For those who keep snakes, did you know that not allowing your pet enough time to digest its food can cause injury to it and you?
How long should you wait before handling your snake after feeding it?
Typically, it would be best to give your snake 24 hours to digest its food before handling it. However, there are situations where you should give your snake more time.
If your snake had a large meal, you should give it 72 hours to digest its meal. Also, some snakes have a nervous disposition. With these snakes, you would be wise to give it 36-48 hours.
In the wild, snakes will find a secluded place to digest their food. They do this because they become slower and less agile after eating, which increases their chances of falling to predation.
By handling a snake too soon, there is a risk that it will regurgitate its food or become more aggressive toward its owner. As a general rule, give your snake 24-72 hours to digest its food before handling it.
It’s about the Meal Size
While a garter snake may only need 24 hours to digest a small frog, a large boa or python may need 72 hours to digest a large rabbit or a medium-size pig.
Because snakes take a longer time to digest their food than humans do, the size of the meal will determine how often they feed.
Small snakes will eat small prey so that they may eat several meals a week. Large snakes will prey on larger animals, so they may only eat once or twice a month.
The larger the meal, the more time is needed to digest their food. You can get an idea of how far along your snake is with digesting its meal by looking to see if it has a bulge in its body.
If there is a bulge, your snake still needs more time to digest its food.
Why Regurgitation Caused by Handling Poses a Danger to Your Snake
Handling your snake before it has a chance to digest its food can lead to it regurgitating its meal. As previously mentioned, snakes in the wild are at a greater risk of predation when they have eaten a large meal.
Snakes regurgitate their meal so that the weight of it will not bog them down. However, the regurgitation of a meal comes with a cost. Regurgitating food takes a toll on the snake’s body.
When regurgitating, the acids in the snake’s stomach can irritate its esophagus. Additionally, the undigested bones of the prey item can damage the esophagus and result in bleeding.
These injuries need time to heal. Your snake needs time to relax and heal. If the snake eats again before the esophagus is fully healed, the esophagus will be reinjured.
When a Full Stomach Leads to Aggression
Besides the risk of regurgitation, handling snakes too soon after eating can lead to aggressive behavior. Some snake species, such as pythons, have a feeding response that is slow to subside, even if they have a full stomach.
When snakes hunt for prey, there is the release of a hormone that puts the snake into an excited state. This excited state can continue after it has consumed a meal.
If you handle the snake during this time, you are more likely to get bitten. As indicated earlier, snakes may be more aggressive after eating as they feel more vulnerable.
Snakes prefer to remain hidden after eating a meal. They are less capable of defending themselves because their meal weighs them down.
Because of this, they will be more irritable during these times. Aggression after eating is also found in snakes who have not yet learned to trust their owners.
The Difference between Regurgitation and Vomiting
There is a difference between regurgitation and vomiting, and that difference is important to know as a snake owner. When a snake regurgitates, it is expelling the meal that it has just eaten. The regurgitated prey item will appear largely intact.
When a snake vomits, the prey item will be partially digested and has a foul smell to it. Additionally, it will be covered with a yellow-white liquid.
While regurgitation can occur by handling your snake too soon, vomiting may signify illness.
What to Do If Your Snake Regurgitates
- Your snake needs time where it remains undisturbed. During this time, do not feed or handle your snake. For juvenile snakes, this should be for several days. Adult snakes should be given1-2 weeks.
- Make sure that your snake has plenty of clean water. Having water is important because your snake will be dehydrated. You can also place your snake in a plastic container with an inch of water. Let the snake soak for a few minutes.
- Ensure that the temperature and humidity are at the correct level for your snake species.
- After the needed time has passed, try feeding your snake again. This time, offer it food that is of smaller size than usual.
- If the snake regurgitates its meal again or refuses to eat, bring your snake to a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about reptiles.
Besides handling your snake too soon, other reasons why snakes regurgitate are:
Stress: Snakes will purge their stomach contents if they are disturbed by environmental factors.
Overeating: If a snake is overfed, it will not be able to digest its food contents. Some species, such as boa constrictors and ball pythons, will overeat given the opportunity.
Humidity and Temperature Levels: Each snake species has its own humidity and temperature requirements. Ensure that your snake’s enclosure meets these requirements.
Parasites and Disease: Parasites and illnesses can cause snakes to regurgitate. Possible ailments include internal parasites, bacterial infections, viral infections, or respiratory infections.
Secor, S.M., Stein, E.D. and Diamond, J.A.R.E.D., 1994. Rapid upregulation of snake intestine in response to feeding: a new model of intestinal adaptation. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 266(4), pp.G695-G705.
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