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How to entice a reluctant snake to feed


There are several issues that must be addressed when working with problem feeders:

First, Know your snakes natural dietary habits. From species to species, snakes will prey on different animals. While one species may consume mice, moles and shrew in the wild, others will eat rats, chipmunks and squirrels. Others may strictly feed on fish and yet others may prefer lizards and even snakes. Before you purchase a snake, be sure to know it's natural dietary needs and requirements. Simply put, know what their main prey (i.e lizards) is, but perhaps change the species. For example, If you have a lizard eater that won't eat an anole, try a house gecko or skink. If you have a snake that eats rodents but won't eat the small rat, try a large mouse, or vice-versa or other types of rodents such as hamsters, gerbils or soft furred rats.

Second, A snake that is stressed out will probably not feed. Wild caught snakes especially suffer exceptional amounts of stress by the time they reach their final destination. Be sure to provide several hide boxes. Do not handle the animal excessively until it feeds well. In some cases, we do not even sex them until they feed regularly. Other factors that can contribute to stress are disease, incorrect housing (i.e temperature, humidity) and even intimidating prey items. Don't try to feed a snake a rat that should only eat a mouse; or for that matter, even the color of the prey may be the issue. We've had several Ball Pythons that would not eat white rats, but would eagerly consume brown and black rats. Any of these factors could cause undue stress and keep your snake from feeding.

Third, Are you feeding them when they naturally hunt? Many species are nocturnal predators and may completely ignore food during the day, leading you to believe that they don't want it. We also recommend feeding your snake outside of it's main enclosure in a separate container, preferably a dark one.

Fourth, Make sure your animal is hydrated. Not all snakes will immediately drink from a water dish and will only drink droplets off of artificial plants or the side of the cage or coils. Also, by increasing the frequency of misting, you may be replicating a natural seasonal change in rainfall. This seasonal change may be when some species are active and more likely to feed. This applies to many species from tropical climates.

With the previous issues addressed, if your snake still refuses to feed, the following are some more hands on techniques that just may do the job:

Scent transfer

If you have a snake that naturally eats lizards, but because of convenience, you want to feed it rodents; it is possible to coax a snake to except a different type of prey by transferring the scent of it's natural prey to the desired food. Natural prey items may be anything from lizards, snakes, frogs, birds and fish. To transfer the scent of any of these foods you can use the animal itself, bedding, a shed skin or scale or even it's blood or waste. Keep in mind that many diseases and parasites can be passed by bodily fluids.

To properly transfer the scent of the natural prey to the desired prey (normally a rodent), start by washing the desired prey with luke warm water. Once it has been well rinsed, make sure it is dry and place the desired prey in a deli cup with the natural prey or part thereof. A little bit of moisture will aid in the transfer of scent from one to the other. Feel free to rub the two together if you want to. Many reptiles have an extraordinary sense of smell, so the transfer should not take long and requires minimal effort on your behalf. When you feel the desired scent is strong enough, introduce the prey to the snake, perhaps even in a dark, separate feeding container.

Body heating

This technique is only going to be effective in boids and pit-vipers, as they are the only ones that see body heat and naturally incorporate their sense of body heat into their hunting. This may cause problems for some keepers as many of us use pre-killed, frozen/thawed rodents that produce no heat.

The safest way to provide body heat to a dead prey item is place it in a plastic zip lock or sandwich bag in a container of luke warm to hot water for 5 to 10 minutes so the temperatures are about the same. Another way is to thaw/heat the food on or near a heat source, such as the dome of a heat light.

Remember, don't cook it. You simply want to heat it slightly. NEVER thaw food in the microwave, as this breaks down the liver of the prey item and releases toxins into the food that can be very dangerous to your reptile. Let prey thaw naturally or in hot water.

Animation

Many snakes hunt by smell and movement, however, many keepers feed their snakes frozen, thawed food and simply place it in the enclosure with the snake. Animation is the act of making the prey appear alive by moving it with a tweezers or forceps on your behalf. It is just short of tease feeding as it should not come in contact with the snake unless the snake strikes at it. Tease feeding can be stressful to an already stressed snake. This technique is not as stressful and should be used before you try tease feeding.

Scent transfers can also be used in combination with this.

Tease Feeding

Grasping the prey item (preferably dead) with a forceps, gently tap the snake around the mouth, head and body. Hopefully the snake will become irritated and strike, hold and upon realizing a potential meal, will consume it. We have found that this works well with naturally aggressive snakes such as Gonyosoma, Pseustes, Boiga and several arboreal pythons and boas.

Scent transfers can also be used in combination with this.

Thirst Induced Feeding Response

Sometimes you can use an animal's thirst to cause them to feed. Upon feeding, we apply a few drops of water to the head and neck area of the prey and place it against the snakes mouth and apply a few more drops of water where the prey meets the snake's mouth. By introducing the prey to the snake with a few drops of water on it, many snakes will start swallowing the prey in an effort to drink more water.

Braining

Braining a prey item is not for everyone. It may be a little gross for some people. However, the results speak for themselves and is the technique we use the most. It tends to be most effective on colubrids, but has provided results with many others as well.

With a pre-killed prey item such as a pinky, mouse, lizard etc, using a sharp razor blade, simply slice off the skull cap and expose the brain matter and fluid. If you are a little squeamish, you may want to do this to a frozen prey item, as this will prevent blood and fluid from running.

Once the cut has been made, put the prey and the snake into a dark feeding container and leave them alone for about an hour before you check on them. The food can remain with the snake for 24 hrs. If this does not work the first time, don't be discouraged. Try again in a few days.

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