Your pet snake's needs differ from his wild counterparts'. A snake in captivity does not have the ability to hide or escape from potential predators, nor can he stalk and surprise prey. Feeding live prey to a captive snake can pose serious hazards to your pet and may result in an injury of your own.
Hazards to Hungry Snakes
A hungry snake frequently makes quick work of subduing and eating prey, but not always without consequence. A rodent introduced into a snake cage will most likely be frightened and try to hide from the snake but may attack if it feels threatened. It is not uncommon for rodents to bite before succumbing to the snake. Their sharp incisors can cause enough injury and resulting infection to require veterinary care or euthanasia.
Hazards to Snakes With No Appetite
A snake who is not hungry will not eat. He will ignore any prey put in his cage. Some live prey can turn the tables, preying on the snake if left unattended for a long period of time. A snake owner who leaves a hungry rat in the snake cage may find the snake partially consumed by the rat. Hungry crickets and mealworms can attack a snake's skin and eyes to obtain moisture or sustenance.
Hazards to Owners
Introducing live prey into a snake's cage may result in an overzealous, hungry snake literally biting the hand that feeds him. Fearful, uneaten rodents may bite an owner who is trying to remove the live meal from the cage.
Feeding Freshly Killed Prey
Snakes don't require live food to be healthy. Most snakes will accept a meal that has been killed just prior to feeding, though some must learn to do so. Constrictors, which make up the vast majority of pet snakes, suffocate their prey before consuming it anyway. Rodents can be humanely killed by breaking their necks, and all prey can be killed using a homemade CO2 chamber prior to feeding.
Feeding Frozen Prey
It is not unusual for snakes in the wild consume dead animals, even partially decomposed ones. Many captive snakes have no problem consuming thawed prey. Frozen prey is readily available at pet supply stores.
Safely Feeding Live Prey
Some snakes will not readily accept dead prey. If you choose to feed your snake live animals, use tongs to put the prey into the cage, or drop the prey in from a small opening in the top of the cage. Never leave the snake unattended until the prey is consumed. Watch the feeding carefully to ensure your snake hasn't been injured. If the snake does not eat the prey within 15 minutes, remove the prey. You can rehome uneaten prey or kill and freeze it for a later feeding.
Kimm Hunt has been writing professionally since 1990. She has written for businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, and previously served as the editor of a weekly suburban Chicago newspaper. Hunt holds a B.S. in agriculture from the University of Illinois. She is also a professional dog trainer.