How Frequent Feedings
Author: Scarlett Nightshade
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Should you feed your snake smaller meals more frequently?
We see this question a lot with various keepers across just about all species of snake. While the answer is not always so straight forward, the digestive biology of a snake can provide us with more insight into making the decision on how to feed them.
To begin, let's say two people -- we will call them Jim and Henry -- each have a 500g snake that are the same species, age, equally healthy, and identical in every way possible. Now let's say that both snakes can only eat three small mice per week for the rest of their life.
Jim feeds his snake three small mice in one sitting per week. Henry feeds his snake one small mouse every 2 days throughout the week. Both snakes are kept at the exact same husbandry, same care regime, etc. Everything is kept the same for this control group.
However, Henry's snake, who was fed 3 mice throughout different days of the week, dies from seemingly natural causes sooner than Jim's snake, who fed his snake all three mice at once.
The reason for this is due to a phenomenon called "oxidative damage". During digestion, the body produces pro-oxidants, which puts a lot of stress on your body and suppresses the immune system in return. However, the pro-oxidants are usually equally counteracted by antioxidants, which balance everything out. When this balance is disrupted and there are more pro-oxidants than antioxidants, your body will actually age faster and your immune system will continue to be suppressed. You will be much more vulnerable to disease and pass away from seemingly natural causes faster. This is why eating healthy foods with antioxidants while exercising is important. You take oxidative damage when you exercise. While your body is equipped to produce antioxidants to counteract the damage, if you do not help your body by eating antioxidant-rich food, you're actually doing more harm than good.
Unfortunately in snakes, the natural balance between pro-oxidants and antioxidants is essentially non-existent.
The Impact of Frequent Feedings
When snakes are in the state of digestion -- that is, upon ingesting a meal and beginning the breakdown of food -- they take around 180% oxidative damage, while only producing 6% antioxidants to counteract the damage.
By feeding your snake multiple times a week as opposed to once a week, you are keeping your snake in an almost constant state of digestion by spreading feedings out across the week, since they are digesting a new meal every couple days. This constant state of digestion is so stressful on their bodies, that each time you feed, the oxidative damage taken is equivalent to and can even exceed that of a bird flying 125 miles.
Inhibiting Oxidative Damage
Luckily, oxidative damage can be greatly inhibited by feeding less often. This is why it is much better for snakes as a whole to eat their meal(s) in one sitting as opposed to multiple sittings. By introducing another meal more frequently, you are restarting the digestive process, thus inducing more oxidative damage -- and essentially decreasing the lifespan of your snake.
All of that said, please keep in mind that digestive and metabolic processes vary between different species and individual snakes, and there are certain species that should be fed more frequently than others. However, the key is to reduce feeding frequency when possible. If your snake is capable of going 14 days between meals and you can provide a larger feeder to accommodate, this would be a better option than feeding a smaller feeder more often.
In conclusion, you should aim to feed your snake with as little frequency as possible while still providing the proper amount of nutrients for your snake to stay healthy and happy. Remember that each time the digestive process restarts, your snake is taking a hefty amount of oxidative damage, reducing their lifespan. Consider this if you want your slithery companion to be with you for as long as they can; they would certainly appreciate it, too.