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Snake feeding lesson 101: Learning from the mistakes of others

Today I came across an article about a man who called animal control on his pet boa at 3am in the morning. Here’s a short excerpt so you are caught up on what we’re going to discuss and why.

CINCINNATI — A Covedale man called animal control overnight Wednesday when his boa constrictor became aggressive during a nighttime feeding.

“He’s normally pretty docile, but he’d gotten a little aggressive when we were trying to get him out of the cage,” said Mike Simpson, who bought the six-foot snake earlier this year from a friend.

Simpson said he placed a jumbo rat into his apartment’s bathtub before turning loose the snake, which he said would typically eat quickly.

But Lucious, the snake, still hadn’t eaten after more than an hour with the rat, and Simpson became impatient.

Read the entire article

Initially when I read the article I was angry. Angry that Mr. Simpson was already planning on getting another snake. Angry that he had so easily turned the one he had over to animal control. Then I thought about it for a moment and realized that this could easily be myself or anyone else. It’s only through experience that you begin to learn how to deal with having an exotic pet such as a snake. They are entirely different and are not comparable to any other pet a person might have.

In the past I’ve written about both of the subjects that this man was dealing with. Most recently I gave my reasons why I believe that you should feed a snake in its own cage. A couple of readers disagreed with the idea that it is better to feed a snake in its own cage. The incident described in this news report is a prime example of why I believe very strongly in feeding a snake in it’s own cage. Before anyone winds up with the written barrage of reasons that I’m wrong let me say this; Had this boa’s owner (Mr. Simpson) fed his animal in its own cage you would not be reading this article right now.

What went wrong?
Since I wasn’t there I can only speculate based on the news article but it seems the following mistakes were made:

The feeding was an after thought
I base this on the fact that in the article it says it was 3am in the morning and they had to be to work by 8am. It was like they had a “Oh no! We forgot to feed the snake!” moment.

They weren’t ready to deal with an aggressive snake
Sometimes we forget that a snake is a wild animal and will act (or react) like a wild animal. I believe it is safe to say that we’ve all made that mistake. When the animal that spends hours draped around our shoulders becomes a monster straight out of a horror movie it can catch us off gaurd.

One of the first articles I wrote for this site was about handling aggressive snakes. There’s nothing to indicate that Mr. Simpson improperly handled the snake, but thought this would be a good opportunity to take a moment to look at some basic tenants of handling aggressive snakes.

The snake was cold
It says the snake was in the tub with the rat. I assume it was in a cold empty tub. Going from a warm, climate controlled cage to a cold bathtub could easily make the snake decide it wasn’t hungry. Snakes aren’t known for their tolerance of temperature changes, especially extremes. Now of course I could be wrong and the tub could have been heated prior to putting the boa in there, but given that this sounds like it was a last minute feeding that would be surprising.

They got impatient
Ultimately when the snake wouldn’t eat and it was time to put it back in its own cage the snake wasn’t cooperating and the owners got impatient with it. It was late, they had to be up in about 5 hours, and now this six foot long boa was cranky. I’d probably be a little impatient myself. Unfortunately being impatient leads to irrational actions which probably just irritated the snake even more.

What could they have done differently?
Once again this is speculation, but it is food for thought:

Plan the feeding
If you have a snake you know it needs to eat approximately once a week. That’s just a general rule of thumb for most snakes. It’s hard to believe that after having had the animal for any amount of time feeding day just snuck up on them. Sometimes I feed my snakes at 2am but I know well ahead of time when feeding day is. All my animals are fed on either Friday or Saturday. It’s not a surprise. I don’t suddenly walk past the cages and realize they haven’t been fed so I need to drag them out at the last minute.

There could have been circumstances beyond their control which prevented feeding Lucious (the boa’s name) at any time other than this but based on what was reported that is doubtful.

Always expect the unexpected
People say it all the time “Oh my snake would NEVER harm a flea!” Which I’m sorry to say is complete nonsense. A snake is not a domestic animal. It is a wild animal. It might get used to you, and even put up with you but in the end it is a creature driven by the instincts that God gave it. For someone to assume that a snake, just because it has been a pet, is actually tame is at best foolish. It can also be deadly if you are working alone with large contrictors.

A warm snake is a happy snake
Since snakes rely on their surroundings to regulate their temperatures putting it in a cold bathtub is going to leave the snake very few options. When a snake isn’t comfortable (being cold as a prime example) it isn’t going to eat. Mistakes in temperatures is a major reason that people have trouble getting their pet snake to feed. Now it sounds like being fed in the bathtub was fairly routine for this snake but for some reason on this particular night it wasn’t having any of it. Another reason to feed the snake in its own cage.

Waited until the next day
Snakes are known for going for weeks and even months without eating. Just going to bed and feeding it the next day (or even a week later) would have been the best course of action.

Ultimately they gave up the boa after having to call animal control because it had become aggressive. Had the snake been fed in its own cage they could have just gone to bed and either dealt with it in the morning or the rat would have been eaten. Of course I’m assuming this was a pre-killed or frozen/thawed rat and not a living one. If it was a living rat then obviously they would have had to deal with it before heading off to bed.

What are your thoughts on this? Would you have done anything differently? Agree or disagree with what has been said here?

  • Kirsty

    I agree snakes should be fed in there own tanks for several reosens and its a shame he gave up on his baby so easly in the end they do go by there instincs n its something people have to deal with when owning these beutifull creatures

  • celestia

    If you have any info on how to help a ball python that I think is getting ill could you email me.

  • Zoe

    I totally agree with you!

  • tyler

    I definitely agree with you

  • Amb_anakin

    That made alot of sense and always feed my snake in it's own cage

  • Vanillacokeit

    I just commented on the other article relating to feeding a snake in or outside of its cage. I have found that the habit my snakes have formed to eating in a paper bag has worked out very well for me and them. I do not handle the snakes after feeding them, I simply tilt the bag in the cage until the snake slithers out on its own. I do agree with the temperature involvement. I think it is important not to shock the system of the animal before it eat by bringing it from a warm environment to a cold one. My paper bag is always placed on a heat pad. Another benefit of the habit that has formed is I can tell if the snake is going to eat before I even offer the food to them. Once one of my snakes is placed in the bag it will usually look up, be very still and ready to strike. If the snake doesn't want to eat for whatever reason (near shed) it will not act this way and I will simply put it back and try again the next feeding day. I have only had one incident with this method when my husband stupidly went to pick up my ball python from the bag and it struck at him. It let go immediately but I had a long talk with my husband about how you don't handle them after they eat and we haven't had a problem since.

    I prefer not feeding inside of the cage because even when the scent of mice/rats is in the room my snakes will not strike at me when I get them out of the cage. They won't strike even if my hands smell like mice. This is important because I breed my own mice and I sometimes need to handle a snake after cleaning mice cages. Also the snakes are so trained to eat in the paper bag that it is easy for me to switch the type of food I offer without them resisting.

  • PetSnakes

    Cool, glad it works for you.

  • TheKowallabe

    I have always put my snakes into a separate tank for feeding, as the bark I use can irritate their digestive system if stuck on the rat’s fur, and so they may feed alone, separate from one another. I also have two different distinct bells, one for each snake, that I only ring when I put the rodent into the feeding tank. Each snake never went into “hunting mode” until his bell was rung. They each eat roughly once a month and I feed them a few days apart, picking at random who eats first. I have had these snakes for 7 years and have never had anything close to a problem with them, and I even always have rats in a smaller plastic tank near theirs.

    I also buy new small rats after every feeding. I feed them more nutritious food so they are much healthier for the snakes, and not oozing with growth hormones as the feeder rats in most pet stores are. Plus then the rats get’s a way better life before being eaten.

  • Oriana Landt

    about snakes being wild – that is only true if they are wild caught or have not been domesticated (ferral). My snakes are captive bred. Their parents were captive bred. Thier parents were captive bred except 1 and captive bred for the others 3 more generations back. I do not buy from places that endorse by word or deed the sale of WILD animals.

    Just as dogs have lost thier wildness so do snakes. But just as dogs bite snakes can too. Cats, rats, birds, fish, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc will all defend themselves if threatened or hurt! Does that mean they are wild? No!

    My ferrets are farmed not caught. People assume they are wild. That is in fact illegal! Please note the differences so that kind of misinformation does NOT continue!!!!

    My snakes do not eat weekly or even monthly. My big male that we have had for 10 yrs and is 6.5′ long only eats 1 or 2 times a YEAR but we do feed him a nice chicken so it is a big meal. Our vet says he has never seen such a well cared for and healthy snake! His tail is thick and skin pearly. I think people over feed and harrass their snakes with animals that want to live anyway!

    I only feed him when he starts tracking my dog and cat -who are normally ignored – through the plexiglass and shows that he really will eat.

    I always pay attention! I look for the signs and read his body language like any animal including people all the answers are there. When he is happy and well he ignores other animals even when out of his cage accept to cuddle with them for warmth. (My dog does like to cuddle with him and lick him and will protect him from the cat who hates him.) He withdraws when he is sick and tracks when hungry. Although he has only been sick once since we have had him and that was when we changes from one farms chicken to another then back again when we learned the food was sick.

    I agree it is important to have a set day to feed but they may not be ready every week. It is ok for snakes to miss meals for short times and fed the next week.

    Most snakes are over fed according to my vet. They are fat which leads to liver issues and early death.

    As far as the tub idea – I agree that cold is never good for snakes. We have a extention of the cage that we open and let them eat once they come through it. we also have branches and a soaking tank in there so our snakes can hide if they so choose. So food goes in bottom and can’t climb up into snakey bedroom. Snake smells food and enters feeding area. Snake then waits in branches and stalks more naturally than just chucking a rat in a tub. Once eaten we encourage the snake to go back into the bedroom which also has a bathtub but usually the snake will take a rest in the ffeding area tub for a few hours and then go back to the bedroom.

    I hope this is helpful. Our tank was easy to design and build using plywood and plexiglass. We use sliding bolts to move the feeding door and to open the plexiglass front. The whole thing cost me $300 to have it built while my husband was over seas. It is also easy to take apart to move or clean around because we designed it with hook and eye bolts so we can break the whole into 3rds. it is 4′ tall, 3’deep, and 9′ long in 3’sections. With the branches and waterfall/soaking tub in there we will add another section soon because he is getting so big but that is easy too. we just build a new section and add to the old with the hook and eye books.

    I hope this helps some others with keeping snakes. Please remember to keep your pets socialized but to also watch for signs of stress or irritation. Just like people they will get used to things they dont like – noise (they dont have ears but can feel the sounds), smells, people, etc but it takes time and patience – start with jst 10 minutes a day and then 10 min twice a day them 10 min 3 times a day and then 30 min etc until about 6-8 months later they will be ready for a new experience. You can add a new stimulations every 6 – 8 months and must stay dedicated, vigilant, and patient.

    This works for every species icludin humans! SO try this with your kids and something they hate! hahaha

    Thanks for reading! My best to you and yours!

  • Fright4knight

    i totally agree with everything you said.
    i got a cali king about 8 months ago, and she is my 1st exotic pet.
    needless to say, i am still learning, and bonding with her.
    she is about 10 yrs old.
    she bit me a few times at 1st,
    but after 2 months, and patience, she has not bit me since.
    i was new to her, and she wasnt handled often in the 2 or so yrs before i took her in.
    thankyou for all the info.
    it is of great help.

  • Charlottebellespazzergasm

    Let me remind you though that dogs have been bred for thousands of years. Snakes are nowhere near domestic, or tame.

  • Pobrm125

    AndI agree with what you are saying.and to me it was a spare of the moment thing.and for him to get rid of it is sad as the snake only reacting they way it is programmed to.and with any change in snakes behaving in snakes my opinion all ways comes down to owner environment

  • Ham6915

    I agree i have two pet snakes as well as friends with pet snakes. This was an inexperienced owner dealing with a snake which was arguably too big for beginners. As for the idea of where to feed snakes i understand the need to separate snakes who share a cage but between me and my friends who feed in a different cage i can tell you they have been bit several more times than me (im still rocking a 100% success rate) so i will continue to feed my snakes on their home turf.

  • Cage Stoker

     The store where I bought my first snake, a corn, ‘Pets unlimited’ in Dartmouth NS., advises first time snake buyers to feed them in a separate cardboard box..left alone for four hours. He says that corn snakes prefer it. I have been around many common green, ring-neck, and eastern garter snakes in the wild durning my childhood, ..and so this advice made no sense to me, as snakes in the wild prefer to do it their way, or no way. Glad I found your article. I knew I was right, and will feed my corn in his ‘reasonable facsimile’ natural environment from now on.

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