corn snake not digesting food
Snake Health

7 Common Corn Snake Digestion Problems

Corn snake digestion problems are extremely common, and can leave your corn unwilling or unable to eat its food. Digestive issues often pose a unique and complex problem that snake owners need to resolve.

Regurgitation and vomiting are signs of gastrointestinal disease in corn snakes. Digestive problems could be due to rotten food, the wrong kind of food, digestion temperature, stress, or brumation.

It’s vital that you identify the problem if your corn’s stomach problem symptoms are chronic. A corn snake not digesting food will eventually die unless the reason for the problem is resolved.

What Are the Most Common Corn Snake Digestion Issues?

There are two main reasons for digestive problems in corn snakes: vomiting and regurgitation.

Vomiting is a different issue to regurgitation. People use the terms interchangeably, but they refer to different types of medical problems.

Regurgitation in Corn Snakes

Regurgitation is where a corn snake brings up its food. The food is undigested because it’s brought back up before it reaches the stomach. The food that your snake ate will be intact.

Because the food doesn’t reach the stomach, the process isn’t as painful as vomiting. The esophagus is put in reverse to bring the food back up. The causes of regurgitation re normally related to the food. So, for example:

  • The food had gone bad or had bacteria in it
  • The food may be the wrong type for a corn snake
  • The food contains a foreign object that the snake notices before swallowing it

Vomiting in Corn Snakes

A corn snake may regurgitate its food when disturbed, and isn’t given enough digestion time.

Vomiting is where food from the stomach is rejected. Because the food has been in the stomach, sometimes for a while, it will be partially digested. It occurs after a longer period than regurgitation.

The causes of vomiting are varied. It may be related to food or a health condition that’s nothing to do with the food itself.

1/ Vomiting Due to Sickness

Think back to the last time that you had to vomit. It’s likely because you were sick for some reason. Perhaps it was a gastrointestinal condition, or because you ate some food that disagreed with you.

Whatever the case, this also applies to corns. There are lots of ways in which a snake can be ill that would lead it to regurgitate or vomit.

Cryptosporidiosis in Corn Snakes

The cause of cryptosporidiosis microscopic parasites that live in the gut. They can be passed from one snake to another through feces.

According to the Korean Journal of Parasitology, cryptosporidiosis is a disease that causes both diarrhea and vomiting.

These tiny parasites irritate your snake’s stomach and gut. While they’re small, they do as a sum total to reduce the available space for food in your snake’s stomach. These two factors combine to cause chronic vomiting.

In snakes, cryptosporidiosis can be fatal. It stops a snake from eating and absorbing the nutrients from anything that it does eat.

gastrointestinal disease in corn snakes

2/ Disturbed while Eating

Snakes are vulnerable creatures. They only have two means to defend themselves. The most obvious is their bite. When a snake is eating, it can’t use its fangs to protect itself.

The other means of defense is to escape. But this, too, is difficult when it’s eating. It will have a big lump in its middle and be heavier than it was before. This makes it vulnerable to predators.

To counter this problem, snakes use their regurgitation reflex. When a snake is eating and it’s disturbed, it will regurgitate its food quickly and try to escape. This may not work, but it works more frequently than trying to escape with a huge lump in its throat or stomach.

This often occurs in the wild, but can happen in captivity. If you disturb your corn snake by handling it while it’s digesting food, it may regurgitate.

3/ Nervousness and Anxiety

You may take every step to avoid disturbing your corn snake after eating. But your corn snake may still regurgitate its food. The issue may not be due to you, but other aspects of the snake’s environment.

An anxious snake may frequently regurgitate because it doesn’t feel safe. Nervousness in corn snakes is caused by:

Anxiety will encourage negative behaviors, such as striking, avoiding food, regurgitating food, repetitive head rubbing, and more. If the regurgitation occurs with these symptoms, then nervousness is the issue.

4/ Incorrect Digestion Temperature

Snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded). Corns rely on the heat of their environment. They can’t produce internal body heat.

Body heat is a vital part of digestion. Warmth hastens the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins in food, making digestion quicker. It also encourages digestive bacteria in the gut.

Without enough warmth, the snake can’t digest its food. The meal will sit in the snake’s stomach and slowly rot. Now, for a short window of time, this won’t be a problem.

If the snake can find somewhere warm to sit, such as a heat mat, the food will digest without any problems. But if it can’t, the rotting food could make your corn sick. If the food does go bad, it will have to get rid of it. It’ll do so by vomiting it back up from the stomach.

5/ Brumation and Digestion Problems

Many snake species, including corns, go through a process called brumation when temperatures drop. Brumation is like the reptile equivalent of hibernation, where the snake becomes largely inactive.

During this time, the snake doesn’t want to eat. It avoids eating because it can’t digest at low temperatures. The snake also wants to remain inactive and avoid hunting in order to conserve energy. This gives it an innate desire to avoid food.

Your snake may have a meal shortly before brumation. If this occurs, the snake may not automatically seek out warm spots for digestion’s sake. If it doesn’t, then it will eventually bring its food back up.

Corn Snake Digestion Problems

6/ Obstruction in the Gut

When a snake eats its food, it doesn’t chew. It can’t chew because it lacks the right kind of teeth. Instead, it swallows its prey whole.

It can’t spit out some food and keep the rest. Say, for example, that a snake accidentally ate a piece of plastic along with a rat. If the plastic is inside the rat, it can’t chew on it, spit it out, and keep the rest.

A snake might have small foreign objects in its gut. Small enough, and these won’t cause significant problems. But if they’re a rough texture, sharp, or too big, they can irritate the stomach lining of a corn snake.

This would cause a corn snake to vomit its food back up, including the foreign object and the meal. This is unlikely to happen in captivity because you control what the snake eats. But it is still possible.

7/ Prey Items Too Large

If the rodent is stuck in a snake’s throat, it will have to regurgitate it. The snake will try to do this as quickly as it can, naturally.

To avoid this issue in the future, feed your snake smaller prey. To make up for the smaller amount of food, feed it more frequently, or feed it double portions of smaller prey one after the other.

The prey shouldn’t be wider than the snake’s widest point. That point usually is its stomach. You can also weigh the prey, which should weigh between 10% and 15% of your snake’s weight before it eats it.