Occasionally, owners encounter feeding problems with their pet snakes (especially ball python owners but problems can happen with any snake). The most common feeding problem is when a captive snake doesn't want to strike and eat pre-killed (frozen or fresh) food items like mice and rats. Feeding pre-killed prey is recommended for the safety of the snake but sometimes snakes are reluctant to take pre-killed prey, especially if the snake is wild caught or is being offered a prey item it has never eaten before.
Thankfully, there are several ways you can try to entice a reluctant snake to take a frozen mouse or other pre-killed prey item. Some tried and true methods to get your snake to eat include:
- Make sure the frozen mouse (or other pre-killed prey item) is warmed to at least room temperature. Thaw frozen prey in the refrigerator in a bag or in cold water by floating it and then place it in warm water just before feeding to warm it up for your snake. Never use the microwave to thaw frozen prey. Burns may result due to uneven heating of the prey or your prey may explode during the process of heating.
- Use feeding forceps and not your hand to present the thawed and warmed prey to your snake. The forceps will help keep your snake from associating your hand with food. The forceps will also allow you to wiggle the prey item to mimic live motion which often elicits a strike from the snake.
- Dip the thawed prey in sodium-free chicken broth. The scent of chicken broth appeals to some snakes and may encourage a strike.
- If you are attempting to feed your snake a new kind of food, rub the prey item with another favorite food that your snake is familiar with. For example, if your snake likes chicks but won't take mice, rub a chick on a pre-killed mouse and then attempt to feed it. The familiar scent of a favorite food may trick the snake into taking the new item.
- Try a different color of the prey item if there are some available. If you tried a white mouse without success try a multi-colored or dark-colored mouse since some snakes seem to balk at albino mice.
- Although it seems a little gross, the scent of brain matter is particularly effective at stimulating the feeding response in pet snakes therefore exposing the prey's brain or at the very least cutting the prey open to expose blood may help.
- If your snake is reluctant to take mice or rats you can try gerbils. Although this can get expensive, some snakes that don't take pre-killed mice happily take pre-killed gerbils. You can also try hamsters or other kinds of rodents as prey, provided you stick to appropriately sized items.
- Place your snake in a small enclosure used only during feeding time. This should be in a quiet place. Give your snake some privacy while it feeds.
- Feed your snake night and cover the tank. You can also provide a dark hide box for your snake since some prefer to eat in a secluded spot.
- Try a different size of prey. Maybe your snake would prefer their prey be slightly smaller or larger than what you are offering. Pinkies and fuzzies are good small prey options.
- Make sure your snake isn't about to shed. If your snake appears lighter or more dull than usual and their eyes are a milky blue than they may be about to shed. Most snakes that are about to or actively shedding will not eat.
- Check the temperatures in your snake's enclosure. If your snake is too cold their metabolism will slow down and your snake may not eat.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT