What to Do If Your Snake Regurgitates

When a snake regurgitates, it loses essential enzymes for digestion. Wait at least 10 days before feeding the snake again. If a snake feeds too soon after regurgitation, it will happen again. Vomiting multiple times damages the internal organs which leads to chronic regurgitation syndrome.

What to do if your snake regurgitates | Snake Hacks
Bull and pine snakes are prone to regurgitation.

Causes for regurgitation

  • stress
  • handling too soon after eating
  • too large of a prey item
  • overfeeding
  • power feeding
  • temperature too cool/lack of a warm spot
  • disease
  • snake mites
  • retained shed
  • chronic regurgitation syndrome

The dangers of power feeding

Power feeding was common in the 1980s. I highly recommend against it today. It leads to various health issues and shortens the life of your snake. Power feeding also causes obesity in snakes.

An obese snake isn’t a healthy one

Similar to humans, an obese snake isn’t a healthy one. It’s especially hard on the liver and kidneys so avoid it at all costs. Aside from that, power feeding also leads to regurgitation in some cases. Slow down when this happens.

I’ve noticed pine and bullsnakes especially susceptible to regurgitation syndrome which often starts by over-feeding. Be careful when feeding a boa constrictor. Even with the potential of growing ten feet, it’s not the same as a reticulated or Burmese python who double their size.

Feeding every seven days is the least for many adult snakes while some species feed every two to three weeks. Make sure to research the snake you keep and understand limitations.

Snake feeding tips

Rats or mice for dinner?

While opinions vary, I feel rats are far more nutritious than mice. Rats are meatier and heavier in bone structure. For the most part, I use all life stages of rats to feed my snakes. Even rat pinkies are better than mice pinkies if the snake is large enough to swallow them.

Never force a baby snake to eat an inappropriately sized meal. This is why I always keep extra pinkies in the freezer, you never know when they’ll come in handy. 

I find snakes reach their full growth potential when fed rats and that’s without power feeding them. Actually, I spread out feedings to every third week when I use rats on my corn and rat snakes. The snakes also stay satisfied. Once they start moving around a bit it’s getting close to feeding time which usually happens after two weeks.

Again, only feed your snakes appropriately sized rodents. Rats are more costly than mice which is a drawback for some. I couldn’t afford to do it when I was younger but now it’s my preferred method of feeding.

When to switch from rats back to mice

If you notice your colubrid is getting obese and its scales are stretched apart, switch them back over to mice and avoid rats until the appropriate time.

Live or pre-killed?

Many hobbyists argue over this. Ultimately, feeding pre-killed is better and not just for the convenience of keeping rodents in the freezer until needed. There’s no chance of the snake getting bit or scratched when fed pre-killed rodents.

Have you ever seen a snake who lost a fight to a rat? It’s not a pretty sight and scarring is inevitable.

While that’s the most important reason, internal parasites die when frozen. Not all rats and mice have internal parasites but some do. Even if a snake eats a parasitic infested rodent doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll transfer to the snake but they could. You get the idea, better safe than sorry. 

Arizona Mountain Kingsnake
This female Arizona mountain kingsnake regurgitated once when I first got her.

How long you should wait to handle your snake after feeding

Not to mention the past again but back in the 1980s, the general consensus was allowing 24 hours to pass after a meal before handling the snake. 48 hours is the recommendation today and I agree with it.

Handling a snake too soon after feeding can lead to regurgitation and other health problems. Stay on the safe side. 48 hours gives the snake plenty of time to digest its meal when temperatures are ideal.

By the third day, they’re ready to go. Some snakes with faster metabolisms may pass their most recent meal by the third day. This is often the case with my bullsnakes

How often to feed your snakes and the size of prey

While species vary, feed hatchlings up to a year appropriately sized pinkies every four days. Decrease yearlings to every seven days while feeding adults every seven to ten days. Some species, such as tree pythons, feed once every three weeks.

Other variations in feeding include the age, health, weight, activity, and gravidity of the snake. Less active snakes keep more weight than active ones. Prey items are no wider than the widest part of the snake’s body.

Do snakes need UVB lighting?

In most cases, UVB is not necessary for snake keeping. For the most part, UVB is important to insect-eating lizards who need sunlight to enable calcium absorption.

Rodent-fed snakes and monitor lizards get their calcium from the bones of their prey which makes artificial lighting unnecessary for this purpose. UVB lighting is sometimes advantageous in snake keeping when a photoperiod is necessary to induce breeding. Even so, most breeders do so without UVB lighting.

UVB is good for aesthetic value

While UVB lighting makes a nice effect for display animals, it’s purely for aesthetic value. Some snakes, such as water snakes, do benefit from UVB lighting which may prevent blistering. Many UVB bulbs sold commercially do not offer heat except for the mercury bulbs. I’ve never used any kind of lighting for my snakes while always used it for keeping lizards, including monitors.

Treatment for Snake Mites
This Great Basin gopher snake arrived with a light mite infestation. On top of that, he regurgitated the first time I fed him. With some tender loving care, he made a full recovery and is doing great today.

Keeping the proper temperature is important

While keeping a snake too cool is bad for digestion, an excessively warm enclosure with no escape is just as bad. Include both a warm spot and a cooler area for your snake. While exact temperatures are species-specific, the average ambient temperature ranges from 78ºF to 80ºF while the warm spot shouldn’t exceed 90ºF.

I keep my snakes at about 79ºF cool, with a warm spot averaging 85ºF to 88ºF. Again, the exact temperature is entirely dependent on species. Those I just mentioned don’t apply to overwinter temperatures.

Humidity box part 1
A retained shed can cause regurgitation although that wasn't the case with this Thayer's kingsnake.

Heating  options for snake keeping

My favorite method of heating is electric heat tape without question. While I used bulbs to heat my lizards, I’ve never depended on them for any of my snakes. Never use a heat rock, or heat stone to warm up your snake.

They leave serious burns and I don’t know anyone who recommends them today. Plastic under tank heaters are pretty good but use a thermostat for safety. With a thermostat, you can get the warm spot exactly where it’s needed.

Avoid drafts

Avoid placing your snake enclosure anywhere near drafts. This goes for both air conditioning and forced-air heating. Cool, drafty conditions lead to upper respiratory infections while hot, dry air leads to poor shedding, retained eye caps and dehydration.

Conclusion

Avoid having your snake regurgitate first by not overfeeding it, keeping it at the right temperature, and not offering prey items which are too big for it. These are the main causes for regurgitation but there are many others as well. Prevention is the key in this particular case.

Do you have advice for those who are dealing with snake suffering from regurgitation syndrome? Please feel free to share your advice in the comments section below!

What to Do If Your Snake Regurgitates

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