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Feeding Snakes: Live vs. Frozen-Thawed

Information On Feeding Snakes: Live Versus Frozen-Thawed

The Debate

The debate over whether or not to choose frozen/thawed (f/t) over live food when feeding your snake is one that handlers have been discussing for years. There are several main factors to think about when deciding which is right for you. The first and most important is the safety of the snake. The incisors of a rodent can easily puncture the snake doing considerable damage. Even when a snake strikes and constricts there is a chance that the rodent will get a bite in. A lost eye or scarring from a quick bite is bad enough but if the snake does not subdue the prey, a rodent can actually do enough damage that the snake my have to be put down. I have seen pictures of a ball python that had a mouse left over-night in its enclosure. When the owner came out to check in the morning, there was nothing that could be done for the snake.

The second reason is it is much easier and cheaper to keep frozen on hand then to have to drive to a pet store and hope that they have the appropriate sized prey item in stock. A live large rat can cost you between $6-8, a frozen rat of the same size costs about $1.50 from an online supplier. I use RodentPro because they have great quality merchandise at reasonable prices. Their items are packed nice and are dry. A soggy thawed out food item can turn off a snake.


Switching over to f/t from live is not as hard as you would think. The most common problem is that the handler does not allow sufficient thawing time. You should let the prey item thaw to room temperature than place it under a heat light for a few minutes to get it warmer than room temperature. If you need to thaw the food item out faster you can seal it in a Ziploc bag and float it in warm water. The next step is to transfer the snake into a feeding tub. This is just a safe clean bucket or Sterilite bin that the snake can eat in without risking the ingestion of substrate. After the snake is in the tub pick up the prey item with long tweezers and offer it to the snake. Sometimes the snake will strike as soon as it sees the food, sometimes you may have to mimic the actions of a live prey item. Some snakes prefer having the food item left with them for a little while before they will eat; in this case the Sterilite bins with the locking lids are perfect. We just drill air holes in the sides and you can leave the snake in there as long as it needs to eat.

If the snake does not switch over there are several methods you can use to entice the snake to take f/t. Scenting is the most common; this is just rubbing the f/t food item against a live mouse. With pinkies you can also “brain” the food item; this is just making a small incision with a knife across the head of the f/t pinkie. Another method is to feed one live prey item followed by one f/t item, since the snake is already in feeding mode it may take the f/t without hesitation.

If the snake is too large to be put into a feeding tub and you have to feed it in its enclosure, make sure there is no loose substrate that could be accidentally ingested. The same methods apply to large snake and prey items when using f/t, however you may need a longer pair if tongs to offer the food item.

On a side note I have noticed a reduction in snakes striking when the lid is opened after switching them to feeding tubs. I believe this is the snake realizing that a food item is not coming through the open screen so it does not have to be aggressive. This makes it easier for the handler to pick up the snake with less fear of an accidental strike.

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Author: Jay Demore