding your snake:
Assist feeding is exceedingly rarely necessary. Do not let impatience convince you to skip over all of the above steps and go straight to assist feeding. There are risks associated with inexperienced assist feeding, particularly when performed on small snakes. Assist feeding entails gently forcing the prey’s head into a snake’s mouth and allowing the snake to get a taste of the food, which usually prompts a feeding response. Being too rough in this process can leave your snake with severe injuries, so make sure to consult a reptile expert before attempting it yourself.
NEVER attempt force-feeding your snake. Snakes have a delicate esophageal lining that can tear if food is forced down their throat.
Time for your snake to see the vet:
If you have tried a few of the aforementioned methods and your snake still refuses to eat, it may be time for a visit with a qualified exotic veterinarian. Medical issues such as parasites or infection are a more serious potential cause of refusal to feed. If a snake is sick enough to stop eating due to a medical issue, it is imperative that it receives medical treatment. Snakes are very hardy animals and will almost always resume feeding after receiving timely medical attention.
Need further help?
The staff at Painted Reptile is always happy to help you provide the best care for your animals. Come in if you have questions regarding feeding your snake and we will assist you in any way we can.
Call 818-654-9441 with any questions or stop by the shop at 18730 Oxnard St., Tarzana, Ca, 91356.
The Painted Reptile