Feeding Hatchlings

This can be a very rewarding experience and also a very frustrating experience. A snake will not feed when stressed. If it is handled too much before settling into its new home or the temperature gradient is not correct, feeding problems can begin. Limit the amount handling time until your new snake is feeding well. Allow your snake a week or two to settle into its new home before attempting to feed it.

Always check with the breeder as to what food the snake has been feeding on previously. Some hatchlings prefer mice over rats. I feel it’s important to get them eating well at a young age on whatever they prefer. Most snakes will swap over to rats at a later stage without too much effort. Hatchlings should be feed weekly on appropriate sized food until they are 2 years old.

Hatchlings are best fed during the early hours of the night. I don’t recommend handling before feeding. You will get to know the mood of your snake in time. When the snake is sitting in an ambush position it is likely ready to eat. The food item needs to warm to touch (assuming you are feeding fresh thawed rodents).

I have found around mid-thirties temperature works well if you have a temperature testing gun (useful also to test hot spot temps). Introduce the food near the nose of your snake. Offer the food head first so the hatchling can bite straight onto the head of the prey. Once the snake grabs and wraps on the rodent gently back away and leave the snake alone to eat. Any movement or vibration may cause the snake to drop they food and not eat. Once the snake has eaten leave it alone for a day or so to digest.

If your snake does not want to eat within a minute or two don’t stress it by trying any longer. You can leave the food item in the enclosure/tub overnight and see if it eats it. Leave the food close to the snakes hide so it can drag it into a secure feeling place to eat if needed. If it still does not eat wait at least 4-5 days before trying again. If you try to often the snake will only stress out and become scared of the food. Other options are available if your snake will not eat after several feeding attempts.

Try not handling the snake at all during this process. Scenting can be useful to get the snake to strike at the prey. I have had success by using quail for scenting. Heat the food item and the quail in a bag together. Once warm, rub the rodent all over with the quail. If the snake eats it, try rubbing it less each feed afterwards until no scenting is required. Other options include braining, the process of cutting into the head of the rodent to expose some brain material. Some snakes seem to respond to this scent and strike.

Another option is washing the food item to remove the scent. The smell of rats or mice is sometimes not attractive to hatchlings. Using a mild soap can help make the rodent odour free.

If all these fail live feeding may be an option. Often the live rodent is the only thing a hatchling will strike at; after all it has the perfect smell and temperature. I have also put a hatchling inside a paper bag with live rodent and left them together for an hour.

As a last resort tease feeding may be necessary. This should be done in very short sessions to avoid further stressing the snake. Use the rodent to gentle rub on the snakes neck and back. It may trigger the snake to turn, bite and wrap. I have also gentle tapped the snake to get it to bite the prey. Again, don’t push this feeding method too far. The last thing you need is a snake that is scared of food.