how to feed a snake that won't eat

7 Snake Feeding Problems: Getting Your Snake To Eat Food Again

Is your snake refusing to eat? This is no doubt a major worry—especially if you’re new to snake ownership, or if you’ve never experienced this kind of problem before. What makes this situation so difficult is that snake anorexia has a number of different causes.

Weight loss & refusal to feed in snakes can be caused by parasites, an inappropriate or unrecognizable diet, dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, increased metabolism (caused by high temperatures or an endocrine disorder), cancer, anorexia, a dislike of the food offered, or psychological factors.

You should now have a pretty good idea of what could be causing your snake to refuse its food. We’ll now explore some tried-and-tested techniques that you can use to coax your snake into eating food again.

Why Has My Snake Stopped Eating?

Providing your snake with the right diet is essential for its health. But not all species of snakes have the same food preferences. That’s why it’s important to research your specific breed so that you know what to give them and how to best present the food you’re offering.

It’s not always that easy though, because snakes are not only breeds but also individuals, so snakes of the same breed might not always share the same food preferences. So, you’re going to have to experiment and find out what fits your snake’s eating preferences.

Aside from dietary preferences, there are also various environmental and health-related conditions that can affect your snake’s willingness to eat.

1/ Parasites

If your snake is refusing to eat or is eating well but is either losing weight or is failing to gain weight after feeding, parasites are the most likely cause. There are 2 main types of parasites, internal and external.

Internal parasites include worms and many single-celled organisms, like amoebas and coccidia, can cause havoc with a snake’s digestion.

Check your snake’s stools. Are they abnormal or full of mucus? If so, then you may have a parasite problem, and you should take your snake to see a vet as soon as possible.

External parasites include mites and ticks, both of which are harmful to snakes, but can be treated at home.

2/ Inappropriate Diet

Sometimes, your snake might not recognize that what you’re giving it is food. This can often be the case if you are switching from live food to frozen food, or from mice to rats for example.

If you think this might be the problem, you can try transferring the scent of the recognizable food source onto the new food source.

You can do this by rubbing the two food sources together. You can also try puncturing the skull of a dead mouse or rat using a needle. This releases a strong scent that may activate your snake’s prey drive.

how often should I feed my snake?

3/ Dehydration

According to Ecography, if a snake’s environment is too dry, it can become dehydrated, which will affect its activity levels and appetite.

Snakes are sensitive to dehydration, and dehydration and kidney failure in snakes are closely linked. So, it’s important to provide a bowl of fresh water and a humid retreat in your snake’s enclosure.

You can help to keep your snake happy and hydrated by giving it a simple plastic humidity box. This is basically a plastic box with a hole in the lid, filled with sphagnum moss and misted with water.

4/ Gastrointestinal Problems

It’s possible that your snake could be refusing its food because of a gastrointestinal issue.

If there is a problem with your snake’s pancreas or its gastrointestinal tract, then it will not be able to absorb and process its food in the normal way. Issues with the pancreas in some snakes, like vipers, is a common problem.

Another problem occurs when the lining of the snake’s gastrointestinal tract becomes irritated and thickens (hypertrophy), which is caused by the bacteria cryptosporidia.

5/ Increased Metabolism

An increase in your snake’s metabolic rate can cause changes in appetite as well as weight loss.

An increase in metabolism can be caused by exposure to high temperatures or by an endocrine disorder, according to the American Journal of Physiology. The former is far more common, as endocrine disorders in snakes are quite rare.

According to the journal of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, as a snake’s temperature rises, its metabolic rate also increases. This means that the hotter the snake’s environment, the more food it will need to maintain a healthy weight.

If your snake is feeding but still losing weight, you might try either lowering the temperature of its environment or increasing the amount of food to counter this.

If this doesn’t work, then there is a chance that your snake could have an endocrine disorder, such as hyperthyroidism, which is rare, but more likely to occur in older snakes.

If your snake does have a thyroid problem, it can be easily controlled with medication, such as methimazole.

6/ Cancer

Cancer cachexia is a very serious wasting disease that can occur in snakes.

It causes severe malnutrition, which can lead to loss of appetite, weight loss, and changes in metabolism. Basically, what happens is that tumors grow and inhibit the snake’s ability to feed.

If you have a snake with eating problems, you should visit your vet regularly to ensure that there are no suspicious masses.

how to get your snake to eat

7/ Anorexia

Anorexia is one of the most common causes of feeding problems in snakes. Here are the main reasons why snakes develop anorexia:

Changes in the Environment

Temperature and humidity changes, substrate changes, and fluctuations in the lighting cycle can cause snakes to develop anorexia.

If you’re having feeding issues, it’s a good idea to check that the light that you are using is appropriate for your snake’s breed, as lights can either be too intense or not intense enough, both resulting in feeding issues. 

You should also check that the substrate you are using is suitable for the breed, as using the wrong substrate is another cause of anorexia. For example, if your snake ingests its substrate, this could lead to constipation.

The cage size can also influence feeding. Bigger is not necessarily always better, so you should do some research into your breeds preferences or experiment with different cage sizes until you find a match.

7/ Psychological Factors

Not much research has been done into the psychological factors that can affect a snake’s appetite, but preliminary studies have revealed that cage placement, the stability of the enclosure and what the snake can see and sense about its surroundings all play a role.

Stress can certainly have an effect on a snake’s willingness to feed and stress can be caused by a number of factors including but not limited to:

Therefore, experts advise that snakes be housed on their own, in a stable cage where they can see their surroundings but are not on display. You should also try handling less frequently if it’s having difficulty feeding.

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