Snakes can eat live animals! I once saw a hognosed snake from the eastern United States eat a live toad and then heard the toad call from the belly of the snake!
However, most snakes will first kill their prey so they are not injured during ingestion. Some snakes, like boas, are constrictors, meaning they squeeze their prey to suffocate it before eating it. Other snakes, like rattlesnakes and vipers, have venom that they inject into the prey and allow it to die before they swallow the item.
Other snakes feed on invertebrates, like centipedes, worms, and mollusks. They may swallow these alive. Snakes that feed on fish will usually hold the fist in its mouth until the fish dies and then swallow it.
Some will strangle an animal that can fight back, but some snakes will simply capture its prey and swallow it whole. Typically, a snake will go the easiest route, and if that’s killing an animal first, or eating a freshly dead one, then they’ll do so.
The big issue is just that a live animal struggling inside a snake’s gut can injure the snake, so they tend to make sure their prey don’t struggle. However, this doesn’t prevent a snake from eating a live animal.
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