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Health Issues/Feeding Problems Anything related to general or specific health problems. Issues having to do with feeding problems or tips.

help with feeding issue
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Old 03-24-2004, 01:24 AM   #1
help with feeding issue

I just registered in hopes that someone can advise us. We have a small cornsnake. We mail ordered him just after Christmas for my 7 year old son. He ate a pinkie every week or two for several weeks, then stopped eating about a month ago. He hasn't eaten a single pinkie in a month. Maybe 6 weeks. We are feeding frozen pinkies and placing them in a dish. Any suggestions. He's very thin!
Old 03-24-2004, 09:28 AM   #2
maybe you can describe how you are housing the snake for us.

What is the enclosure, what are the temperatures at both ends, are you using any substrate, are you providing hides etc...

This will help us to give you ideas

Old 03-24-2004, 09:52 AM   #3
The enclosure is glass with the metal mesh top as the pet stores sell you for a reptile. I'm not certain of the gallon size, but just estimating dimensions, I'd say its approx 3 feet long by 1-1.5 feet high. My husband thinks it is the 10 gallon size. The shavings are wood, aspen. There is an undertank heater at one end, a basking light with a 75 watt bulb, a rock cave (he hides most of the time) some greenery, sticks and a small water bowl. The water bowl is over the side where the undertank heater is. The rock cave is at the cool end. I'm thinking I need to reverse that relationship after reading some care sheets. He tends to come out in late afternoon, and soon after, my son comes in playing his video games loudly. I had my husband move him to a different location last night. There is a room within my son's room, that he has finished especially for the reptiles. (We also have a water dragon and a skink). The room has a door, so the reptiles can be closed off from activity in my son's room. Generally, I will empty the water dish and place a thawed pinkie in it around 1:00. They stay there for hours, and I throw it away. I've even tried putting it in when he seems to come out of hiding, leaving it in through the evening hours, but he still won't eat. Please advise if thre is a certain time of the day the food should be offered and the manner in which it should be offered. I think if I took the top off and tried to dangle it, he would just go hide. Also please tell me the proper temps at both ends. Do I need night heat/night bulbs? I think my situation is very typical. Fathers buy snakes and other reptiles for their sons, don't bother to educate themselves past what the pet store says, and the moms are left with trying to figure this out, to keep them alive. If he is to survive, it will be up to me, because I'm the only caregiver. Thanks for your help, Skye.
Old 03-24-2004, 10:10 AM   #4
well Karen - good for you for finding this board and for trying to be the one to figure it out.

If you haven't done so already, go out and buy the Corn Snake Manual by Kathy Love which will answer most fo your current and future questions.

In the meantime - there are a number of reasons why your snake may be refusing food.

I recently wrote a paper on feeding issues in snakes, ao I am going to post the entire thing here. I am sorry it is so much to read, but there are many possible reasons for the lack of eating. Not all of it applies to corns, but I hope you do find some useful bits. Some of the problems you have already started to address, such as noise and moving the cage. Some you still need to address such as getting another hide so the snake doesn't have to chose between temperature and security.

If you have time, please read it and come back to me with further questions.

Thanks, Skye

Feeding Disorders in Captive Snakes

Increasing numbers of snakes are kept in captive environments today with yearly growth in the amount of pet snakes housed and the numbers of breeders producing snakes. Accompanying this growth is our knowledge of the husbandry requirements of individual species along with common problems experienced in keeping snakes. The most common issues occurring are disorders associated with eating and numerous methods have been devised to deal with such problems.

First the possible feeding problems should be established. These include:

 Anorexia (not eating/loss of appetite)
 Eating but regurgitating
 Eating but experiencing a weight loss or lack of expected weight gain
 Obesity

Reasons for these problems are very varied involving many factors. It can often be difficult to identify the cause and perhaps many different options will have to be tried to establish a normal eating routine.


The most frequent cause of eating disorders in snakes is housing them in the incorrect environment. Snakes are ectothermic and need to obtain their bodily warmth from their surroundings. If temperatures are too cool then they are unable to digest food efficiently and will often regurgitate; temperatures that are consistently too high can also lead to regurgitation, and often a few degrees change will make all the difference. (The regurgitation is actually a protection mechanism to prevent undigested food remaining in the gut.) Research the ambient and basking requirements of your snake which will be very different depending on the environment it inhabits in the wild. Burmese pythons need the cool end of their cage to be in the high 80’s (ºF) whilst that would be too hot for the warmest basking spot of a mountain kingsnake. Colubrids need a defined gradient whilst some tropical species seem unable to thermoregulate effectively and require the correct daily temperature throughout the cage as they will not move to seek heat for the digestive process. Ensure that any heating devices utilised are placed so that the snake has no access to them to avoid burns. If regurgitation has occurred and you find the temperatures are incorrect, adjust them, and leave at least 10 days before offering food again, longer for some species.
Humidity is also important and subtle changes that may go undetected by us can be enough to put a snake off its food. Closely monitor the conditions in each cage and know an accepted range of values for each species you house. Recent changes in substrate medium or surroundings could have unsettled the animal and it will require time to adjust to its new environment. Leave the snake alone for a week and then try offering food again. If the environment is wrong for that species of snake then it will have to be adjusted until the snake feels comfortable enough to accept food. Make sure that fossorial animals are provided with a suitable substrate in which to burrow; firmly attach branches for arboreal species. Provide hides throughout the thermal gradient. Check your lighting is set to a normal day/night cycle and review the type of lighting you are using. Some breeders use UV with reluctant diurnal feeders to simulate the natural environment. Make sure fresh water is always present and accessible. Cage size should also be considered. Whilst cramped living quarters can cause stress to some snakes, others may feel too exposed and vulnerable in a larger cage and need to be offered a more confined arrangement. Equally, a small snake in a large cage may not even find the food item placed there.


Stress can lead to both refusal to eat and regurgitation. Over-handling is a key culprit and the solution is simple – handle the snake less. When a snake is first acquired it should be left completely alone for a few days to acclimatise. Some snakes are very tolerant of handling, but others prefer solitude and even occasional handling will cause significant stress; know what is acceptable for your species. If your snake is refusing to eat or has regurgitated, cease all handling. After a snake has eaten it should not be handled for at least two days to allow digestion to occur whilst avoiding pressure on the stomach. Failure to adhere to this rule can lead to regurgitation.
If your cage is in a high traffic area, and particularly if it is a glass terrarium, this can lead to a feeling of insecurity. Find a quieter place for the cage and feeding may commence, although a visual barrier might also be needed. Even within the cage some snakes are very reluctant to eat out in the open and feeding will only take place if the food item is placed at the entrance to a hide. Sometimes just adding more hides will help the situation. With a hatchling, a useful trick is to place him/her with the food in a small space overnight such as a deli cup or in a brown paper bag. The proximity to the food in an enclosed space during undisturbed hours may be enough to promote feeding. This should be carried out in a mid-temperature range.
Snakes do not have ears, however they are sensitive to vibrations and so placing the cage in an environment near a stereo system, TV or drum kit can cause high levels of stress. Similarly, the cage may rock if it is not placed in a stable position and this could also lead to the snake feeling insecure. Check the cage is positioned securely and remove external sources of vibrations before offering food again. If snakes are housed together then this can be a source of significant stress as well as competition for food. Snakes should always be fed individually and in most cases they should be housed individually.
A snake may be fearful of food if it has had a bad experience with live food in the past. A snake can become ‘mouse-shy’ after being bitten by a potential prey item and an alternative type of prey may be needed, as well as switching to pre-killed for future feedings.
Finally, wild-caught specimens have been through a long and very stressful experience during capture, shipping and subsequent resale. They must be allowed plenty of time to acclimatize and may need to be treated for internal and external parasites. Since they are used to capturing their food they will be accustomed to live prey. When feeding them try to wiggle the food to simulate movement and also make sure that mammal and bird food items are warmer than room temperature. If pre-killed prey is consistently refused then feeding live is an option initially in the hope of switching the snake to pre-killed over time.

Lack of Recognition:

If the snake does not recognise the item as food then there will be no associated feeding response. This can occur because the food smells wrong, is the wrong type of food, or is the wrong size. If the food has been handled by humans then it will have human scent on it which can be avoided by using tweezers or tongs. A mouse can often be made to smell more ‘mouse-like’ by wetting it, or rubbing some bedding material from a mouse cage onto its body. With hatchlings, it is sometimes necessary to expose some of the bodily fluids of a pinkie to increase the odour given off. This can be done by cutting open the head or body of the pinkie, and will often trigger eating. For boas and pythons, the temperature of the prey may be an important factor since they hunt aided by heat sensitive pits in their upper lips. Dip the food in warm water to raise its temperature before offering it, or offer freshly killed prey before it has cooled down.
A hatchling corn snake may refuse a pinkie mouse, but readily accept an anole (small lizard); a ball python may also refuse a mouse but take a gerbil. These reactions are based on food similarities to what the animal would be eating in the wild. Often a simple change of brown mice instead of white mice may be sufficient to trigger recognition (there are very few albino mice in the wild). If the snake will not accept rodents then scent manipulation may be required to make the snake think it is being offered a different type of food. For example, a frog or lizard may need to be rubbed on a pinkie. If a live anole can be made to bite a pinkie then this gives even greater scent transferral and usually promotes a stronger feeding response. If some shed skin is available from a lizard then this could be placed over the mouse. The snake could be placed in a breathable container with the scented mouse and that container placed inside another container containing a live lizard. Leave overnight in a mid-temperature zone. Finally it could be that you need to offer something other than the usual mice and rats. Garter snakes feed readily on fish and frogs whilst racers prefer lizards and ring-neck snakes will eat earthworms. Be aware that if you offer alternative foods your snake may develop a taste for them and refuse other foods in the future so check availability of food items. Finally, prey should be offered that is no larger than the girth of the snake at its widest point. If a certain size of food has been refused, offer a smaller size.


If a snake regurgitates on more than one occasion and stress and environmental conditions have been eliminated, then an underlying medical problem should be suspected. Signs such as sores in the mouth and on the skin, wheezing, abdominal swelling, diarrhoea or an abnormal posture show the need for an immediate trip to a reptile veterinarian. Some of the many medical problems that can lead to anorexia are mouth rot (stomatitis), pneumonia, kidney disease, liver disease, retained eggs, intestinal impaction, bacterial infection, dehydration, respiratory infection, the presence of a tumour, or of parasites. In each case, the best treatment can be decided by a veterinarian. Snakes should be allowed to defecate at least once between meals to avoid overloading the digestive tract. Too much food will lead to regurgitation, as will a foreign body obstruction. Repeat occurrences of regurgitation can lead to psychological problems in which the snake avoids the type of food that it can’t keep down. If your snake is losing weight despite eating then intestinal parasites are the most likely cause. In some cases, insufficient food is being offered and the amount of food per feeding, or the frequency of feedings should be increased. More common is the problem of overfeeding leading to obesity, especially in unbred females. Over time excessive fats will accumulate in the body tissues eventually leading to a premature death. Obesity can not be reversed quickly and the snake should be fed a reduced diet over a period of time.


It could be that food is being offered at the wrong time of day. Maybe food is placed in the cage in the morning and the snake is a nocturnal hunter. Research the species to find out when they eat in the wild, and vary feeding times accordingly.
As snakes grow they regularly shed their skins in a process known as ecdysis. During this time their eyes cloud up impairing visibility and the snake will probably remain in hiding, reacting more aggressively to approaches than normally. Many snakes will not eat during the shedding process. Wait until your snake has shed its skin and then try offering food again. Newly hatched snakes do not usually eat until after their first shed.
Some species of snake live in areas where the winter temperatures fall below a level at which the snake could survive. These animals have adapted by going underground and entering a period of semi-dormancy known as brumation. Although captive animals are kept under artificial conditions, some are still able to sense the change of seasons, and stop eating in preparation for the winter ahead. They need to empty their stomachs since undigested matter would cause problems if it remained in the digestive system for that period of time. If artificial brumation is planned then this could be the start of your brumation period, but if you would prefer to keep the snakes awake then increase the temperatures or photoperiod very slightly and try offering food again. Note that only well-nourished, healthy animals should be considered for brumation. If you are unsure why your snake has stopped eating then you need to check out its health first. (Note that boas and pythons do not brumate and so they will not refuse food for this reason.)
During the breeding season many males will refuse food as they spend their days roaming their cages looking for a mate. As long as your snake is in good health then you do not need to worry since he will start feeding again after the breeding season. Make sure he is well-fed before the season starts, continue to offer food on occasions and feed him well once he will accept food again. A healthy snake can go for a number of months without eating and suffer no ill-effects, however start with smaller food items once he will take food again. If you don’t want to breed your snake and would prefer he kept eating, try moving females out of his sight or scent range, perhaps to another room to remove the external clues triggering his response.
Finally, a gravid female will often refuse food, particularly as she nears the end of the gestation period. The developing eggs or young inside her take up increasing amounts of room during this time and eating provides discomfort by placing pressure on internal organs. Offer smaller food items than normal which she may accept and be sure to feed her once she has laid her eggs/offspring. In all these circumstances due to timing, fresh water should be continually available, including during brumation.

Last attempts:

One method not mentioned earlier is to remove water from the cage for 24 hours and then offer a prey item drenched in water. The thirst may overcome the refusal to eat. If all else fails then assist feeding may be required where the food is manually placed inside the mouth of the snake in the hope that the snake will begin swallowing on its own. This is not a method to be attempted by inexperienced keepers as the mouth and throat are easily damaged. Force feeding is considerably more traumatic and should only be considered as a last resort. This involves inserting a lubricated tube down the snake’s throat and pumping in a minced meal. This option should only be done by experienced people.


Some final things to note are that tongs or tweezers should always be used to offer food to a snake to prevent accidental bites. If a large snake is being fed then two people should be present. If live prey is offered then the snake must not be left unattended. Feeding on substrate can lead to impaction if some of the substrate is ingested with the food, and so either the food should be offered on an alternative surface, or the snake should be fed outside the cage. Once an anorexic snake does begin to feed again the meal sizes should be kept small and offered frequently until recovery is complete. Feeding notes should be included as part of the normal record keeping. Regular faecal examinations can often identify problems before they become serious, and health check-ups are recommended. Some snakes are notorious for entering long periods of fasting, and these snakes are best kept by more experienced herpetoculturists.


Proteus Reptile Trust, Foundation Course in Herpetology
Rossi, John ; Rossi, Roxanne, What’s Wrong With My Snake? Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc. Mission Viejo, CA 1996
Flank, Jr., Lenny Snakes Their Care and Keeping, New York: Howell Book House, 1998
Mattison, Chris Snakes of the World, Facts on File, New York, 1986/90
Old 03-24-2004, 10:49 AM   #5
Great article. I will definately keep it. A few specific questions about corns:

What exactly are the temperature gradients? Cool end, and warm end.

Even though he has previously eaten a few of my pinkies, they still look too big to me in relationship to his girth. Can I cut one into pieces, making it easier to digest and possibly releasing some of the body fluids to attract eating?

I read something about a "lizard scent" that you can spray on a pinkie. Ever used that stuff, and does it work?

My pinkies came from someone online, or something. I don't know if they have been handled by humans, but we can, from now on, handle only with tweezers. I've been using my hand to get one out of the bag and I've always thawed in warm water. I read last night, to only thaw at room temp. Is that important, and why?

Should I try putting the food inside of a hide area?
Old 03-24-2004, 11:16 AM   #6
Karen.. You mention you have a 75w bulb in the tank. What is the thermometer reading. My guess is a bulb of that wattage, would cause to much heat, as well as being extremely bright.
This could well be causing the snake stress, as they prefer dimly lit areas. An undertank heater should usually suffice, without extra lighting. If the ait temp is between 70-85, the snake should eat, barring other problems.
Old 03-24-2004, 11:19 AM   #7
I just put a thermometer probe in this morning. I will go check and post in a moment. I'm awaiting a reply from someone telling me exactly what temps we are shooting for, both cool and warm end. Also I would appreciate any advice on arrangement of cage furniture. If you read my second post, you will see exactly what elements I have. Thanks!
Old 03-24-2004, 11:30 AM   #8
The warm end is 85. It is very possible that that reading will increase as the sun warms the room. I don't have the tank in front of the window. I read not to do that because it can overheat. I think my water dragon or skink would like that! I just moved the probe to get a reading on the cool end. So I will go check in a few moments. I moved the rock cave over the end where the undertank heater is. Should I provide both a cool and warm hide space? What do you think about my suggestion to cut the pinkie into smaller pieces, being careful not to handle. I have one thawed now. I swear, I think it's too big... but he has eaten a few, just not in the last several weeks.
Old 03-24-2004, 11:32 AM   #9
Some great sugestions, I had a few other thoughts.

It sounds like you are just thawing the food to room temperature, I used to do that. Now I place it in a plastic bag and let that sit in a mug full of hot water, so the food will then become warm (and not have a chance to dry out), which would more resemble live food.

Also, I used to feed my snake in his enclosure, since I just used paper towels as substrate, but I learned that if given a choice, my snake would rather climb and play than eat. So now he gets no choice, I feed him in a quart sized plastic container, that way he has nothing to do but eat, and will be sure to encounter the food.

My snake was picky about eating a few times, and not eating as often as I would like, but since I've been warming the food & putting him in a smaller container to eat, he's gone for a food everytime.

Also as far as hides, it would probably be a good idea to have one at each end of the enclosure, so he can have a warm hideout and a cool one. I actually have 3 now, the 3rd being a moist hide out, in addition to the substrate, which he likes to hide in sometimes.
Old 03-24-2004, 12:08 PM   #10
Awsome, awsome. I did exactly as you said. He attacked the pinkie! I got a small plastic container, poked lots of small air holes in the top, and put him and the pinkie inside. I suppose I absorbed a few things from you, and skye's article. I pinched the pinkie inside the bag to release some of it's fluids hoping to create an attractive scent. I also dipped it in some warm water to moisten and warmed it (bagged in the mug as you suggested.) I'm not comfortable handling him yet, because he bit my husband once. But I gently picked him up with a hand towel over my hand and put him in the container and put the top on. I placed the container in the warm end. Turned off the overhead basking light, and placed a towel over part of the top to create more of a dimly lit area. I'll monitor temps. So I'm shooting for 70-85? Is that correct? I want him to digest it! Thanks to all who have replied. Sometimes, I suppose, it just takes a little tweeking, to get them to eat! I need to get a blind up in the room where he is. We just finished this little room inside of my son's room especially for our reptiles. A lot of sunlight will be coming in the window this afternoon. I think my skink and waterdragon would like the extra sunlight, but sounds like his area needs to be less bright. Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! I'm the only one who cares about all of our critters enough to get help when we need it! I once had a feeding issue with our waterdragon. He almost died, but I fed him through a syringe (with the help of some kind folks on a waterdragon site) until he ate again on his own. He's thriving now.

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