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Old 07-04-17, 08:28 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

Background to my question in the thread title. I should note this is mostly to do with boas and pythons and colubrids tends to have a higher metabolism and most keepers still feed them more frequency.

At one point it was quite common for keepers to stuff their snakes in various ways that we all refer to as "power feeding" now.

Over the decades it's come as no surprise that snakes in the long term suffer from it. So people began to change their ways and offer a more modest diet. Smaller meals spread out more.

I've personally noticed all over the internet feeding regimes people discuss that seem to have almost gone to the extreme opposite of power feeding. Has anyone else noticed this?

I see older and smaller snakes in pictures than ever before. Retics and burms barely reaching 10 feet within 2 or 3 years.

Am I out to lunch or has others seen this as well?
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Old 07-04-17, 08:41 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

undoubtedly 'maintenance feeding' has become common but I still think the majority of snakes are over, not underfed.

The balance has to be right - as you know I feed reasonably frugally compared to some yet my snakes all have healthy growth rates whilst staying lean. I also tailor my feeding regimes per species so my Cuban boa and rat snake (both adults) feed far more frequently than my boa imperator.

She's a good case in point though. A 2yo she is on a small adult rat every 3-4 weeks and even with the CA influence she's still a healthy 4' or so.

But yes, people are intentionally underfeeding to keep giant snakes on the smaller side and this is as equally wrong as power feeding.
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Old 07-04-17, 08:54 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

Some keepers MOST CERTAINLY are underfeeding their snakes, especially the larger species, but also the smaller or more active colubrids that "for no reason" the keeper can't successfully breed. From one extreme to the other.
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Old 07-04-17, 09:43 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

I feed my BI and BC very little. I could feed them a little more frequently but for them I just don't feel it is healthy. I mean growing up Lucky would sometimes eat even less than I feed the young ones now and she is 8ft.

Cleo, one of the retics, is about 7ft at a yearish old. I expect she'll hit 10ft easy by 2 years and she came from smaller parents. I finally found another rabbit supplier that is nearby and she'll be getting rabbits by the end of the month. Just have to schedule the pickup day with the guy. I'm expecting she'll have a major growth spurt soon!

The colubrids eat every 7-14 days depending on which ones.

I honestly never notice underfeeding but I'm not that active in retic or colubrid groups. I'm more active in the BI or BC groups and overfeeding is something I notice all the time. I also notice corns being overfed all the time and getting fat. I have noticed people asking how to keep their giants on the smaller side. I don't really understand it since you shouldn't have bought a giant if you didn't want a big snake. Seems obvious that a giant will get big it's in the name
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Old 07-04-17, 11:04 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

I have noticed several people swearing by 'conservative' feeding. And many people I talk to locally or who advertise giants, even dwarf giants, online, suggest maintenance feeding only to keep the animal a manageable size. I have rescued several snakes in the past years, and all if them were way too skinny. Including a 9 month old ball python who only weighed 79 grams when I got her. She is now w years old and around 1,300 grams or so. (I need to do an accurate weight on her). So yeah, it's a thing.

On the other side, I also talk to local PET owners who over feed cobsistantly.

This is where I think the line is. Pet owners don't look at these animals as anything more than a pet. Get it, put it in a tank, feed it. They usually only have one it two snakes. However, you then have hobbiests who go all out with care and feed a more realistic diet. Some of these hobbiests also breed, but not on any kind of profit scale. Then you have breeders who are in it only for the profit. They treat the animals as assets and milk them for the most amount of money without trying spend much on them. Of course they require racks, heat, food, bedding, but those things can be scaled back on, purchased at a low quality, and so on. Due to space issues, they want their non breeding stock to stay small so they can house more and sell more. Then there are the reptile FLIPPERS. Purchasing animals at near nothing or 'rescuing' them only to not feed them or make sure they are better before passing them off at market value to an unsuspecting buyer, usually for a pet, not usually to hobbiests or breeders who would be able to see this a mile away.

Not all for profit breeders are like this of course. We have several amazing people on this forum alone that I have done business with, and look forward to doing business with either again, or when I am finally ready to purchase what they specialize in. I personally strive to be able to be a small hobby breeder myself.

Sorry for the rant. Again, my views are not black and white. Not ALL of any one of these categories are all the exact same. There are always exceptions.

As for me, I feed a bit more than 'conservatively' but I do not powerfeed. I also do not feed in a set schedule. When I did, I had a lower feed rate. Now that I sometimes wait a week or three. All of my animals consistently eat. The only ones who fed weekly are my high metabolism species like my garter and Ridley. Even the corns are fed at random, but seem to have excelent growth so far. I also feed a varied diet of mouse, rat, and chicks. Sometimes a snake will get a super small meal, sometimes they will get a large one. I monitor their activity, sheds, poo, ect, and so far, every one is healthy. Caresheetd are guides, not the law of reptiles. Doing what works best for you and your animals is that sweet spot that I think many in the hobby (pets, breeders, ect) struggle with.
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Old 07-04-17, 11:50 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

Unfortunately it's happening more and more..... As has been said, people are now advising to "maintenance feed" giants to keep them smaller. Disgusting behaviour in my opinion but it's the same mentality of people doing this as the ones who put morphs, appearance and monetary value over the health of each animal....

Sad thing is, a hungry retic is gonna be more than a handful so I don't get why people would do it with something that holds the strength that they do.

My retic is 50% madu, 25% jamp and the rest mainland. I was feeding him every 5-7 days as a hatchling upto 1.5 yrs old and now I'm feeding him every 7-10 days at 2yrs old... he's barely 4ft and tbh I was expecting (hoping) for a bit bigger.... hoping there's a growth spurt coming.
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Old 07-04-17, 01:39 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

If you ask my ball pythons, they probably think I over feed them as they refuse meals as often as they eat them. My womas on the other hand would quite surely tell you I starve them. Unfortunately aspedities have a ridiculous desire to eat all the time. This is probably due to their natural prey being low fat cold blooded creatures. When feeding rodents you cave to cut back because obesity is a serious issue and common among both womas and blackheads.
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Old 07-04-17, 03:11 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

In all fairness, it's rather difficult to REALLY properly feed an animal that

1. Has a very slow metabolism compared to mammals
2. Can in fact control it's own metabolism by using temperature
3. Would overfeed itself if given the chance
4. Has little to no accessible (and accurate) information or references on 'proper weight' or 'required nutrient intake'
5. Is extremely hardy to underfeeding and has natural mitigation against it (ie- slower growth rate)

How do you know for proper growth the animal at a given weight needs a 20 gram mouse, or a 17 gram mouse, or 24 gram, every X days? How much grams of rodent does a kingsnake need per day? Or a python? Or a boa? And how about the several 100 of species in those genera, and their subspecies that inhabit radically different habitats?

Best you can do is estimate and monitor the animal physical health and reference it against other similar snakes or a general description of how a healthy animals should look like or should behave.

It's very easy to make mistakes here, because an overfed animal will simply grow faster and bigger, yet won't be healthy... but it's close to impossible to tell that for anyone without experience.

To be honest, it's probably much less of a problem to slightly underfeed an animal than to overfeed, at least in the case of snakes. But I'm no vet, or even close to, so that is really a question that should go into the direction of a (true) specialist.
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Old 07-04-17, 04:13 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

This is a subject I'm very interested in following. I've read through different thoughts and opinions backwards and forwards, and tend to stick to a more conservative diet for a few reasons.

I've included a link that (hopefully) will give you the raw data of the nutritional content of several domestic and wild prey items. I reference that pdf a lot in conjunction with http://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-exotic-and-zoo-animals/nutrition-in-reptiles. Neither of these sources are perfect, but I trust the information in them and try to draw my own conclusions from them.

In the pdf I attached, there's a lot of raw data for the nutritional contents of prey items. There's a lot of information missing, but there should be enough available to fill in the gaps. I used mice for this example since it represented four different species (including domestic) and three different age groups. Between every species of mice listed, the wild mice always had a higher protein content and lower fat content when compared to their domestic equivalents. The exact numbers fluctuated between species and age groups, but on average the protein content was 1.45% higher in wild species whereas fat content was 1.45% higher in domestic species. This probably has more to do with each animal's lifestyle more than the species itself, but the reasoning is mostly irrelevant unless you can properly maintain and exercise your own stock of feeders.

This is the biggest reason why I tend to feed conservatively. Even if a given species would typically eat every 7 days in the wild, I still think it'd be more to the animal's benefit to feed every 9 or 14. Captive snakes typically aren't getting as much exercise as they would in the wild (since they don't have to hunt, seek shelter/heat, mate, or compete at the same level as their wild counterparts), so if you couple that with the fact that the prey we're feeding them is higher in fat/lower in protein, it isn't difficult to see why the majority of captive reptiles are overweight or even obese. This has made me incredibly wary about my snake's diet and overall weight. They each get monthly weigh in's and I adjust their schedules on an individual basis, which I believe is the best way to determine for yourself if you're under/overfeeding an animal.

I hope these links help other people like they have me
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File Type: pdf D317WholePreyFinal02May29 (1).pdf (67.9 KB, 2 views)
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Old 07-04-17, 06:58 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

OK....If answer this honestly, is someone going to be knocking on my door?

Yes...I underfeed my snake, and been doing it for 15+ years. She's just fine and very friendly, 5' long ( pretty much max length for a rat snake).

I mean: here's the truth, once they get half grown, they can go months without food.
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Old 07-04-17, 10:54 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

Very good topic. It does seem like there's been a swing from more liberal to more conservative feeding regiments. I've even made some slight adjustments myself. I've never power fed any of my snakes but I probably feed my critters a bit more than the average keeper, especially for the first 2 years. As babies if my snakes are hungry, they pretty much get fed. As they get bigger and older I start to dial back their feeding frequency. All of my snakes still eat every 7-14 days. I believe that's works well for my colubrids and pythons. I don't keep boas but I've heard they have slower metabolisms and are more prone to obesity. I can't see me feeding any of my animals once a month unless it had a huge meal. When I start feeding rabbits I might have a 3-4 week gap between feedings. Snakes can obviously survive and even thrive on a maintenance feeding schedule but I want my crew to be happy and well fed. I'm sure there's a happy medum between over and under feeding. Let's just keep doing what's best for our individual collections and we'll compare results in 20-25 years .
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Old 07-05-17, 12:05 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

I think as well in captivity we err on the small side when it comes to prey items - particularly for the large constrictors.

There's plenty of documented evidence of the giants taking huge meals - 5 hours to swallow gators, deer, kangaroos, boar etc and then not eating again for 6 - 12 months. We simply can't replicate this easily in captivity but I think this supports more infrequent feeding as the metabolism of the large snakes is pretty slow.

It does as I said earlier depend on the species. The obsoletus gets a wearer rat every week, the carpet the same but every 10 - 14 days, and until recently the boa the same again every 3-5 weeks (more often 3 but for variety spacing it out).

The olives are on weekly feeds and being pushed along but that will slow over coming months - same with the scrubs.

I know one scrub owner who feeds his massive Kaifu 4 - 6 times a year but feeds it plenty each time (say a guinea pig, rabbit and a quail). This snake is over 15' and a supreme specimen. This likely more closely mimics its natural feeding pattern.

Its about getting it right for the specific animal - there is no hard and fast.

Even maintenance feeding, for a specific reason and for a short amount of time, is acceptable but should not be used as a long term solution to purposefully stunt an animals growth or to save money.
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Old 07-05-17, 03:23 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

Said scrub posted with the permission of the owner. Simalia amethystina Kofiau locality. Approx 15-16' and 15kg fed on the sort of regime I follow.

In fact the owner is one of my scrub mentors. Proof I think that infrequent but proper feeding can lead to impressive animals.





Note the strength of the snake in the second photo. That's a one handed hold. Love this animal so much - such strength
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Old 07-05-17, 03:39 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

And conversely clearly no-one has told this wild corn about the 15% of body weight rule or a prey item that just leaves a small bump. Bet he doesn't eat for a while.


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Old 07-05-17, 05:57 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Are keepers underfeeding their snakes?

I doubt that corn managed to get the rabbit all the way down. I've seen snakes TRY to eat meals too big for them quite often. It's pretty common with rat snakes and chicken coops.

But, to say on topic, I suspect there are still a lot more overfed snakes than underfed. As long as a snake isn't thin/underweight, I don't really think they're underfed. Many snakes, probably most, don't get regular meals in the wild. In fact, they probably only get a few meals per year.

Captive boas and pythons certainly tend to be a whole lot fatter than their wild counterparts. Even wild colubrids are leaner than captives. So, basically, I guess I'm saying it's pretty difficult to underfeed most snakes. I mean, it can certainly be done, but I think it takes some serious neglect to underfeed a snake to the point of it being a health issue.
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