If your kingsnake is being stubborn about eating, it can make you very worried about them.
You may also want to leave your snake at home while going on a vacation. Mammals need to eat regularly, but what about snakes?
How long can a king snake go without eating?
An adult kingsnake can go 6 months without eating so long as it has water.
Behavior in the Wild
In the wild, kingsnakes can go months without food. This can be because of a scarcity of prey; or because it is winter and there are fewer potential prey items around. In areas with cold winters, kingsnakes go into brumation.
This state means they stop eating and are only awake to drink. In places with milder winters, most kingsnakes will still become less active and eat less.
According to a study by Marshall McCue. It examined how 3 species of snakes deal with starvation, including a ratsnake. They found that snakes in general can deal with periods of famine well.
Ratsnakes and other fast predators with typically abundant prey like kingsnakes would typically fare a bit worse than a ball python. However, all snakes can withstand months without food and will even continue growing in length.
Everything you need to know about caring for King Snakes in captivity:
Read our California King Snake Care Sheet (Complete Guide)
In captivity, snakes can be reluctant feeders for many reasons. They can go months without eating, so long as they have water. Even hatchlings can take a feeding interruption, but water should always be provided.
If it is winter, try brumating your snake. Some snakes will be more willing to eat as soon as they wake up. Generally, an adult can last about 6 months without food.
A hatchling will last less time, depending on how old they are and how long they were feeding. If your snake refuses to eat, keep an eye on its weight and body condition.
If you notice your snake losing weight or showing signs of being thin, you should head to the vet for professional assistance.
Getting Your Snake to Eat
While you should make sure to feed your snake regularly, sometimes they just don’t want to eat. This can be for several reasons. The first relates to their normal seasonal cycle.
Kingsnakes naturally go into brumation when the temperatures drop. If your home becomes cooler they may lose interest in food as they prepare to sleep. Snakes may lose interest in food during the breeding season. They may also refuse food when they are preparing to shed. Try waiting and offer a new prey item.
A big factor in captive appetite is the temperature and humidity of the enclosure. If your snake doesn’t want to eat, look into the temperature on both sides of the enclosure with a temperature gun.
You should aim for around 80-85 on the warm side and 75 on the cool side. Humidity should be around 40-50%, though snakes from more humid climates should be kept closer to 60%. If you worry that the conditions are off, change one variable at a time until you get your snake to eat.
Snakes also don’t eat as often as mammals will. They want to fully digest the last meal before they will take another. Try waiting until your snake has no lump in its body before you offer food again.
A hungry snake will also search the enclosure for food.
You will notice the snake cruising and hunting when it is ready to eat. You can also try scenting a mouse with a lizard or snake and see if that will make it more willing to eat. Young snakes frequently have a prey preference and may eat if you change the prey item or the scent. If you can only get your snake to eat lizards, frogs, or snakes you should try to get it onto mice as soon as you can. It can be hard to find reptile prey for a reasonable price.
Illness is another factor that will lessen a snake’s appetite. Infections or cuts in the mouth can make a snake reluctant to eat since its mouth is painful.
Check for any signs of mucus, pus, or labored breathing. Certain parasites can also cause the lining of the stomach to harden and reduce the appetite.
If you know your snake isn’t digesting a meal, let it crawl over your hand and feel for the stomach. If you feel a hard lump where the prey normally is after a meal, your snake has a parasite.
You should head to the vet in this case. Infections can be treated, but some parasites are hard to budge. Your vet will know the best course of action for your snake.
Prey pickiness is another reason. Wild-caught snakes who are willing to eat rodents may not recognize a typical white feeder mouse as food. You can look into getting one with brown or dark fur and try again. Another issue may be that the mouse is going to make the snake sick.
Snakes have a good sense of smell. This means they can detect if a mouse is sick or rotten.
Try offering another mouse. If you feed live prey, the snake could be afraid of the prey. If a snake has a bad experience or is injured by a prey item, it may be reluctant to try to feed.
Offering a dead mouse or another prey item like a lizard may help. New snakes may also not recognize frozen mice as food if they were fed live prey. Try making sure the mouse is warm and wiggle it with feeding tongs to induce a strike.
If your snake is healthy and all the other conditions aren’t a factor, your snake may just want a break. Give it some time and try again. Snakes have much lower energy needs than a mammal. So long as your snake isn’t losing weight and behaving normally, you shouldn’t need to worry.
Keep in contact with your vet and monitor your snake.
It should decide it wants food eventually. Just remember that your snake shouldn’t have too much loose skin or lose too much muscle. Your vet can also help by force-feeding your snake. This should be used as a last resort since it is stressful and can kill a weak snake.
Kingsnakes are typically good feeders, but some will avoid food for a number of reasons. Adult kingsnakes can go 6 months without a meal. Young snakes shouldn’t go more than a few months. If you have any experience with snakes going off food, leave a comment belwo.