One of the most frustrating things for any snake owner is watching week after week go by and not being able to get your snake to eat. It is also a very dangerous time for the snake. Not because it isn’t eating, but because stressed owners will do some bizarre things to try and convince the snake it wants to eat. There are a number of factors to consider when your pet snake is on a hunger strike. We’ll cover those in a moment.
First it is important to realize that snakes are reptiles and their metabolism is much, much slower than a mammals. In other words they don’t need to eat on a daily basis and doing so will have many undesirable complications including death. So don’t worry that because a snake isn’t eating as often as you might that it is sick or needs you to help it along.
Take the following situations into consideration when your snake isn’t eating:
- Husbandry Issues
- Snakes are incredibly sensitive to their environments. They either thrive or die depending largely on your ability to replicate what would be found in their native habitats. Perhaps the greatest culprit when it comes to a snake not eating is poor husbandry. Temperatures too high or too low can cause them not to eat. Too much outside noise caused by foot traffic. Too much or too little humidity. Basically anything that isn’t within acceptable tolerance ranges can impact a snakes eating habits.
Every snake has its own husbandry needs specific to that particular snake and that’s something you will only discover by working with a particular animal. There are also the general husbandry needs that the various species of snakes have adapted to over the ages. In most cases if you can get the general husbandry issues straightened out your snake will eat (if husbandry was the cause of them not eating), but sometimes it requires a more personal touch. For example I once had a snake that refused to eat if not on plain white paper towels.
You’ll have to do your own research when it comes to husbandry issues with your snakes. Spending the time sorting out any problems will go a long way towards getting your snake to eat.
- With their inability to vocalize it is often difficult for a novice to spot when a snake is sick or in distress. One of the first signs of trouble when the husbandry is right is a snake that doesn’t eat. Consider this to be a clear warning sign that something is wrong. Snakes are naturally gluttons and would often gorge themselves to death if given the opportunity.
If you suspect illness get the snake to a qualified vet of your choosing who can properly treat the animal.
- Too soon after last feeding
- While snakes are gluttons once they have switched from feeding mode to digestive mode they aren’t likely to want to eat anything for about 5 to 12 days while their food digests. If you start waving food in front of their faces after a day or two not only are you wasting your time, but you are also encouraging regurgitation which is an absolute no-no for snakes.
Give your snake at least 3 days to digest its previous meal before you offer more. Personally I feed on an alternating schedule. On Saturdays I feed the large meal and on Wednesday I feed a meal about 1/4 to 1/3 the size of the large meal. I want them to grow, but I don’t want them to become obese because just like anything else that lives an obese snake will have health issues.
- Your snake needs time to settle in
- Most snake owners subscribe to the idea that most dog and cat owners do when it comes to bringing a new animal home. The first they want to do is stuff water and food down its throat and spend several hours coddling it. While that works well for dogs and cats it doesn’t work so well for snakes. In fact the most often prescribed and successful method is to have everything your snake needs setup before it gets to your home and immediately transfer it into the new habitat. You then leave it alone for about 5 to 7 days never disturbing it except to change water and clean up any messes. I’m a little more liberal with how much I handle my snakes when I first get them, but if one of them isn’t eating I will stop handling it to allow it to settle in.
The 5 to 7 days suggested isn’t a hard and fast rule. Sometimes they are settled in within a few hours and other times it can take a couple of months. The important thing is to have the self control that is required not to mess with them while they go through that process.
- Prey item is too large for the snake to eat
- The common rule of thumb that most people go by when it comes to feeding snakes is this. The prey can be no larger at its widest point (usually back hips) than the snake to which it is being fed is at its widest part.
A snake can and will eat a meal a great deal larger than that, but doing so can cause internal injuries to the snake. If the meal is way to large the snake simply won’t even attempt to eat it. After you feed your snake and it has had about 30 minutes to maneuver the food into its stomach you should be able to see a slight bulge. If you see a huge distended belly with what looks like a balloon in there you gave it a prey item that was too big.
- It’s that time of year
- Certain snakes simply stop eating when winter rolls around. Ball Pythons are a prime example of this. Some will go off feed for up to 8 months. As long as the snake isn’t losing a significant amount of weight it shouldn’t be a problem. Just offer the food once every 1.5 to 2 weeks if this is what’s happening. If the snake doesn’t take the food put it away for the next try. Obviously I’m talking about frozen/thawed food. Live prey presents issues for you to resolve all its own.
There of course could be other reasons why you can’t get your snake to eat, but taking care of these will often get it on the road to recovery. The keys are patience and the ability to “read” your snakes body language. With time and observation you’ll be able to tell when your snake is ready to eat, when it wants to hang out with you, when it wants to be left alone and much more.