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Updated Sept. 30, 2019
WESTERN HOGNOSE EATING ISSUES & HOW TO GET THEM BACK ON TRACK
Although Western Hognoses are known for their voracious appetites, it is not uncommon for certain individuals to go off of food. More often than not, it is due to a husbandry mistake and can be easily righted. The biggest thing is to be patient. It can be scary when your pet goes off of food but so long as the Western Hognose is not showing signs of illness, dehydration, or weight loss the animal can go without food for months with no ill effects.
Remember to only change or try one thing at a time and allow for a week in between trying other options. Trying too many things at once may cause the Western Hognose more stress, and chances are one of the things that you tried (which otherwise may have worked) will not work due to over-stimulation. Patience is key.
1 - All husbandry should be checked first. Temperatures, equipment, etc.
2 - Substrate. Sometimes a fussy Hog may not like a different substrate than what they are used to.
3 - Lighting. Direct harsh lamp lighting is often a stressor, keep it to natural lighting.
4 - Downsize the enclosure. In our experience, downsizing is almost always the answer for most non-eating Western Hognoses, especially males.
3 - The braining method.
4 - Washing method.
5 - Scenting
“Scenting” is the process of taking a frozen-thawed or live prey item and rubbing it against another scent so the new smell overpowers the existing scent - hopefully making the prey item more appealing to the Western Hognose.
All too often we see people jumping right to scenting as soon as their Western Hognose goes off food. Scenting is almost never a "fix" for whatever caused your pet to go off food in the first place.
It is a perfectly healthy behaviour for a snake to choose to miss one or a couple of meals. So long as the animal is not looking dehydrated, sick or is losing weight, there is nothing to worry about. Many steps should be taken first before resorting to scenting as it can lead to what we called "Spoiled child syndrome" which is when the animal will eat only the new scented item, which may be difficult to get a hold of, and is likely not nutritionally balanced. It takes a good breeder a long time to establish babies onto frozen-thawed, non-scented meals and scenting can undo a lot of that work and can be difficult to get the animal back on track.
Remember to allow for a week's time of not offering food or bothering the animal. in between each change.
Some Western Hognoses do not like the strong scent of prey items while others love a good smelly meal. For the ones who do not like a strong scent, you can apply a safe soap such as Dawn to the frozen-thawed prey item be sure to thou-rally rinse all of the soap residues off and re-introduce the prey item with the use of tongs.
Braining is when the frozen-thawed prey’s skull is crushed or pierced. Often the scent of this is enough alone to get a Western Hognose to eat. If not, you can try adding one or more of the already listed techniques, AKA use in conjunction with scenting and or placing the snake and the prey item together in a container overnight.
Container & Tong Feeding
Unlike feeding in RUBS, container feeding is where you have a small container (preferably dark) with air holes in it. Place the snake in the container with the frozen-thawed prey item and put the lid back on the container. The container is then placed back in the reptile's enclosure, positioned closer to the hot side. It is perfectly safe and reasonable to leave the prey item and the snake in the container together like this until the following morning. If the Western Hognose did not eat, remove and discard the prey item. Place the snake back in its enclosure and do not disturb for one week.
One of the reasons a Western Hognose may be refusing food is if your personal scent is on the prey item. To avoid this try using tongs.
Overstimulation / Privacy
Many people get excited about bringing their new pet home but do not allow enough time for the Western Hognose to adjust to their new set-up before handling. Over-handling even a tame Western Hognose can lead to them being overwhelmed and could potentially be a reason for going off of food. Try to keep the socializing sessions short and we advise minimal contact for the first week to two weeks of the snake's arrival.
Some Western Hognoses don't use their hides, preferring just to burrow or stay out in the open, but shyer Western Hognoses may require multiple hides and deeper substrate to feel secure. Having their enclosure in a very bright or noisy part of your home may also cause a feeling of insecurity which may lead to the snake refusing food. In more extreme cases the enclosure may need to have a dark blanket or paper placed over it during mealtime.
It is very common for male Western Hognoses to go off of food during mating season, (females not so much). During the breeding season, you can offer your Western Hognose male a prey item. If he refuses, do not push the matter. So long as he is appearing healthy and no weight loss is occurring there is nothing to worry about. This is just the time of year when he has other things on his mind ahead of food. Mating season is typically June to August. (Western Hognoses can also be paired in spring and in fall)
Another common time of year for both sexes of Western Hognoses to go off of food is brumation season. Even if you are not purposely brumating your snake, they may put themselves into a form of brumation. So long as the animal is not acting sick or losing weight there is nothing to worry about. If you are NOT intentionally brumating them you may offer a prey item, but if they refuse do not push the matter. So long as they appear healthy and are not losing weight then it is fine. Brumation season is typically from November to February. *Do NOT offer food if you are purposely brumating.
A very common reason for a Western Hognose to go off of food is due to being in TOO LARGE of an enclosure. As owners, we want to give the very best to our pets and it is a common thought that a bigger space is better. What many do not realize is that even with lots of places to hide and bury, a Western Hognose or Kenyan Sand Boa can become overwhelmed and stressed by too large of space - especially if the enclosure is tall. This often leads to an even moodier Hog that may go off of feed. In our experience males benefit from an even slower transition between cage sizes. Do remember that all animals are unique and have their own preferences. One snake may be fine in a larger set-up with no issues, while this may not be true for another snake.
We recommend downsizing the enclosure until the animal grows enough to re-introduce them to the larger set-up - Males are very prone to this.
See below our recommendations for enclosure sizes.
Babies 5 - 6 Qrt (4.7 - 5.6 Ltr) RUB or 5-gallon tank
Sub-adults 15 Qrt (14 Ltr) RUB or 10-gallon tank
Adults 28 to 32Qrt (26/30Ltr) RUB or 20-gallon tank
The temperature being off is usually one of the top reasons why a Western Hognose is refusing food. Check to make sure your temps are the following. * Remember to always use a thermostat hooked up to your heat source, as to avoid fluctuation of temperatures that could cause injury to your snake.
Hot Side - 90 F - 93 F / Cold Side - 75 F - 80 F
ONLY after you have tried all the other options listed above with no luck, try one of the following items to scent with.
Tuna Juice - Use the Juice or meat itself
Salmon - Use the Juice or meat itself
Trout - Use the Juice or meat itself
Cooked Egg Whites
Live Prey - Rub F/T prey on live mice or their bedding.
Frog or Toad - Rub the F/T prey against.
Frog or Toad Pee - We do not recommend rubbing directly on frogs as so many have a high amount of secretion that may be harmful to your pet. Some toads are also unsafe to use for the same reason.
This is not very common and found more commonly in wild-caught animals. Some signs may include lack of appetite, diarrhoea, bloody stool and/or regurgitating. If your Western Hognose has these symptoms we highly suggest taking them to a vet who specializes in reptiles, where they will likely prescribe an antibiotic such as Flagyl.