How long can a garter snake go without eating? (anorexia in snakes)

In this blog post, we are answering the following question: How long can a garter snake go without eating? We also talk about a very important topic: anorexia in snakes. We also talk about the improvement of the diet and the feeding of your garter snake.

How long can a garter snake go without eating?

A garter snake can go as long as 2 to 3 months without eating. This may happen due to natural causes or due to a health problem.

By natural causes we refer to the following situations:

  • The garter snake has not yet fully digested the last prey. In such a case, you will only have to wait 3 or 4 more days to offer the food again.
  • It doesn’t like the food. Each type of prey smells and tastes different, so your snake may not like what you are offering. We will discuss what type of food garter snakes like later.
  • Its skin is shedding. You simply have to wait for this process to finish to offer food again.
  • The females are carrying eggs. The females stop eating when they are about to lay their eggs, whereas the males will stop eating when they go into heat.

By health problems we refer to:

  • Your snake is stressed by a new environment, a new companion or due to poorly structured environments.
  • The terrarium conditions are poor. You need to make sure you replicate the natural environment that garter snakes are used to as good as possible. 
  • Your snake has a health problem which needs to be addressed by a veterinarian specialized in exotic animals.

Why is my garter snake not eating?

Anorexia in snakes is the loss of appetite or not wanting to eat voluntarily. It could be the main health problem or it could be the second cause of other underlying problems.

Anorexia is a common problem in captive snakes, and while it is true that snakes can go a long time without food, it is important to find out why the pet snake lost its appetite.

There are certain situations in which snakes often decide not to eat, including:

  • The snake is in a new environment – The snake is a baby or newly hatched and may not want to eat until it sheds its skin for the first time in 10 to 14 days
  • The snake is about to shed its skin– The snake is hyperactive due to the breeding season, or in response to being put into captivity
  • The snake is in the last stages of pregnancy – The snake is hibernating or about to enter that stage
  • The snake is adult or large in size, and tends to eat less than young and small snakes – The snake is obese and is voluntarily fasting.

If in addition to not eating, your snake shows signs of disease such as mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, weight loss, abdominal swelling, depression, dizziness, abnormal discharges or abnormal posture, there is a high probability that it is sick and needs to quickly see a vet who has experience with reptiles.

In healthy snakes, anorexia that lasts for more than a couple of weeks can make them more susceptible to infection. Severe and sometimes irreversible liver and kidney damage can occur if snakes lose a lot of weight.

Anorexia in snakes is often the result of them not feeling safe in their habitat to feed. This is your clue to improve their care and reduce stress.

Improve Your Snake’s Immediate Environment

Generally, the most common cause of anorexia in a healthy snake is an overly pleasant environment. Snakes are exothermic — they can generate their own body heat and rely on their environment for opportunities for thermoregulation.

Most snakes require a section of their enclosure to be between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit in order to feel good and have optimal digestion. Temperatures below that range can cause lethargy and digestive problems. Slow digestion means that food gets stuck inside, leading to serious illness, with vomiting an initial symptom.

Keeping a snake too warm all the time also creates psychological stress, so be sure to research the ideal temperature for the species you are keeping. Snakes need a large enclosure to have options for hot and cold areas within it. Most snakes love “belly heat” (in the form of a heater located under ¼ of the enclosure, never a hot rock) but they also require ‘radiant’ heat from the top.

Many snakes rely on light cycles to know when to reproduce, hibernate, and for other psychological processes. If your snake can’t determine the time of day or season, anorexia could be the result. 

Additionally, a lack of UV light can trigger vitamin D deficiency which causes disease and secondary anorexia. Providing normal dark and light cycles is very important, remember that you can provide heat at night, through a ceramic bulb, or a red or blue bulb (heat without bright light).

Also, incorrect humidity levels can cause skin or respiratory problems that lead to poor appetite, and the appropriate substrate options for the species of snake you have is also important.

Another very common cause of anorexia in a snake is a lack of privacy while eating. Adding a box, log, or stone as a hiding place is ideal to reduce environmental stressors. Alternatively, some snakes eat more quickly when you put them in a separate, private “food box,” along with their prey.

If there is an area for your snake’s enclosure where it feels safest, consistently place its food there to encourage it to eat. It is also important not to snoop to see if a nervous or embarrassed snake has already eaten. Cover your enclosure and monitor what you do without being around you. Keeping snakes in quiet areas will also help reduce stress.

If your anorexic snake shares its enclosure with another snake, try feeding it in a separate area. Sometimes the simple act of moving the snake to a new or different enclosure encourages it to eat.

It is also best to limit physical contact with a recently purchased or nervous snake, and do not try to touch a snake for a day or two after it has eaten, allowing it to digest its food before beginning any physical activity.

How to improve the diet and/or feeding system of your garter snake

The type of food you offer your snake and the way you present it to him could lead to rejection or encouragement to eat it. Examples: 

  • Some wild snakes prefer brown rats and do not eat white rats
  • Some snakes are used to eating mice, they will refuse to eat rats
  •  Some snakes accustomed to live prey will refuse to eat freshly thawed prey

Try offering different types of food if your snake refuses to eat, and if possible, check with its previous owner about the previous feeding method.

It is important to feed your snake during its most active periods of the day or night, as it will be more likely to accept food more easily during that period. Always offer it a bowl of water to bathe and hydrate, if it wants to do so.

Also, if it does feed live prey, you should remove it if your snake refuses to eat it after 30 minutes. I recommend that you offer a half-dead prey to prevent potential suffering from both the prey and the snake.

Additional tips to motivate your snake to eat

  • Warm the prey before feeding it to your snake 
  • Cover the prey with skin from another animal
  • Cut or open prey for the snake to smell 
  • Provide a suitable hiding place for snakes that prefer to eat privately
  • Move dead prey around the snake’s habitat to make it believe it is still alive 
  • Give the prey in the afternoon and leave it overnight for night hunters
  • Try a variety of prey with different colours, as some snakes will only eat prey with certain colours
  • Use tongs to feed it, run the prey over the most sensitive areas of your snake’s head (around the nostrils and mouth) to attract a feeding response
  • “Aromatize” the prey with an item from another prey
  •  Offer smaller prey.

Discover the Natural History of Your Snake

In order to feed your snake properly and in a way that encourages it to eat, you must understand your pet’s natural history.

For example, burrowing snakes require a habitat with sand or gravel in order for them to burrow. These snakes can often be motivated to hunt prey that crawls through the sandy substrate.

Tree snakes need branches in their habitat. These snakes might respond to prey that is hanging from a branch, but not to prey on the ground.

Keep in mind that offering the wrong prey is often one reason why a captive snake refuses to eat. Give your snake parts of prey that it would eat in the wild or similar substitutes for domestic food.

Feedback Precautions

If your snake has been anorexic for a long time, it is extremely important to rehydrate before trying to eat. The initial feeding just after a long fast should be done slowly to prevent excess calories and protein from causing the rapid uptake of glucose into cells, which could lead to a life-threatening decrease in serum potassium levels.

Never give a snake several prey at once, in order to avoid blockage, and make sure your snake defecates after it has eaten, before offering it another prey again.

Conclusions

In this blog post, we answered the following question: How long can a garter snake go without eating? We also talked about a very important topic: anorexia in snakes. We also talked about the improvement of the diet and the feeding of your garter snake.

In summary, a garter snake can go as long as 2 to 3 months without eating. This may happen due to natural causes or due to a health problem. Anorexia in snakes is the loss of appetite or not wanting to eat voluntarily. It could be the main health problem or it could be the second cause of other underlying problems.

Anorexia is a common problem in captive snakes, and while it is true that snakes can go a long time without food, it is important to find out why the pet snake lost its appetite.

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!

FAQ on How long can a garter snake go without eating?

How long can baby garter snakes go without eating?

A baby garter snake can go up to 3 months without eating. When your pet snake stops eating, you need to make observations in order to understand why it has stopped eating. Is it full? Is it carrying eggs? Is it too hot/cold? 

How often should you feed a garter snake?

You should feed a garter snake every 7-10 days unless it is carrying eggs. In this case, you will have to feed it every 4 to 6 days.

Why is my garter snake not eating?

Your garter snake may not be eating because they don’t like the prey, they are changing their skin or they are carrying eggs. Also, they may not be feeling comfortable in their terrarium. 

What do baby snakes eat and drink?

Baby snakes eat and drink the same food as adult snakes do, in smaller sizes. Baby snakes can eat small things such as insects, frogs, mice, eggs, and small animals they can fit in their mouths.

References

LiveScience – How Snakes Survive Months Without Food

Whatdosnakeseat.com – How Long Can A Garter Snake Go Without Eating

Animal Food Planet – What do baby snakes eat?

Petplace.com – Anorexia in snakes

Hi, I am Martin, I am a pet lover! I own a Golden retriever and a Long-eared Owl. They keep me company & I often had questions about them which I couldn't find answers for online. I put this hub together for people like me & you.

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