Most people little understand the toilet habits of snakes. The organ (cloaca) that allows a snake to poo and wee has several different purposes, and is concealed away.
Like humans, snakes’ digestion is determined by how much they eat and how often they have meals. The more they eat, the more they need to go to the toilet. But because of their diet and the way they digest, there are some unexpected surprises when a snake goes to the bathroom.
- 1 How Do Snakes Poop? The Q&A
- 2 Does Snake Poop Deter Rats and Mice?
How Do Snakes Poop? The Q&A
Regarding the physical nature of how snakes poop, we’re not talking in any different terms to how humans do it. They have most of the same apparatus that we do for digestion.
- Snakes have a mouth to eat, although they dislocate their jaw and swallow their prey without chewing.
- Snakes have an esophagus to swallow food, alongside a windpipe for breathing, just like we do.
- Snakes have a stomach to digest food using acid. Contrary to popular belief, their stomach acid isn’t much stronger than ours; they digest their food for longer.
- Snakes have a smaller and lower intestine, to strip any nutrients out of the food, just like humans do.
And when it’s time for them to go to the bathroom, snakes experience similar muscle contractions to those that we feel. This moves the digested food along the digestive tract, and out. But that’s where snake digestion gets interesting, and a little different to what we’re used to.
Where Does Snake Poop Come Out?
Snakes poop using a special part of their body called a cloaca. This all-in-one part of their body helps them poop, pee, mate and give birth to eggs. In some animals (turtles, not snakes), they can even breathe through their cloaca. So, what’s this mystery organ like?
It’s like a small flap towards the tail end of the snake. Inside, it’s divided into three sections.
Starting from closest to the head, the three sections of the cloaca are as follows:
|Coprodeum:||This is the part that collects poop from the digestive system. This is the largest part of the cloaca.|
|Urodeum:||This collects pee from the kidneys. This part (and the third part of the cloaca) are separated from the coprodeum by a big, strong muscle. This muscle stops any contamination, e.g., during mating. The urodeum is the smallest part of the cloaca.|
|Proctodeum:||This is the third section of the cloaca, a little bigger than the urodeum. How do snakes pee? Well, they pee at the same time as they poop. Here, poop and pee come together before they’re excreted.|
All snakes also have a vent, which is the final part of the cloaca, which everything comes out of. Male and female snakes also have slightly different structures in the urodeum.
In males, this part connects to the testes, and in females, it connects to her egg ducts. The snake uses the cloaca in much the same that we poop, by using muscle contractions to push out anything she didn’t want to digest.
However, something even crazier is how long they can wait between visits to the toilet.
How Often Do Snakes Poop?
Snakes don’t go to the toilet as often as you or I. In fact, they probably poop the least of animal in the animal kingdom.
A paper written by three snake biologists took a look at why vipers, in particular, pooped so infrequently. They placed their findings in the context of how quickly other animals digest.
They stated that generally speaking, the smaller the animal, the shorter the amount of time it takes them to digest. Birds, for example, digest in as quick as one hour. That means that they eat a bunch of berries, digest them and poop them out in just sixty minutes.
Bigger animals, especially ones that eat grass and leaves, tend to take longer. But what interested them was the fact that different snake species have the largest variation in digestion times, ranging from quite short to very long.
Their study found that:
- Blood pythons in captivity could hold onto digested food for over a year
- Green tree pythons ‘only’ held on for seven days
- Gaboon vipers took 420 days
This study looked at captive snakes which were fed on a regular schedule, so those snakes were holding onto all of that food, for all of that time. Snakes can hold on to an enormous amount of mass before going to the toilet, so much so that they can feed three, four, five or more times before getting rid of it all in one go.
How Long After Eating Do Snakes Poop?
The study above seems to suggest that some snakes poop at regular intervals, regardless of whether they’re eating or not. But pet owners might suggest otherwise.
Colubrids (like corn snakes) generally didn’t take so long, which is backed up by pet owners whose pets usually take between two days and a week, depending on the frequency of feeding.
It’s all because of their rich biological history. Snakes eat less frequently than we do, so they poop less regularly too. It’s an evolutionary advantage because it allows them to hold onto food for longer, and get absolutely every ‘calorie’ out of what they eat.
This means that they don’t have to expend as much energy hunting for food when they could be doing something else more useful like mating.
What Color Is Snake Poop?
First things first, snake poop isn’t just poop, because it contains pee too. That means it looks slightly different from the kind of poop that we make — snakes release urate, which is like solid urine.
It’s white and almost looks like toothpaste, having the same consistency. Snakes produce urates because it means they lose less water, and won’t have to drink as much. This can be a significant advantage in the wild.
Snake poop, on the other hand, is brown, long, smooth and soft. It’s quite large considering the size of the snake, which is something you can also say of their eggs.
If you’ve ever seen lizard poo, it’s not dissimilar to that. However, the way that snake poop looks can vary. Sometimes it looks as we’ve described, and other times it looks almost exactly like bird poo.
Snake poo often has hairs in it, since snakes (and almost all animals) find hair impossible to digest. It may also contain certain other indigestible things like claws and teeth, although most snakes can digest the bones of their prey. However, overall, the color will be regular brown with the occasional bit of chalky white urate mixed in too.
Does Snake Poop Smell?
Yes, it most definitely does. Runny stools smell far more than solid ones, but even so, you’ll be able to smell when they go to the toilet. As a rule of thumb, there’s no animal whose poop doesn’t stink.
It smells like normal poop and normal pee, although the smell does depend on your snake. Some owners report that it smells worse than any other pet’s poop they’ve ever had, and some hardly think it smells at all.
The real kicker is if you don’t clean out your snake’s vivarium properly. If you use paper as a bedding medium, this doesn’t hold onto the smell. If you use shavings, though, these can contain the smell to a degree before you clean it out.
The same applies if you have a ventilator, which can cause the unintended side effect of spreading the smell around the room.
Do Snakes Poop Bones?
No, they don’t. Snakes’ digestive systems are powerful enough to digest bones, although there are still some things they can’t break down like feathers and claws.
Snakes use powerful hydrochloric acid to digest their food, starting in the stomach just like we do. We use hydrochloric acid, too, at around the same pH. The main difference is that we digest foods more quickly, whereas snakes take their time.
After a few days, all that’s typically left of the whole prey that a snake eats is some matted fur, feathers, claws or chitin (the material that makes up insect exoskeletons).
At this point, the snake has two choices. They can either pass the undigested remains along with the rest of their poop, or they can regurgitate it.
But bones? Snakes can digest them easily, whether we’re talking about small corn snakes that eat mice or boa constrictors that can eat large prey.
Does Snake Poop Deter Rats and Mice?
Our final part of the Q&A is one of the most interesting.
Check out any pest control website with natural/DIY tips to get rid of mice, and you’ll come across this idea. It’s simple. The idea is that mice and rats can smell the odor of snakes from their poop and will know to avoid the area or they might get eaten. It’s all down to an interesting organ that some people think counts as a sixth sense.
Mammals, reptiles and other animals have something called a ‘vomeronasal organ,’ which is part of the general olfactory system. In plain English, it helps you identify smells.
But in some animals, it’s become useful for identifying certain chemicals and pheromones that can help an animal survive in the wild. Snakes themselves, for example, use the vomeronasal organ to pick up on the pheromone trails of females of their species.
Rats and mice have a vomeronasal organ too. A study in the paper Chemical Senses found that CD-1 mice (a specific kind of mice used for scientific tests) responded to six sulfur-containing compounds that are secreted by mammalian predators. Another kind of mice responded to snake odors. The response of the mice was to avoid the area where they found the scent.
Another paper in Physiology & Behavior looked more specifically at the way mice responded to the smell of reptiles and snakes. Their study found that mice began to sniff and dig more frequently, which is behavior associated with fear. However, they found that a common response to the smell of other predators like owls—a reduction in pain sensitivity—wasn’t found with snakes.
Snake poop can deter rats and mice, but not as much as the poop of other predators. This is probably because snakes don’t pose as much a threat to the general mouse population as owls or carnivores like cats.
What If My Snake Won’t Poop?
As we said, snakes take a relatively long time to poop, even if they ‘recently’ ate. If you’ve only just got your first pet snake, you might be surprised by how long it takes.
It’s going to be around 2-3 days at a minimum after you feed them. Up until that point—up until a week, really—it’s best to let your snake do what they do best. Your snake will know when they need to go.
However, there are a couple of problems that might stop them from being able to poop or pee. These can either make them take longer or prevent them from being able to comfortably poop or pee at all. Let’s take a look at what can do that.
Constipation in Snakes
Constipation in snakes is possible. The usual cause of constipation is that your snake isn’t getting enough water. This often occurs when you feed your snake thawed frozen food. That’s because there is less water content in thawed food than in fresh food.
The majority of snakes, both in captivity and in the wild, get their water from food rather than from merely drinking. As you can imagine, this leads to the content of their digestive tract getting drier and drier, and more challenging to pass.
Another factor that can cause constipation in snakes is it the temperature is a little too low than it should be. This has a knock-on effect, in that the snake tries to conserve body heat by keeping it in their core, around their organs and digestive system.
Again, this causes the contents of their digestive tract to lose excess water. Low humidity in their environment has the same effect.
The problem is that snakes don’t know if this is happening. They’ll carry on eating like nothing is the matter, which will only make the problem worse. If they keep eating, but not pooping, then they’ll reach a point where they’re too full and can’t eat anymore.
If even then your snake won’t poop, there’s a big problem, and you need to see a vet. Before that point, you can try the following ideas.
Increase Humidity in Their Tank
Increasing the humidity in their tank is a good first start. You should have a monitor in the tank that tells you what the humidity is. Different species like different levels of humidity.
Corn snakes like between 40 and 50%, for example. Ball pythons prefer between 45 and 55%. Check what humidity your snake needs, and raise it (or lower it) to suit them.
This is something you should be doing anyway, whether your snake is constipated or not.
Give Your Snake a Bath
You can directly increase the amount of water your snake absorbs by bathing them. However, don’t just throw them in a bowl or the sink. If you give a snake the wrong kind of bath, it can be bad for their health.
Follow these guidelines instead:
- Use water that’s the same temperature as their tank. If your snake likes their tank to be 80 degrees, make the water the same temperature.
- Don’t use any soap, shampoo or anything like that. Your snake doesn’t need anything other than water for their bath.
- Use filtered or spring water, to prevent potential contamination. Snakes can catch parasites like other animals.
- Some snakes don’t like bathing, so don’t force them to if they seem agitated at the idea. Forcing them makes them less likely ever to want to bathe, plus it makes them dislike you.
- If your snake is happy bathing, let them swim for fifteen minutes. Don’t worry if they sit underwater for a while, because snakes can hold their breath for minutes at a time.
- Make sure that the water is high enough for them to submerge themselves, but nowhere near high enough that they have to stretch their necks to get above the water level to breathe. If your snake is two inches tall, for example, make the water four inches tall.
Leaving them to bathe for fifteen minutes will help them absorb water. The warmth of the water can also soften the stool in their gut, and make it easier to pass. That’s why many snakes like to pass their stools in water—you’ll often find their poop in their water bowl.
Increase the Amount of Time Spent Handling
Something else that encourages snakes to poop is handling. The more time you spend handling them, the more likely they are to go to the toilet. There are a couple of reasons why.
As you physically hold them, you put a little pressure on their stomach and their gut. This helps them digest food because it can move the digestive content up along the gut, and also make it softer.
Not only that, but the warmth of your hands helps too. The heat softens the stool inside them, just like it does if they’re in a warm bath.
If you’re not sure how to handle your pet snake, you have to be calm but confident and watch out for particular behaviors to make sure they don’t feel threatened. Snakes can also get tired like any other animal, so might not want to come out and play as often as you’d like them to.
But, generally speaking, the more time they spend being handled, the better for their constipation. What if nothing helps, though, and they won’t poop no matter what you do?
Visit a Vet for Snake Constipation
If neither technique works, and you’ve fed your snake multiple times, but they still won’t go, then take them to the vet. The vet can use a mixture of milk of magnesia and mineral oil to soften their stool and make it easier for them to pass. This can either be administered as an enema or as an oral laxative. The enema works quicker.
If the snake is uncomfortable with either of these ideas, it’s possible to coat prey in mineral oil and feed them that. If your snake prefers this method—and who wouldn’t want to chow down on a baby mouse covered in mineral oil?—then results will take about a week to show.