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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Issue 3   
February, 2005
In this Issue

There are several options to consider when feeding snakes, so some choices will need to be made. You can use live food animals or dead food that's either fresh or frozen, and you can purchase "feeder" rodents (the preferred food) in all the various forms or breed your own. We'll be looking at what's involved with each method so you'll be able to decide what's best for you.


Some people give their snakes food animals that are still alive and let the snake take it from there. If you plan to feed your snake live food, you will either need a reliable source close by where you can purchase the proper size food animals when you need them, or you can breed your own. Whether you go to one of your local pet stores or somewhere else to pick up feeders or breeding stock, when you're there look at the rodent cages carefully. Do the animals all look vigorous and healthy? Do the cages smell excessively? Is there appropriate food and clean water available in each cage? As the saying goes, "You are what you eat," and that applies to snakes in the same way as it does to humans. You should feed only healthy, well-nourished food animals to your snakes. Don't use rodents from a breeder that habitually neglects the basic care and cleaning of the animal cages. And, obviously, you shouldn't use a food animal that looks like it might be sick. Rodents that are underweight, have thinning or matted hair, crusty eyes, are sneezing, wheezing, or have a nasal discharge should be avoided.

Purchasing Live Feeders

One problem you may run into when purchasing live food animals to feed your snake is not being able to find the correct size when you need it. Here's what can happen when trying to buy live feeders.

Your prized serpent has just shed its skin, and it's hungry. With shiny, new scales it crawls around the cage, pushing its nose into all the corners, searching everywhere for a meal. So you get out the yellow pages and call the local pet shops, looking for a good meal to settle down your pet. With cash in hand, you make the drive down to the busy part of town. Unfortunately, when you get there you may find out that your idea of a 3-inch-long mouse is not the same as what the store clerk had in mind when you called. His feeders are all much too small. Now you have a decision to make. You can try another pet store and possibly still not get what you want, or you can buy several of the too-small mice where you're at. That, of course, will cost more than buying one 3-inch mouse, and even several smaller feeders may not really be an adequate meal for your snake. Well, you get the idea.

Most of us who have kept snakes for years have run into this, but it may not be a problem for you, at least not at first. You may live near a reliable food source or need to make regular trips near there anyway. If you don't mind going out regularly to buy snake food, this method could work okay.

Keeping/Breeding Your Own Feeders

Rodents generally breed readily, so this is a viable option. There is some expense involved for proper food and bedding material, as well as the initial purchase of cages and water bottles. Also, there is daily maintenance to be done. Rodents consume lots of food and water, so both need to be replenished regularly. Their bedding becomes soiled quickly and it, too, needs frequent attention to keep bad odors to a minimum. This means that it takes more time and effort to care for rodents than it takes to care for your snakes. If you enjoy working with rodents, then this can be an enjoyable part of the whole process. If you can't deal with the smell or don't like to do the frequent cage maintenance that's required, you may not want to take on the responsibility.

Risks Of Using live Feeders

There are some risks associated with feeding a live animal to a snake. When a live mouse, for instance, is dropped into a snake's cage, it soon realizes that it's in danger and nervously scurries about looking for a place to hide. When the snake gets into position and strikes at the mouse, usually the quick little rodent attempts to jump out of the way. (Who could blame it?) This sometimes causes the snake to miss, and the snake may smash its nose into the cage wall as a result. If this happens with sufficient force or enough times, blunt trauma injuries can occur. Damaged tissues in the snake's nose and mouth will swell and can become infected. If left untreated, this could result in the death of the snake.

Now let's consider what can happen once the snake makes a successful grab of the rodent. Most common captive snakes are constrictors and at this point will quickly wrap their body around the food animal to suffocate it. Milksnakes, king snakes, rat snakes, gopher snakes, boas and pythons, among others, are all constrictors. It's an efficient way of killing food, but that doesn't mean it's without risk. In the struggle before the rodent is fully under control, a snake can be bitten or scratched -- even lose an eye. Any wound is an opportunity for infection to take hold and sicken your snake or worse.

If injuries heal without complications, significant scars can still be left behind. A small, but noticeable, scar on an otherwise flawless specimen reduces its value and reminds you of the unfortunate incident every time you see it. Obviously, this would go against my objective of helping you get maximum enjoyment from your snake collection.

Another unfortunate possibility that I need to mention is that once a snake has been injured by its food animal, that event can turn what was once an aggressive feeder into a finicky, shy snake that's reluctant to eat. Some will never again eat the particular type of food animal that once injured them. This can be a major inconvenience for the keeper. If the snake was injured by a large rat (its normal food) and now it won't eat rats, the snake owner may have to resort to feeding many adult mice per meal to make up the volume of food the snake requires. Someone I know has a Reticulated python, Python reticulatus, which was bitten by a rat, and now that snake requires a dozen mice or more per meal because it won't eat rats!

There are also a couple of concerns involving the safety of the keeper when using live feeders. Since feeder rodents generally haven't been raised as pets, many aren't very tame; and they can be aggressive, especially when they're nervous (like when being put into a snake's cage). You can try to keep your hand away from the rodent's mouth and claws by grabbing it's tail instead, but they can be very difficult to catch by the tail as they run around their cage. When a person gets bitten or scratched by a rodent, the wound should be washed and disinfected, just like if it happens to a snake, because rodents often carry infectious bacteria.

Also, many of my friends swear that their snakes are less aggressive when fed a regular diet of dead food, as opposed to live. Presumably a snake may lose an "edge" when not required to kill its own food. Some of these people have snakes that are more than 15 feet long, and upwards of 150 pounds. For some reason they feel that a calmer snake is a goal worth pursuing!

Extract from "Snake Keeping - Proven Techniques Everyone Can Use" by Barry Neilsen

Next Issue: DEAD FOOD


The previous articles on cleaning can be found at

It is important to understand the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning is the washing and removal of waste materials and unwanted matter. Disinfecting is the process of killing harmful bacteria, fungi and removing or minimizing viruses. Cleaned surfaces can still have disease causing bacteria and other harmful agents.

You also need to ensure that the disinfectant is strong enough to kill harmful bacteria and yet be safe enough for your herp.

It is important to use reptile-safe products per instruction and to thoroughly rinse disinfected items after they have been treated.

As reptiles are sensitive to fumes (this applies to humans as well) keep your reptile in another room while disinfecting their enclosure. Most of the disinfecting products will produces fumes so treat the cage materials in a well ventilated area (open the windows if you have them) and use gloves and even safety goggles.

You should clean the area thoroughly before disinfecting to remove soiled matter and allow the disinfectant to work more effectively.

Disinfectants should be given adequate time to work so allow at least 10 minutes of contact with the disinfectant.

Thoroughly rinse and dry all items are before reassembling or placing them back in the habitat.

Household bleach is one of the most inexpensive and readily available disinfectants. You can make a disinfecting bleach solution by mixing 1 part bleach to 16 parts water (or 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water). Apply this bleach solution to the cleaned cage, decorations, and accessories for 5-10 minutes then rinse thoroughly with clean water.


IGUANA CAGE PLANS COMING!! will be launching within the coming weeks.

The plans are made by Keith Van Zile, a recognized cage maker with many years experience and a wealth of knowledge about keeping Iguanas. It has taken some considerable time to develop Keith's Plans into an eBook and compile all of the necessary information. These cages are fabulous and could be easily adapted to large snakes, other lizards and arboreal species.

inddor iguana cage
indoor iguana cage
Tell Us What You Think!!

We would love to hear what you think of this issue of Keeping Reptiles. And of course, if you have any suggestions for upcoming issues that you'd like to share with us, please send those, too! Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans


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