For new snake owners, the shedding process can be a stressful one, especially when it comes to feeding! As a snake sheds its skin, its behavior can temporarily change, and in many cases, your snake will not want to feed during this process. However, some snakes will feed during shedding, but is it safe to do so?
While you can feed a snake while it is shedding, feeding live food during shedding can be dangerous since a snake’s senses are dimmed by the shedding process, and so a live animal could injure a snake while it is vulnerable. Most snakes will avoid food during this period.
Let’s take a look at how shedding affects the way a snake eats, and what you should know about your snake’s eating habits during this process.
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Feeding a Snake during Shedding can be Dangerous
Shedding is an essential part of a snake’s life cycle. It allows your snake to grow and maintain the health of its scales. And yes, your snake will keep growing and shedding regardless of the size of its tank!
Younger snakes shed more often as they grow, but even adult snakes can shed as much as once a month, with some species shedding about once or twice a year.
In the wild, the shedding process halts everything. The snake will often not feed or mate during a shed, focussing on the complete removal of its dead skin before all else.
So naturally, eating while shedding is not what snakes do – that’s why it can be dangerous – but we’ll come to that in a second.
It should be said here that I’m talking about active shedding. This is when the skin starts to peel away and doesn’t include the period leading up to this as the new layer of scales grows underneath.
In captivity, feeding while shedding takes on a different perspective, so the considerations are very different depending on your snake’s environment.
Feeding and Shedding in the Wild
In the wild, snakes feed on all sorts of animals, even other snakes. These animals can be potentially deadly if the snake makes the wrong move. Rodents, for example, have claws that could pierce the eye scale (known as a brille) of a snake or injure its mouth.
Snakes hyperfocus on their food, giving all of their attention and senses to the moment when the snake strikes. Shedding can interrupt this focus.
Shedding affects a snake’s dexterity and vision, and so it’s more likely to make a mistake during a prey encounter. For this reason, snakes avoid feeding during a shed because usually easy-to-control prey becomes potentially dangerous.
Snakes will feed while shedding in the wild if they are starving, however, but usually only in desperate circumstances.
Shedding and Feeding in Captivity
In captivity, the usual dangers of eating during a shed are largely removed. The reason for this is that most snakes are given food that has been euthanized. A thawed-out dead mouse isn’t liable to scratch your eye!
Most snakes still have the instinct to avoid food during a shed for fear of injury, but some will indeed feed, regardless. This seems to be either a mutation or learned behavior that differs from snakes in the wild. More study is required to fully understand this.
How do I know if My Snake Will Eat While Shedding?
The proof is in the eating! The only way you’ll know is by offering your snake food during this period.
Should I be Worried if My Snake Doesn’t Feed During a Shed?
It’s perfectly normal for a snake to stop feeding during a shed. Even if your snake feeds once every two weeks, a shed can put feeding off for another week on top of that, depending on when the shed started.
When is the Best Time to Feed a Snake During Shedding?
Most snakes begin their shed by rubbing their mouths against rough objects. This helps break the layer of dead skin.
Once this is achieved, the snake moves its head around, coiling and rubbing against the ground, wood, and rocks, until the split in the skin rolls up over the face.
Check out this excellent video of a python shedding its skin:
It’s not advisable to try feeding until the shed has cleared the mouth at least. Dead skin around the mouth can cause irritation, and so feeding is less likely to take place during this phase.
More blood than usual is also pumped to the head during this process, which can result in occasional cuts or bleeding during the shed. This shouldn’t be too pronounced, but it might be enough to put your snake off of its food!
Many snake owners report that they are able to feed their pets before the brille scales come off over the eyes, even when cloudy.
However, while vision is a secondary sense for snakes, they are still less likely to feed if the shed is coming off at the eye, making their already poor vision worse.
The best time to try a feed during shedding, therefore, is when the skin has cleared both the mouth and eyes.
How to Feed a Snake During Shedding
If you are worried about your snake’s weight or health, then feeding during shedding is definitely worth a try. Here are some tips on how best to proceed:
- Choose a euthanized food you know your snake usually eats.
- Offer food only if it fits in with your feeding schedule. If your snake eats every 10 days, for example, then only offer food when you normally would on that 10th day.
- Don’t leave food in the tank for too long as it will start to decompose. 12 hours is about the most that you should leave food in an enclosure. Usually a snake will feed within an hour of the food being left.
- Try again the next day if your snake won’t feed during its shed, but don’t overdo it. Your constant placing and removing of food could stress the animal, especially if this is different from how you normally provide food.
- Place thawed food in a plastic bag and then in warm water to ensure the item is ‘warm-blooded’. Remove the food from its bag and place in the enclosure. The heat will attract your snake.
- DO NOT hand feed. Hand feeding is a bad idea at the best of times as it can cause feeding issues, but during shedding you could damage your snake’s skin.
- Keep everything calm around your snake. A calm snake is a happy snake, and a happy snake is more likely to eat!
I hope this article helped you. Feeding a snake while shedding isn’t usually necessary, but some snakes will be more amenable to it than others. Give it a try and please do let me know how you get on in the comments below.