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Regurgitation in snakes

One of the most unappreciated conditions for a novice owner that can affect a snake is regurgitation. When a snake regurgitates a meal many people will treat it as if it were nothing to become overly concerned about. Unfortunately it is a condition which can lead to the death of your snake in very short order if steps are not taken to address the issue. In this article we will attempt to answer the following questions regarding regurgitation in snakes.

  • What is regurgitation?
  • What is the difference between vomiting and regurgitation?
  • What causes regurgitation?
  • How can it be prevented?
  • How to treat a snake that has regurgitated a meal
What is regurgitation?
When a snake, or any animal for that matter ingests food it goes through a process of making its way to the stomach. Snakes have one of the most primitive digestive systems in the world. It is basically a straight shot from mouth to anus and the stomach is just one stop along the way. Regurgitation refers to when a snake reverses the process of ingestion and forces the food item back out of its mouth. This occurs before it reaches the stomach and is mixed with digestive acids, enzymes, and the like. Technically when it has reached the stomach it is called vomiting and not regurgitation. Both conditions are potentially deadly for your snake.

In the video below you see an Anaconda regurgitating something. Please note the video is labeled as regurgitating a hippo, but aside from both species being found on totally different continents separated by an ocean whatever it is regurgitating is far to small to be a hippo.

Notice how it just comes back out and is clearly not digested whatsoever, and aside from being very dead it looks (almost) fine. That animal has been regurgitated. It hasn’t reached the stomach and the major parts of digestion haven’t begun. In researching this article I was unable to locate a video of a snake “vomiting” a partially digested meal. Which is actually just fine by me.

Differences between vomiting and regurgitation
Like mentioned before if a snake expels food it has ingested out of its mouth that is never a good sign regardless of if it is regurgitation or vomiting. Both take their toll on a snake and potentially put it at risk of dying. Vomiting is actually worse than regurgitation. It actually depletes amino acids and enzymes from a snake’s stomach that are essential to their survival. Generally it is a sign of illness and you should contact a veterinarian about it.

Regurgitation on the other hand is when the snake willfully reverses the process of ingestion before the prey reaches the stomach and expels it from its mouth. In this situation the snake will lose very little in the way of amino acids a

What causes regurgitation?
One of the primary causes is handling a snake too soon after it has eaten. The general consensus is give the snake at least 48 hours after it has eaten its meal before you handle it. Every snake is different, but 48 seems to be a good number. It seems for the first 48 hours after eating a snake a snake feels particularly vulnerable to attack so when it is handled it is much more likely to regurgitate its meal so it can get away.

Another cause of regurgitation in snakes is improper husbandry. This is part of the reason it is so important to find some reliable caresheets for snakes that will walk you step by step through the proper setup of your snake’s enclosure. Pay particular attention to temperatures and humidity.

Stress is also a primary cause of regurgitation in snakes. In this case not stress from handling, but just stress from co-existing with humans and other household pets. For the most part snakes aren’t social animals, at least not compared to dogs and cats and even some lizards. Which means that too much activity can cause them stress, which can cause them fear, which can cause them to decide to regurgitate their meal “just in case” they decide to flee.

Another cause of regurgitation is over-eating. Snakes are eating machines. Once that “switch” is thrown and they are in feeding mode they will try to eat anything thrown in front of them. In fact a method of getting snake to change to another prey item is to offer the normal item and as soon as it has eaten that offer the new item. The snake will almost always make a go of the second prey that is offered.

It should be noted that all the causes of regurgitation mentioned here can also lead to vomiting. The mechanics are different but the cause is often the same. That’s not to say that only these things can lead to regurgitation (or vomiting for that matter), but that these are some well known causes in snakes.

How to prevent regurgitation
There are some steps that can be taken to help minimize the chance a snake will regurgitate. You’ll notice that they tie in very closely with the causes of regurgitation from the section above.

  • Do NOT handle your snake for at least 48 hours after it has eaten.
  • Be very concerned about the husbandry your snake is living in, particularly temperatures and humidity
  • Avoid stressing your snake after it has eaten. Don’t tap on its glass, keep everyone away from it for at least 48 hours. Including Especially curious children and nosy animals. Let your snake have some peace for a while as it begins the process of digestion. It will come out and “say hi” soon enough.

Sometimes despite your best efforts you will find yourself needing to treat a snake which is regurgitating its meals. Clearly it doesn’t take a scientist to realize that if a snake is vomiting it is not getting its nutritional needs met. In cases where a snake is regurigtating repeatedly you will need to worry not just about the causes, but also worry about what the snake needs for proper care.

How to treat a snake that has regurgitated a meal
First and foremost ensure that the snake doesn’t have a history of regurgitation especially not within the last several meals. If so it could indicate a serious health problem for the snake, which of course starvation just happens to be.

Next give the snake an opportunity to rest. Don’t handle it or bother it for several days. Don’t shove more food into the snake’s face either. Just let it rest. In fact if your living situation allows for it I suggest setting up a small closet, or room where no one will go in and out of. Put your snake in there to give it even more peace and quiet.

When you do offer it another meal (try to wait about 2 weeks after your snake regurgitates before trying again) it will need to be about 1/4 to 1/2 the size it normally would be. This is especially true of snakes that have vomited, but I use the same principle with snakes that have regurgitated and had great results.

If necessary seek a professional assessment of the situation from a veterinarian. Better to spend $50, $70, $100 on a quick checkup and consultation than to spend ten or twenty times that when the snake has been pushed to the brink.

Snake regurgitation is no small matter and should always be treated with great respect. It can easily move into the realm of becoming a killer if not dealt with accordingly. Never just ignore it and think it will magically fix itself. It is an indication that something is wrong in paradise.

The final piece of advice this article can give is to contact a vet if your snake regurgitates. They may or may not want to see you, but there’s a reason that they are paid professionals who deal with animals and “you’re” not.

  • Matt

    Thank you for posting this article. I have some baby speckled rattlesnakes that started consistently regurgitating their meals. Though I’ve taken the animals to the vet’s office, this article is very informative with respect to addressing other issues that may help either compound the problem, or inversely assist in remedying it. Thanks again – Matt

  • beverly

    Thanks for posting this….I just “inherited” an 8 year old corn snake that doesn’t look well…it is thin and his former owner was embarrassed and ashamed that he didn’t look healthy…they fed it before we met and I took it over…we had handled it about 5 hours after it had eaten (about 5 minutes) then this a.m. (but it threw up brown liquid) and we have him in a quiet place, his cage covered with a towel. I peeked in right now, and the mouse was regurgited (i think, vs vomited…but i don’t know…the hair was gone?) I don’t have the money for a vet so I am keeping him quiet and will try with a much smaller feeding portion (i’m thinking the mouse was too big if he hasn’t eaten in awhile)….ok…thanks for any advice you can give…

  • joe

    i just recently lost my red tail boa after he regergitated a large mouse thank you for informing me on this topic too bad i didt read it sooner.

  • kk

    my class boa threw up

  • Lorie

    Thanks for posting this, I found it helpful after my reticulated python just regurgitated two mice. I was very scared for the health of him and now I know what to look for and how to prevent this from happening again.

  • pieter

    thanks for posting but didnot help much as we have a 3 meter red tail boa that has just vomitid and then gets these weird spasms in its head and we have he has had no symtoms and we dnt handle him. some 1 pls help…… email me on pswan@iafrica.com

  • Fromaldahide

    thanks for posting this article . i have a two foot bull snake and i have fed him twice but the second time i found the mouse in his water bowl half disolved ,i dont know what to do . and i dont have money for a vet .

  • Joshrobotsmith

    hi i have i baby 1 month old corn snake and the pet shop fed him 2 days ago! and i have ben handling him quite alot so he vomitted must i feed him now?

  • Jacobwilliams

    In case you are wondering, there is a video where a snake does vomit a partially digested animal. Here is the link to the video…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5lU0PkcVcc

    In the video, you can see at the end, the chicken’s head is partially digested, thus it was vomited outward, not regurgitated outward.

  • Swampfoxreptile

    coccida and crypto are some parasitic causes. I bought a pair of sand boas and did everything right but they both regurged. I been had. wash everything with bleach and dont touch the snake. It is verrrry contaigous sometimes

  • Sean Grim

    I have a corn snake and he has regergitatated like 6 times what vet would you subskribe. Please Answer i have asked ten million people about this and they gust go bla bla bla all the way hime so please dont be a bozo like them and email me at mgrim@columbus.rr.com i really would like some help please!!!!! HELP ME ????????????????????

  • Sean Grim

    I have a corn snake and he has regergitatated like 6 times what vet would you subskribe. Please Answer i have asked ten million people about this and they gust go bla bla bla all the way hime so please dont be a bozo like them and email me at mgrim@columbus.rr.com i really would like some help please!!!!! HELP ME ????????????????????

  • Emrobinson14

    My friends fed their snakes 2 days ago. The all four rats were frozen. 2 of the snakes, ball pythons, wouldn’t eat. The other 2, a corn snake and a red tail boa, ate their rats. 2 days later the boa and corn were found dead. The boa still had the rat in its stomach, and when she was picked up the rat and smelly brown fluid poured out of the snakes mouth. The corn had threw up its rat and was coiled up dead. The ball pythons are completely fine. Can anyone give us an idea of what has happened so we try to prevent it from happening again? Emrobinson14@gmail.com

  • Isaac

    my corn snake was fed about 4 days ago and today when i got home i found something that looked like a wet wod of fur in the cage it doesnt look like its other poop so i dont know what it is i really love my snake and if it dies i wont be able to get another one

  • Rosie

    my snake, Phoenix, is a 2 yr old corn snake. She has always been a good feeder but in the last 2 meals she started  to ignore her food and when she did finally eat something she regurgitated it within 2 days. can you please put something up to help me make her food look attractive to her? but all your other advice was really helpful, thank you!!!!

  • Catlover325

    i have a ball pyhton that just regurgitating a rat. can anyone tell me why? was it because it was to big or because it was black.and should i change the size of the rat and the way i feed them? they get feed every two week.

  • Sarah

    Do you feed live or frozen? If it’s frozen make sure it’s up to temp before feeding, and stick a tack in the brain. You want to draw out brain matter or blood. Brain matter is irresistible for snakes.

  • hmk

     This same thing happened to my snake last night… mine sadly died to he was only a baby too.. did you ever find out what could have caused this from happening? we have no idea if its something we did wrong or if it was just bound to happen due the the mice or maybe he was sick???

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