My gopher snake doesn't eat much, and sometimes he strikes at food and misses.
Q. I am in my second year with a Sonoran gopher snake, which I obtained as a neonate. He was eating well up until Feb. 2005 (I keep daily records). Now he has eaten once a month since then. I feed him thawed mice and on a few occasions I have tried enticing him with small live mice, and he will strike at them, but it seems as if he is blind because he misses. He then loses interest in feeding. Upon offering thawed mice, he will check them out then ignore them. I see no indications of ill health, but I have never kept snakes so I haven't a clue if this is a normal thing.
A. I am very concerned about your gopher snake. If its frequency of eating has dramatically dropped, then this is not normal. Most gophers eat once or twice a week as juveniles, then every 10 days or so as adults. In colder climates, gophers may hibernate during autumn and winter, but since this is June, I doubt that is the problem.
I am most concerned about your observation that your snake is striking and missing the mice. It does sound as if it is blind or at least having coordination problems. This is enough information for me to recommend that you make an appointment with a herp vet to get this problem evaluated. It is going to lose weight and become ill if it doesn’t start feeding soon. Until you can get it in to see a herp vet, you can soak your snake in a warm solution of a clear sports drink so that it can drink it and at least get some electrolytes and carbohydrate calories in the meantime. You can soak it for 15 to 20 minutes once or twice per day, making sure that the liquid level is low enough so it cannot drown.
Its cage temperature should range between 75- to 85-degrees Fahrenheit, which can be maintained using an incandescent light bulb with reflector shield placed at the warmer end of its habitat for basking. It should be housed in a 20 gallon or larger tank, with a substrate of fresh, clean potting soil, pine chips, aspen shavings, cypress mulch or indoor/outdoor carpeting. It is best if you use a substrate that your snake can burrow under, as they really like to do so. A hide box should also be provided. Some snakes like to climb, so make sure to have a few branches accessible for it. Of course, an appropriate-sized water bowl for soaking should always be available.
The only other thing that I can think of that you can try until you get your snake in to see your herp vet is quail eggs. Some gophers like birds and eggs, so perhaps you can offer a quail egg to see if it is interested and able to eat one. Quail eggs are often sold in gourmet specialty stores and also at oriental markets. Perhaps you can locate a few to try and see if it will eat them.
Other than that, it is best that you seek veterinary help to find out exactly why your gopher snake isn’t eating.
Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.
Need a Herp Vet?
If you are looking for a herp-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area, a good place to start is by checking the list of members on the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarian (ARAV) web site at www.arav.com. Look for DVMs who appear to maintain actual veterinary offices that you could contact.