Firstly I want to point out some misconceptions and explain why they are wrong, such as “snakes need to eat live, since that’s what they do in the wild” or “my snake would never eat something already dead, it’s instinct to kill is too strong” or a plethora of other excuses of why a snake in captivity should be fed a live prey item.
Another problem that makes the F/T feeding process appear as though it is “not working” is overfeeding of snakes or trying to feed too often. In general for healthy snakes adult snakes only need to eat every two to three weeks (depending on species) and juveniles need to eat once a week. This post does not address neonates.
If you are finding that your snake is not eating F/T on a regular schedule, try to push out the schedule by a week. Eventually a snake will eat, and unlike mammals snakes can go without food for months without it affecting their overall health. I’ve personally owned Ball Pythons that actively refused to eat for five months for no apparent reason; their environment had no changes, there was nothing to stress them, they just decided not to eat!
It may be frustrating for the owner to offer food that is refused, but once you accept that is just part of having captive reptiles, dealing with feeding and refusals will be a lot easier to handle. It’s also nice to have a couple of snakes so that anything left over can be given to another snake. My boas got “second helpings” for those five months since the prey items the BP refused were smaller than the Boas normal meal so I didn’t waste and I didn’t really overfeed the boas either. Alternatively you can refreeze a thawed prey item once and reuse it, but if you have a couple snakes and know you have a finicky eater, then you can plan for the possibility that one of your snakes might get seconds. Or one of your snakes that is a good eater regardless, might get fed last just in case you use the potentially refused item to fed to your “good eater.”
In the wild the prey item can escape if the snake is not hungry, but in an enclosed area (be that a strike box or the snakes home) if the animal is not dead, snake owners will resort to “stunning” the animal, usually by grabbing the poor animal by it’s tail, swinging it in the air and finally banging its head against a doorway or a table to stun it, which does keep the snake safe but is cruel. If the animal is not stunned and the snake does not kill instantly the prey item can inflict terrible bites to your snake. Bites can happen in a minute. Terrible wounds happen if the prey item is left with the snake for long periods of time unsupervised. Neither situation is good.
There is absolutely no reason to feed live. It can be cruel (for the prey item) and unsafe, potentially for both animals involved. Live feeding involves being either cruel to the prey item to keep the snake safe or endangering the snake by just tossing the prey item in. Here are some examples of what live prey items can do to your snake:
I’ve personally been involved with the process to train snakes that “would never eat F/T” to eat F/T so I will argue that that is no excuse. There are techniques that you can use for stubborn eaters explained in detail here and for the most finicky cases look at item 8) “braining” (of F/T prey items only, please don’t do this to a live animal!): http://lllreptile.com/info/library/care-and-husbandry-articles/-/feeding-stubborn-snakes/
As for the process of defrosting and preparing the prey items, I made this “F/T defrost and snake feeding video” to show the process I go through to feed my snakes (at time of video I had nine): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=875sKWUko-k&feature=youtu.be It is 15 minutes long in total and it is meant to be informative only. Don’t judge me by my inability to speak loudly for the camera or the old paint-filled laundry sink please!
One thing not specifically addressed in this post is where to feed your snake and we will post another educational blog entry about this in the near future. In short, for most of my snakes I feed them in strike boxes. I have a couple that get fed in their cages, but that is mostly due to the fact that those two are my big female boas., one at nearly 7 feet and the other is over 8 feet. Neither of the big females have a strong strike response in cage or out, so it’s just easier to feed in cage. For anything that gets fed in its cage and/or on substrate, there is always a danger that the snake will accidentally consume substrate. A small piece of substrate most likely won’t hurt your snake, but if it gets a big mouthful of substrate that could lead to digestion issues and possible regurgitation. If you do feed “in cage” I highly recommend putting down a piece of newspaper, then dropping the prey item onto the newspaper. This should help eliminate accidental ingestion of substrate.
A great care sheet on snakes can be found at http://www.anapsid.org/mainsnakes.html