My corn snake won't eat. What can I do ?

I frequently get asked this, and other questions relating to corn snakes refusing to eat their meals. Corn snakes are not generally too fussy about their food, as long as the food is of the small rodent, lizard or bird variety. The cheapest and easiest meals for your corn snakes are mice and baby rats. These are generally purchased frozen and left to thaw out on feeding day, but this is where some problems occur.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to make sure that the frozen food, be it an extra large mouse or a baby mouse, has completely thawed out. 15 minutes might be fine for a 'pinkie' (baby mouse), but a large mouse might take a couple of hours, but then leaving the rodent to thaw for far too long will result in your snake consuming meat which is not as fresh as it should be. Once the rodent has thawed out, it should be soft & floppy and a little warm, as if the poor thing had only just died!

I have never fed lizards to any of my corn snakes, so I can't really give any advice about doing so, but it's likely to be pretty much the same as the rodents, purchased frozen and left to thaw out at room temperature. Corn snakes also eat small birds and very young chicks, but these should only be fed to fully grown adult corn snakes as this type of meal is fairly large. Birds and chicks are a sort of delicacy to a snake and can be offered to a non feeding adult to entice feeding once more, however, they should not become a staple diet for a corn snake because they do not contain all of the necessary nutrients needed to maintain good health in a corn snake. This type of food can also be purchased frozen.

Reasons why a baby corn snake might refuse food

Baby corn snakes will usually eat a baby mouse (pinkie) during their first ten days of life. They will then eat a pinkie every 4~5 days until they are large enough to move on to fluffs or fuzzies (large pinkies with hair). However, sometimes a baby corn snake will refuse food from the very start, these are said to be 'non feeders', and getting them to accept a meal can be very stressful to both snake and owner. I'll cover this problem in a little more detail later on this page.

There are several reasons why a baby corn snake might sometimes refuse their food.
Here are some of the more likely causes, followed by some advice to help avoid the problem.

1. The snake is in, or is beginning their skin shedding cycle.
2. The snake may have been dehydrated during their shedding cycle causing an incomplete shedding.
3. The snake is simply not hungry due to possibly having been fed too recently.
4. The snake might be agitated due to over handling prior to being fed.
5. A fussy corn snake might refuse food which is not warm enough.
6. The snake may be to cold and will know instinctively not to eat.
7. The food may have lost it's odour due to being defrosted in hot water.
8. The snake may have a digestion problem and be unable to eat, regardless of being hungry.
9. The food on offer might be to large for the snake, leaving the snake unwilling to attempt eating it.
10. The environment the snake is kept in may have changed, leaving the snake nervous or anxious.
This could be any one of many things, such as:
Loud music or other loud noises causing vibrations within their vivarium.
Their environment becoming too hot or too cold due to being moved to another room.
Or possibly another snake which has recently been added to their vivarium.

Remedies to the above non feeding problems

1. Try to keep a log of when your snake sheds their skin. You will then be able to predict when your snake is going to enter their next shedding cycle and so put their feed on hold until they have actually shed their skin. If you notice any of the signs of shedding, such as a change in skin colouration or their eyes having a milky glaze, then the snake will be shedding their skin within a few days. The snake will be uncomfortable and irritable during this time and very unlikely to want to eat.

2. If the snake's skin looks and feels rough, and you find the snake's old skin in bits and pieces, instead of one continuous length, then it is possible that the snake is dehydrated and was unable to shed their skin properly. A snake's skin is very flexible, it has to be for the snake to be able to consume prey which could be several times the girth of their own neck. Having pieces of old dry skin still attached to their body might prevent the skin from stretching over anything they eat causing them to regurgitate. A snake with this problem will need to soak in water or a very damp bedding for an hour or so, this will help them shed their remaining skin and then they should be happy to eat.

3. A baby corn snake should eat a pinkie every 4~5 days until they are big enough to eat fluffs. Snakes usually eat what they need to survive, but some will eat more than they need if it is offered to them. Try not to over feed your snake, over feeding may make your snake grow a little faster, but the snake is also likely to gain unwanted amounts of body fat. Over feeding can also cause the snake to regurgitate, a very unpleasant vomit which you and your snake can well do without!

4. Corn snakes are usually a very pleasant natured snake and enjoy being handled, but if they are handled too much shortly before they are due a feed, they can sometimes go off their food. It is always a good idea to not handle your snake for a day before they eat, and also a day or two after as well.

5. Baby corn snakes will usually eat a defrosted pinkie with little or no fuss, but sometimes a snake will insist on their food being warm, especially the pinkies head. If this is the case, simply warm the head of the pinkie with a hair dryer on low power, or soak the pinkie in fairly hot water. This should do the trick, wiggling the pinkie in front of the snake's nose will also help.

NEVER use boiling hot water to thaw out or heat up a rodent of any size as this can literally cook the rodent, causing it to expand in size and become rubbery. Food which is too hot can be hazardous to your snake and should therefore never be on their menu, even if you leave the rodent to cool down, it will not be flexible enough to be swallowed whole by the snake, and on a more gory note, the rodent will be far more likely to burst open!!

6. Corn snakes need to be warm in order to be able to digest their meal properly. If your snake does not have somewhere warm to go to after a meal, then they might decide not to eat. You should always provide your snake with a warm area at all times, they will need both warm and cool areas within their vivarium in order to be able to regulate their body temperatures.

7. Defrosting pinkies and fluffs in hot water is very useful when you want the food defrosted quickly, however, using this method reduces the natural scent of the rodent, and a fussy snake might find the lack of 'mouse smell' a bit of a turn off. This is easily rectified by squeezing a tiny amount of blood or brain matter from the nose of the rodent, thus giving the snake something to taste. Larger rodents will not give up blood so easily and you might need to puncture the head of the rodent with a cocktail stick in order to abstract some blood or brain. Another useful tip is to wipe the head of the rodent in hamsters urine, this will certainly get the snakes attention, providing of course, you have a hamster!

8. If you can not find a reason for your snake refusing to eat, then it could be down to illness. Snakes can become ill just the same as you or I. If you are concerned about the health of your snake, then the best solution will be a visit to your veterinarian for advice and/or treatment.

9. Corn snakes can usually eat prey that is up to 1½ times their own girth. This is achieved by (a) having flexible lower jaws which can dislocate making the mouth much larger than it appears, (b) having flexible skin and scales allowing their usually thin neck & body to stretch to the size of the food, and (c) a lot of muscles capable of squeezing and crushing their food as it makes it's way to the snakes stomach.

Personally, I prefer to feed my snakes mice which are no more than 1¼ times the snake's girth. If your snake refuses food which is the normal size for the snake, it could be that the snake feels threatened by the size of the prey, so try offering them a smaller meal, for example, two small pinkies instead of a fluff. Baby corn snakes are easily capable of consuming baby mice (pinkies), but pinkies also come in different sizes, from newly born which are about the size of a baked bean, to pre-fluffs which are obviously much larger. If you think that it is a size issue, try asking your supplier for their tiniest pinkies. Feeding your snake a smaller meal could make all the difference...

10. Corn snakes do not have external ears, instead, they have an inner ear capable of picking up vibrations in the air. Snakes are also capable of sensing vibrations on the ground and they use this ability in the wild to sense where their prey is.

If a snake is housed in a vivarium which is located in a particularly noisy environment, loud music, etc, then the snake could feel threatened by the vibrations and become agitated. If your snake is in a noisy environment, and is refusing food, then try locating them somewhere quieter.

Reasons for an adult corn snake to refuse food

Older corn snakes might also refuse food for any of the reasons mentioned above,
but they might also refuse food for any of the following reasons.

1. It could be the snake's mating season. Male snakes have other things on their minds.
2. If female, the snake could be carrying eggs. She may stop eating utill after she has laid them.
3. The snake could be hibernating. A snake in hibernation should not be offered any food until they come out of hibernation and warm them selves up.

If you don't think the reason is any of the above, ask your vet for advice

Baby corn snakes who refuse food right from the start

I mentioned earlier about 'non feeders', baby snakes who decide to die from hunger rather than eat. I don't know the reason for this behaviour, maybe it's an evolution thing? All I do know is when I have a clutch of eggs hatch, I am likely to get 1 or 2 'non feeders'. I always try to coax these baby snakes to feed, one way or the other, and I'll only give up on a snake if it is obvious that the snake is incapable of digesting a meal, this is where the food will just lie in the snake's stomach and literally rot.

I have subsequently come up with a few tips to help with getting non feeders to accept food.

Try warming up the head of the pinkie before feeding it to the baby snake. This makes the pinkie
appear more like a live one and maybe the snake will want to only eat live pinkies at this point.

Try tapping the snake's body with the pinkie, this will torment the snake and might lead to them
striking at the pinkie, and once grabbed volentarily, they might also consume the pinkie.

Try feeding the snake in diferent light intensities. Some snakes will only feed in little or no light at all.

Try adding 'mouse scent' to the pinkie. This can be purchased in liquid form and when added to the
pinkie will give it a strong smell of mouse. This might also stimulate the snake to start feeding.

Try putting the baby snake and their food somewhere more private, such as in a small plastic
tub or small cardboard box. This extra 'privacy' may be just what the snake needs.

Try puncturing the pinkie's chest with a cocktail stick and gently squeezing out a drop of blood.
This strong scent of blood can also help stimulate a non feeding snake to start eating.

Try 'braining' the pinkie. This technique involves puncturing the head of a pinkie with a cocktail stick
and squeezing out a small amount of brain matter. Although this seems a little gross, the scent
of brain is particularly effective at stimulating the feeding response in non feeding snakes.

Try leaving your 'brained' pinkie on a piece of paper towel, inside a small upside down
pot or a small plastic tub, with a hole in the top large enough for your snake to fit
in to, and leave this on top of a pre-warmed heat mat for 5 ~ 10 minutes.

Using a warm pot to feed a non feeding baby corn snake.

Now hold your snake with their head hovering over the hole, the snake should feel the urge to enter the hide, (a) because they do not like large open spaces and they nanaturally like to hide, and (b) because there is a strong scent of warm rodent eminating from the hide. If they do enter the pot, delicately touching the end of their tail will make them enter the hide a little faster. Once they are inside, cover the hole by covering the entire pot with a damp flannel or similar, something that won't seal the pot air tight, and that won't be pushed off by the snake.

At this point it is VERY IMPORTANT to switch off the heat mat, otherwise the snake could overheat and possibly die, if they were left inside the pot for too long. Leave the baby snake inside the pot for a while, and use a torch to check from time to time to see if the snake has eaten the pinkie. I have had great success using this method!

Disguising the pinkie's scent with a warm chick

Disguising the scent of a pinkie or fluff can be done a number of ways, but we use this method.

First, defrost a frozen chick in hot water & dry it out with kitchen towel. Wash one or more FROZEN pinkies thoroughly using cold water & a tiny amount of soap, then rinse the soapy water off with hot (not boiling) water. Dry the pinkies with clean kitchen towel and then place them tight against the chick's belly, or under the chick's wings. Wrap the chick & pinkies up tightly in another clean piece of kitchen towel & leave on a warm heat mat for an hour. After the hour is up, unwrap & remove the pinkies with plastic tweezers, be careful not to touch them with your hands as this will leave your own scent on them. Finally, hover the warm pinkie in front of the snake & allow time for the snake to become interested in the food. If the snake remains uninterested, try placing both snake & chick scented pinkie in a small ventilated tub for a while, or use the pre-warmed pot method mentioned above.

If you have an older corn snake not willing to eat mice, then this procedure can be used for them too...

The only difference here is that a larger rodent will be used, and this will require either more time wrapped up on the heat mat, or for the rodent to be properly defrosted immediately after being washed. Another idea is to make a small cut in the belly of the chick, this will allow the rodent to soak up a little of the chick's blood, giving an even greater disguise. If this is still not enough, try rubbing the rodent's head in the cut you made on the chick's belly.

Other disguises can be purchased from reptile shops, including reptile scent. Wild corn snakes eat small lizards, and disguising a mouse with the scent of a lizard might be work just as well.

If you have an adult corn snake, you might want to offer them the chick, rather than wasting it. Wild corn snakes are also partial to small birds, and a chick will proove very tast! Be careful not to offer a chick to a snake which doe not look big enough to consume it.

Desperate Measures!!

PLEASE NOTE THIS PROCEDURE CAN BE STRESSFUL TO BOTH YOU & YOUR
SNAKE AND SHOULD ONLY BE ATTEMPTED WHEN ALL ELSE HAS FAILED.

Hold the corn snake by their neck close to the head, with the rest of their body wrapped around your fingers, then gently tap the snakes' nose repeatedly with a pinkie in a left to right motion, this will torment the snake and their response is usually to snap at the food. If the snake does grab the food, KEEP jiggling the pinkie until you notice the snake's jaws appear to dislocate and they start to move their head slowly in a left to right motion, this generally means they are going to eat their meal, if this does happen, you should try to remain quite still until the snake has a very firm hold on the pinkie. You should then carefully place the snake down and cover them with a piece of paper towel. to conceal them.

If you do manage to get your snake eating, please ensure that they have somewhere warm in their vivarium to rest for a couple of days, snakes must be warm to digest their meal properly. After successfully getting your snake to feed, it is heart breaking to find that they have regurgitated because they were not warm enough.