Snake Care & FAQs
We have provided information that we will hope answer your commonly asked questions on snakes. We know this will help build the bond between you and your animal, and we hope it will continue to be a resource for your snake’s happiness and health for years to come. Please click on the category you are interested in learning more about:
Before Getting a Snake
Is a Snake Right For You?
By: Pet Reptiles
Some people are drawn to snakes, others recoil in fear. Throughout history, snakes have figured prominenetly in religion and folklore, representing both good and evil. Some of the fascination comes from the fact that they have no legs, and this makes them mysterious to us. For whatever reason, the snake is the subject of countless rumors and stories, most of them entirely fictional.
Many people believe that all snakes are dangerous, slimy creatures. This is far from the truth. Unfrotunately, the stories about the hiker who scared away a shy corn snake don’t make healines, but stories of anacondas eating childern sell papers. In fact, snakes are clean, dry silky skinned animals that are mostly non-dangerous to humans. Of course, there are a number of poisionous, and even lethal snakes, but they are encountered far less often than the rumor mill would have us believe.
As far as pets go, there are types of snakes that make fine companions. A snake won’t come when you call it, or fetch a ball for you, but watching it explore, eat and sleep has a strange, soothing effect. My snakes have taught me that there is value in a patient, unhurried approach to life, springing into action only when necessary.
A snake needs special consideration as a pet, however. Despite your best efforts and intentions, you will encounter people who fears snakes, and will not or can not overcome this fear. If one of these happens to be your husband or wife, you (and your pet) are in for a rough time! Don’t assume that logic, or time will take this fear away. Make sure that everyone in your family, and any frequent guests that you plan on keepings as friends have at least an attitude of acceptance towards snakes.
Most snakes eat rodents, frogs, insects, or other snakes. Make sure that you will be comfortable with this. Some people get a little squeamish when they realize they need to keep these “cute” little dead mice in their freezer. Some snakes will refuse to eat anything but live food. Make sure that you will be comfortable feeding live mice to your snake if the need arises.
Poisonous snakes do not make good pets. Stay clear of them – these should be handled only by professionals. No matter what precautions you take, or how well prepared you are, one day an accident will hapen. If you are lucky, it will just mean some time in the hospital. If you’re not…
We have all seen the person with a snake around his/her neck on TV, or a snake owner showing off. This is incredibly foolish – it’s about the equivalent of closing your eyes for ten seconds while driving on the highway. Many time someone can get away with this, but if the snake decides to tighten it’s grip, it can cut off the blood flow to the brain and render you unconcious, or even dead. The worst part of it is that the snake is covering such a large area of the neck that the pressure is hardly felt. Snakes are amazingly strong. Consider the fact that virtually every muscle in their body can be used for constricting when they decide to.
If you want a snake to impress your friends, or shock your inlaws, then do us all a favor and just dye your hair orange or get your eyelids pierced or something. A snake is a living, intelligent creature that has as much right as any animal to live comfortably and securely. Unqualified or uncaring snake owners are the ones that we read about in the papers, and make the public at large wary of snakes and those who keep them.
What Kind of Snake Should You Get?
By: Animal Care Associates
It is not recommended that a novice or average snake hobbyist keep venomous species!
The most common snakes kept by enthusiasts are the many and varied constrictor species (boas, pythons, rat and milk snakes, etc.), and the racer, gopher and garter species. The husbandry and dietary requirements for these types of snakes vary considerably. Furthermore, some of the same species (notably the boa constrictors and pythons) reach very large sizes in captivity, and their considerable space requirements must be anticipated.
Before you acquire a snake, you should carefully consider the following recommendations:
- Research the major husbandry requirements of the snake and determine whether or not you can successfully meet them now and in the future.
- Husbandry requirements include diet, environment (living space, temperature, humidity, lighting, etc.) and sanitation considerations.
- Research the environmental temperature of the species. Temperatures vary among species and among individuals of the same species.
- Select a snake that can feed without difficulty and one that is eating regularly.
- Select a snake that appears healthy in all respects.
- Avoid selecting a snake belonging to a species that is notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, requires difficult or elaborate environmental setups, or spends most of its time hiding or burrowed underground.
Bringing Your Snake Home
Snake Housing and Environment
By: Animal Care Associates
Enclosure & Space Requirements
As a general rule, snakes require relatively little space because of their limited and non-exertional activity. The size of the enclosure should allow space for certain required items, and still allow the snake adequate space to stretch out and move about. Snakes will use both the horizontal and vertical space within their enclosure if provisions are made for this activity.
Aquariums or other similar glass or plexiglass lined enclosures are usually most suitable because they allow for visualization of and safety for the pet. They also help maintain desirable environmental temperatures and generally high humidity levels. Wire lined enclosures do not usually allow you to maintain desirable temperatures and humidity levels. Furthermore, such enclosures can promote injuries to the rostrum (nose and surrounding tissues) as snakes may repeatedly attempt to “escape” through the wire mesh.
Any enclosure used should have a secure top and be escape-proof. All hinges and locks should be secure. All snakes are potential “escape artists” and many can escape from what appears to be a secure enclosure.
Floor Covering & Enclosure Items
Unprinted newspaper, butcher paper, paper towels, terrycloth towels, and indoor-outdoor carpeting are the most suitable materials for covering the bottom of a snakes enclosure. If indoor-outdoor carpeting is used, it is best to have 2-3 pieces cut to the correct dimensions. This way, replacements can be used while the soiled piece is cleaned and disinfected.
We do NOT recommend pea gravel, kitty litter, crushed corncob material or wood shavings be used. These are unquestionably more pleasing to look at than most of the materials mentioned above; however, they are unsuitable because they trap moisture and feces, providing a place for external and internal parasites to hide. Furthermore, these types of bedding are easily and inadvertently eaten while the snake is feeding. This can cause injury to or obstruction of the digestive tract.
Various objects should be included in a snake’s enclosure . These include sturdy hardwood or fabricated branches, driftwood, grapevine, hanging rope,
and shelves or hammocks.
It is very important to provide some privacy for a captive snake. Many snakes will not feed without the privacy of some degree of visual security. This can be accomplished by providing a “hide box” or strategic placement of silk artificial plants (or trees if the enclosure is large enough). Silk plants are visually pleasing and easy to clean and disinfect. They require minimal maintenance, help to increase the humidity level if the foliage is frequently misted, and can complement a snake’s ability to camouflage itself, thereby providing visual security.
Tropical snakes kept in captivity (boa constrictors, pythons, etc.) require relatively warm temperatures and high humidity. Daytime temperatures should range between 80° F and 85° F. Nighttime temperatures can fall between 70-75° F without creating problems for most snakes. Native American snakes do well when maintained at 70-80° F.
Large enclosures can be maintained with heat lamps or heaters equipped with thermostats, whereas small enclosures may be adequately heated by placing a heating pad directly underneath them. Exposed heat sources must be shielded to protect snakes from serious burns as they attempt to warm themselves by coiling next to them.
Large and small enclosures should also provide the snake a focal (spot) source of warmth. This warmth increases activity and rate of digestion.
The heat sources should be checked frequently for malfunction. Your snake should also be checked periodically for evidence of burns because they generally do not move away from a heat-generating source even if they are severely burned.
Ideally, captive reptiles should be housed in such a way that they can be exposed to and benefit from direct, unfiltered sunlight during the day. Unfortunately, this is not always practical or possible. The next best solution is to use an artificial ultraviolet light source rather than fluorescent or incandescent light bulbs. One or more full spectrum lights such as Vitalites should be used during the daylight hours. We recommend 10-12 hours of daylight and 12-14 hours of darkness, with a gradual increase in the number of hours of light in the spring and a decrease in the fall and winter months.
Taking Care of Your Snake
Common Snake Health Issues and Medical Problems
By: Animal Care Associates
*IF YOU FEEL THAT YOUR PET IS ILL PLEASE TAKE YOUR SNAKE TO A VETERINARIAN*
The list below are just a few of the problems that you may encounter with a pet snake!
- Rat/Mouse Bites – these bites commonly form abscesses.
- Prolapses – When an organ of the snake inverts itself and protrudes outside of the body.
- Mouth Rot – A bacterial infection of the mouth. It may begin with increased salivation. Often saliva bubbles coming from the mouth are seen. The mouth lining becomes increasingly inflamed and pus begins to accumulate within the mouth. As the disease progresses, the underlying bone becomes infected.
- Failure to Voluntarily Feed – Anorexia (lack of appetite) and failure to voluntarily feed are common problems among captive snakes. Despite the fact that snakes are uniquely suited to survive prolonged periods without feeding, a snake owner should make every attempt to discover the reason(s) for the snake’s failure to feed.
- Regurgitation – Regurgitation of food may result from handling a snake too soon after it is fed. Regurgitated food is undigested and relatively odorless. Another common cause of regurgitation is inadequate and incomplete digestion caused by relatively cool environmental temperatures. In these cases, the regurgitated food appears digested and is malodorous. Other causes of regurgitation include stress in easily excitable species, parasitism, intestinal obstruction and serious internal disease. An experienced veterinarian should be consulted if the cause is not readily determined.
- Constipation – Constipation is a common problem among captive snakes. Causes include suboptimal environmental temperatures, illness, dehydration, injuries, parasites and cloacoliths (stones). Constipated snakes should be allowed to soak in very warm (not hot) water for 20-30 minutes daily for 1-2 days. This often results on defecation and/or urination. If soaking is not successful, veterinary help should be sought at once.
by: Animal Care Associates
Water should be provided at all times as most snakes drink frequently. A suitably sized container should also be provided so the snake can swim and soak. The container should be heavy enough so that it cannot be easily overturned. All water bowls should be regularly cleaned and disinfected with hot soapy water at least once every 2-4 weeks. Failure to do so encourages bacterial overgrowth and can cause the snake to become ill.
It is very important to make several points and cautions regarding the feeding of captive snakes. Most herpetologists and experienced hobbyists agree that captive snakes should be fed dead or incapacitated prey whenever possible. This is because such prey cannot injure the feeding snake. Providing killed prey that has been frozen is convenient and economical. Snakes may be induced to eat thawed, frozen prey animals by clipping hair from the coat of a live rat and rolling the proposed food in it just before feeding.
Live rodents (rats and mice in particular) left unattended and unobserved within an enclosure can sometimes turn on the snake and inflict serious bite wounds. These incidents are most likely to occur when a snake is ill or otherwise uninterested in feeding.
If it is not possible to offer anything other than live and fully conscious prey for a snake to successfully feed, the encounter must be carefully supervised. If a snake shows no interest in feeding within 10-15 minutes after the prey has been introduced, the prey should be removed. If other similar attempts to feed the snake within the next 1-2 weeks are equally unsuccessful, veterinary help should be sought.
Extreme caution should be exercised when feeding snakes. This is especially important when a snake is hungry. An overzealous and hungry snake may strike at a person as the prey is introduced. This is especially true with large snakes. Caution also should be used when feeding more than one snake in the same enclosure.
Feeding schedules for captive snakes vary with the age, species, size, condition and specific requirements. Generally pet snakes are usually fed once every 1-2 weeks. Juvenile and adults for which a relatively rapid growth rate is desired can be fed more frequently, providing that the environmental temperatures are warm enough to allow complete and thorough digestion. Older snakes are usually fed less frequently, often once every 3-6 weeks. Overfeeding should be avoided due to the risk of obesity.
Food & Prey
(* below – Types of Snakes / Feeding specifics)
Boa constrictors, Pythons, Rat snakes, Gopher or Bull snakes
– Warm blooded prey is preferred. Juveniles should be fed very small prey.
– They may also consume very small lizards and snakes.
– Some tree boas and pythons prefer lizards to mammals.
Garter snakes, Ribbon snakes, Water snakes, etc.
-Fish, frogs, salamanders, toads, earthworms, slugs and carrion are preferred.
-May accept dead mice if they are covered with the external mucous of frogs or fish before they are offered.
Indigo snakes, King snakes and many racers
-Warm blooded (mice, etc.) and cold-blooded prey (other snakes, lizards, etc.) are preferred.
-The indigo snake prefers frogs but may eat anything when hungry.
Ring-neck or Brown snakes and their relatives.
-Salamanders, earthworms, very small snakes and lizards.
Racers, Vine snakes, Coachwhips
-Lizards are preferred. Racers also eat mice.
-The young of the snakes eat large insects, such as crickets and grasshoppers.
By: Animal Care Associates
Shedding is the process by which snakes periodically discard the outer portion of their skin. This activity is under hormonal control and is associated with growth. Most snakes shed their skin 4-8 times per year. The frequency of shedding depends upon many factors, including environmental temperature, frequency of feeding, amount fed at each feeding, and activity level. Young snakes shed more frequently than older ones because growth is relatively rapid in the first few years of life.
Healthy snakes usually have little or no difficulty with shedding and tend to shed their skins in one entire piece. Exceptions to this include snakes with injuries to the skin and/or scales resulting in scarring, and snakes housed in enclosures with suboptimal temperatures and/or humidity levels.
The stress associated with shedding can be substantial. Sick snakes, those suffering from malnutrition, or those whose health has been compromised by poor husbandry experience delayed or incomplete sheds. These snakes tend to shed their skins in pieces.
The shedding process is preceded by a period of relative inactivity. This period usually lasts 1-2 weeks, during which time the eyes begin to exhibit a dull, bluish/white appearance. During this period the snake’s vision is impaired, which causes them to be rather unpredictable and sometimes aggressive. The skin during this period tends to have an overall dull appearance. The underlying new skin is soft and vulnerable to damage while the outer layers prepare to slough away.
The eyes become transparent again after 7-15 days when shedding begins. A snake will make use of any rough objects or surfaces within its enclosure to help shed the skin. Shedding begins with the skin of the head. Once the snake has loosened and dislodged the skin surrounding the mouth and rostrum (nose), it then passes between rough objects that can trap the loose skin and hold it as the snake moves out of the “old” skin. Discarded skin appears dry and tube-like or moist and crumpled in a solitary heap. Many snakes defecate after a successful shed, or consume large amounts of water.