If you keep snakes as pets, it is important to know that a captive snake has different needs than a wild one.
While a snake in his natural habitat will hunt and kill his own food, your captive pet has a very different environment.
In fact, feeding live prey to your snake can be very dangerous.
Live Prey and Injuries
If your snake is hungry, he likely will not hesitate to strike and constrict his prey. However, mice and rats will not go without a fight. Even as they are dying, they will fight ferociously, using their nails and sharp teeth to try and get free.
Rodents can easily break your snake's skin, leaving him susceptible to infections. Many snakes have lost eyes or have suffered other severe injuries from live prey.
Rodents and Infections
Even if the mouse or rat is not able to seriously injure your snake, even a small scrape or bite can lead to disastrous consequences.
The sharp incisors of rodents can pierce a snake's scales easily, leaving him vulnerable to serious infections. These infections can cause complications requiring extensive veterinary care or even euthanasia.
In some awful cases, snake owners have returned after feeding a rat to their pet to find their snake killed and eaten by the rat.
A snake without an appetite, or a snake fed prey too large for it, will ignore the rodent in the cage with him. The rat, fueled by fear or by his own hunger, will attack the snake instead.
Live Prey vs. Frozen Food
Most snakes will transition to frozen food easily. Snakes are very opportunistic and, even in the wild, will happily eat prey that has been already killed. Most domesticated snakes have no problem eating thawed mice and rats.
You can find frozen mice at most pet stores in special freezers. To feed your snake frozen mice, place the mouse inside of the plastic packet in a pot of hot, but not boiling water. Allow it to sit in the hot water for at least half an hour, then check to make sure it is completely warm. If there are any cold places left, return the mouse to the hot water; the frozen remnants can cause a snake to regurgitate.
Once the mouse is properly thawed, place the mouse in the cage with the snake. Most snakes will find the prey easily and will eat immediately, but some require more convincing. You can use tongs to move the mouse to simulate a rodent's movement and encourage the snake to eat.
Many snake owners are used to feeding rodents to their pets, but are unaware of the severe dangers of live prey. To protect your snake, try feeding it pre-killed or thawed frozen food, instead.