Snakes are one of nature’s most fascinating creatures, mainly because they are so different from us mammals. Despite the stereotypes that surround our scaly friends, snacks can and do make fantastic pets. However, keeping a snake is not the same as keeping most pets, thanks to their unique needs, from temperature to diet.
Below, we’ll lay out the basics of caring for these regal reptiles, so you can be the best snake parent you can!
As exciting as it is to bring a new pet home, it’s important to make sure you have everything you need first. Before you even go to the exotic pet store, you need to do your homework and be as informed as you can about the different types and their specific needs and care requirements.
Start by reading all the forum threads and blog posts you can find about your chosen species. Care sheets and YouTube videos are also a great help at this stage.
If possible, try to find someone local who keeps the species you’ve decided on, and see if they’re willing to talk with you. Other keepers can give you insights into the day-to-day realities of snake-keeping, which is especially invaluable if you’re a first-time snake owner. You may even be able to get some practice with holding and handling their snakes if they’re open to that.
Once you’re set on the species you’d like, it’s time to go shopping! Make yourself a detailed list and try to stick to the basics first. It’s easy to get distracted when you’re already excited about bringing your new pet home.
It’s a good idea to have everything set up and ready when your snake arrives. Having the reptile’s habitat ready for it will go a long way toward calming it down from the trip home and making it feel safe and comfortable with you.
The sort of habitat you construct for your new friend will vary a bit based on their species. For example, burrowing snakes will generally need less height than semi-arboreal snakes. As a general rule, it’s best to have an enclosure that’s at least as long as the snake is, and at least 1/3 as wide as the snake is long.
The substrate you choose will also have to be considered. Research is important here, since what would be perfect for a sand boa probably won’t work for a ball python, and vice versa. Once you’ve discovered the common bedding types for your species, test the material to make sure both you and your snake do well with it. You may even want to use paper towels for the first few weeks, as they’re cheap and easy to clean.
The idea of an enclosure being ‘too big’ for a snake isn’t actually valid. After all, snakes evolved to live in the wild, which is massive. It’s not the space itself that stresses these reptiles out – it’s not being able to hide in it. Make sure you give your scaly friend plenty of cover, no matter the size of their enclosure.
Another consideration is temperature. Ectothermic creatures like snakes can’t internally regulate their body temperature, meaning they have to use the environment to regulate it. Ideally, an enclosure will have what’s called a temperature gradient – one end of the habitat will be colder than the other, providing a range of temperatures for the snake to choose from.
What to feed and how often to feed will depend heavily on your chosen species. Most small to mid-sized snakes will eat mice their entire lives, but garter and hognose snakes prefer non-rodent food. In their cases, it’s best to stick as close as possible to their natural diets.
If you can convince your snake to eat them, Reptilinks offer complete nutrition in places where live or feeder frogs, toads, and fish aren’t readily available. Whatever you feed, frozen and thawed food is preferable since freezing kills harmful parasites. Always try to bring warm-blooded prey to a temperature in the 90s, and cold-blooded prey up into the 70s to 80s.
Activity plays a role in the feeding schedule too. Active colubrids tend to eat more than pythons or boas. A general guideline is to offer food 5 to 7 days after your adult snake poops. This gives their digestive system a break and ensures they’re actually hungry when they eat.
Some snakes will prefer their food bouncing around, while others prefer darkness and solitude while eating. Trial and error will tell you which your new pet prefers.
What If My Snake Bites Me?
Ideally, you’ve had at least some snake-handling experience before now, but even experienced handlers still get bitten from time to time. After the initial two-week adjustment period, you can begin handling your new friend. Try to keep this short, maybe five minutes once a week at first, to avoid stressing them.
If your snake does bite you but then immediately lets you go, that was a defensive bite. Place them back in their enclosure and leave them be for 48 hours. Try to work out what caused the defensive reaction, so you can avoid triggering it in the future.
If, however, your snake bites you and holds on, you can take it as a compliment! ‘Bite and hold’ or even ‘bite and coil’ are feeding behaviors and stressed-out snakes don’t eat. This means they felt comfortable with you and thought you smelled interesting enough to taste. Tickling the snake on the top of the head will often make them let go.
Don’t be surprised by the amount of blood involved in a snake bite! The saliva of most snakes contains an anticoagulant. Wash the bite out with soap and water, like you would for any wound, coat it in a triple antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a bandage. If you were bitten by a mildly venomous species like a hognose, you can take a mild antihistamine as a preventative measure. The effects of cannabis oil have also been studied and seem to be effective in lessening the effects of venom.
In The End…
Keeping a snake can be a tricky experience, with a lot of moving parts and things to consider. That said, if you do your homework properly, incorporating a snake into your family can be fantastically rewarding. Good luck in caring for your new scaly friend!