Snakes are unique animals with unique anatomies and physiologies. Today, we will discuss a more innocuous topic: snake poop.
How does the reptile digestive system function, and what you can tell about the snake’s overall healthy by assessing its poop and pooping behavior?
Let’s check it out!
Anatomy of Snake’s Digestive System
Snakes have a unique digestive system that consists of several components:
- The mouth – The snake’s mouth is capable of accommodating large prey in a manner inaccessible to other species. That’s because snakes possess disjointed mandibles, only attached to the upper jaw via elastic ligaments. The mandible is also separated along the midsection, allowing the 2 sections to move separately during ingestion. Snakes also possess small and sharp teeth that are slightly bent toward the interior of the mouth. These secure the prey and guide it down the throat, along with the muscles designed specifically for this purpose.
- The esophagus – The esophagus is the next section, which guides the food into the stomach. The snake’s esophagus is highly flexible and consists of a series of muscles that contract and force the food item down. This part of the digestive system can also expand according to the prey’s size.
- The stomach – This is where the digestive process takes place. The stomach is located in the snake’s midsection, which is always where you see the bulge created by the prey. The stomach produces digestive juices and enzymes designed to break down the food and prepare it for the next stage.
- Small intestine – The small intestine begins with the stomach’s lower section and has the role of moving nutrients into the bloodstream. This part of the intestine can also complete the digestive process because the stomach doesn’t break down the food completely.
- Large intestine – The large intestine completes the digestive process and serves as the final phase: waste accumulation. The large intestine is connected to the cloaca and is essentially the snake’s evacuation system.
How Snakes Eliminate Waste Products from their Bodies
Snakes eliminate waste via 2 different means:
- Metabolic waste disposal – The snake’s digestive system extracts valuable nutrients, primarily glucose, and eliminates the excess water and various salts in the form of urine. This is where the kidneys come in, helping the snake process the liquid toxins that the body can no longer metabolize.
- Solid waste disposal – This makes up the mass of fecal matter that you get to find in your snake’s enclosure. The fecal matter is typically made up of 2 different by-products. The first is the already-processed matter, which has undergone the digestive process and no longer holds any nutritional value. The second one consists of indigestible leftovers like feathers, hair, bones, hooves, horns, teeth, etc., depending on what the snake has eaten.
It’s important to note that snakes possess a cloaca, just like birds do. They don’t have separate orifices for urine and poop, so they will produce both via the same hole. This is why your snake’s poop is always humid and often comes with a lot of extra liquid.
And this is why frequent substrate cleaning is necessary. You can remove the poop just fine, as this will not impact the environment too much. But the urine will soak into the substrate, making it more difficult to remove and more impactful.
The waste evacuation process is simple in theory, but it involves several moving parts. Overall, there are 2 primary evacuation systems responsible for eliminating the waste from the snake’s body: the kidneys and the main digestive system.
Kidneys are in the business of extracting glucose and producing the minerals and vitamins necessary to keep the organism in a healthy functioning state. They can also regulate the amount of salt in the body.
An important aspect here: snakes produce highly concentrated urine with less water than mammals or birds. This is because snakes are more sensitive to dehydration and have evolved to retain water more effectively than other animals.
The primary digestive system is in charge of synthesizing the solid matter, extracting useful nutrients, and discarding the rest.
Factors Affecting Snake Poop
That’s right, there are several factors that can influence your snake’s pooping ability.
- Environmental parameters – If the temperature is too high, the snake’s body will consume more water during the digestive process, which can lead to dehydration in some cases. If humidity is too low, expect a similar outcome. If the temperature is too low, the snake’s digestive system will drop alongside the animal’s metabolism. If the temperatures drop low enough, the snake may enter torpor, causing its digestive system to cease its activity entirely. This causes any undigested food to rot in the reptile’s belly, which can lead to deadly health complications.
- Diet – Eating food items that are too large can cause constipation or compaction. As a general rule, larger prey leads to the production of larger and more compact feces, while smaller prey results in smaller and looser by-products. As another general rule, snakes that consume live prey poop more often than those on a frozen/thawed animal diet.
- The snake’s overall health – Sick snakes can exhibit low appetites and a less effective digestive system. Forcing them to eat can lead to constipation and impaction, which can only make things worse.
- Stress – If your snake is stressed, expect a variety of health issues, including impaction and infrequent pooping due to less effective digestion. On an even more important note, snakes that are stressed can regurgitate their meals and refuse to eat for a while. This can lead to nutritional imbalances or deficiencies, some of which are deadly.
- Inadequate lighting – Few people realize the importance of lighting in the snake’s digestive process. Snakes tend to warm up more frequently after eating. This is because increasing the body temperature accelerates the digestive process, allowing the snake to break down the food and poop more often. However, if the lighting conditions are either too far north or south of your snake’s preferences, the animal may become stressed, in which case you need to revisit the previous point.
In conclusion, don’t leave any stone unturned. Snakes require specific environmental conditions to digest their food in peace.
Defecating vs Urinating in Snakes
Unlike in other animals, defecating and urinating are part of one process called cloacal ventilation. While mammals urinate and defecate separately, snakes do it all in one, just as birds do.
This allows for more efficient waste disposal, which is necessary for snakes due to their energy-saving needs.
How Often Do Snakes Poop?
This is an almost impossible-to-answer question. Different snakes have different pooping behaviors, depending on the species, their diet, the feeding frequency, the environment, the snake’s health state, etc.
So, let’s discuss these:
- The snake’s feeding behavior – Snakes that eat more frequently poop more frequently.
- The environmental conditions – The snake’s digestive system depends on the environmental temperature and humidity. If the temperature is too low, the snake may poop rarer due to the digestive system working slower. Also, snakes poop less in low-humidity conditions, primarily because they experience constipation along the way.
- Snake health – Ill snakes eat less and poop less than their healthy counterparts. However, this can swing to the other extreme, where the snake has diarrhea and poops a lot more frequently than it should. This is also extremely dangerous because diarrhea leads to severe dehydration, which can kill your snake in a matter of days.
- Snake age – Older snakes poop less because they eat less. This is due to their slower metabolisms, which are the result of the normal aging process.
If we were to mention some numbers in terms of poop frequency, we should go with one pooping session every 7-10 days. This applies especially to snakes kept in captivity.
Expect wild snakes to poop once every several weeks or even months, depending on the available food or the snake’s physiology. Some snakes hibernate during the cold season, which means they won’t eat or poop for months.
Your pet snake’s pooping frequency will depend on the animal’s age, size, diet, and environmental conditions.
Learn the species’ normal pooping behavior, so you can distinguish between normal and abnormal pooping behavior more easily.
Snake’s Health Examination from Poop
The good news is that you can tell a lot about a snake’s health status by assessing its poop size, hardness, and color.
Here are some markers to consider:
- Consistency – If the poop is watery and mushy, your snake is likely experiencing diarrhea. If it’s too dry and lacks any moisture, this is a sign of constipation. The fecal matter should be solid, well-formed, and with a consistent texture. Urine should also be visible.
- Color – The poop’s coloring depends on your snake’s diet. Normally, the color palette should sit between light and dark brown, maybe with some black here and there. If the poop is white, red, completely black, or bloody, your snake is dealing with some digestive problems.
- The amount of poop – Too little poop may signify constipation, while too much of it can link to overfeeding. In these cases, the poop’s consistency also influences the diagnosis.
- Visible parasites – Tapeworms are fairly common in snakes kept in subpar living conditions. If you notice worms in your snake’s poop, it’s time to call your vet.
Make sure you learn everything you can about the snakes’ pooping behavior and how the animal’s fecal matter and bowel movement can speak about its health status.
Snakes poop like all other animals. It’s just that they don’t do it as often, and they only use one exit to eliminate their food waste.
As you can see, the animal’s pooping behavior and the resulting by-products speak volumes about its health state and how well its digestive system is functioning.
Always track your reptile’s pooping behavior to notice any unusual characteristics along the way.