Feeding a snake is usually easy. They don’t eat very often, and only require a diet of pre-thawed rodents. However, there is one feeding-related topic that comes up frequently. Should a snake be fed in a separate tank?
Using a separate feeding container removes the chance that your snake will ingest any of its substrate. It may also prevent your snake from developing a feeding response when you open the vivarium to handle it. However, it does increase the risk of regurgitation.
There are pros and cons to feeding snakes in a separate container. It’s a surprisingly controversial subject among snake owners, and it is frequently debated on reptile forums.
Feeding Snakes in a Separate Enclosure
Unlike many subjects, there isn’t a clear “right” or “wrong” way to go about feeding your pet snake.
Some snake owners have no issues with feeding in the vivarium, and find that it is the easiest method. Others are adamant that you should always feed a snake in a separate area.
Why Feed Snakes in Their Enclosure?
Feeding your snake in its vivarium is the easiest option. It simply involves opening the enclosure and dropping in a frozen-thawed rat or mouse.
- Lower stress levels. In the wild, a snake would hunt food in its natural habitat. For captive snakes, the vivarium is where they feel most comfortable and are least likely to become stressed.
- Reduced chance of regurgitation. Regurgitation can occur when a snake becomes stressed, or is handled too soon after feeding. Feeding your snake inside its tank means that you don’t need to move or handle the snake, leaving it to digest its meal in peace.
- It’s quick and easy. There’s no need to source a separate container or spend time moving your snake back and forth.
- Substrate ingestion. There’s a chance that your snake may ingest some of its substrate when feeding. Swallowing too much could cause an impaction (constipation). Your snake may even require corrective surgery, according to the Dutch journal of veterinary medicine.
- Fighting. If you house multiple snakes together, such as kingsnakes, they may fight for dominance when food is introduced.
- Food aggression. If you always feed your snake inside its vivarium, it will expect food every time you open the door. This can lead to bites when you clean its cage, or remove your snake for handling.
Why Feed Snakes in a Separate Enclosure?
Feeding your snake in a separate enclosure is slightly more convoluted than feeding in the vivarium. It involves removing your snake and placing them into a temporary container before offering food.
- No substrate. As there is no substrate in the feeding box, your snake is not at risk of ingesting anything that could cause constipation.
- Easy cleanup. Though snakes swallow their prey whole, they may occasionally bite into the rodent, leaving a trail of blood. It is far easier to clean up the mess in an empty plastic tub.
- No other snakes. If you house your snake with other snakes, feeding each one in a separate enclosure can prevent fights over food.
- Reduces the chance of getting bitten. If you train the snake only to expect food when inside its feeding box, your snake will be less likely to mistake your hands for food when you reach into its vivarium to perform spot-cleaning or commence handling.
- Stress. For some snakes, being removed from their home and placed in an unfamiliar area may cause stress. According to a study in General and Comparative Endocrinology, stressed snakes are more likely to bite and less likely to eat their meals.
- Improper conditions. A feeding box will usually not be the correct temperature or humidity level.
- Regurgitation risk. As you’ll have to pick your snake up to place it back into the vivarium, you run the risk of triggering regurgitation. This can cause long-term harm to a snake’s esophageal tract.
- It’s time-consuming. Preparing a feed box, moving your snake into the box, waiting for the snake to finish feeding and then moving it back does take more time than feeding in the vivarium.
How to Feed a Snake in a Separate Container
To feed your snake in a separate container, follow these easy steps:
- Source your container. Most owners use plastic tubs with locking lids, sold as food storage containers. Make sure the container is big enough for your snake to move around freely.
- Drill a few air-holes into the lid and place some paper towels at the bottom of the tub.
- Remove your snake from its enclosure and set it down inside the feeding tub. Then, place pre-killed rodent inside.
- Allow your snake to consume its meal before returning it.
How to Put Snake Back in Cage After Feeding
One of the main risks associated with feeding snakes in a separate enclosure is regurgitation. This can occur when a snake is stressed, or handled too soon after feeding. Follow these steps:
- Wait at least 1 hour after your snake has eaten before moving it.
- If the feeding tub is small enough, place the tub inside the snake’s vivarium and take off the lid. Your snake should soon slither out, at which point you can remove the feeding tub.
- If not possible, move your snake by hand. Place the feeding tub as close to the vivarium as possible, so that you don’t have to handle the snake for long. Lift your snake from the tub, supporting its body from the middle with both hands, and place it inside the tank.
- After returning the snake, don’t handle it again for 48 hours.
If your snake won’t eat in a separate enclosure, it may be because it feels uncomfortable or overexposed. A stressed-out snake feels threatened, and will be disinterested in eating food.
Leave the snake alone in the feeding tub for 1 hour, and then offer it food again. Some owners find that snakes will not eat in a feeding tub at all. If this is the case, you’re better off feeding the snake in its enclosure.