Feeding Your Corn Snake

Corn snake food - they use constriction to subdue prey

Like other snakes, corn snakes are carnivorous — and they’re not very picky. In the wild, they are known to eat mice, rats, birds, and bats (The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians, 1979, p.605). They even occasionally eat lizards and insects (source)!

In caring for a carnivorous pet, you must be prepared to feed a variety of whole animal prey to help the corn snake receive balanced nutrition. Here’s what you need to know about feeding a pet corn snake:

Feeding guidelines by snake length:

  • Hatchlings (<18″ long) should be fed once every 5-7 days.
  • Juveniles (18-36″ long) should be fed once every 7-10 days.
  • Adults (>36″ long) should be fed once every 10-14 days.

Offer a prey item that is between 1-1.5x the width of your snake’s body at its widest point (don’t worry about head size — snakes are very flexible). Depending on the size of the feeder and the age of your snake, you may offer two prey items in one feeding session.

Choose a schedule that keeps a hatchling/juvenile growing, or what keeps an adult at a consistent weight. Weighing your snake weekly with a kitchen scale will help you determine what works best, as well as track trends in growth or weight loss. It’s okay to vary the intervals at which you offer prey!

Frozen/Thawed or Live?

The generally accepted practice for corn snake food is to use captive bred prey items that have been humanely euthanized and frozen rather than live. This is because live feeders will use teeth and claws to fight for their life against the snake — sometimes causing injury. Also, “stunning” a live feeder by slamming its head against a hard object will discourage fighting back, but it’s also incredibly inhumane. For this reason, ReptiFiles recommends against utilizing this method of feeding.

Corn snakes generally have a fairly enthusiastic feeding response, so they don’t have much of a problem taking frozen/thawed prey.

Prepare a frozen rodent 1 day in advance by sticking it in the refrigerator to thaw slowly. This discourages bacterial growth which would otherwise make your snake sick. Then, directly before feeding, place the feeder in a BPA-free plastic bag submerged warm, almost hot, water for 15-30 minutes. The feeder should get to about 100°F, as this is near the body temperature of a live rodent. This will simulate body heat and encourage the snake to eat.

If using frozen-thawed, you can enhance your snake’s “hunting” experience and encourage its feeding response by wiggling the feeder to simulate a struggle after the snake has struck and begun constricting. It may seem macabre, but this is for the snake’s mental and physical health.

That all being said, ultimately you must respect your snake’s feeding preferences. If it refuses to eat frozen/thawed, give it live and supervise the interaction carefully. The live rodent should not be left in your corn snake’s enclosure for more than 1 hour. Keeping your pet healthy and fed should always be your top priority.

Mice or rats?

Mice are the most popular corn snake food, as they “grow” along with the snake. As you probably noticed in the guidelines at the top of the page, a hatchling can handle a pinkie (newborn) mouse, and an adult snake can handle an adult mouse.

Rats can be offered as feeders, but because they tend to be more nutritious than mice, they can actually make a corn snake fat if fed at the same rate as mouse feeders. If using rats as your primary feeders, feed every 10-14 days for juveniles and every 14-21 days for adults.

For additional dietary variety, consider adding button quail, quail eggs, green anoles, house geckos, and/or Reptilinks to your corn snake’s menu!

Whichever you choose to offer, refer to ReptiFiles’ list of trusted rodent distributors to find the best feeder breeders on the market. Shipping costs can be a little steep because frozen prey needs to be shipped overnight, so it’s best to buy in bulk. Better yet, order with a friend and split the shipping bill!

Do corn snakes need vitamin supplements?

Although as obligate carnivores corn snakes should get all of the nutrition they need from the animals they eat, the nutrition provided by feeder rodents may be inferior to the nutrition provided by wild prey. Some studies suggest that commercially-bred feeder rodents are deficient in crucial nutrients like vitamin D, which in turn negatively affects the health of the snakes that eat them.

This means that there is a risk of developing nutrient deficiency over time. So it helps to occasionally lightly dust prey items with an all-in-one calcium and multivitamin supplement to help fill in the gaps in your snake’s diet:

Due to the natural decay of certain vitamin ingredients, supplements should be replaced every 6 months.

Should I feed my corn snake in a separate enclosure?

There’s a common misconception among snake owners that feeding a snake inside its home enclosure will make it “cage aggressive.” Modern understanding of snake psychology argues that our perception of “aggression” is incorrect; snakes that have learned to associate the opening of the enclosure with food (due to infrequent handling) will lunge for the first object they see, assuming that it is food — no harm toward the keeper’s hand intended.

So instead of being moved to feed, the snake should be trained to tell the difference between feeding time and handling time. The most reliable method of so doing is to tap the snake gently with a paper towel roll or to stroke its body with a snake hook before handling. If the snake strikes, no harm done. If it doesn’t, it knows not to expect food.

In conclusion, feed your snake inside its home. Unlike humans, snakes don’t particularly like “eating out.”

I trapped a mouse — can I use it for corn snake food?

Sorry, but no. Wild-caught prey can transmit disease or parasites to your snake, which means more vet bills for you down the road. Do yourself (and your corn snake) a favor by disposing of the mouse elsewhere.

Corn snake food and water needs

A Quick Note About Water

Keep a large, heavy bowl of water in the enclosure at all times. Keep the bowl clean and replace the water daily. If it gets soiled before then, scrub with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC, Rescue, or chlorhexidine before refilling.

Note: There is a common belief that distilled, filtered, or softened water is better for reptiles than tap (hard) water. This is false. While it is better to use these for misting because they don’t leave mineral residue, the lack of minerals creates osmotic imbalance within the snakes body after ingestion. As a result, the body has to give away its own minerals and electrolytes to restore balance. Over time, this may actually lead to dehydration, even when the snake is drinking regularly.

For more information, read Water Treatment Precautions: Hard vs Soft (Filtered) Water.

Keep reading:

  1. Introduction to Corn Snakes
  2. Shopping List
  3. Terrarium Size Guidelines
  4. Lighting, Heating & Humidity
  5. Substrate Options
  6. How to Decorate Your Terrarium
  7. How (and What) to Feed a Corn Snake
  8. Handling Tips
  9. Common Diseases & Other Health Info
  10. Additional Resources

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