Corn snakes are normally voracious eaters, but they can suddenly stop eating food, seemingly without explanation. Owners start to become concerned that their snake will become ill, or even die, if a certain amount of time elapses without eating a rodent meal.
Corn snakes, like all members of the colubrid family, can survive for 2-3 months without eating food. According to Zoology, snakes are able to reduce their metabolic rate by 70%, which allows them to conserve energy for a prolonged period of time while still growing.
Corns may refuse to eat due to being gravid, shedding, cold temperatures, illness, or over-handling. They prefer food to be warm, and may refuse to eat if it isn’t thawed properly or it’s served too cold. All snakes look for signs of ‘life’ in their food as it’s more likely to be healthy prey. A meal that’s warm and ‘moves about’ is far more enticing to a corn snake.
How Long Can Corn Snakes Live Without Food?
Corn snakes can survive for a long time without food. In fact, they can live for between 2 and 3 months without eating a rodent meal.
As we’ve already discussed, snakes can reduce their metabolic rate by as much as 70%. This helps them to conserve energy in the wild, and means they can go for long periods of time without needing to hunt for prey.
Snakes have naturally low metabolisms and do not require as much energy as warm-blooded mammals through their diet. The fact that they can lower their metabolism through a period of brumation means they can survive for even longer without consuming prey.
If a corn snake does go without food for an extended period of time, the snake’s body can utilize its own internal resources. The snake will start to use up its fat stores. Then it will break down the proteins in the body. This can enable a snake to adapt to environments that are scarce in food and ensure survival for longer.
How Long Can Baby Snakes Go Without Food?
While adult corn snakes can go for up to 3 months without a meal, baby snakes cannot survive for very long at all without eating.
Baby corns need to eat every 3-4 days. If a baby snake goes longer than 1 week without food, it will have health and developmental implications.
This is a time of growth and development for a hatchling snake. You’ll need to explore options, such as force-feeding, with an experienced veterinarian.
Why Has My Corn Snake Stopped Eating?
If your adult corn snake doesn’t want to eat, it may be because it doesn’t need to yet. Wait until the snake removes its waste and then see if it wants a meal. Of course, there are other explanations that must be explored.
Shedding Skin (Ecdysis)
Prior to molting, you’ll notice that your corn snake’s skin looks very pale and its eyes are a milky-blue color. If your corn is about to shed its skin, you’ll find that it is not in the least bit hungry.
Not eating food for a week before and after shedding is normal. This is because your snake knows that it’s more vulnerable at this time. Once your corn has shed its skin, it will start to show an interest in food again.
Brumation / Cold Temperatures
Your snake cannot regulate its own body temperature, so it’s reliant on the warmth of its living environment. If the tank’s temperature is too low, then it will not be warm enough for your corn snake to digest its meal.
Your corn snake will not eat new food and will vomit up anything that it’s already eaten. Your snake instinctively knows that undigested food will putrify if it sits in its stomach for too long, leading to severe sickness.
A corn snake that’s overly cold will enter brumation. During this time, which is the reptile equivalent of hibernation, it’s normal for your snake to stop eating and limit its movement. It’ll also hide because the snake knows that it would be vulnerable to predators in the wild.
If you spot these signs, check the tank temperature to see if it has fallen below the optimal level. If so, the snake needs more heat. This will encourage your corn snake to eat because it will be able to digest its meal faster and, therefore, more safely.
Food Size is Too Large
The snake may not want to eat any food that is too large. The prey you offer to your snake should be about the size of the snake’s mid-body diameter.
You need to make sure the size and shape of the prey are in line with the size of your corn snake. It’s not uncommon for a mouse to get stuck in a snake’s mouth when it’s too large.
Large food can sit in a snake’s belly for too long and go rotten, especially if it’s colder in the snake’s living environment than is optimal.
How The Food Is Served
While most corn snakes will eat pinkies (thawed baby mice), some snakes will only want to eat live prey. Snakes are attracted by movement and signs of life in the wild as it means that the prey is healthy and not diseased.
However, if your corn snake is not interested in eating pre-killed prey, then there are a few things you can do:
- Cut the pinkie to allow blood into the air so the snake can detect prey
- Tease the snake with the prey by making it harder to get or by dragging the prey to make the snake think that it is alive and moving
- Ensuring the prey is sufficiently warm enough for the snake to recognize it as a food source
- Use live prey, but only when you can monitor the whole interaction to make sure the prey doesn’t injure your snake
- Try alternative prey options such as other rodents, baby chicks, lizards, frogs, or small eggs.
Sickness And Disease
In some cases, a snake that has lost interest in eating food will begin to display other signs of ill health. If so, a snake-savvy vet should examine your snake. Unfortunately, not all vets have experience with reptiles.
Some of the signs that a snake is unwell include respiratory problems, weight loss, vomiting, and a loss of coordination. In short, look for signs that your snake is acting differently to normal.
Corn snakes can survive for 2-3 months without food, but you need to understand why your snake has lost its appetite. While some feeding issues are caused by biological processes, such as shedding and brumation, others must be resolved before your snake’s health deteriorates.