So, you’re interested in getting a pet snake, but you don’t even know where to start when thinking about feeding them? Do I need to feed them live prey? If not live, how do I find dead prey? How much water do they need? How often do I feed them?
Some of these feeding questions may be more anxiety inducing than having a slithering reptile to start with! In reality, once you know what food your snake prefers, the actual process and timing of feedings becomes relatively easy.
The first thing you need to know about snakes is that they can afford to be methodical in their food making decisions. Since snakes do not eat daily, in the wild, they would have the time necessary to be choosy in finding their prey and making the kill. Therefore, captive snakes can carry over this methodical behavior in accepting and refusing offered food as well. (The most important consideration being the size of the food- your snake is not going to choose a prey that is too large to ingest, as they swallow their meals whole.)
When it comes to size, obviously meal size is going to correlate with reptile size. A larger snake, simply, is going to require more sustenance than a smaller snake. Because of this, feeder animals can be bought in a variety of sizes. The most common food source for snakes will be rats or mice. The sizes are actually the age of the rat or mouse and include:
- Small Pinky
- Peach Fuzzy
As you can guess, Pinky, means hairless and is only a day old, and they come in a variety of sizes and stages of development to accommodate a variety of snake sizes, species, and ages. In addition to mice and rats, day old chicks can also be offered as food to your reptile as a special treat!
Another thing to consider when making food preparations is that, generally, snakes only eat once every seven to ten days. Because snakes are cold blooded animals, they do not require as much nutrition as mammals who have to deal with maintaining a steady body temperature. They swallow their prey whole (bones and all!) and digest it slowly over a period of days. Of course, younger, developing snakes, like children, will require smaller, more frequent meals to aid in their growth and development.
When it comes to the actual feeding process, it comes highly recommended, both in practicality and for ethical reasons, that one feeds their snake with pre killed frozed (and subsequently thawed and warmed) prey. The most obvious reason for this is because if the snake is not able to capture and consume its prey on first attack, one runs the risk of the prey injuring the snake. Injury and sores can cause infection and sickness in your pet, and that is best to be avoided. The ethical reason for this decision, for some, is the pain caused to the prey to place it in a position where it is unable to escape. Although this is the circle of life, and an important part of a snake’s diet, in the wild, your prey will have had an opportunity for escape and self preservation.
When choosing proper feeder mice or chicks for your snake, it is important to purchase from a reputable source that guarantees health, humanely killed, feeder foods. (Feeder mice are generally gassed quickly and as painlessly as possible shortly after birth, and this is recognized as the safest and most humane way to kill the animals that will be fed to your snake.)
Food is generally best severed dangled from tongs to your snake. This dangling of food mimics the natural behavior of catching prey as the snake sees its prey moving and can instinctively attack its food like its wild prey. Rarely, a snake will be content with having its food placed in its habitat for later consumption, but this is not as common.
Also, make sure to keep clean fresh water in the habitat at all times. While the snake doesn’t need to eat often, it DOES need access to water.
Feeding a snake is not hard and should not be a deterrent to snake ownership. Once you get in the routine and get used to thinking of mice as food and not cute furry little mammals, it is easy to adjust and know you are providing your pet the best and most natural food and feeding experience.
Best of luck with your new pet snake!