This is a question with a few different levels to it… I want to lead by saying that I have not kept snakes myself. I love them, and one day I’d like to keep a medium-sized snake of some kind… and to that end, I’ve done a lot of research. This is something I’ve wondered about for a while.
Snakes are obviously very specialized and adapted to swallowing whole prey. To varying degrees (depending on the species of the snake and the prey), it takes them a long time to digest their meals. They’re breaking down whole animals, complete with fur, skin, bones, and all organs. I’ve read and heard a lot about how much potential for stress there is in eating and digesting a meal. I’ve heard scary things about prey bloating and splitting a snake’s stomach (due to bad husbandry, but still… terrifying).
So my question: would snakes benefit from ground up food? As in, still whole prey, with bones, fur, and all, but in evenly ground form? Reptilinks are the first thing that come to mind, but I don’t know if there are other brands, or even owners who “prepare” their snake’s food like this themselves. Provided a snake accepts the food just as well, is it possible that it would be better or safer for them? Is there less (or more?) chance of gastrointestinal distress? Does digestion occur more quickly, or smoothly? Is it less stressful for the snake in any way?
Besides curiosity, I’d also like to know because of the potential to offer mixed or harder to obtain food to the animal. Since every snake species is different, would a sausage or other ground-up style meal give the opportunity to create ideal balances of nutrients for each species? Hognoses eat a lot of aquatic prey, and have a varied diet… I can’t help but wonder if they would do better on a different balance of nutrients than available whole prey offer?
(For the record: I’m not really squeamish about f/t feeding, and if anything… a ground-up mouse seems almost… ickier. I just always want to achieve ideal nutrition for a given animal… and that seems much easier when foods can be blended together and mixed.)
I tried Repti links on my hoggie and he wouldn’t touch them. However I hear a lot of people swear by them.
As far whole v ground: I simply say this: Snakes are intended to eat whole prey. That’s what they eat in the wild so that is what they should eat in captivity, barring any special circumstances. Their bodies are designed for whole whatever. That’s the way they are created, imho.
Reptilinks IMO are for people who really want the wonders of having a snake or other carnivorous reptile, but cannot handle the feeder animal aspect. But as stated, rodents are pretty much already the standard in the wild and at home for quite a few commonly kept species.
There was a thread fairly recently regarding ball python nutrition and feeders as well.
Huh… I would have thought the frog smell would be more appealing to a hoggie than even a whole rodent… I’m actually thinking of the eastern hognose (I should have clarified that in my original post, sorry!), and I think they have a more semi-aquatic lifestyle than the westerns?
Most of the local snakes I tend to see in the wild prey frequently on frogs, which I believe have pretty low fat content compared to rats, or especially mice. Hence why I can’t shake the thought that in nature, an eastern hognose or garter snake (as examples) would be getting very different levels of nutrients, proteins, and fats. I can’t argue with the anecdotal evidence that these species seem to do well in captivity feeding on rodents, but I always wonder when it comes to pets if I couldn’t be doing something better? It’s the same thing I do when agonizing over dog food ingredients, trying to figure out if I should be supplementing anything.
Good questions, good answers. Snakes are designed for consuming whole prey. Ground whole prey isn’t inherently wrong in any way, but neither is it necessary for a healthy snake. I can see where it might be more digestible for a snake in recovery from something, you I don’t have any data on the idea. Reptilinks were designed for squeamish humans.
There’s been discussion on fat content of prey items. There is a ton of nutritional info in the linked chart, for pretty much all sorts of prey items for various species.
I work mostly with corns. I normally feed whole ft mice, though stubborn babies sometimes get offered different things. Many wild baby snakes start with frogs or lizards, and some babies need food that smells like what they recognize as food. If a snake has experienced a stressor such a shipping or is moving up in prey size, I ofttimes cut into the prey item. Breaking the skin (and fur for larger meals) can help aid in digestion. I’ve noticed that meals are more fully digested when cut.
This is not accurate. If you look into the diets of most wild snakes you will find that rodents actually tend to make up a small proportion of the meals for them. Rodents are just the most convenient thing we as a hobby can breed in bulk, freeze, and feed to our animals without doing any extra work (like just about every other aspect of this hobby)
Many of my snakes get ReptiLinks as a significant portion of their diet
Also, wholly inaccurate. ReptiLinks are mostly used by people that want to add diversity and/or more closely mimic a species true diet in nature
On the “Snake Discovery” YouTube channel they keep a variety of Hognose morphs. I admittedly don’t know if they are Western or Eastern. I believe they feed all theirs rodents. I believe Emily mentions they normally eat frogs in the wild but with some work you can get them onto rodents. Checkout their channel if you haven’t already. Emily and Ed are very entertaining.
Oh, I love them! One of the only channels I’ve found with a lot of hoggies. I believe westerns became popular because of a slightly longer lifespan… but I still love easterns best, they have the cutest faces. XD
Actually, when I looked up a comparison video, the first topic brought up was the eastern’s almost all-amphibian diet, and the difficulty of getting them to take mice… Michigan’s snakes definitely like to capitalize on the massive frog population… That’s a part of why I’m interested in the potential to feed more variety—I adore eastern hoggies, and am curious about options for providing them a more natural diet. It seems like frogs would be very different in terms of digestion, also… though I can’t find any data on how snakes handle them vs. mammalian prey.
And @armiyana Actually I tried Repti links only in desperation as my Western hognose was such a picky on and off eater. I knew Easterns are the major amphibian eaters but I watched a Repti link video and thought what the heck. I also added the frog juice as well. That was an expensive effort in futility! Lol!
They keep Plains, Tricolors, and Madagascar giants, for sure. I can’t remember if they have any Easterns.
While I don’t know if they feed solely rodents, I do know their store is a Reptilinks retailer and they’ve done videos feeding the product to their animals before. I actually buy my Reptilinks from their store.
I use them for the reasons @t_h_wyman stated, as diet enrichment that more closely mimics what they might get in a natural environment. I don’t use them often because of the price, but I always have a few in my freezer. Their scenting juices are great, too.
Reptilinks are often composed of whole prey ground up but the natural way for a snake to eat is Whole. The links are supplementary and a way to get snakes to eat who might otherwise not. If I have a snake who won’t take anything but quail links, that’s what they get until I can move them to frozen quail, then to quail as well as rodents and things.
The most “natural” diet would be a varied one composed of the things the animal actually is researched to eat in nature, but in captivity sometimes the best we can do is give what’s available with nutritional supplementing to make sure they’re getting proper nutrition and are in good health.
You could keep a small toad farm just to be able to give a hognose regular toadlets, but most of us can’t, and we’ve found they can be healthy, active, “happy” as best we can tell, and reproductive on mice.
It all comes down to what you are able to provide feasibly, and whether the animal is thriving, as far as I can see.
Some snakes are just picky (one way or another). In the wild, natural selection solve that problem. In captivity, human selection comes to play, most often in the opposite direction of natural selection
Our nasicus are garbage disposals and likely would take still take a mouse/rat pup, but in last four or five years I have not used rodents on them - Links, quail, chicken hearts, frog legs, chicken necks, silversides…
Oof, even with the frog juice scent? That’s a shame, I wonder if a snake that was offered them earlier on in life would be more interested? Frogs/toads seem to have a very different composition compared to rodents, so it seems like an eastern would be more affected by the difference in diet (whereas westerns are known to be more versatile in the wild). I’ve always heard eastern owners say that they use scenting to “trick” their snakes into taking rodents…
I actually messaged the Reptilinks store to ask why the frog links were the only kind that didn’t use whole prey (they’re made with frog legs). I was told it was because it was too difficult to find a safe supplier for whole frogs, because they had the potential to transmit diseases to herps. So, they just used human-grade frog legs, from (I’m guessing) a restaurant supplier or such, and that was perfectly safe.
They do have blends of frog/quail, which I thought I would try if I ever owned an eastern (to get closer to natural diet, with the whole quail ingredients supplementing for the organs and such). I had never heard of snakes taking chicken hearts or other partial prey—that’s really interesting! I’ve also wondered about very young, smaller species… In nature, wouldn’t they be eating a lot of insects? It would be very hard for them to have consistent access to extremely young rodents, wouldn’t it?
While I have no real issue with f/t, I don’t think I’d be up for breeding/keeping feeders myself. I get too easily attached. Frozen isn’t a big deal though, or any other form of food that I at no point saw when it was alive. I’ve never seen frozen frogs/toads for sale (whole, anyway)… I’m curious why that is? For the safety reasons Reptilinks mentioned?
I do agree about it coming down to whether the animal is thriving. Nature can be harsh, and selects for characteristics that sometimes favor short-term over long-term survival, as well as other factors. In captivity, we have different priorities and safeguards that eliminate the need for natural selection… It’s a difficult balance to puzzle out.
I actually watched a Snake Discovery YouTube video about getting picky/stubborn Hognoses to eat and chicken hearts were mentioned in it. Emily was feeding chicken heart pieces to some Hognoses in the video and they were scarfing them up…….
So yes, chicken hearts are worth a try, if you can even find them. Trust me I looked for them in my local grocery stores and there were none to be had…….
They even did a little experiment with feeding reptilinks long term. They found that most of their animals started to get less enthusiastic about eating. They concluded that it was probably best to use reptilinks to add more variety, not as a staple
Oh, interesting! It does seem bizarre to me that the snakes actually became less interested over time… There aren’t any snakes capable of actually tasting their food, are they? At least, not in any “pleasurable” sense? So it seems like smell + heat + experience would tell them “this is food”, and that would be enough to trigger a feeding reaction… The more I learn, the more I realize that snakes are honestly more complex than people generally give them credit for. I had heard that vision played a role in snakes identifying food (as in cases of snakes accepting brown rats, but not strange-looking white rats that would be rare in nature)… but that still wouldn’t explain why they would hesitate to eat something that they’ve already confirmed IS food from past experience.
The first time I had seen a retic outside of a zoo as a teen, the owner would sometimes feed his younger male chicken wings from a butcher shop if they had any on his way home. Unplucked. It was difficult for them to get a hold of anything past chick sized
This was decades ago tho so it’s probably much easier for them now if they’re still keeping.