Snakes eat infrequently, so just 2-3 regurgitated meals in a row can lead to an unhealthy level of weight loss, or even anorexia. If your snake can’t keep its food down, this may be because it’s feeling stressed, it has an illness or disease, or because its enclosure has a low temperature.
Ball pythons, corn snakes, boa constrictors, etc. all require different ambient temperatures based on their natural habitat. A snake will be unable to digest food if it’s too cold, so make sure that its enclosure is sufficiently warm. Don’t just turn off your snake’s heat pad during the night. Avoid disturbing your snake after feeding as it needs to feel safe. Allow the snake 24-72 hours to digest its meal. A sick snake may regurgitate its meal, so it should be checked over by a vet.
If your snake is throwing up its food, you must determine if it has regurgitated or vomited. Regurgitation is a sign of suboptimal husbandry, whereas vomiting indicates that you have a sick snake. To fix the problem, you need to find out the reason why your snake is bringing up its meal.
Difference Between Regurgitation And Vomiting in Snakes
Snakes like to digest their food in a safe, secluded place. They know that they’re slower and more vulnerable during the digestive process. So, many owners don’t get to observe their snake immediately after its eaten.
If the owner returns to the enclosure several hours later to find some expelled food, it can be difficult to know if it’s regurgitation or vomit. However, it’s relatively easy to tell the two apart. Here’s how:
|Regurgitation:||The snake expels its meal shortly after feeding. Regurgitated prey looks almost entirely intact.|
|Vomiting:||The food has entered the stomach and has been partially digested before eventually being expelled. If the snake has vomited, there would be a foul smell in the air, the prey item would be partially digested, and some white/yellow liquid nearby.|
Regurgitation is not uncommon and can be prevented by reducing stress and improving the conditions in your snake’s enclosure.
Vomiting is uncommon and likely to be due to illness. Consequently, it should be investigated by a vet who is experienced with reptiles.
Why Do Snakes Regurgitate?
There are many reasons why a snake may regurgitate its food:
Handling Shortly After Feeding
Handling can be a stressful experience. If your snake sees your encroaching hand as a physical threat, it will try to purge its stomach so that it is able to get away as quickly as possible.
Any stressful situation will prompt your snake to purge its stomach. If another pet enters the room, a child taps on its tank or another snake is added to the enclosure, you could find that this leads to regurgitation.
Eating Too Much Food
While some species seem to know their limits, such as garter snakes, others will keep eating food that’s offered to them until they literally cannot digest anymore, so it needs to be expelled. Ball pythons are known to overeat, which means that regurgitation is more likely to happen.
If your snake eats a rodent that is far too large for it, the bacteria present in the rodent will decompose itself faster than the snake has time to digest it. So, the snake will vomit up partially-digested food or risk being made sick by the decomposing prey.
Wrong Heat And Humidity Settings
If your snake’s living environment isn’t warm enough, you’ll find it difficult to get your pet snake to eat. None-the-less, a snake that’s living in suboptimal conditions may still consume its meal. However, the food will be regurgitated because its body temperature is too low to digest it.
Some owners turn off the heat mat or heat lamp during the night to stop the terrarium from overheating. But if the ambient temperature in the house is too low, the temperature in the enclosure may drop too much.
Let’s say that you feed your snake during the day, when the terrarium is warm enough, and it begins to digest its food. The temperature then dips below the optimal level for your snake during the night, the digestive process cannot be completed.
The food will start to rot in the snake’s stomach. As a defense mechanism, it will vomit the partially-digested meal back up.
Gorging on Water
If your snake drinks too much water, it may end up regurgitating its meal. Rosy boas have a tendency to gorge on water, for example.
“Breeding season anorexia” is when a snake refuses to feed during the mating season. However, some evidence suggests that, in the wild, some snake species still eat small meals during this time.
Some breeders offer snakes small meals during the breeding season, and there’s a chance that the food will be regurgitated. This won’t be an issue if the snake continues to feed normally after the mating season is over.
Parasites and Illnesses
Illness can cause digestive problems in snakes. This could be an internal parasite (cryptosporidiosis), viral condition, bacterial infection, or respiratory infection. Other clear signs that your snake is unwell include:
- Blistered skin
- Foaming at the mouth
- Irregular breathing
- Unable to shed its skin
Consider whether you’re feeding it the correct portion size, and/or you’re keeping the vivarium warm enough.
Take your snake to a vet for an examination. Most illnesses, and some diseases, can be treated and cured if identified sufficiently early.
How to Care for a Snake After Regurgitation
If you do find regurgitated food in your snake’s tank, follow these steps:
- Remove the regurgitated food, provide some water, and give your snake some time alone to recover. Do not disturb your pet snake for several days if it’s a juvenile, or 1-2 weeks if it’s an adult.
- Set optimal heat and humidity conditions for your species of snake.
- Attempt to re-feed. If you suspect the food that you fed your snake was too large, reduce the portion size. For example, instead of offering the snake an adult mouse, offer a pinky mouse instead.
- If your snake regurgitates its food again, or refuses to eat after several attempts to re-feed, take it to a vet for an examination.
If your snake is regurgitating food, it’s probably stressed, too cold in its enclosure, or over-full. If regurgitation happens after every meal, despite making adjustments, you should consult a vet for further advice.
2 thoughts on “What To Do When Your Snake Regurgitates (Vomits) Its Food”
Just wanted to say thank you for this very helpful article which has really helped my situation.
Thanks for this very informative article. My little California kingsnake regurgitated part of his meal today. This is only the second time I’ve fed him. The first time I gave him one pinky mouse and he scarfed it down really quickly, not even leaving much of a lump to show for it. And then he was eagerly eyeing me for more. I only had one pinky thawed at that time, so I figured I would just start giving him two pinkies on the next feed. He put them down easily when I fed him yesterday, but maybe it’s too much for him? Another issue could be the temperature: the weather has been unseasonably warm and dry since I got this snake, and just yesterday the temps dropped almost 30 degrees outside. Of course I try to keep the enclosure at a constant temp, but I do shut off the heat lamp at night, and it does cause the heat to drop in the enclosure. I think the temperature has been considerably cooler in the enclosure these past two days. Anyway, the snake seems healthy otherwise. I’ll have to keep watch for a while.
Also, I’ve been keeping the humidity level in the enclosure between 40 and 60 percent, which is the advised level for California kings. But this snake is a (captive bred) morph that occurs naturally in and around Yuma, AZ – a “Yuma morph.” Since Yuma has more of a desert climate I wonder if I should be keeping the humidity a bit lower. Does anyone have advice on this?