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Last updated : 01/04/2007

This page is indexed on our home page under Aspect: 4. Information & care sheets and the Section: Getting started - for the beginner

Feeding requirements


Reptiles need to be fed a diet which closely represents what they would eat in the wild. This includes stomach contents, bones, feathers etc. Feeding a large python on chicken drum sticks bought at the local shop is not conducive to a healthy and varied diet.

So your potential purchase may start out on day old mice (pinkies) and progress as it grows, to full grown mice and then on to rats, chickens, pigs etc. This obviously depends on the species, so first check and ensure you have a reliable source of food.

Feeding live prey was never a good idea as the prey can bite back. Any injury has the potential to develope into a nasty infection and even the eventual death of the snake. There has been many cases where people have left mice or rats with a snake over night and in the morning, the snake was found to be seriously injured

It is also illegal to feed live prey. The following was extracted from NSPCA. See  Full article

The "feeding of live prey" is a criminal offence in terms of the Animals Protection Act No 71 of 1962. It is the practice of placing a live animal in a captive situation with a predator, to be attacked and eaten.

This creates a problem if you are breeding indigenous stock for reintroduction into the wild and in terms of enrichment practices that I believe in. Constricting snakes definitely get lazy after being fed dead prey. Their constriction of the prey gets sloppy to say the least. I therefore simulate attempted escape of the prey item, to encourage and maintain the constriction of the prey item.

Frozen food

All food should be frozen first. This kills any parasites like mites. So is your mom going to be happy with some frozen mice and rats in the deep freeze?

The food needs to be taken out and thawed overnight. One could use a infrared basking light to warm the already thawed food so that it will register for Pythons and Boas that have heat pits. Normal body temp is all that is required, so this will require a mild temp for a fair duration, to raise the temp of the thawed prey item above room temp.

 We would not suggest using a microwave to thaw food.

Presenting the food

We believe in moving the animal to be fed to a feeding location so that it gets used to the idea that it does not get fed in its normal enclosure and is therefore less likely to strike the handler when in its own enclosure. Make sure the enclosure is free of all substrate materials as these can be ingested with the prey item and which could be fatal to your snake. Feeding hatchlings on a paper towel is safe!

Wash hands before handling each snake. They have highly developed sense of smell and a hand that smell like a rat will do just fine for a snack.

Food is presented and held in round nosed forceps/BBQ tongs. Some people leave the thawed animal in the tank for the snake to find its self. Some snakes might not take the motionless prey items and for these snakes movement is used to stimulate a strike. After the strike the prey can still be moved if the snake does not apply constriction but this is not necessary.

Failure to do this has in some cases resulted in a total absence of this natural behavior.

When to feed and how much.

Most keepers feed weekly or every second week but you can feed every 4-5 days but remember your snake can be overfed and over heated. Check the available care sheets facts and ensure that the recommended temperatures are not in fact too hot. Hot temperatures will increase digestion and feed intake, rate of growth etc. But is it good for the snake! Two common problems are just plain fat pets and the pin head syndrome, where the head of the snake is too small for it length and diameter. The best indication is to feed two days after the animals last meal is passed. Kings and Rats may take 3-7days and boas and pythons 7-14 days, this also depends on the temperature the snake had to digest its food.

Nocturnal snakes will prefer to feed at night and diurnal feed during the day. Many snakes don't worry too much about the time of day, if all other requirements are met. Try feeding any problem Ball pythons at night. It seems to work with mine.

When your snake hibernates it will not eat as frequently, so don't be worried if the snake is turning down its food. Many snakes don't hibernate when in captivity and can also be kept from hibernating.

Problem Feeders

There are several reasons why snakes will refuse to eat. However, the typical reasons are due to stress or improper environmental conditions. Any snake that is not eating should not be handled or disturbed, so as to reduce stress levels. Secondly, all environmental conditions including humidity, temperature, and lighting should be checked to make sure they are within the appropriate range. Other problems may be associated with the snake's behavior and instincts. For example, some arboreal snakes often will not feed unless they are off the ground. Ball Pythons, often refuse to eat unless they are provided with a suitable hiding place and their food is warmed up. This demonstrates that knowing about the captive care and natural history of your particular species is very important when trying to solve a feeding problem. If the snake still refuses to eat after several weeks of proper environmental conditions, reduced stress, and different approaches to feeding, seek medical help. Make sure you find a veterinarian with experience. A good veterinarian will check the animals respiratory system, feces, and possibly blood to assess its condition.

Links and further reading

Raising Feeder Mice.

Raising Live Feeder Foods

How to set up a mouse colony

Just Bugs

Nutrition: Boas and Pythons

Exotic Pet Vet


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Last update : 01/04/2007