Snakes are ferocious hunters, usually eating anything small enough they can swallow. For the average snake living on a forest floor or in the wild, usually these are birds, rats, mice or other small rodents. Large pythons have been known to eat small mammals or other large reptiles, like deer or crocodile! However, in captivity, snakes do best when eating live or thawed mice and rats. Rodents meet all of a snakes nutritional requirement, so this is the only thing they require eating to stay healthy and happy. Rodents can be bought live, or arrive frozen which will need to be thawed for your snake to eat. If you have more than one snake to feed, it is usually more cost effective to breed your own source of mice to save on money.
If you are against feeding your snake live mice, you should consider this is the snake’s natural diet and is just the circle of life. While it is okay to feed your snake a combination of insects, grubs, fish, and other prey to give them nutrition, many owners will find that mice are usually the most efficient way to feed their pet snake.
Live vs. Frozen
Many snake owners prefer to provide live mice as the best option to feed their pets, but this usually comes with a number of headaches. While giving your snake live mice best replicates the hunting patterns found in nature, and are thought to be a better way at keeping your snake happy, this will require frequent trips to the pet store.
Also if you place your live mouse in your snake’s cage while your snake isn’t in the mood to eat, this presents unnecessary trauma for the mouse, and you will need to keep the mouse alive until you can try feeding it again. It should be removed no more than 10 minutes after putting the rodent in your snake’s cage if your snake does not want it. Any longer than that and the mouse can scratch or bite the snake in an attempt to save itself.
Most new owners usually opt for feeding their snake a pre-frozen mouse or rat, as this is definitely the more convenient and safer option for the snake to eat. It may take some adjustment time if your snake is used to eating live mice, but frozen mice can be purchased online or in stores and kept for a very long time. They just need to be thawed before your snake can eat it. It is advisable to start a young snake out on live mice and then work your way to thawed mice.
The size of your snake should determine the size of the mouse you feed it. There are a few different categories of mice:
- Pinkies: baby mice, called “pinkies” because they are pink from not having grown any fur yet. For the smallest baby snakes, you can purchase pinkie parts.
- Fuzzies: baby mice that have just grown the first signs of fur. They’re for smaller snakes or baby large snakes, such as boas or pythons.
- Hoppers: These are adult mice, sufficient for most adult snakes.
- Rat pups and large rats: these are the largest prey available. Rats can get pretty large; the larger the snake, the larger the rat.
How To Feed Your Pet Snake
You need to prepare the food properly. If your snake is young and you’re ready to move on from feeding live mice to it, there is a bit more preparation when feeding dead mice to your snake.
Frozen mice need to be thawed, which can take anywhere between 15 minutes and a few hours. After your mouse is thawed, you will need to heat it to the proper temperature so your snake can sense it. Snakes hunt by infrared, so if your mouse is too cold they will be less interested in it as they like “fresh” prey. You can use a heating pad, or put the mouse in a bag into some hot water to get it to body temperature. Never use a microwave or oven as this can cause it to explode.
Once you have your mouse ready to feed, offer it to your snake. Different snakes like different ways of their food being presented to them. Some like you to leave it on the floor of their cage and let them strike and then eat it in peace. Others like you to dangle it in the air as they sense it and then they will eat it. If you are going to dangle it, it is recommended to use tweezers so your snake does not accidentally bite you. Some snakes eat their food quickly, others (like the ball python) require you to leave the dead food in the cage overnight. Usually, you can leave the mouse out thawed for 8 hours or so. If your snake has not eaten, it can be refrozen once. After it thaws a second time, I consider it spoiled if it has been left out unconsumed, and it should not be fed to your snake.
In general, baby snakes only need to eat about once per week. As a snake gets older, it needs to eat less frequent, but the meal should be larger. In the wild, some snakes can go months without eating. Be sure to read about each breed’s specific feeding advice, to find out the optimal schedule.
Each morning and evening I check in on each snake, change their water, check the temps and humidity, and do a quick pickup cleaning of their cage. This quick maintenance only takes a minute and does a few things. It allows your snake to get used to you being near it (it can smell you), lets your snake live in a cleaner environment (preventing disease etc.) and lets the snake know that you are caring for it, hopefully forming a bond with your animal.
You should also perform deeper weekly maintenance to make sure you get any fecal matter that may be underneath your substrate, clean any bacteria out of the water bowls, and make sure your snake gets used to you taking it out of the enclosure. It is absolutely recommended you handle your snake at least once a week, for 10-30 minutes.
Next Section: Common Types of Pet Snakes