Loss of Appetite in Snakes

Troubleshoot your pet snake's digestive problems

Pet corn snake
onkelramirez1 / Pixabay / CC By 0

Your pet snake leads a pretty cushy life and doesn't have to evade predators or hunt for its food, but it may still develop anorexia or lose its appetite. Even if you can do a nearly perfect job of keeping your pet's environment where it should be in terms of temperature and humidity, you can't always tempt it to eat.

Of course, a snake that won't eat for a prolonged period could eventually starve to death. So you must figure out why if you notice any symptoms in addition to the anorexia or if your otherwise healthy snake refuses to eat for more than a couple of weeks.

Why Snakes Lose Their Appetites

In some cases, loss of appetite is a natural part of a snake's behavior, but it could also be the result of a problem that you may be able to resolve with minor adjustments to its environment or diet. If you can't figure out what's going on, it's always a good idea to pay a visit to your exotics vet.

Natural Causes That Require No Intervention

Your snake will lose its appetite from time to time as a natural part of its life cycle. When this happens, you won't need to take any action because your snake is perfectly healthy. It's important to remember that reptile eating habits are very different from those of mammals. It is, of course, important to monitor your snake's behavior to be sure that what appears to be a natural appetite loss isn't a sign of illness.

Molting is the most common cause of loss of appetite: your snake may stop eating when it's about to molt or shed its skin. In addition to premolt anorexia, look for your snake's skin to become very pale and dull and its eyes to look blue and milky. It may not eat for a week or so before and after it molts.

Other natural causes of appetite cause that require no intervention include:

  • Seasonal changes: your snake may respond to changing seasons with changes in its appetite.
  • Hibernation attempts: some snakes naturally hibernate, and cooler weather may lower your snake's energy levels and appetite.
  • Age factors: younger snakes are growing and require more food than older snakes; while younger snakes may eat once a week, adult snakes may eat far less.
Natural Causes of Snake's Loss of Appetite

The Spruce / Kyle Fewel

Causes Related to Environment

Snakes can react negatively to a variety of environmental issues that you can easily tweak. These include:

  • Type of substrate. Snakes require an appropriate substrate, and it's important to choose the right bedding for your pet. Some types of woods shavings, such as cedar, can lead to parasites or even skin rot.
  • Daylight-darkness cycle. Most snakes require a specific daylight-darkness cycle to thrive in captivity, and it's up to the owner to research the right light cycle for their pet. Once you know what your pet will need, it's easy to provide it.
  • Type of food. All snakes are carnivores, but different species require different types and quantities of food. If you're not sure about the ideal diet for your pet, check with the vet.
  • Need for privacy. Snakes need "snake hides" into which they can comfortably disappear during a portion of the day. These can be anything from cardboard boxes to artistically-designed structures. Without privacy, some snakes develop appetite issues.

Monitoring Temperature

One of the most important things to monitor with your snake is the temperature of its enclosure. Snakes need warm environments to remain active and properly digest food. If a snake gets too cold, it will become lethargic and possibly develop a variety of illnesses, including a respiratory infection or pneumonia.

Before you call your vet for an emergency "my snake's not eating" visit with your otherwise healthy snake, check the temperatures in his cage. What is the basking area temperature? What is the temperature of the coldest part of the cage? And how cold does it get at night? If you've answered below 70 degrees Fahrenheit to any of these questions, chances are your enclosure is too cold.

Check your references for the appropriate basking temperatures and cooler acceptable temperatures for your species of snake and make sure yours are as close to those ranges as possible. You may need to add another heat light or increase the wattage of the bulbs you are currently using. Undertank heaters are helpful for supplemental heat but don't do much in the way of ambient temperature.

Snake Diseases That Can Cause Loss of Appetite

There is a wide range of snake diseases that can lower your pet's appetite. Some can be easily treated while others have the potential to be deadly. Do monitor your pet to be sure you're not seeing symptoms of these disorders; if you're not sure, a visit to the vet is a good idea.

Mouth Rot

If you've ever had a toothache, canker sore, or have bitten your tongue when you know what it is like to have some mouth pain. Mouth rot is a painful type of mouth infection; your snake will not want to eat if it has any degree of mouth rot. If you are not sure if your snake has a healthy mouth get him in for a checkup with your exotics vet.

Respiratory Disease

Snakes don't want to eat if they have respiratory infections of pneumonia. If your snake is sneezing, has eye or nose drainage, or is breathing through its mouth it could have some form of respiratory disease and won't eat. Give your exotics vet a call if you suspect this.

Intestinal Parasites

Better known as "worms," intestinal parasites are microscopic and normal in reptiles. When they become overpopulated in the intestines of your pet snake, though, it may stop eating. You won't see these parasites so you must have a fecal direct smear and a floatation performed on your snake's stool sample. Call your exotics vet to set up an appointment for a fecal screening if you haven't had one done within the last year or you suspect it could be a reason for it to stop eating.

Obstructions and Impactions

Sometimes snakes accidentally get a mouth full of something they can't digest and get obstructed. At other times they don't get enough moisture in their environment to defecate regularly and become impacted. Both obstruction and impaction can cause your snake to stop eating. Warm water soaks for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day may help an impacted snake pass his stool but an obstruction can require surgery to remove. Call your exotics vet if you haven't seen stool pass within a day or so of your snake's last meal or if you think he could be obstructed.

Treatment and Prevention

You can't prevent appetite loss completely, but you can:

  • Ensure that your snake's environment is appropriate for its needs, providing proper substrate, a snake hide, and proper day/night lighting
  • Provide your snake with the right amount and type of food
  • Check to be sure the temperature in its enclosure is appropriate
  • Monitor to be sure your snake isn't suffering from respiratory disease or painful sores

If all these elements are in place, your snake isn't molting, and you're sure that age or season is not a factor, there are many other reasons why snakes stop eating, including major organ failure and disease, systemic infections, and more. If you aren't sure why your snake has stopped eating, give your exotics vet a call. You may not be able to completely prevent your snake's loss of appetite, but careful observation of your pet along with proper management of its environment can go a long way toward helping it regain its appetite. Once your snake does start eating again, be careful not to overfeed it: overfeeding can lead to a rebounding digestive problem.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
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