Many snakes sustain themselves on rodents in the wild. To keep a pet snake happy and healthy, you’ll need to replicate this diet in captivity. Purchasing frozen rodents can be costly, and supply chains can also dry up, though. Breeding your own snake food resolves both these issues.
Always get your breeder rats or mice from a reputable dealer. Do not capture and breed wild rodents as they could be carrying diseases. Your rodents should be separated by sex and housed in comfortable surroundings. Keep the rodents well fed and entertained, euthanizing them humanely when feeding time arrives.
Breeding your own snake food is not for everybody. You will need to care for the rats and mice, which can be time-consuming. However, breeding a food supply will ensure your snake never goes hungry.
Breeding Rodents As Snake Food
Breeding a steady supply or rats or mice for snake food is popular among herpetologists. There are numerous reasons why this is a good idea:
- Purchasing frozen rodents can become expensive
- Pet stores do not always have rodents in stock
- Fussy baby snakes may not eat frozen-thawed rodents
- You’ll be offering a consistent type of food to your snake
- Excess or unwanted rodents can be sold as pets or food for profit
- You can be certain that the rodents are healthy and disease-free
- Raising rodents can be a fun and enjoyable hobby
You cannot grow emotionally attached to rodents bred as food. Do not think of them as pets as you’ll need to euthanize the rats and mice yourself.
In order to breed rats and mice, you’ll need to do two things:
- Set up appropriate accommodation for the rodents
- Purchase rodents to breed and start the process
Obviously, you’ll need the accommodation first. A hardware store will have everything you need. After that, head to the pet store for other essentials, including the breeder rodents.
Arranging Rodent Accommodation
Before bringing rodents home to breed, you need to provide accommodation for them. You’ll need at need at least two enclosures. Once the rodents reach maturity, they need to be separated according to sex.
Ensure that these enclosures are large enough to house multiple rats or mice. There is no way of knowing how many pups will be born in a single litter. Ideally, have a third enclosure for a pregnant or nursing rodent.
Tall and wide plastic tubs make suitable enclosures, if they’re kept in a warm room. This is a cost-effective solution that provides rats and mice with enough space to co-exist. You can get specialist enclosures, but that will be considerably costlier.
Fill the bottom of each of these enclosures with an inch of substrate. In an ideal world, this will be rodent bedding from a pet store. If money is tight, you can use newspaper. The rodents will be happier and more comfortable with appropriate bedding, though.
You’ll also need food bowls and water bottles for your rodents. Once the rodents start breeding, you’ll have your hands full. You will not want to be making regular trips to the pet store.
Purchasing Rodents as Breeders
Do not be tempted to cut costs by catching and breeding wild rats or mice. As per the PNAS journal, wild rodents carry a disproportionate number of diseases. These could make your snake sick. In the unlikely event of the rodent being disease-free, they may still have fleas.
When you’re ready to make a start on breeding rodents, buy them from a pet store. Ask for the youngest rats and mice available. You’ll need to ensure the rodents have not been spayed or neutered.
Choose whether you are breeding rats or mice. Do not try to mix and match, seeing which your snake prefers. Rats are larger than mice and will bully and intimidate them. These two species rarely live together in the wild. Do not force them to do so in captivity.
If the rodents are less than four weeks old, they can live together. This is especially likely to succeed if they shared an enclosure in the pet store.
It does not take long for rodents to reach maturity, though. Be prepared to separate them by sex early in the process. This is why you need at last two enclosures.
You’ll obviously need at least one male and one female to breed rats and mice. You should invest in more females, though. An ideal ratio is three females for every male, especially in mice.
Try not keep more than one adult male mouse at a time. Male mice grow territorial and aggressive toward each other. Rats are less of a problem in single-sex pairs. These animals are more social by nature. Some rats still experience an excess of testosterone, though.
Separate Your Rodents
From the moment the rodents reach sexual maturity, they must be separated by gender. Mixed adult rodents will breed at an uncontrollable rate. You will only need so much snake food. If you end up with too many rodents, you won’t be able to house them all.
Do not release excess or unwanted rodents into the wild. Ignoring the fact that the pest population is already high, they lack the genetics to survive.
Find somebody interested in taking on rodents as pets. Alternatively, connect with another snake owner seeking a food source. This way, the lives of the animals will still serve a purpose. You may even start making money from your hobby.
To determine the sex of a rodent, pick it up by the tail. Take a look above the anus of the rat or mouse. This will quickly identify the gender of the rodent.
Males will have a visible penis just above the anus, and testicles on either side. Females will have a vaginal opening above the anus and nipples. Female mice have ten nipples, while rats have twelve.
You may not notice these characteristics until the testicles descend, or the nipples become prominent. This may not occur until the rodents are sexually active. It will not take them long to act, so assess the rodents daily.
Keep Your Rodents Happy
It may seem counter-productive to concern yourself with the happiness of rodents. After all, we previously advised emotional distance.
Consider this, though. Happy rats and mice are likelier to eat well and remain healthy. This, in turn, makes them a better meal for a snake.
If you suspect that any single rodent is unwell, remove it immediately. Contagious illness will spread like wildfire. If you are not careful, the entire stock of rodents will be struck down and killed.
Rats are unfussy eaters. In theory, you can offer scraps from your own plate. You want the rodents to be healthy, though. With this in mind, a specialized diet is advisable.
Pick up high-quality small animal food from a pet store. This will provide the rats and mice with everything they need. Top with up with treats if necessary. Rodents enjoy small pieces of fresh fruit or vegetable.
Feed the rodents well. There is nothing to gain by letting them grow skinny and underfed. In fact, as per Physiology & Behavior, malnutrition can disrupt a rat’s estrus cycle. Besides, they’ll eventually become food themselves. They deserve a good life in the meantime.
Don’t allow the rats or mice to grow too overweight, though. This will make them difficult for the snake to digest. This size of a snake’s prey should match the largest part of its own body. A snake will struggle to digest oversized prey, throwing a feeding cycle off-course.
Rats are mice are smarter than you may give them credit for. Ensure that your rodents are provided with appropriate mental stimulation. As with most animals, this involves appealing to their wild instincts.
This table explains how to keep rats and mice intellectually stimulated by tapping into core instincts. If you do this, the rodents will not grow bored or distressed. This, in turn, makes them less likely to become unwell.
|Tunneling||Invest in plastic tunnels from a pet store. Create tunnels using toilet rolls.|
|Climbing||Add branches, perches, boxes and hammocks to an enclosure. Just not too high, or the rodents will escape.|
|Shredding||Leave unwanted papers in the enclosure. A telephone book will offer hours of amusement.|
|Foraging||Bury food and other treasures in the substrate of the enclosure.|
|Chewing||Purchase chew toys for small animals from a pet store. Provide cardboard or wood to chew.|
|Push and Carry||Offer light, hollow cat toys that can be pushed and carried around the enclosure.|
Exercise is also important for rodents, especially rats. Rats become stressed if cooped up for long. Let your rats have a run around in a safe place at least once a day.
This obviously needs to be managed carefully. The last thing you want is an escape. If necessary, settle for an exercise wheel. Freedom is preferred, though. Use a hamster ball if necessary.
Rodents are driven by a primitive urge to mate, ensuring that their species thrives. There will be no mating rituals or special preparations required.
When you are ready to breed rodents, place your male with a female in a single enclosure. The male will immediately show interest in mating. If the female is receptive, she will present. With mice, consider pairing a male with multiple females.
Leave the rodents to mate for around 24 consecutive hours. Start late at night, as most rodents are naturally nocturnal. This enhances the chances of pregnancy. After this time, separate the animals and look at the female.
As explained by Acta Europaea Fertilitatis, she may have a vaginal plug. This blocks further breeding, suggesting she has mated. Mating does not guarantee pregnancy, though it is likely. If the female is aggressive toward male attention, she is almost certainly pregnant.
A pregnant rodent will start nesting in her communal enclosure. If you notice this behavior, move the animal to a separate home. Make her comfortable and help her build a nest.
Rodents gestate for 20 – 28 days. A litter could number as many as 20. Rodents care for their young until they are ready to fend for themselves. Decide how you will manage excess babies. You could feed your snake multiple young rodents, rather than one larger adult.
If your snake eats adult rodents, consider feeding it the male breeder. You will have new males from this litter, who will eventually become breeders themselves. Do not feed the mother until she has raised her babies.
Euthanizing and Feeding Rodents
Eventually, you need to choose a rodent to feed your snake and kill it. Never place a live rodent in a snake’s enclosure. The rodent will fight for its life, potentially injuring or killing the snake.
When making a selection, check the rodent thoroughly for any signs of ill health or disease. Things to look out for include:
- Labored breathing
- Red stains around the eyes or nose
- Lumps and bumps on the body
- Sneezing or mucus discharge from the nose
If you spot these signs, do not feed this rodent to your snake. It is unwell. End the rodent’s life and find another. Only feed rodents that are healthy to your snake.
Once dead, feed the rodent to your snake before it starts to decompose. If the snake does not eat within half an hour, remove the rodent and freeze or dispose of it. If the snake has not expressed interest by this point, it is clearly not hungry.
There are several ways to euthanize rodents. Find the method that you consider most humane, avoiding prolonging the suffering of mouse or rat. Never use poison as this will potentially harm the snake. Remember, a snake eats what its prey previously consumed.
You will need to kill the rodent through trauma to the skull. If this is the approach you take, stun the rodent first, if possible.
Some people euthanize rodents by banging their heads against a wall or table. This takes time, though. Rodents, especially rats, are hardier than they look. A hammer may be faster and less traumatic for all concerned.
Killing a small animal through blunt force trauma is messy. This could work in your favor if your snake is a fussy eater. The scent of brain matter may stimulate hunger. Usually, though, a warm body is enough. You may wish to consider a less traumatic end for the rodent.
Cervical dislocation is the fastest way to kill a rodent. It’s a quick end and is believed to be comparatively painless. To undertake this method of euthanasia:
- Wear gloves to protect yourself from bites or scratches
- Pick up a mouse or rat from its enclosure, holding it by the tail
- Place the rodent on a hard surface
- Pin the rodent by the neck using a foreign object (a wooden spoon)
- Yank at the rodent’s tail or hind legs in one sharp, fluid motion
If you use sufficient force, the rodent’s neck will snap. This will kill the animal instantly, before it even knew what happened. You can then place the rodent straight into your snake’s enclosure for feeding.
If you cannot countenance physically killing rodents, or need to euthanize several at once, consider gassing.
Commercial breeders that sell rodents as snake food terminate mice and rats using carbon dioxide. This gas can be purchased online. Always buy canned, compressed gas. The type found in a fire extinguisher is inappropriate as it’s hard to control the flow.
The rodents should be placed in an enclosed space, and carbon dioxide filtered into this area. The gas flow should be slow at first, gradually increasing in density. This will paralyze the rodents and slow their heart rate. Do not pump too much, too quickly. This will distress the rodents and make this a painful, stressful end.
If done right, this form of euthanasia gently lulls the rodents to sleep. As this is a peaceful way to die, the approach is approved by the AMVA. Lab Animal also declares gassing with carbon dioxide a humane form of small animal euthanasia.
You don’t need to breed rats and mice for snake food forever. Most adult snakes will eventually accept thawed, frozen rodents as food. This approach can get baby snakes started on feeding, though. If you continue, you have a constant and cost-effective food supply.