Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
  Issue 11 October 2007
My Snake won't eat, so now what? Part 1
In this Issue

by Barry Neilsen

"Anorexia" means an abnormal lack of appetite and is not a disease in and of itself, but it is an indicator that something may be wrong. This section will serve as a quick reference to help you identify what may be keeping a snake from eating.

If your snake was eating regularly but started refusing food for some reason that's not obvious (like it was bitten by a rat), then it's really just a matter of ruling out possibilities until the cause is found and rectified. It may be that an adjustment in the way you are keeping the snake is the only thing needed to get it to resume eating. It's best to check the simple things first and not let the fact that your snake refuses food stress you out too much.

The first step is to ensure that the snake is not in a preshed, opaque period, in which case it would be normal for the snake not to eat. The beginning of the cloudy phase of the skin can be quite subtle, especially if you happen to be dealing with a species unfamiliar to you. The pupil of the eye should look jet black if it's not cloudy, and you should be able to see a clear, well-defined line between the pupil and iris of the eyes. Also, look at the underbelly. Many snakes have light ventral scales with a darker pattern of some sort. It's sometimes easier to pick up the beginning changes of skin clouding where the color contrast of the pattern is greatest. If you're not sure, a couple of days wait would make the change look more dramatic.

A snake's behavior is very closely tied to its environment. It decides to eat or not to eat based upon, among other things, the stimuli it receives through its senses of smell and eyesight. If a disruptive stimulus is present in the snake's environment, even a healthy snake may refuse food. Some snakes seem to behave as if their actions are guided solely by their stomachs, and they may never refuse a suitable meal. However, for the snakes that are more easily distracted, even seemingly minor factors can make them feel unsafe or for some other reason cause them not to eat.

The first step in fixing a problem of this nature is to make sure that the following environmental factors are as they should be:

Adequate heat must be available, preferably with cooler and warmer areas (a thermal gradient) so the snake has a choice. A snake that cannot get its body temperature into the appropriate range will not be able to digest food normally. Being too warm or too cool is a stressful situation for a snake, and that can easily stop it from eating. I recommend using digital thermometers that have high/low memory and a remote probe to monitor your snake cages. They are available for under $25 and are well worth the investment. Accurate temperature measurements are the only way you will know for sure if you are providing the necessary level of heat to your pet snake.

Fresh water should be available and changed at least on a weekly basis or sooner if you see that it has become contaminated with feces or any other foreign matter. Be aware that the tap water in some homes is not fit to drink. In this case, you should use bottled or filtered water. Snakes may refuse to drink unclean water, and subsequently become dehydrated, or they may become sick from ingesting bacteria that accumulates and reproduces in a dirty water bowl. Either condition could cause a snake not to feel well, and that would affect its appetite.

Be sure that suitable hiding places are available in both cool and warm zones of the cage. If you use hide boxes to accomplish this, they should be large enough that the snake can get all the way inside, but small enough to allow your pet to feel securely hidden away. A snake that doesn't feel safe and secure in its own home (because there's no place to hide) can easily get stressed and not want to eat.

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


  1. My Snake won't eat, so now what? Part 1
  2. More there's a reason for it, stupid.
  3. In the News
  4. Tell Us What You Think
  5. Feedback and Updating

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More of there's a reason for it, stupid.

by Mark Chapple

This concerns a friend of mine, not me. They own a mature carpet python and recently he’s been staying at the house of his mother, but his father had been keeping the python at his house – obviously his parents are separated.

Dom was talking to me the other day and asked me if I had ever seen a snake with its head at an angle. The snake would be lying flat but its head would be pointed upward.  This was really strange behavior and I had never read or seen anything of it either.

We searched through a few forums but could find little and there seemed to be no article on this and none of my books yeilded much information on such specific behavior. Dom knew the snake was behaving oddly but was not sure what it was. It had eaten well a few weeks before but had started refusing food. It was shedding OK, so that was not a problem. It was also not moving around much, even though he turned the heat up as the snake had just come out of hibernation.

So Dom decided to try a completely different tack. First off he made another snake cage from an old wardrobe. He had been making this cage for a little while but the snake’s sudden change in its behavior necessitated speeding things up a bit. Dom worked hard to finish the enclosure a lot earlier than he had planned as he now wanted to move it from the old cage into the new quickly.

He also threw in a pesticide bomb into the room that the snake was going to be housed in. He also disinfected the wardrobe to make sure. These things took a few days but ha basically got everything ready for the snake to move.

He then treated the snake for mites and parasites by soaking it in Betadine and also using a mite treatment, such as Frontline.

After he had done all this, Dom moved the snake out of his father’s house and relocated it to his mother’s house in the new cage. A few days later the snake was moving about its new cage and starting to eat again. The strange head behavior stopped and within a week the carpet python was back to normal. Yep, there’s a reason for it.


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