Pet Obesity | Why We Make Our Pets Fat
Pet obesity is a growing problem (pun totally intended.) When it comes to pets of any kind it can be said
“Fat animals are lazy animals, with few exceptions.”
Just look at a gym; a few overweight, older gentlemen trying to recapture their youth, or the eye of their new secretary. For the most part, however, people there are called gym rats for a reason. They aren’t fat, they eat healthy, get lots of exercise, and they are most definitely not lazy.
Our pets though? They depend on us for everything, their exercise level, their mental stimulation, and their food. Why do we feed them so much? We over feed our dogs, cats, fish, birds, and every other pet we keep including our reptiles. Almost every snake care sheet (no matter the species), says one appropriately sized prey item a week. Hello, sounds reasonable doesn’t it? Not really.
Reptiles’ metabolisms do not work like those of most other captive animals. In the wild, yes, a gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer), for example, may eat one mouse or rat a week on average. But should they in captivity? In the wild, they can also travel miles looking for said rat or mouse, and spend several more hours tracking it down. In captivity? We dangle a perfectly heated ratcicle in front of their face and say, chow down. They never have to leave the comfort of their couch to even pay the pizza delivery driver.
Just as an example, a corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus), living in a 40 gallon tank, has only 4.5 square feet of floor space. So while this allows for plenty of room for a skinny little corn snake, he is not roaming 3-5 miles during the course of the week to find a food item.
The other thing about reptiles is their attitude.
“If food is being delivered to me, why should I move?”
Reptiles are the supreme beings of conserving energy. Being ‘cold blooded‘ click the link to read more details on this topic they do not have an internal heater, relying on outside sources for heat. They typically refuse to move unless they have too, preferring the phrase,
“If I can sit, why stand, if I can lay down, why just sit, and if I can sleep, why just lay down?”
In the wild this helps them by conserving their energy for when they need it; for the long winter months, for chasing after prey, or for escaping from predators. In captivity, this strategy does more harm than good.
Setting the Obesity Standard
So we follow the “standard,” one prey item per week. Failing to take into consideration most of the “professional” care sheets are written by the people trying to sell you stuff. Dog food companies saying only feed your medium size dog 1 cup of food 2x a day? No, fill the bowl 3x a day!
This is individual to every animal of course, those of us who do educational shows feed our display animals a lot more than the rest. Why? Their activity level is 100x what the normal snake in my collection gets. If you have your adult corn snake out 4x a week for several hours each time, 2-4 prey items a month is great, but if you basically never get him out except when cleaning the cage every 6 months, 1 adult mouse a month will be sufficient.
Now, babies, like human babies, are growing and a lot of their intake goes right into growth, so this does not count for young snakes. Likewise, breeding snakes also use more energy, and so need more food than a mostly sedentary snake. I am talking about grown up, older snakes, who we want to stick around with us for a while.
I saw a video recently from a lady who takes dead reptiles, and articulates them (cleans them down to the bones and either mounts them or puts them in “snow-globes”), she was dissecting a corn snake that was so morbidly obese inside the organs were squeezed and misshaped (but looking at the outside of the snake, the animal looked pretty normal). Snakes hide ailments very well, and often by the time we realize something is wrong, it is too late. This often impacts the work of those in the veterinary field discussed here Your Vet’s Always Wrong.
As with all animals health is a chore, whether it is proper exercise, dietary supplements, or feeding opportunities, care has to be taken. If, as we say, we love our pets, why don’t we want to take proper care of them?
Now of course, every snake is different so take everything I said with a grain of salt as they say. Do not just rely on one person’s interpretation; check things out yourself, think about your pet’s activity level, and consider how much activity they engage in. Corn snakes are a lot more active than ball/royal pythons (python regius), for example, and mice are smaller, and have less fat content than rats. Most normal adult ball pythons can live and be perfectly healthy on a diet of 1 small rat a month, even with normal pet activity. I have seen them go for months without eating (balls are known for this), without losing an ounce of body weight. But don’t just take my word for it, do your own research, and consider how long you want your pet to be with you.