Corn snakes are aggressive eaters. They’re usually found in the wild feeding on mice, rats, moles, birds, frogs, and reptiles. Corn snakes are even known for eating members of their own species.
Corn snakes can go for several weeks without eating food. Snakes can reduce their metabolic rate by 70%, which allows them to conserve energy for prolonged periods while growing.
Corn snakes are rarely fussy eaters, but they may refuse to eat due to it being gravid (carrying eggs), shedding, having an illness, or being mishandled. Corn snakes also like they like their food to be warm and will refuse their prey if it isn’t thawed properly or is served too cold.
How Corn Snakes Survive Without Food
Snakes already have low energy demands, which explains why they only need to be fed once every few days. According to a study in the journal, Zoology, snakes in the wild can lower their metabolic rate by 70% and even go for months without eating.
Researchers found that the snakes burned up selected fat stores during the first stages of starvation. The next energy source the snakes used was protein. Snakes that were less adapted to starvation were more likely to use more protein.
If your snake refuses to eat due to any of the reasons described below, consider giving it a few days before offering it food again.
Why Has My Corn Snake Stopped Eating?
Corn snakes are meat eaters that don’t need to be fed frequently. They are far from fussy eaters and often eagerly consume prey items as long as they aren’t larger than the snake itself.
Mice and rats are a corn snake’s primary dietary preference, but they do feed on birds, bats, moles, amphibians and other reptiles as well. The cheapest and most convenient food for your corn snakes is pre-killed and frozen mice or small rats.
Baby corn snakes are usually fed baby mice, also called pinkies, during the first ten days following their birth. After the first ten days, they can start eating one pinky every 4 to 5 days until they grow large enough to begin consuming bigger pinkies called fluffs or fuzzies. However, some snake owners do face difficulty feeding baby corn snakes.
Baby snakes that refuse food from the beginning are called “non-feeders” and trying to feed them can be stressful. If your baby corn snake doesn’t want to eat, you should check if it is for one of the following reasons.
1) It Hasn’t Adjusted to Its New Home Yet
Baby corn snakes are naturally jumpy and defensive. The corn snake hatchlings that were fearless were eaten rapidly long ago and were, therefore, unable to pass on their genes. Baby corn snakes are harmless, and it is normal to see a hatchling trying to flee or hide.
If you suspect your corn snake won’t eat a pinky because it hasn’t fully settled yet, try giving it a few weeks to adjust to its new home.
Maintain the regular feeding routine but avoid stressing it with unneeded handling. Here’s some info on how to handle a corn snake for the first time. After 3-4 successful meals, begin handling the hatchling for short periods, except for the first 2-3 days following a meal.
Approach the young snake from the side, instead of from the top as this would mimic the actions of a predator. Lift the snake gently, but without hesitation, as this can scare the baby. You can use lightweight cotton gloves until you’re confident enough to handle the snake without it.
As the corn snake starts to understand that it’s not your potential prey, it will begin to calm down and gain the security of its comfortable enclosure. Very soon, it will also start to tame and become comfortable with your handling.
2) Shedding Cycle
It is common for a corn snake to refuse food if it’s at the beginning of its shed cycle. During the shedding process, you’ll notice your snake’s eyes turning a milky-blue for a few days. Also, its skin may start to appear dull and cloudy.
When the snake’s eyes become clear again, it is ready to shed. You can facilitate the process by allowing your snake to soak in a shallow dish of tepid water.
Usually, a corn snake will go on a food strike and hide away during its shedding cycle for about a couple of weeks. Some snakes may feel irritable and uncomfortable during this stage because of their lack of vision caused by the milky glaze in their eyes.
There are some cases where the corn snake will continue eating regardless of it shedding. However, if your snake does refuse to eat when it is in the process of shedding, it is better to wait until the cycle is over.
Shedding while digesting a meal can cause certain areas of shedding to get stuck. This is mainly because of the stretched skin trying to accommodate the food bulge from the snake’s recent meal.
According to a study published in the journal, Zoology, snakes can lower their metabolic rate and even go for months without eating. Therefore, if your snake refuses to eat during shedding, it’s best to leave it alone as it will be fine without food until it’s ready to eat again.
3) It Was Fed Recently
A baby corn snake should be given a pinky every 4 to 5 days until they are big enough to consume fluffs. Snakes, like most other reptiles, only eat what is required for them to survive. Therefore, if you gave your young snake a meal just two days ago, it is likely to refuse a meal that is given too soon.
4) The Food Isn’t Warm Enough
Baby corn snakes and adult corn snakes will usually eat a defrosted pinky or adult mouse with minimum fuss.
However, some snakes do insist on their food being warm because this is an excellent way for the meal to feel “alive” for the snake. Therefore, it is critical that you fully thaw your snake’s frozen food, be it a pinky or an adult mouse, in a safe manner.
How to Thaw Frozen Mice
Avoid shortcuts when it comes to thawing your snake’s meal as it could lead to health issues later.
To thaw a frozen mouse, start by placing it in a plastic bag if it isn’t individually bagged already. Add 2 cups of warm (not hot) water in a bowl and place the plastic bag with the mouse into it. Let it sit for 15 minutes until fully thawed.
Avoid placing the bag in boiling water as this could melt the plastic. Microwaving the mouse or placing it directly in hot water to speed up the process is also strictly not recommended as this could either cook the mouse or leave its center still frozen.
Mishandling a frozen mouse can cause it to lose its natural scent, which is required to stimulate your snake’s appetite. If the mouse is cooked, frozen or inadequately thawed, your snake will reject it.
To check if the mouse is ready, poke its belly in a few places. It is ready for feeding if there aren’t any hard spots when you poke it. Of course, the amount of time a mouse needs to thaw dramatically depends on its size. Smaller mice require less thawing time than bigger ones.
If your snake continues to refuse its meal, try warming the pinky’s head with a hair dryer on low power or by soaking its head in some reasonably hot water just before feeding. Wiggle the pinky in front of the snake’s nose if it needs some extra coaxing.
5) Your Snake is Sick
Like other animals, corn snakes are vulnerable to illness and parasites, some of which can be deadly. Get your snake tested for parasites when you first purchase it.
Signs of sickness or parasitic invasion include the loss of appetite, lethargy, lack of activity, vomiting, changes in feces or any abnormalities in your snake’s appearance.
6) Your Snake is Too Cold
Corn snakes need to be in a warm environment to digest their meal properly. If your snake realizes that it doesn’t have a warm area in the tank where it can go after a meal to relax and digest, then it might choose not to eat.
According to the Journal of Experimental Biology, snakes are ectothermic (or cold-blooded) animals, which means they don’t have any internal mechanisms to regulate their body temperature.
Unlike mammals, snakes don’t get their energy from caloric intake. This is a survival advantage that helps snakes go without food for much longer than mammals.
So how do snakes maintain homeostasis inside their bodies? Snakes use environmental heat, such as from sun rays, to speed up their metabolism, which in turn helps them digest their food.
Provide your snake with a warm area, via a heat pad, as well as a cool area in its tank at all times to help regulate its body temperature.
7) Feeding a Corn Snake in a Separate Enclosure
Many hobbyists have a misconception that feeding a snake inside its enclosure can make it aggressive. However, the modern understanding of the reptile’s psychology suggests that beliefs about aggression may be incorrect.
Your corn snake’s terrarium is its territory, and most snakes have learned to associate the opening of their tanks with mealtime.
Therefore, removing a snake from its established territory, where it feels safe, comfortable, stress-free and confident and moving it to a tub for each feeding may be counterintuitive.
Instead of moving the snake every mealtime, consider training it to understand the difference between handling time and feeding time.
A great way to introduce regular handling is to tap the snake with a paper towel roll. If it strikes, at least there’s no harm to you, and if it doesn’t, it will learn that it’s not food time.
Furthermore, unlike humans, snakes don’t have a fondness for “eating out.” Not only does moving the snake in and out of its cage increase its risk of having stress, but it can also cause regurgitation because you’re moving it right after it has had its meal.
8) She May Be Carrying Eggs
Female corn snakes will usually stop feeding if they are gravid (carrying eggs). This is because the follicles or eggs are taking up room inside the snake’s body, preventing her from eating much. The snake’s body is more focused on producing and caring for the eggs, instead of digestion.
If you want to offer an expecting snake some food, try offering her a smaller-sized meal. For example, if you were feeding her medium-sized rats, consider offering medium-to-juvenile to adult-sized mice instead.
How Long Does it Take for a Corn Snake to Digest its Food?
It takes up to 48 hours for a corn snake to fully digest its meal. Therefore, it is vital that you don’t handle your pet for the first 48 hours after feeding to allow it to digest its meal and prevent any regurgitation.
Regurgitation can also happen if your snake has consumed something too large for it to digest. If this does happen, you should avoid panicking. Wait a few more days and offer something smaller – preferably something not larger than its girth.
We recommend that you read our complete guide to caring for a corn snake.