Help! My Snake was Bitten by its Food
As a rescue, I have seen a lot. Mostly neglect, improper care due to lack of knowledge, or incorrect knowledge. The worst cases though, can really make you think.
I just had a really bad snake case, it ended up not being turned over to the rescue, and it made me think. I want to help the snake, but I can’t force someone to turn in their pet.
So I sent them my suggestions on how to help their pet. Then I thought about all the people this has probably happened too as well, and here we go.
The problem begins with the prey, rats chew. On walls, trees, nuts, whatever. This is to keep their teeth from getting too big for their mouths. So they have a constant need to nibble on things; if they find something edible while doing so, all the better.
Snakes don’t always want to eat. This is a fact, when shedding, breeding season, or just don’t like the way that rat smells, it happens, and it happens a lot, especially with ball pythons.
So the problem arises, when the new snake owner is told
“Just throw the rat in the cage, the snake will do the rest.”, a common phrase I have heard from sad owners with bitten snakes.
I am not sure why, but snakes are not usually defensive with their prey items (well, I’ve never been afraid of a pizza, so I guess it makes sense), so if they aren’t going to eat it, they ignore it and hope it goes away. In the wild this would usually work, nothing to see here, move along. But inside your 20 gallon tank, there’s no place to go away too.
Sometimes, you can look in and not see the rat, rats hide! Then we leave the snake alone for days to digest a meal he never ate! Soon, the rat is hungry (if he didn’t come home from the store hungry already), and starts chewing around the cage. For some reason, snakes do not, and will not defend themselves in this situation, whether they feel the pain from the bites I do not know.
I have had a 8 foot red tail boa with nothing but bone from the anal scute back, ball pythons with their spine exposed the whole length of the body. It’s very sad, and in some cases, the snake needs to be put to sleep.
But most of the time, we check on our pets and discover a small injury, or the rat bites the snake defending itself from being eaten.
It’s very sad, and in some cases, the snake needs to be put to sleep.
Bitten Snake First Aid
This is a generic care guide for such occurrences, remember, if the bite is deep enough, it may require stitches from a Vet to close. This is for the minor bites/ injuries.
First, clean your snake, bath in warm water, dry off completely. Do not soak them, just clean them. Put Neosporin ointment gently on the cuts. Place in a clean dry tub with paper towels, place one damp paper towel at one end of the tub, under several layers so a little humidity is in the tub. Most single snake owners use glass cages, this is not good for this healing process, so I will help you with this.
Most glass tanks have the uth (under tank heater), attached to the glass, this is how they are designed. Go to Home Depot and get a cheap self stick tile to cover the uth on the inside of the tank. This provides a barrier and limits the chance of a burn from laying on top of the hot glass. If you are heating your tank with lights, toss them and get UTH. Lights dry out the air, and this causes humidity issues.
Now again, Home Depot or Wal-Mart etc pick up a Sterilite tub that will fit inside your tank. Drill 8-10 1/4 inch holes about 1 inch from the top around the tub. Sterilize the tub (5% bleach solution, wash several times) Line with clean paper towels and place the snake in the tub, secure the lid and place the tub inside your tank. Place a large water dish in the tank near the heat so the air will have humidity. Cover the top screen with plastic, tinfoil, etc, to keep the humidity in the tank.
The trick is to keep the humidity at about 65-75 %.
Check your Temps!
Go to Harbor Freight or online and order an Infrared Temp Gun You want your temp where the snake is to be 88-92 F., do what you need to do to keep the temps in this range. Whether you get an additional uth, up your house temps, cover the top of the cage with a towel (over the plastic or whatever you are using to keep the humidity in, important because towels absorb the moisture).
Keep clean! Examine the snake many times a day, do not disturb the snake unless the tub is soiled. Every 3 days, do the process over again. Clean, ointment, etc.
Other than that leave the snake alone to heal! After about 6-8 weeks, the wounds should be pretty much healed. Your snake probably has shed 2x already, and after each shed, the wound is open again. Depending on how bad the bites were, your snake may even need help shedding as it might break apart at the bite areas. So make sure all the shed comes off. Snakes are very hardy, and unless you end up with a systemic infection, they usually heal with time. However, physical healing is only part of the issue. Now you have to deal with the psychological trauma of being eaten by your food.
First off NEVER leave live prey unattended, this is what most likely caused the issue in the first place
Second, try leaving a dead prey item (about 1/2 the size you were feeding before) in the cage overnight. If he eats it great, if not, this might take a while. There are many things to try, dangle a stunned but live prey item. Try a mouse instead of rat. Present the prey in every way you can. But only once every 10 to 14 days. It could be months before they will eat again, and unfortunately there are times they will not ever eat. Patience, presentation, and variety, and hopefully you will find a combination that will get them eating again.
Good luck, and I hope you never have this issue!