You don’t see many fat snakes, do you?
Obviously, they look extra large after they’ve had a big meal. But once that bump is digested, they go back to their normal size.
A pregnant snake might look bigger than normal too.
But can snakes get fat, in the same way we can?
We’ll answer that question and also take a look a the problem of underweight snakes, because it is actually far more common. We’ll also show you what you can do to prevent weight related issues in your pet snake.
Table of Contents
- 1 Can Snakes Get Fat?
- 2 How To Tell If My Snake Is Overweight
- 3 Is My Snake Underweight?
- 4 Preventing Weight Issues With Proper Care
- 5 Corn Snake Weight Experiment
- 6 Fat Snakes: Final Thoughts
Can Snakes Get Fat?
Yes, snakes can get fat. It is not common in the wild, but can certainly happen in captivity if you overfeed them.
Snakes have an extremely slow metabolism. That is why they feed far less often than other predators. Incredibly, they can go for months without eating a single meal.
In fact, snakes that live in temperate climates do this every year. They hibernate throughout the cold months, eating nothing and simply surviving off the fat reserves for the duration.
If they can create fat reserves to get them through the winter, they can obviously get fat. But it may not always be obvious that your snake is gaining too much weight.
How To Tell If My Snake Is Overweight
There are a few things to look out for that can indicate that your snake may need to go on a diet.
One is seeing space between the scales. This is a normal phenomenon after eating, when the food consumed widens the snake to expose the area between the scales.
But if your snake always looks like this, it has a weight problem. It is a result of the stomach being stretched and can actually lead to stretch marks on your snake, just like with humans.
You can also simply feel your snake. Its body should be firm, not squishy. If it feels firm in your hand, it is mostly muscle, as it should be. If it feels squishy, it has excess fat.
A final, and perhaps the most obvious, sign is when your snake develops ‘love-handles’. Yes, this can happen to snakes, too! These are excess gatherings of fat that start to collect on the body. This is basically the next step in weight gain from the previous one. Your snake will now feel even more squishy.
We understand that it can be hard to spot certain signs. Some are subtle and require a deeper inspection and for you to know what you’re looking for.
Being overweight is not the only weight-related issue snakes can suffer from. Like us, they can also be underweight. In fact, this is more common than being overweight, at least in nature. It should not happen in captivity.
Is My Snake Underweight?
Snakes can become underweight. While this may be rare in captivity, we want to make sure you know how to recognize the issue, so that you can remedy it before your snake suffers.
Some might find it difficult to see if their snake is underweight, but there are some clear signs.
Inspect the spinal line on the back of your snake. If this line is highly visible this could indicate your snake is underfed. The snake’s spine is generally quite hard to see due to a layer of fat. If it is clearly visible, we recommend increasing the frequency of feedings.
If your snake is underweight, because it often refuses food, remember that snakes can be picky eaters and they have different tastes, just like we do. Just because one corn snake enjoys mice, doesn’t mean another will like them too.
We advise experimenting with different solid foods, until you find something your pet loves. Smaller pet snakes are generally happy with mice and as they grow larger, progress onto rats.
These are generally safe foods that work for most snakes, but some may not like this menu. In many cases, the problem isn’t what they’re being fed, but how.
Snakes are natural predators and their instincts are to catch live prey. But you don’t want to feed them live animals if you can avoid it,. because a live rodent can actually injure your snake. So what can you do?
You can try to trick your snake and provide it a sense of thrill, by moving the prey around in front of it. Use a pair of tongs to hold the mouse or rat and move it around in front of your snake, until it strikes out and snatches it. The animal was just as dead, but the snake now feels like it hunted it down.
If nothing else works, you may have to resort to live prey. It is more dangerous for your snake and also more expensive, but it makes for a much more authentic feeding experience. If you have a picky eater on your hands, this may be the only way to get it to eat.
Apart from issues with the food and the way it is presented, snakes can suffer from eating disorders due to illness and improper care.
Preventing Weight Issues With Proper Care
Taking care of your pet snake is about more than just diets and weights. Snakes are extremely delicate animals that require very precise care routines.
They also need enough space to grow, which means getting a larger enclosure from the start, or planning ahead and having a larger one ready when your snake outgrows its current one.
Make Sure Your Snake’s Enclosure Is Always Large Enough
Snakes grow and sometimes we underestimate how fast they grow. A bigger serpent will need bigger facilities and this takes careful planning.
A pet snake deserves ample space and we need to consider how much space it will need, not only when we first get it, but also when it’s fully grown. Either get a large enough enclosure from the start to accommodate a fully grown adult snake, or have an upgrade ready to go when it is time.
We’ve all heard stories of pet owners who have to give away a pet because it grew too big. Planning for these growth changes will not only make the transition extremely easy but also provide your pet with a stable environment. This will affect your snake’s behavior and its eating habits as well.
Let Your Pet Snake Exercise
How do we humans keep our weight in check? Diet and exercise.
The same goes for snakes.
We’ve already covered the diet part of the equation. Now let’s talk about exercise.
Even in larger enclosures, there is a limit to how much your snake can move around. That is why it is essential that your snake be given some time outside its cage to roam free and work off some calories.
We can understand that letting certain snakes roam free could be considered dangerous. If you have species that poses a threat, maybe don’t do this. But if you have a harmless and docile snake, give it time to slither freely.
Create A Roam Zone
For more dangerous snakes, one option is to create a ‘Roam Zones’, where it is free to move about. Make sure to block off every access point, so there is no way for your snake to escape. Double check everything.
Taking your pet snake out of its enclosure can be a daunting experience but with the right precautions, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
The most important thing to plan for is knowing exactly where your snake can go. Experiment with letting it out in smaller environments and slowly build up to letting it freely go anywhere. Of course, with dangerous snakes, they should always be limited to a secure area.
Take Care With Children
Even if your snake is harmless, keeping it away from children is essential. This is not because your snake is a menace, but because children may not know how to properly deal with a snake.
Once you have taught a child how to behave around the snake, you can let them interact a bit. But never leave a child alone with a snake.
Whether child or adult, the key is to respect the snake. This means taking notice of its wishes and acting accordingly. If it clearly does not want to leave its enclosure, don’t force it. And if it is outside, but obviously wants to return to the safety of its terrarium, put it back inside.
We get that your friends are probably excited by (or perhaps scared of) the snake and they want to interact with it. But this kind of attention can stress the snake out, especially for a prolonged period of time.
Return it to its cage, if it looks uncomfortable. Don’t worry about disappointing your friends. Your snake’s health and well-being come first.
Another common time snakes need to leave their enclosure is when you give it a good cleaning. This also has an impact on your snakes health. A dirty enclosure can make it sick, which can result in it not waiting to eat and becoming underweight.
Cleaning The Enclosure
Cleaning an enclosure can be messy work and without the right tools, nearly impossible. We’re here to provide you with an insight into safely cleaning your snake’s enclosure to make this daunting task much easier.
Removing the serpent from the enclosure is the most important part of this process. We advise having a backup enclosure or temporary storage to house the snake while you clean. Once you’ve removed your snake let the cleaning commence.
Vacuum cleaners (hoovers for our British readers) are commonly used in enclosure cleaning, but we prefer not to make our vacuum smell like snake excrement.
A simple, cheap and accessible tool is a cat litter scooper like this one. Use it to remove any excrement. Then you can vacuum out the rest of the enclosure if you like, though we prefer to just scoop everything out, to ensure our vacuum does not end up smelling bad.
Smells are never great, but you can deodorize the enclosure with some easy home remedies. Combine white vinegar and dish soap to create a reptile-safe solution that both cleans and neutralizes odors. The vinegar is amazing at clearing all of the hard grit and debris within the enclosure and the dish soap provides a smooth finish.
Be careful not to leave your snake out of its enclosure for too long. A switch of environment can lead snakes to feel distressed, so try to make sure the cleaning process is quick and easy.
Corn Snake Weight Experiment
We launched a recent experiment to validate our information with a group of beautiful corn snakes. We fed them different amounts of food to see whether their slow metabolism would react to increased feeding. Each snake had to eat the same amount of food at the same intervals, for a few weeks with no changes.
After 8 weeks of feeding, we found that the snakes which fed more grew substantially more. The increase showed in both weight and overall size, which shows that overeating has a direct link to increased weight.
I know, imagine that! Nevertheless, we wanted to do the experiment so that we could say with 100% certainty that the primary cause of weight gain is overfeeding.
Fat Snakes: Final Thoughts
If you feed you snake too frequently, it will gain weight. There may be other causes of weight gain, but overfeeding is the most likely culprit.
An underweight snake, on the other hand, can be due to a number of issues. The surface problem is that the snake is not eating enough, but the underlying issue is the reason it is not eating. Is it stresses due to an environment that is too cold? Is it sick? You may not ever be sure, to be honest.
The best thing you can do is just make sure that you are caring for your snake in the best way possible. Keep it comfortable and due not cause it undue stress. A happy and healthy snake will soon resume eating as it should.