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Feeding Frozen Mice to Snakes

Sammy - My Albino Corn Snake

Sammy - My Albino Corn Snake

My albino corn snake Sammy has been a fixture in my life for the past 13 years. I received him (or her? not sure which) from my high school girlfriend in 1997. At the time Sammy wasn’t much bigger than a pencil. Now he is 4+ feet and lives in a 40 gallon terrarium on my desk at work here at the PETCO National Support Center.

Since day 1 Sammy has been on a live food diet. He started with pinkies (hairless, baby mice), moved to fuzzies, and eventually adult mice. I won’t go into the gory details of the feeding process but it’s a lot like watching a nature show on TV.

In writing for this blog I’ve been spending a lot more time with animal care team at PETCO. These are the folks who write our animal care sheets and advise stores on the best ways to feed and shelter our companion animals. Several of these folks having been giving me a hard time about feeding live mice to my snake. Devon in particular (who also writes for this this blog) has been telling me that I should switch Sammy to frozen mice.

I resisted making the switch to frozen because, in all honesty, I was lazy and feeding live mice was all I knew. While I hadn’t given it a great deal of thought, feeding live mice just felt more natural. In hindsight I realize that this isn’t a very strong argument since albino snakes are specifically bred for their coloration (not natural), live in a glass-enclosed environment indoors (not natural), and are completely safe from predators (not natural).

I presented my natural argument to Devon along with a few other limp excuses. She pointed me to this excellent article on petco.com, Feeding Frozen/Thawed Foods, which soundly defeated my protests.

Is this really necessary?

So, on one of my regular visits to my local PETCO to pick up mice for my snake I sauntered over to the freezer section near the aquariums. Sure enough, they had 1-packs and 3-packs of frozen mice all ready to go. They were cheaper than the live mice as well. On the way to the cash register I read the directions on the back and came across this perplexing warning: “Not for human consumption.” That doesn’t seem like a necessary caution to put on the packaging in my opinion but they do say on the back of glass cleaner that you shouldn’t spray it in your eyes.

Now back at the office I plopped my frozen mouse-in-a-bag in a glass of warm water and waited. An hour or so later I felt through the bag that the mouse was completely thawed. I opened the bag and set the mouse in the tank with Sammy just like I usually do with live mice (Note: Before you point it out, I know I should be feeding my snake in a separate enclosure. I agree with this suggestion but Sammy and I have been together long enough that he knows my hands aren’t food. I wouldn’t recommend this if you have a new snake. OK, back to the story). As usual, Sammy poked his head out from under his hiding log and started exploring. He slithered right up to the mouse and gave it a thorough tongue-smelling. He hesitated only a few seconds and then *gulp* down the hatch, just like normal. He even started slithering around the tank rapidly as if saying “more please!”

If I had known it was this easy I would have switched years ago. Just remember, if you do keep frozen mice in your freezer, make sure to tell anyone who shares the freezer with you that they’re not for human consumption.

Do you have a pet that eats live or frozen food? What are your thoughts on this?

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  • john

    Cold mice + cold blooded snake = opps???????

  • Kristy Caver

    Interesting article! Don’t have much else to say since I’m not a big snake fan (although I’m a huge Sammy Snake fan), but great read!

  • PapaSteve

    I think the only thing I miss is the ‘natural battle’ between predator and predatee. Yeah I know that the outcome is virtually assured yet there is that miniscule chance the mouse has of jumping out of the aquarium and hiding in the office for the rest of his natural life.

  • Matt

    @ John
    The mice aren’t cold when you feed the snake. If you read the blog, Daniel mentions thawing the mouse out in warm water, which brings the temperature of it up to a safe level. Also, reptiles control their temperature by basking in the sun, or in a terrarium under a heat lamp. Just think of all the reptiles that eat fish, those aren’t warm either, but the reptiles continue to thrive.

  • Jessica

    My husband, when he had a snake, would buy live mice in bulk and put them in the freezer. Then when it was time to feed his snake, he would pull one or two out and nuke them in the microwave for a few seconds to get them back to “live temperature” and feed them to his snake. He said that the snake “forgets” some of the natural hunting instinct over time if they don’t have to constantly hunt for their food like they would with live mice. That way (for snakes that get bigger) they don’t accidentally eat your friends small dog or cat for lunch! :)

  • Jody

    It sounds like the transition was easy for Sammy… for my Ball Python- it took over a year, and countless frozen mice went to waste to get him to convert. He did eventually but first we had to entice with some chicken broth on the mouse.
    Just a quick comment for Jessica & her husband- you should NEVER microwave ANYTHING you’re going to be feeding to pets! I like to call it the frozen burrito syndrome- cool to the touch on the outside, but burning hot on the inside!! You can burn your pets delicate insides this way! Stick with warm water, put it under the pets heat lamp, or just plain old thawing in the open air!

  • Kathleen

    I work for Petco and I also own snakes. I agree 100% if you can get your snake to eat F/T it is much better for them. I have had a a couple customers tell me horror stories how the live mouse or rat harmed their snake and in one case the snake died from the injuries. In my own opinion if you want to watch a snake catch and kill live prey then there are plenty of videos on YouTube for that. I understand that there are some snakes that won’t take to F/T and in that case I would make sure that the owner watches to make sure the snake eats the food and the prey isn’t left alone in the cage unattended.

  • Tamara

    This is why I don’t like snakes as pets. It isn’t fair to the mice. In the wild, the prey has a chance to fight for their life. It isn’t fair to put a live mouse in with a snake where it doesn’t have a chance. Papa Steve, you’re really cruel if you enjoy this.

  • Ayan

    Great job on switching to frozen/thawed prey Daniel! It really can be that easy and the petco care sheet and article offer great methods for helping the switch along if your snake is hesitant at first.

    Feeding frozen/thawed is safer, more humane and more economical! It’s a great way to care for our slithery friends.

  • Gina Y

    I went through about two years as a fancy mice owner but could no longer handle losing them after just a year, so quit owning them. A friend who knew this, called me one evening. Her snake refused to eat a live feeder she put in couple of days prior. The mouse was weak and near death. I drove right over, collected the all-white cutie, named him Marshall Mathers and rehab’d him back to health. He was one of the sweetest mousies I’d had. I really wish there was a bigger push to feed frozen.

  • http://www.petsitterlistings.com Pet Guy

    That’s the funniest thing i’ve heard all week! Just shows what a crazy world we live in when companies have to put “Not For Human Consumption” on packets of frozen mice, but I suppose somewhere someone has eaten them, gotten ill and then sued, hence the warning! Got to be honest I’ve never been a huge snake fan until a few months ago when a good friend of mine bought a burmese python. It was still only young but was already quite big. They have a very large space for it to live in and they have been keeping snakes for many years, but it was amazingly placid and relaxed even when i held it for a short time.

  • Marisa Oste

    Our snake, Snakey (Don’t let your kindergarten class name your pets), started on diet of frozen pinkies. He happily wolfed down defrosted mousiesicles for years… and then suddenly… he was just done. Done. Done. Done. It didn’t matter how they were presented, he was just done.
    We finally gave him a live one just to see if he would eat it. Sure enough, he ate it. Now he’ll ONLY eat live mice. I think he’s having some sort of snake midlife crisis and he needs to get back to his primal roots.
    I think anyone who contemplates owning a snake better be emotionally/morally equipped to be able to feed live. They are beautiful and fascinating, but you can’t reason with them. This is what snakes do. It is the same as opening a can of dog food for your dog. Remember the cow/duck/chicken/whatever is in your kibble didn’t have a fighting chance either! Furthermore, corn snakes are easy to feed. Many snakes are very very particular about what and how they eat. DON’T DON’T DON’T go out a buy an exotic snake and expect it to eat frozen.
    Nice article, Daniel… I’m glad to see Sammy has a forever home.

  • jessica

    dont you sell mice not kill them

  • anica

    um dont you sell mice not freeze them?

  • anica

    just kidding my cousin wanted to buy a snake what else is on its normal diet?

  • anica

    thanks for the info on that

  • Trissy Charlsen

    i just went to feed my 3 month old corn snake Ignus (Iggy) the frozen pinkies i bought from Petco. All three pinkies were not going to be fed to my corn snake. Inside the package was blood, everywhere. One of the pinkies was half gone. From the head to about mid-stomache was there but nothing else. Another pinkie was ripped/cut open. I have no idea how it happened but stuff was just oozing out of the poor little mouse. It was a total waist of my money and I’m not at all happy with Petco. I didn’t want to get into too much detail about the pinkies but I felt I needed to inform all the people out there who are also buying the pinkies. Has anyone else had this problem?

  • Btomsheck59

    How I am relating to these stories. I have some dumbo rats and others I breed for food and it’s getting increasingly more difficult. I have had snakes for 40 years. The problemis I love rats too. And some mice. It’s one of those things; it seems to keep me a bit more calloused on life ingeneral everytime I humanely kill a little rat, etc..