How To Meet The Nutritional Needs of Your Snake

Posted on
May 31, 2019

While most dogs and cats have similar nutritional needs to humans, reptiles — including snakes — have quite a different process of digestion, meaning that us humans can sometimes be unsure of what exactly to feed our scaly friends. Although the stereotypical snake diet is those little frozen baby mice, every species of snake has different needs. However, there is one thing you can know for sure: all snakes are carnivores.

What Should I Feed My Snake?

It’s well known that snakes swallow their prey whole, and for most snakes, their prey provides all the nutrition they need. The most popular pet snakes eat an assortment of rats, mice, gerbils, or hamsters. The larger snakes may even eat rabbits. Make sure to do some research about your specific snake species to be certain that you can handle the feeding responsibilities before you make a purchase.


While you can technically feed your snake live prey, like live infant mice that are often used for younger snakes, it is highly recommended that you use frozen or freshly killed prey. You can find these easily at your local pet store. Using live prey can present a couple issues, both for the prey, and surprisingly, for your snake. The prey will of course experience psychological terror before it is eaten, and even a mouse can potentially kill a snake, or at the very least severely injure it.


To make life easier for you, make sure that your snake is trained to eat dead prey before you purchase them. Perhaps you already have a snake that’s not accustomed to frozen prey — in that case, there are several steps you can take to make the dead prey more appetizing. If you are insistent on feeding your snake live prey, make sure that the snake is quite hungry and will kill the prey quickly. Watch until you are sure that the prey is dead, and never leave your snake alone with live prey.


baby mice
Baby mice are commonly used as snake food, but if you have qualms with this, there are snakes with alternative diets


Naturally, some people don’t wish to feed a baby mammal to their pet every day, whether this is out of a fear of rodents or a moral sense of wrongdoing. Don’t worry! Even if this describes you, it’s still possible for you to be a snake owner. Many snakes even prefer insects, eggs, fish, amphibians, and earthworms or slugs to small mammals. Here are some snakes that are appropriate for inexperienced owners, but still don’t enjoy a diet of mammals.


garter snake
These little cuties aren’t picky about their food. Image courtesy of Havahart

Garter Snake

There are plenty of these little guys cavorting around in the wild, so chances are you’ve run into one before. Perhaps they’re so successful in the wild because of their widely varied and extremely adaptable diet. While they can take on rodents, they also eat a variety of other creatures, including insects, frogs, tadpoles, lizards, earthworms, and fish. However, you have to be careful — rodents provide all the nutrients your snake needs, but their diet must be varied if you plan to use the other foods.

green snake
The green color that gives this snake its name is meant to provide camouflage against vegetation. Image courtesy of Snake Facts on Weebly

Green Snake

This type of snake is divided into two closely-related species: rough and smooth. Rough green snakes are larger and will need more space, but they both eat insects. More specifically, they tend to favor spiders, crickets, caterpillars, beetle larvae, and moths. Though these snakes are perfect for those who are not a fan of mammal feeding, they’re most appropriate for intermediate to advanced snake owners since most are wild-caught, making them difficult to tame and meaning that they may have problems with stress and disease.


egg-eating snake
These snakes swallow quail's eggs whole. Image courtesy of Snake Discovery on Youtube

African Egg-Eating Snake

As a small, easy-going snake, this makes a perfect pet for beginners who are a bit squeamish about rodent feeding. Adult snakes are preferable, since it is difficult to find eggs small enough for babies, and they eat quail’s eggs, generally on the smaller side. Fresh eggs are always best, but most snakes will accept refrigerated ones if they have been warmed. Don’t even worry about taking the shell off — although these snakes don’t have teeth, the egg is punctured within their throat, allowing them to regurgitate the shell. Even though this snake is quite a convenient pet, they can be somewhat hard to find in North America, since almost all pet snakes are imported from Africa.

When Should I Feed My Snake?

This can depend on a variety of factors, including type of food, the size and age of your snake, and its general behavior pattern. Like humans, snakes like to have regularly scheduled eating times, and your snake will let you know when they like to be fed through their reactions to your feeding attempts. All I can say is do you research, listen to your vet, and don’t be afraid to take a trip to your vet’s office if your snake refuses to eat for an extended period of time.

Should I give my snake supplements?

For most snakes, the answer is a resounding no. If you’re feeding your snake rodents that have been well-fed themselves, these will give your snake all the nutrients it requires. If you’re feeding your scaly friend other foods, as long as the diet is varied enough, nutrition should not be a problem. However, there are some other aspects to consider when feeding your snake.

sunrise
Snakes are ectotherms, meaning that their body temperature depends on their environment.

Temperature

Perhaps you’ve come across a snake sunning itself on a rock, or even on the road. Chances are, it was just trying to digest its latest meal. Snakes require high temperatures in order to properly digest and metabolize food. Otherwise, the food can rot in their gut and cause health problems. However, it’s also easy for these animals to overheat and become dehydrated, so you don’t want to heat the entire enclosure. Research your snake’s preferred temperatures, and make sure that they have both a hot spot to warm up and a cool spot to which they can retreat if they begin to overheat.

Calcium

Calcium deficiency is a relatively common problem in reptiles, especially in breeding females who use calcium to produce eggs. However, finding the correct balance of calcium can be difficult, as too much can inhibit digestion of important nutrients and potentially calcify internal organs. Your snake probably does not need extra calcium outside of their regular diet, unless they happen to be a breeding female. In that case, ask your vet about the dosage and timing of a calcium supplement.

Vitamin D3

Because most reptiles are kept indoors, it can be difficult for them to get vitamin D3, which is synthesized when a reptile’s skin absorbs ultraviolet rays. If you’re feeding your snake whole vertebrates, you don’t have to worry about this, but otherwise you should probably provide a UVB-producing bulb for your scaly friend. These lights produce less and less UVB over time, so make sure you have a meter on hand so that you know when it should be replaced. Before you get one of these bulbs, make sure that your snake actually needs it — an excess of vitamin D3 can cause toxicity, which can be fatal.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important to reptiles in that it keeps their skin and eyes healthy. Deficiency is more common than you might think and can cause shedding problems and eye problems. You don’t have to be as careful with this one as you do with calcium and vitamin D3 because while deficiency is common, toxicity is rare. However, as always, ask your vet before making any changes to your snake’s diet.


snake bathing in water dish
Many snakes enjoy a nice, cool bath in their water dish. Image courtesy of PetMD

What’s The Deal With Water?

Although many snakes are great at conserving water, it’s a good idea to provide your scaly friend with a good-sized water dish. Not only will your snake drink from this dish, it will also maintain proper humidity, and some snakes enjoy soaking in their water dish. It’s likely that they will also use it as a bathroom — bed, bath, and beyond — so wash, disinfect, and provide fresh water frequently.


Reptile health can be somewhat complicated, and it’s important to ask your vet if you notice anything unusual or want to make a change that you think would make your scaly friend’s life better. Above all, do you research — each and every species of snake has different wants and needs, and you want to make sure that your snake is as healthy and happy as it can be. It’s likely that your snake’s diet need not be all that complicated, so don’t be intimidated by snake nutrition. A little time and effort is all that is needed to allow your snake to live a long and happy life.


Posted on
July 10, 2019
in
Advice
category