Hatchling and Juvenile Snakes Not Eating Well

Yarmouth Veterinary Center

75 Willow Street
Yarmouth , ME 04096






Most hatchling and junvenile snakes will eat for the first time within a few days to a month. There are many reasons why a young snake will not eat. In general, we recommend a physical exam before or along with using the strategies described below. A fecal test is also worthwhile; if you collect a fecal when it will be a day or more before the exam store it with a bit of damp paper towel in a Zip-lock bag. 



The first, and best, feeding option is to confine the snake with a live fuzzy or pinkie mouse in a reptile deli cup overnight. (Reptile deli cups can be purchased at pet stores or online, or home-made from a regular deli cup. Any secure, small enclosure with a ventilated top is fine.) Once the snake eats, repeat this feeding strategy once weekly for 3 weeks before trying thawed frozen fuzzy or pinkie.


Food options to consider, using the same deli-cup technique, if the snake does not eat:

~ Even very tiny hatchlings can eat a whole day-old pinkie, but the pinkie can be cut in half if the suspicion is that a whole one is too large. Baby pygmy mice and baby spiny mice are smaller than regular pinkies.

~ Hatchling ball pythons can eat,and may prefer, a fuzzie over a pinkie. 

~ Brain the pinkie: using a scalpel blade or sharp knife make an incision into the pinkie’s skull, exposing the brain tissue. 

~ The first meal for some snakes in the wild (for example, some boas) is a small reptile. An anole, tree frog, or house gecko can be offered as an alternative to any snake that is not eating. Or, a lizard can be rubbed on a pinkie to transfer some scent. 



Review all aspects of the snake’s care, focusing on the enclosure, temperature, and humidity. This is a short list of items, but they are very important. Having all of these details correct does not guarantee success, but having one or more of them incorrect guarantees failure. 

~ Hatchlings will begin eating sooner if they live in a small enclosure. A plastic vivarium the size of a large shoe box is an appropriate size until the snake is several months old. 

~ Most hatchlings will not feed unless they have a hide box or retreat. There are many options, ranging from a rock cave to a cardboard box. The opening to the hide box should be about 2 times the width of the reptile. 

~ There should be a temperature gradient in the enclosure, with a cool end and a warm end, and this should be appropriate for the species. For example, a gradient for corn snake hatchlings is low to mid-70s at the cool end of the enclosure and a high of 85 at the high end.

~ For some snakes a nighttime cooldown is appropriate. For example, the night temperature for corn snakes is low 70s. 

~ Relative humidity should be appropriate for the species. For example, corn snakes do best at 30% to 70%. 

~ Each hatchling and junvenile should be housed alone.

~ Handling by people should be minimized until the snake has eaten two or three times. The snake should not be handled at all for 48 hours after it has eaten. The enclosure should be in a low-traffic part of the home.

~ Expose the snake to unfiltered sunlight daily. It does not have to be for a long time, 5 or 10 minutes is fine. This is worthwhile even when you are using proper indoor lighting. Unfiltered means direct exposure, not through glass, plexiglass, or anything else, so you will need to take the snake outside in an enclosure with a wire or similar top. Of course, be very  careful the cage is secure, and do not leave the snake unattended.



~ The snake should always have an appropriate water supply, but we do not routinely recommend soaking as an appetite stimulatant. If dehydration or constipation is suspected or diagnosed, then a daily soak for 15 to 20 minutes in about 1" deep warm (about 80 degrees) water may be helpful. 

~ We do not recommend force feeding. If the snake has been force fed we recommend waiting 1 week before attempting to feed it appropriately.

~ We do not recommend syringe feeding as part of the initial plan, but this sometimes becomes important at a later time.

Yarmouth Veterinary Center