Feeding a snake outside its cage

Brien Rocha writes:

I was wondering if you are supposed to take the snake out of its cage and switch it to another to feed it, then put it back in its own cage. Any thoughts?

The short answer is, it depends.

There are two reasons not to feed a snake in its own cage:

1. There is a chance that the snake could ingest some of the cage bedding when it eats. This is obviously not a problem when the snake is kept on newspapers or paper towels, but it’s more of a risk when it’s kept on sand, bark or wood chips. If that stuff gets blocked in the snake’s digestive tract — snakes can’t digest plant matter, for example — then the results could be fatal. (Now, we keep a lot of snakes on aspen shavings, and we do feed them in their cages, but we use a dish or tray to present the mouse, and keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t swallow any shavings. For the most part, this is more of a problem with stickier food — worms or fish — or with stickier cage bedding.)

2. It shares its cage with another snake. In that case, there’s danger that they might each grab the same food item at the opposite end from one another and, well, keep swallowing once they meet. I’ve had to separate garter snakes that grabbed opposite ends of the same worm, for example. You just don’t want the snakes to eat each other by accident. Yes, they’re dumb enough to do that — there are reports of snakes that have tried to swallow themselves!

There are drawbacks to taking a snake out of its cage to feed it, but they’re much less severe — certainly nothing fatal. An easily stressed-out snake might not want to eat after being disturbed. A snake that associates the cage being opened with feeding might decide to bite the hand that reaches for it. And, well, you have to wait for it to finish: this is a problem if you have a lot of snakes, and it’s a problem if the snake takes a while to get around to eating.