Hognose snakes aren’t constrictors like most of the snakes you’re familiar with, which means they’re not typically strong enough to wrestle with a live feeder rodent and win. For convenience and the safety of your snake, it’s best to offer frozen/thawed prey.
Designer-Morphs Western Hognose Snakes by John R. Berry recommends the following feeding schedule:
- Juveniles: food every 4-5 days
- Adults: food 1x/week
Beware of overfeeding your snake, as this causes obesity and organ damage!
Hognose snakes don’t seem to “expand” as well as other snakes, possibly because they’re not constrictors and had to adapt to smaller, slower prey. Prey items should be the same diameter as the snake’s head, no larger. As the snake grows, gradually increase the size of the prey.
If it is too large, your snake may regurgitate, which is extremely stressful for the snake and can be dangerous to their health. For this reason, it’s better to offer multiple small meals rather than one big meal. Simply wait until the hognose has finished swallowing one prey item, then offer another. If the snake is hungry, it will take it. However, if your snake starts to gain too much weight, scale back on the number of prey items per feeding.
What foods are best for a hognose snake?
Wild Western hognoses eat primarily toads, but stomach contents studies reveal that they also eat frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards, reptile eggs, birds, mammals, and insects on occasion. Birds and mammals, however, are extremely rare. (“Ontogenetic shifts in the diet of plains hog-nosed snakes (Heterodon nasicus) revealed by stable isotope analysis,” by Andrew M. Durso and Stephen J. Mullin)
While young mice can be used to feed your hognose snakes, these calorie-dense feeders aren’t the best for your pet’s health, and should be used as part of rotation at most. Hognose snakes fed primarily rodents are more likely to suffer from obesity and related health problems than those fed a more natural diet.
Here are some non-rodent ideas for feeding your hognose:
- African clawed frogs
- Cane toads
- Cuban tree frogs
- Redback salamanders
- Gray treefrogs
- Quail eggs
- Frozen/thawed anoles
- Dropped gecko tails
If you choose to catch wild amphibians to use as prey, beware of harvesting in areas where they may have been exposed to pesticides or herbicides, as these can poison your snake. Harvest in more woodsy, “natural” areas if possible. If you’re concerned about your snake getting parasites from wild-caught amphibians, freeze them before feeding.
Human-grade cuts of meat or bits of cooked egg can make a nice treat, but they should never be offered regularly because they’re simply not nutritious enough.
PRO TIP: Buy frozen/thawed feeders in bulk if you can, because you’re more likely to get quality prey from online suppliers and reptile expos than from your local pet store. Also, buying in bulk saves on shipping fees, which are expensive. We recommend Layne Labs, Perfect Prey, and Reptilinks.
Preparing the prey
Hognose snakes rely on their sense of smell in order to help them find prey, not a heat signature. (“Strong response to anuran chemical cues by an extreme dietary specialist, the eastern hog-nosed snake (Heterodon platirhinos)” by William Cooper and Stephen Secor, 2007). However, it has been observed that hognoses seem to respond better to warm prey items, so it’s possible that the warmth disperses the scent better.
If you are using frozen-thawed prey (recommended), thaw it out in the fridge the night before feeding day. This allows it to thaw slowly in a cold environment, which discourages bacterial growth, same as how you’re supposed to thaw frozen meat. Then about 15-30 minutes before feeding, stick the prey in a BPA-free plastic bag like a Ziploc and submerge in warm, almost hot, water. The body temperature of a mouse is similar to a human’s, so you’ll want the prey to be about 98-100°F before offering it to your snake. You can check the temperature with your temp gun.
Hognose snakes are more visually-dependent than some other snakes, so you may need to simulate “lifelike movement” (just wiggling it around will do) before the snake will strike.
Hognose snakes will strike at prey from any direction, so offer prey from long, soft-tipped tweezers. Using your hands puts you at risk of getting bitten by your snake — not a big deal with hognoses, but not pleasant, either. Don’t handle your hognose for 24-48 hours after feeding, or else it may regurgitate.
What if your hognose doesn’t want to eat?
Lack of appetite is a common problem with hognoses, especially Easterns and Southerns. Refer to the Health section of this guide for tips on getting a reluctant hognose to eat.
Do hognose snakes need vitamin supplements?
Although as obligate carnivores hognose snakes *should* get all of the nutrition they need from the animals they eat, the nutrition provided by captive-bred feeder animals can be inferior to the nutrition provided by prey that hognose snakes would consume in the wild. 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.
There is a risk of developing nutrient deficiency over time even when you buy your prey items from seemingly high-quality breeders. So it helps to lightly dust prey items every once in a while with calcium + vitamin supplement to help fill in the gaps in your snake’s diet. Here are the best supplements we’ve found that you can use for your hognose:
Due to the natural decay of certain vitamin ingredients, supplements should be replaced every 6 months.
A Quick Note About Water
All living things need water, and hognose snakes are no exception.
All three species need a large, heavy water dish large enough to accommodate their entire body if they feel in the mood for a soak. This water dish can also be helpful for increasing humidity if placed on the warm side of the enclosure. Change the water daily and disinfect with an animal-safe disinfectant like chlorhexidine or F10 weekly.
There is a belief that distilled or softened water is better for reptiles than tap water. This is not true, as the lack of minerals creates osmotic imbalance within the snake’s body after ingestion. As a result, the body has to give away its own minerals and electrolytes to restore balance. Over time, this can actually lead to dehydration and malnutrition disorders, even when the snake is eating and drinking regularly. Filtered and spring water are generally safe. For more information, read Water Treatment Precautions: Hard vs Soft (Filtered) Water.
- Introduction to Hognose Snakes
- Hognose Shopping List
- Species of the Heterodon Genus
- Terrarium Size Guidelines
- Temperature & Humidity Requirements
- Substrate Options for Hognose Snakes
- Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Terrarium
- Feeding Your Hognose Snake (YOU ARE HERE)
- Handling Tips & Body Language Info
- Common Diseases & Hognose Health Questions
- Additional Resources