should you feed snakes in their enclosure?
Snake Vivarium Setup

Should You Feed a Snake in a Separate Container?

Feeding a snake is quite easy. They don’t eat very often, and only require one type of food (rodents). However, there is one feeding-related topic that comes up frequently among snake owners.

Should you feed your snake inside its vivarium, or in a separate feeding container? Using a separate container eliminates the chance that your snake will ingest its substrate (bedding). It may also help to prevent your snake from developing a feeding response when you open the vivarium to handle it. However, there are some downsides, such as the risk of regurgitation.

There are many pros and cons to feeding snakes in a separate enclosure vs. feeding in the vivarium. Let’s take an in-depth look at each potential option, to help you choose what’s best for your snake.

Feeding Snakes in a Separate Enclosure

There are many good arguments for and against feeding snakes in separate containers. It’s a highly controversial subject among snake owners, and it is frequently debated on reptile forums.

Unlike many subjects, there isn’t a clear “right” or “wrong” way to go about feeding your 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 in a separate area.

The method you should choose depends on what works for you, your setup, and your snake.

Why Should You Feed Snakes in Their Enclosure?

Feeding your snake in their vivarium is the most straightforward option. It involves opening the enclosure and dropping in a frozen-thawed rat or mouse.

Advantages of Feeding in the Vivarium

The main benefits of feeding in the vivarium include:

  • Lower stress levels. In the wild, a snake would hunt food in its natural habitat, where it lives. For captive snakes, the vivarium is the closest thing to this, and it is here that they feel most comfortable and are least likely to become stressed.
  • Reduced chance of regurgitation. Regurgitation often happens when a snake becomes stressed, or is handled too soon after feeding. Feeding your snake inside its vivarium means that you don’t need to move or handle the snake, leaving it to digest its food 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. This is the least time-consuming option, perfect for snake owners who have multiple reptiles to feed.

Disadvantages of Feeding in the Vivarium

The disadvantages of feeding your snake in their vivarium are as follows:

  • Substrate ingestion. If you use a loose form of substrate – such as aspen or paper pellets – there’s a chance that your snake may accidentally ingest some of the substrate when feeding. Swallowing too much could cause an impaction, which can be dangerous. Your snake could even require surgery, as outlined by the Dutch journal of veterinary medicine.
  • If you house multiple snakes together, such as garter snakes or king snakes, they may fight when food is introduced to the vivarium.
  • Food aggression. If you always feed your snake inside their vivarium, they may eventually learn to expect food every time you open the door. This can lead to them mistaking you for food, and biting you when you’re attempting to clean their cage, or remove your snake for handling.

Should You Feed a Snake in a Separate Container?

Why Should You 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. Though it takes a little more time, many snake owners prefer this method for many reasons.

Advantages of Using a Separate Container

The advantages of placing your snake into a separate container for feeding are as follows:

  • No substrate. As there is no substrate in the feeding box, your snake is not at risk of ingesting anything which could cause harm.
  • Easy cleanup. Though snakes try to swallow their prey whole most of the time, 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 than cleaning mess out of a vivarium.
  • Away from other reptiles. If you house your snake with other snakes, feeding each one in a separate enclosure can prevent them from fighting with one another over food.
  • Reduces the chance of being bitten. If you train your snake only to expect food when inside the feeding box, your snake will be less likely to mistake your hands for food when you reach into their vivarium for spot-cleaning or handling.

Disadvantages of Using a Separate Container

  • Stress. For some snakes, being removed from their home and placed in an unfamiliar area may cause stress. A stressed snake may not be willing to feed. According to a study in General and Comparative Endocrinology, stressed snakes are also more likely to bite.
  • Improper conditions. A feeding box will usually not be the correct temperature or humidity level. You’ll have to ensure that you move your snake back into its home soon after eating to ensure that the improper conditions do not cause harm.
  • Regurgitation risk. As you’ll have to pick your snake up to place them back into the vivarium, you run the risk of triggering regurgitation. Regurgitation is not only unpleasant, but it can cause long-term harm to your 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. If you own just one snake, this won’t be a problem. However, owners of multiple snakes may find that feeding in separate containers takes up quite a bit of time.

How to Feed a Snake in a Separate Container

Feeding your snake in a separate container, or “feeding bin,” is not always necessary. However, it is often regarded as the safest option, as it ensures that your snake will not ingest any substrate.

It also prevents your snake from developing a feeding response when you open their vivarium, meaning you’re not as likely to get bitten.

To feed your snake in a separate container, follow these easy steps.

  1. 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 comfortably.
  2. Drill a few air-holes into the lid, if you’re planning to leave your snake alone for a long time. Place some paper towels at the bottom of the tub if you’d like.
  3. Remove your snake from its enclosure and set it down inside the feeding tub. Then, place the rodent inside.
  4. Allow your snake to consume its meal. Then, leave your snake alone for at least an hour, to allow for digestion.

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.

You will need to move your snake back into its vivarium fairly soon after the meal, as being away from “home” for too long can be stressful.

To reduce the risk of regurgitation, follow these steps.

  1. Wait at least an hour after your snake has eaten before attempting to move it.
  2. 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.
  3. If this isn’t 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 your snake for long. Lift your snake from the tub, supporting its body with both hands. Then, slowly place your snake on the bottom of its tank.

After placing your snake back into its cage, don’t handle your snake again for at least 48 hours. If regurgitation does occur, avoid offering another meal for two weeks. You may also wish to take your snake for a veterinary examination, to be on the safe side.

What If My Snake Won’t Eat?

If your snake won’t eat in a separate enclosure, it may be because it does not feel comfortable. A stressed out snake feels threatened, and will probably not be interested in food. Try leaving your snake alone in the feeding tub for an hour or so, and then offering the food again.

Some owners find that their snake will not eat in a feeding tub at all. If this is the case for your snake, you may be best off feeding your snake in its enclosure.

To reduce the risk of substrate ingestion, try the following tips:

  • When defrosting the rodent, place it inside a Ziploc bag before placing in water. If the rodent is dry, substrate won’t stick to it.
  • Place the rodent on a large dish or plastic lid inside your snake’s vivarium, rather than directly onto the substrate.
  • Supervise your snake for the duration of feeding. If any large pieces of the substrate become stuck to the rodent, try to remove them before the snake ingests it.

Realistically, swallowing one or two small pieces of the substrate isn’t likely to cause a problem. However, if you are worried that your snake has swallowed an unsafe amount, contact an experienced veterinarian for an examination.