Feeding Hatchlings

A guide to successfully feeding difficult hatchlings.

       When you buy a hatchling it should be feeding on dead defrosted pinkies. The following notes are intended to help other breeders to overcome any problems with new born snakes.

       Newly hatched snakes will not eat until they have shed their skin for the first time. This is usually 8 to 12 days after hatching. Some hatchlings are reluctant to feed at first and it may be that in the wild these would not eat until after hibernation. Unless you can offer conditions that are conducive to hibernation we need to stimulate a feeding response. Letís take things a step at a time, donít handle your snake on the day you intend to offer it food.

       Offer your snake a defrosted pinkie. Leave this in the hatchling box for 2 or 3 hours then check. This works with 95% of hatchlings.

       Wait 3 days then offer your snake a second defrosted pinkie. Place this inside the snakeís hiding place and leave in overnight. This additional security often works.

       Still not eaten? Then wait 3 days, wash a pinkie with soap and warm water and rinse thoroughly. Try offering this overnight. Oddly enough, this works at times.

       Check that living conditions are correct. Hatchlings are often happier in a small container (25 cm x 10 cm x 5 cm a sandwich box with ventilation holes is ideal). Also check on temperature range (use a thermometer, donít guess) and offer small hiding places, security is important to any animal.

       Try warming a pinkie up to body temperature with your hair dryer before offering it to the snake.

       Try offering freshly killed pinkies, the scent of the food animal will be stronger and stimulate a response. If you smoke try wearing rubber gloves to prevent the smell of tobacco being transferred to the pinkie.

       Very occasionally, offering a live pinkie will start the feeding response. If this is successful wait 3 or 4 days and go back to offering a defrosted pinkie.

       Now for the grizzly bit. Try crushing the head of a dead pinkie and offer this to your pet. The scent of blood and brains sometimes works.

       Itís 4 or 5 weeks since your snake sloughed and it has still not eaten? Then letís try something a little more active. Try holding a pinkie in a pair of tweezers and annoying the snake with it. Donít touch the snakeís head, this just frightens it. If your pet strikes and you release the pinkie and slowly withdraw, he/she may well start eating. Itís worth a try.

       Hold your snake behind its head with two fingers and your thumb. Annoy it by gently tapping its nose with the head of a pinkie. This often causes the snake to bite the food and if you gently let go of the pinkie the snake will continue to hold on. Very gently hold the snake head down (so that the pinkie remains hooked on its teeth) and slacken your grip. Now you need patience, stay very still and wait, the snake will probably drop the pray item several times before he/she eventually starts to eat it. If time is pressing you can try putting your snake back in its box, (always tail first), but the hatchling will probably drop the pinkie. This is MY most successful method of assist feeding hatchlings.

       If all else fails it is possible to force food down a hatchlingís throat. It is best to start with something simple like a 2 cm piece of mouse tail. Find something that is about 1 mm in diameter and made of plastic or metal (a paper clip?). Roll this over your snakeís bottom lip to open its mouth. With the mouth open, insert the thick end of the mouse tail and remove the paper clip. Hold the snake head down and wait. The hairs on the mouse tail make it difficult for your snake to spit it out, so it swallows the tail.

       It is also possible to force a whole pinkie down the snakeís throat but this can be very stressful (to you both) and should be a last resort. You may also be told about pinkie pumps, these are very specialist pieces of equipment and require practice to use properly, it is all too easy to kill the snake with one.

       If all the above fails then contact another breeder or your local herpetological group and ask them for help.

      Hatchlings you purchased from a reputable breeder should be problem free and come complete with a feeding record and lots of free advice. Always select a healthy, active hatchling from someone you know or who has been recommended. Ask for a phone number and/or an address. Remember -It's never cheap if it dies!

Return to Care Sheets page                      David Kershaw  

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