By: Terry Jester
“How refreshing to finally get a call about a snake problem.
When Brian of Fort Collins contacted me recently about his ball python refusing to eat, I was more than happy to help.
Gerta, his python, was 3 feet long and lived in a 20-gallon reptile container. She was tolerant of people handling her and had been eating regularly until a few months ago.
The veterinarian couldn’t find anything wrong with the python, but she hadn’t eaten in six weeks and Brian was worried about her. Could I help him, he asked?
I asked Brian how often and how much the snake had been eating prior to her refusing food. He said that she normally ate two or three mice, depending on the size, once a week. Then I asked Brian what kind of exercise the snake usually received.
Brian was bewildered about the exercise question. He replied that she didn’t get any exercise because she lives in a container.
That is your problem, I told him. Snakes have to hunt for their food in the wild. Rarely does food wander up and climb into the snake’s mouth. The snake has to go find it.
Snakes have many muscles. The muscles help propel the snake across the ground, but they also help it digest its food. Snakes can digest food without much exercise, but it’s easier for them to digest if they are moving around a little.
Extremely lethargic, captive snakes being over-fed have a hard time digesting their food. They are full, so they don’t feel the need to move around. The food just sits there clogging up the system.
Eventually, everything sort of shuts down. Some switch in the snake’s brain flips and the snake no longer feels hunger.
I told Brian he needed to get Gerta out of the tank every day and get her exercising. The best exercise would be to have her swimming in warm water for a few minutes every day. This exercises all the muscles in her body and will help her system get back into a regular rhythm.
Once the feeding problem is gone, getting her out for a swim or a handling session at least twice a week is recommended.
When the hunger switch flips back on, I told him not to over-feed her. One large mouse or two small mice every week to 10 days is adequate for a 3-foot captive python. If she starts moving around a little bit in between feedings, that means her body is working as it should. Feed her more or more often only if she isn’t keeping her weight up.
After two weeks, Brian called and said his snake was back to eating. Gerta seems to enjoy her baths, and everyone except the mice are happy.”