We have all seen snakes swallow prey that is many times their thickness.
Hardly any other living being can swallow in such a way. But can a snake choke?
Snakes are intimidating creatures and hardly get intimidated by any other creature.
Several pythons have been known to swallow entire deer in one go without choking or even missing a beat.
Can A Snake Choke?
It is highly unlikely for a snake to choke on food. However, if your snake has a respiratory issue, it may suffocate with or without food. Snakes have a unique tube called the glottis, which allows them to breathe even when their esophagus is stuffed with large prey.
Many snakes can open their jaws to a whopping 130 degrees and can swallow prey that is much bigger than themselves.
Although choking might not be a hazard, large prey poses other risks.
Ophiologists, or scientists who study snakes, state that snakes can freely breathe even as they eat due to the glottis.
The glottis is a natural tube with one end at the bottom of the snake’s mouth and the other end linked to the windpipe.
The glottis remains closed most of the time but is extremely helpful when the snake’s mouth is stuffed with prey.
Stuffing your mouth with food may be bad manners for humans, but it is perfectly natural for snakes.
What is Choking?
For humans and other mammals, choking happens when a foreign object gets lodged in the throat and blocks the windpipe, making breathing impossible.
With breathing impaired, the oxygen in the body can quickly deplete and prove to be fatal.
Snakes have different anatomy. They do not usually chew their food but instead rely on chemicals to digest it.
They have broad opening mouths and a flexible body, which allows them to swallow food whole.
If a snake attempts to eat something larger than it can swallow, things can quickly turn sour.
The snake will attempt to spit out the prey in such a case.
If it cannot dislodge the large object, the stuck prey can prove to be fatal.
What Happens If the Meal Is Too Big?
Two things can happen when a snake swallows something too big for its own good.
Most commonly, the snake will try to regurgitate the swallowed food.
Many people regard regurgitation as similar to vomiting. However, there is a slight difference.
If the snake figures that it does not want the food before it reaches the stomach, it will use contractions along its body to expel the food from its body. Regurgitated food will often retain its original shape and will still be identifiable as the ingested prey.
In case of vomiting, the food comes back from the snake’s stomach.
It will be partially digested and seem messed up. Regurgitation is a natural response, and you can easily identify its cause.
On the other hand, vomiting can be a health concern, and you may have to take the snake to a veterinarian along with the item that was vomited out.
In the worst-case scenario, if a snake swallows something bigger than it can digest, it can end up bursting open.
Although this is not that much concern for pet snakes, several bursting snakes have been seen out in the wild.
The snake’s body could not handle the size and burst open, killing the snake.
However, there has also been a case where a snake swallowed a centipede.
The centipede was able to bite and claw its way through the snake, leaving the snake’s side open.
Snakes are generally able to assess and judge the size of their prey. But sometimes, their assessments can prove to be wrong.
Pet snakes don’t have much choice for food and eat whatever is offered to them.
Can A Snake Choke and Suffocate When Eating?
As discussed above, humans and other mammals can choke if the food blocks the windpipe.
However, snakes have a separate tube for respiration called a glottis.
Almost everything a snake eats will block its windpipe. But the glottis ensures that the snake has access to fresh air irrespective of the size of food it is eating.
The glottis ensures that the snake does not suffocate or choke.
It can continue to breathe even while it is swallowing.
Overfeeding can pose a problem for your snake. If you give them more than what they need, it can be fatal.
Many signs point to an overfed snake. The first and the most common one is obesity.
The snake will look bulky in the belly.
his addition of size can also paralyze the snake towards the rear end because the spinal cord will not be able to cope with the added pressure.
If the snake feels heavy or bulky, it will be difficult to move about and carry on with its daily activities.
Causes of Overfeeding
Snakes have a prolonged digestive process.
A single food they swallow can remain in their system for days before being digested completely.
If you give food to your snake daily, the food will begin to collect in their stomachs and make them appear and feel bloated.
It will be best to have a notebook or a board to keep track of feeding your snake.
It will help you remember the last time your snake ate.
Younger snakes need to be fed twice or three times a week, but most adults eat once every fortnight.
Balance is critical when it comes to feeding snakes.
Since you will not be feeding them for several days, you must give them enough to last them during the duration.
If you underfeed a snake, it can be harmful to its health, as can be overfeeding.
Since all digestion in snakes is based on chemicals, any snake with digestive problems is prone to store food longer in its stomach.
If the digestive problems are not identified, you may continue to feed the snake while it still has a considerable amount of food in its digestive system.
This can result in overfeeding and cause different issues.
Snakes are not intimidated by large prey. They take it as a challenge and are known to swallow animals such as dogs, pigs, and cats.
Their jaws stretch wide to accommodate the prey’s size.
It is best to give them a prey that is no bigger in diameter than their own bodies. Although a slightly larger prey can still be manageable, it is best to stick to their body size.
If a snake swallows anything too large, you might have to take them to the veterinarian to have the item manually removed.
The snake is put under sedation, and an endotracheal tube is used to pull the prey back to the snake’s mouth.
This procedure involves many risks, and the vets will only consider it if the lodged prey is life-threatening to the snake.
When Can A Snake Suffocate?
Although it is highly unlikely for your snake to choke on food or suffocate because of it, there are some scenarios where a snake can face suffocation or even choking.
If your snake is suffering from respiratory conditions, chances are it can suffocate due to blocked airways.
These issues can make it difficult for the snake to catch or swallow prey.
If the prey is large and the snake manages to swallow it, their constricted airways might become affected even further, resulting in suffocating.
Prey That is Not Clean
In their natural habitats, snakes swallow their prey as a whole.
Everything from head to tail goes in, including feathers or fur.
However, a snake suffering from respiratory illnesses might find it difficult to eat prey with feathers and furs.
Instead, you can consider giving it a cleaned prey, which often comprises meat and bones.
This will reduce the chances of suffocation.