Most snake owners know that their pets refuse food for some period of their lives, but sometimes the reason is hidden and unknown. You may be surprised to discover that there is a list of at least 25 reasons why your snake is getting skinny and concerned about how to help. Let’s see.
Food refusal is common for snakes, and they stop eating during brumation, gravidity, and shedding, and when they are old, ill, or injured. Wrong prey type, temperature, and size are reasons snakes refuse meals, as well as environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, hygiene, and noise.
This article aims to show you when to worry about your snake’s refusal to eat. It is vital to differentiate natural reasons for avoiding food from an issue.
Table of Contents
Reasons Why Your Snake Is Not Eating and Is Getting Skinny
A pet that refuses to eat is one of the worst concerns for every snake owner. Reasons can be numerous, and it is crucial to discover the cause and solve the problem promptly.
|Reason your snake is getting skinny||Symptoms||Ways to help|
|Prey||The snake is interested in food but refuses to eat or regurgitates it||Change a prey type|
|Feeding technique||The snake strikes prey but refuses to eat it||Check whether frozen prey is entirely thawed and warmed at 96 to 98 F (35.5 – 37 C)|
|Ovulation||Inverted laying, gaining weight, wrapping around the water bowl||Leave it alone until egg laying|
|Shedding||Pale skin, white or blue eye caps, rubbing a face against rough objects||Avoid handling and provide humidity of 50 to 60% and enough rough surfaces to rub against|
|Wrong enclosure||The snake constantly hides and can’t stretch out fully||Control temperature and humidity, change the substrate, and provide enough hiding places|
|Temperature||The snake is under a basking bulb in a cold environment or in a water bowl when it is overheated||Provide 75 to 92 F (24 – 33.3 C) in the terrarium|
|Season||The snake refuses food in the winter when it is cold and can’t recognize daylight changes||A 12-hour on/off lighting schedule|
|Stress||Sudden changes in behavior||Identify and eliminate stress sources|
|Parasites||Wheezing, eye, nose, and mouth discharge, discolored or bloody feces, rapid weight loss, and lethargy||Take it to a vet immediately|
1. Improper prey
The rule of thumb is that snakes eat only prey they can recognize and like. Some opportunistic species will consume various prey types, but others insist on a specific dietary taste, and you can’t change that.
It is crucial to learn everything about your snake’s feeding habits. For instance, species that hunt for living prey won’t eat frozen food.
Ambush predators will refuse to touch prey when they don’t have adequate conditions for hunting and fulfill their snatching instincts.
Finally, ball pythons can be afraid of live prey after getting injured while trying to catch it. You can expect your snake to refuse to eat after such a horrifying experience.
2. Improper food presentation
This part is always tricky since snakes that prefer consuming live prey can refuse to try pre-killed or frozen food. The problem with prey found in nature is connected with parasites and possible infections.
Therefore, you should find a way to animate your reptile and imitate the prey’s moving to encourage it to adopt a new diet type.
3. New prey type
Some snakes, particularly ball pythons, often refuse to eat a newly introduced food type. As a result, your reptile pet may start a hunger strike.
You should be persistent and gradually introduce the new food within a few months until it becomes the only food provided.
4. Improper prey temperature
You can have an issue with a snake that eats only live food. A common reason is that some snakes can detect prey only when it is warmer than room temperature.
Introducing it to pre-killed and even frozen prey is possible, but snake instincts will prevent it from consuming too cold food.
The only solution is to thaw a meal in a fridge and heat it in a microwave to about 110 F (43.5 C) before offering it.
5. Incorrect prey size
Most snakes will refuse prey of inadequate size, particularly too sizable ones. For instance, they naturally know that too big mice can injure them and avoid such a meal.
Measuring the snake’s body middle and comparing it with prey size is recommended to determine the acceptable food type for each snake species.
6. Food is odorless
When your snake can’t recognize food by its smell, it will refuse to eat. If you feed your pet with frozen mice, never thaw them in hot water to prevent scent loss.
7. Picky eaters
It is common for hatchlings to be picky eaters, and the only thing to do is offer them adequate prey. It shouldn’t be frozen, too aggressive, or more than 1.5 times wider than the snake’s widest body part. Be aware that some snakes refuse to eat a particular food type.
8. Too frequent feedings
The snake will refuse to eat while digesting the previous meal. Always make a feeding schedule for your pet, depending on its species, and stick to it.
9. Feeding in a separate container
Removing snakes in a separate container for feeding can be stressful. Some will refuse to touch their prey when removed from the habitat they are used to.
10. Re-feeding syndrome
If your snake has refused to eat for a prolonged period, it is essential to let it rehydrate before offering it some food. Start feeding at low levels to prevent life-threatening hypophosphatemia and hypokalemia.
After checking other reasons for refusing food and the vet confirming your snake is healthy, you should consider your snake’s age. The fact is that older snakes eat less and can live for months without eating.
Most snakes refuse to eat when they are about to shed. You can do nothing for a week or two except wait for your pet to finish this natural process. Then, offer it some food about two days after shedding is over.
Brumation is a specific hibernation type in cold-blooded animals, including snakes. In that period, your reptile will become lethargic and probably refuse food to preserve necessary energy.
Be prepared that some snakes never enter this condition in captivity, particularly when the temperature in the terrarium is high enough.
However, most species will hibernate regardless of environmental conditions, thanks to their biological clock.
Gravid snakes and those prepared to lay eggs won’t eat in that sensitive period. Once your pet is ready to eat, it will show signs of hunting.
15. Wrong and messy enclosure
Snakes need a proper habitat to feel happy and comfortable. A messy terrarium is a stressor and can cause snakes to stop eating. The most common issues are:
- Inadequate substrate
- Inappropriate tank size
- Lack of hidden places
- Dirty environment
- Tank placed in a high-traffic area
16. Not enough hiding places
Some snakes are ambush predators and require hiding places in their terrarium to stalk prey. The lack of suitable sites will prevent natural pouncing on prey, stress, and consequent refusal to eat.
Snakes enjoy the heat and require temperatures of 88 to 92 F (31 – 33.3 C). When it drops below 75 F (24 C), you can expect your pet to refuse to eat.
The humidity level in the terrarium should be approximately 40% to 50%. Any deviation from that value will lead to eating disorders.
Snakes become anxious when exposed to too bright lighting that differs from their natural environment. They need to spend some time in the dark before eating and can detect prey by its body heat unrelated to lighting level.
Therefore, to bright environment won’t help them but can prevent regular food consumption.
20. Noise and vibrations
Snakes can hear without external ears, but they react to vibrations, thanks to the functional cochlea. This sensitive structure allows them to hear the prey getting close and localize the precise direction.
Interestingly, new searches from Kansas, the US, and Germany show that some snakes can hear with their jawbones. That way, they sense even the tiniest vibrations their preys make.
Noise, including loud music and shouting, bothers these reptiles. They can become worried about possible predators, causing stress.
21. Excessive handling after feeding
Thanks to their slow metabolism, snakes need time to digest food, so you should avoid handling your pet too quickly after feeding. It is vital to give it enough time for proper digestion, depending on your snake species.
Stress is a typical reason for snakes to stop eating, but also the least complicated to fix. Snakes stick to their habits, and any change can cause anxiety.
It will be enough to minimize handling and keep the environment clean and stable to make your pet happy.
Recognizing whether your snake suffers from short-lived acute stress or worrisome chronic stress is vital. The second one is a consequence of inadequate living conditions and almost always severely affects snakes’ eating habits.
Illness is a crucial reason for a snake to refuse to consume food. The most common diseases include:
- Painful mouth rot
- Viral or bacterial infection, particularly respiratory infections
- Parasites, including mites
- Intestinal parasites
- Intestinal blockage
- Dystocia (egg binding)
It is crucial to take your snake to the vet as soon as you notice other symptoms besides refusing food like:
- Stargazing syndrome
- Difficulty in breathing and mouth breathing
- Eye, mouth, or nose discharge
- Diarrhea and weight loss
- Lesions or lumps
- Physiological changes
This condition, similar to constipation in humans, results from accidental substrate consumption while catching or eating too big prey. Since this condition includes a lack of bowel movement, it requires immediate vet help.
Ways to encourage Feeding in Snakes
To sum up, you can help your snake with feeding by following feeding guidelines, including:
- Reduce reasons for stress
- Provide different prey and adjust it to your snake
- Experiment with presentation strategies, including wiggling the prey
- Try scent-transfer techniques
- Offer nutritional supplements
- Change the feeding time and frequency
- Try assisted feeding when necessary
- Check your husbandry protocol and change it if you find it inadequate
- Make necessary changes in your snake’s habitat
- Visit a vet
How do you know if your snake is too skinny?
You can be sure your snake is underweight when noticing visible spine and ribs, concave belly, and stretchy skin.
In such a case, changing feeding habits, improving environmental conditions, and taking it to the vet are crucial. Be careful not to mistake starvation for dehydration.