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 that 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 ingests food, it goes through the process of making its way to the stomach. Snakes have one of the most primitive digestive systems in the world.
It is 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.
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.
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 worse than regurgitation. It actually depletes amino acids and enzymes from a snake’s stomach that is essential to their survival.
Generally, it is a sign of illness, and you should contact a veterinarian about it.
On the other hand, regurgitation 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.
What causes it?
One of the primary causes is handling a snake too soon after it has eaten. The consensus is to 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 appears for the first 48 hours after a snake eats, it feels particularly prone to attack. Be aware of these after feeding.
Another cause of regurgitation in snakes is improper husbandry. This is part of why it is so important to find some reliable care sheets 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 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. This 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, getting a snake to change to another prey item is to offer the standard item, and as soon as it has eaten, 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 reason 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 it?
Some steps 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 and keep everyone away from it for at least 48 hours, including inquisitive 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 need to treat a snake that is regurgitating its meals. Clearly, it doesn’t take a scientist to realize that it is not getting its nutritional needs met if a snake is vomiting. If a snake is repeatedly regurgitating, you will need to worry about the causes and worry about what the snake needs for proper care.
How to a snake that has regurgitated?
First and foremost, ensure that the snake doesn’t have a regurgitation history, especially not within the last several meals. If so, it could indicate a severe health problem for the snake, which of course, starvation just happens to be.
Next, allow the snake 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. 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.
When you offer it another meal (try to wait about two weeks after your snake regurgitates before trying again), it will need to be about 1/4 to 1/2 the size it usually 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. It is better to spend $50, $70, $100 on a quick checkup and consultation than to spend ten or twenty times 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 quickly move into the realm of becoming a killer if not dealt with accordingly. Never 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.