There has been a long, ongoing controversy among reptile enthusiasts regarding whether to feed their pets live prey or defrosted “Frozen Feeder Rodents.”  Many reptiles eat only rodents as their diet. The size of the rodent is commensurate with the size of the reptile. The smallest rodents are tiny newborn “pinky” mice, which are frequently fed to omnivorous reptiles along with their insects and produce. These animals would include several breeds of pet lizards, for example. Then there are the strict carnivores, particularly snakes. Their food ranges from pinky mice for the smaller breeds and the baby snakes, to large rats and in cases of the much larger snakes, prey as big as rabbits. If your snake is too big to eat rabbits, you may want to consider downsizing. Also, a rabbit is not a rodent. Rabbits are not available as frozen pre-killed prey, which tend to only go as large as a sizable rat. Therefore, the reference to frozen thawed pre-killed feeder prey pertains to rodents ranging in size from pinky mice to large rats.
The Benefits of Live Prey
Proponents of feeding live prey insist that it adds to the reptiles’ natural sense of predation and that feeding them pre-killed prey deprives them of this innate behavior. If a reptile is not going to be handled by humans, this is not only a logical approach, it’s frequently less expensive if the rodents are purchased in bulk. Reptile handlers that must feed many animals at the same time more often than not use live prey. Yes, it is important to promote natural behaviors in animals that are in captivity. Otherwise, they can become listless and actually exhibit symptoms of poor health. However, if the pet reptile is going to be handled by its owner, the enthusiast may not have the optimum pet experience with a creature that engages in its natural hunt for food. These reptiles can be more aggressive, for good reason. They practice.
Typical Live Feeder Mouse
Some of the Many Benefits of Frozen Feeder Rodents
Reptile owners who choose to feed their pets defrosted feeder rodents do have to go through the slight inconvenience of properly defrosting and subsequent feeding that most realistically emulates the real thing – predation of live prey. On the other hand, there is the added convenience of keeping the pet food in the freezer until the exact time when you need it.  Indisputably, reptiles raised on pre-killed feeder rodents do very well indeed; healthy, perky, behaving naturally. The key ingredient for positive pet interaction is not the nature of the food, it’s the handling of the animal.
Switching From Live Prey to Frozen Feeder Rodents
Frequently, reptile hobbyists and professionals alike need to switch their animals from live prey to frozen feeder rodents, or vice versa. For the most part, the reptiles adapt from one to the other without a problem. This is not always the case, but there are countless documented instances of an animal introduced into a handler’s care that must adjust to a new regimen, and that it does so without any snags.  One example of this was when a young corn snake that was given to reptile professionals accidentally escaped from its new vivarium. This snake had been raised since infancy on defrosted feeder mice. The escape artist was not hard to track down nor was it difficult to catch. During its adventure, it had come across a nest of mice in the garage and had eaten every one of them. It literally was so engorged that it could hardly move. The new owners anxiously waited to find out if the hugely bloated little constrictor would survive the eating binge. Some of the mice were expelled by vomiting, but some of the others went completely through the snake’s digestive system without any problem at all. Admittedly, she did not need to be fed for a few weeks. She is now nearly full grown, healthy and beautiful, and back to defrosted pet food.
Video: Feeding Snakes Frozen Thawed Mice/Rats
When Prey Becomes Predator
The best way to illustrate this odd juxtaposition of roles is to provide an example of an incident. Conscientious long-term reptile owners put a full-grown live mouse in their feeding tub (separate from the snake’s vivarium) along with their beautiful full-grown corn snake. For years, this had been their routine and for years, they would check back within about a half an hour to see if the snake had consumed the mouse and if it was far enough down the snake’s gullet to put it back in its warm vivarium to relax and digest. To their horror, their snake was near death and covered in mouse bites. What they hadn’t noticed was that their snake was nearing a shed at which time snakes often lose their appetites. Fasting loosens skin which makes it easier to shed. Other snakes and indeed the one in this story will eat heartily right before a shed without any problem at all. At least that was their snake’s usual behavior. The owners really never knew the reason the snake withstood the attack, but the mouse was alive and well and the snake was rushed to the vet. It did heal and survive, but it took a long time. The owners switched to frozen feeder rodents and the eight-year-old snake made the transition with ease.
Milky Eyes Indicate an Impending Shed
A Constrictor is a Constrictor, No Matter What
It’s almost comical to witness a hungry snake throw coils around a pre-killed defrosted feeder mouse or rat. The instinct to constrict its prey does not vary, even though the mouse is not alive. In young snakes, the very action of grabbing and constricting the defrosted mouse creates a bit of a commotion and as far as the snake is concerned, it’s bound and determined to constrict its prey before consumption as this mock “life and death” struggle ensues. This adds weight to the argument that the reptile’s natural instincts are in no way impeded by offering pre-killed prey as opposed to live.
A Very Important Feeding Fact
Never feed a rodent-eating reptile in its vivarium. Dead or alive, prey should never be introduced in the reptile’s living quarters. Always have a size-appropriate feeding tub or container separate from the pet’s tank so that it associates food with the container, not with you and its tank. Constrictor bites can be nasty, even if they are not venomous.
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