Guest Author - Peyton Creadick
There are many sites on the internet giving advice on the best way to feed a snake. For those looking for help in this department, I’ve put together a two article series. The majority of this article is written in a FAQ-like format for easy reference. Part I features advice on how much to feed, as well as prey information, and advice regarding live and pre-killed prey. Part II features advice on changing from live to dead prey, weighing your snake, how to tell if your snake is fat and what to do, and advice on dealing with fasting.
How Often Should You Feed Your Snake?
You will need to look up information on your particular snake. Keep in mind that the younger they are, the more often they will eat. Regardless of how often you feed, after feeding you should leave the snake alone for 24 hours. It needs to digest its food, and it may become aggressive during this time.
Prey Sizes – Determing the correct size – Smaller is better. Generally, prey items should not be much larger than the size of the animal's head. This is especially important with smaller snakes such as ball pythons, kingsnakes, corn snakes, and small boas (anything under 7-8 feet) whose bodies are less girthy. With larger snakes the body is often considerably wider than the head (note the Anaconda as an extreme example). Use good judgement. That 5 foot redtail boa can eat that large adult rat, but should it? Smaller prey is digested better, easier to swallow, and safer (especially if feeding live). That isn't to say you should feed a 10 foot boa small rats, but you shouldn't feed it eight pound rabbits either. The most often incorrectly fed snakes I've encountered are ball pythons, common boas, and red tail boas.
Hatchlings should be converted to fuzzies as soon as they are large enough. Nutritional problems and nutrition-related disease more often occur in young snakes fed very immature prey items. If you're dealing with a large snake, a prey item should absolutely be no bigger than the widest point of the snake.
Prey Types – Mice, rats, gerbils (ball python favorite especially if the python is wild caught), hamsters, guinea pigs, bunnies, chicks (keep in mind the previous notes regarding health issues related to feeding immature prey).
Prey Health – Make sure prey items are fat and healthy. If a pinky has a white area of the belly, you know it was eating before it died or was frozen. A thin pinky is worth less to the snake as is a thin or sick mouse/rat/etc.
Symptoms of Oversized Prey – The snake may have a pink belly. This is indicative of blood in the belly scales, but this may also be evidence of an infection. If your prey items are not oversized, please take your snake to a qualified reptile vet.
Live vs. Pre-Killed:
During college, I often met men who enjoyed watching the cycle of life. A snake taking down a large prey item somehow boosted the ego of the owner. I, too, find it more interesting to watch a snake eat live prey. BUT, the owner’s preference or desire should not be placed above what is best for the snake. In addition to oversized prey causing bleeding into the belly scales and potential internal damage (tearing), most prey items (with the exception of pinkies and fuzzies) have the ability to severely damage a snake.
If the snake does not eat the prey quickly, remove it. If you leave the prey item, and it grows hungry, it can and will take pieces of your snake to feed itself or if the snake makes the prey item feel threatened, it may attack the snake. The feeding response is also less likely to be triggered if the snake acclimates to the rodent in its cage. It may never eat that animal.
Pre-Killed is always best except with hatchlings. They often find live pinkies easier to swallow. The pink cannot injure them either. If you have a wild caught snake or have adopted a snake who refuses pre-killed prey, be very attentive during feeding. Rodents BITE and biting can continue INSIDE the snake if the prey item was not killed completely before the snake began to swallow.