Feeding the Hospitalized Snake

Key Points

  • If the snake is anorectic, determine if the species normally brumates in the wild. “Brumation” is a period of fasting and reduced resting metabolism. Species enter this period of dormancy for weeks or months as an adaptation to excess heat or cold, drought, or lack of food.
  • Many gravid females also eat less or go off feed entirely.
  • Stress from improper husbandry can induce anorexia, so a thorough history is recommended with attention given to habitat size and furnishings, temperature and humidity ranges, photoperiod and exposure to excessive vibration.
  • Regular weighing is recommended for fasting reptiles.
  • Evaluate the body condition of candidates for assisted feeding. Muscle and small to moderate amounts of fat should be palpable over the vertebral processes.
  • Ensure the patient is hydrated and warm before initiating nutritional support.
  • All snakes are carnivores.
  • Maintenance energy requirements (MER) are estimated from equations of standard metabolic rate (SMR), SMRkcal/d 32 (BW0.75) where BW is in kilograms. MER is expressed in kcal/d and are based on values at 86°F (30°C). In the debilitated patient, only a fraction of the MER is offered at the first feeding and all volumes offered are increased only gradually.
  • Also keep mechanical limitations in mind when tube feeding. The stomach capacity of the snake is estimated at 2%-5% of body weight.

Depending on their age and size, snakes may be fed multiple times in one week or every 2 to 4 weeks. If nutritional support is truly needed, then assisted feeding is indicated in the hospitalized snake. Tube feeding is commonly performed in critically ill snakes after fluid therapy and supplemental heat is provided . . .

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