How To Care For A Snake

Snakes Aug 12, 2020
Written by | Updated Sep 22, 2021
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How To Care For A Snake

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General Stats:

  • Pet Type: Reptile
  • Size: Up to 30 feet
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Lifespan: 15 to 30 years

If you’re thinking about getting a new pet but you want to go outside the box of traditional pets like cats and dogs, a snake might be worth considering. These pets require a different level of care than other pets, but they can be incredibly interesting and unique.

Before you settle on a snake as your new pet, do some research and check out a snake care guide or two to get a feeling for what you’re getting yourself into. Think about the different snake species and decide which option is best for you. From there, you get research the specifics about that type of snake.

Here’s some general information you need to know about proper snake care.

Habitat Setup for Snakes

A snake is not the type of pet you generally let roam around your house, so your most important point of order in getting your first snake is to choose the right terrarium or tank. Your snake’s new home should mimic his natural habitat as much as possible, so you’ll need to decide from the different snake breeds to know what kind of environment you need to create.

The size of your snake terrarium will depend on the size and activity level of your snake. A ball python needs about 3 to 6 square feet of space as an adult while a corn snake may be kept in a standard 20-gallon tank. Larger snakes like kingsnakes need a little more space and other species may need less.

In addition to the size of the tank, consider the dimensions as well. Arboreal species that like to climb prefer tall tanks to wide tanks, so check out a snake care guide or talk to the reptile expert at your local pet stores to get an idea what option will work best for you.

Here are some of the items you may need for your snake cage:

  • Hiding Place – Many snakes don’t follow a strict nocturnal or diurnal sleep pattern, but they will need a hiding place to retreat to when they want to rest or cool off.
  • Lighting – Most snakes need 8 to 12 hours of light per day and do best when it’s kept on a regular cycle. Consider using an automatic timer with a red or blue light at night. Most snakes don’t need UVB light but do some research on different snake species to be sure.
  • Heat Lamp – In addition to lighting, your snake may need a heat lamp to maintain the proper tank temperature and to create a basking area.
  • Heating Pad – Some snakes need a very warm environment so you may need a heating pad to keep the ambient temperature in the tank up. Use a thermostat to track the temperature.
  • Hygrometer – Snakes that live in tropical and subtropical regions may require higher humidity than other species. A hygrometer will help you monitor the humidity in your snake’s habitat.
  • Water Dish – Though many snakes don’t drink water, they will often spend time in the water bowl, especially when shedding. Provide a shallow dish or fresh water that won’t tip over.
  • Bedding – The best bedding for your snake depends on the type of environment you’re trying to create. If you use wooding shavings, make sure they are finely shredded. You can also use coconut fiber, cypress mulch, sand, newspaper, or even paper towels.

Set up your snake’s habitat to mimic his natural environment as much as possible. Proper reptile care can be tricky to learn, but once you get the hang of it it’s largely a matter of maintaining stable conditions in the snake habitat and feeding your new pet a healthy diet.

Snake Diet

The key to keeping your snake healthy is providing him with an appropriate diet. All snakes are carnivores, but the prey items your snake needs will vary depending on the kind of snake you have.

What you need to decide before choosing a diet for your snake is whether you want to feed live prey or killed prey. Some snakes will only respond to live prey and feeding live prey items enables the snake to exhibit its natural behavior. There are some risks, however, such as a rat biting the snake.

Here are some quick facts about the ideal snake diet:

  • Most adult snakes will only eat a few times a week or a few times a month – you’ll need to plan ahead to have the right prey available at the right time.
  • When feeding rodents like rats and mice, it’s important to choose prey the right size for your snake – never feed your snake anything larger than your snake’s diameter.
  • If your snake doesn’t eat the prey on the first feeding, you can always try again the next day. Keep in mind that some prey might grow too large before your snake feels like eating it.
  • When feeding pre-killed prey, it’s a good idea to warm it to body temperature. For rodents, you can boil a bowl of water then place a ceramic plate on top of it to gently warm the rodent.

On top of your snake’s diet, be sure to provide unlimited access to clean water as well. Your snake will get most of its hydration from its prey, but fresh water should be available at all times.

Snake Veterinary Care

All pets require access to veterinary care, even if they never get sick. It’s always a good idea to take your new pet to the vet within a few weeks of bringing it home just to get a baseline for its health. Your vet will be able to detect potential health concerns so you can keep an eye on them.

Here are some of the most common health problems in snakes:

  • Parasites
  • Septicemia
  • Infectious stomatitis
  • Skin infections
  • Respiratory disease
  • Egg binding
  • Nutritional deficiency

Most veterinarians aren’t properly trained to care for snakes, so you may need to find an exotics or reptile vet in your area. Be prepared to pay a little more for a vet visit than you might for a dog or cat.

Snake Fun Facts

  • Snakes are ectotherms which means they rely on external sources of heat to give them energy and to regulate their body temperature. They alternate between basking in the sun and hiding in the shade to keep their body temperature comfortable.
  • There are over 3,000 species of snake on the planet, naturally found everywhere except Antarctica, Iceland, Greenland, Ireland, and New Zealand. Only about 600 species of snake are venomous.
  • Snakes have forked tongues that they use to “smell” their surroundings. They also have pit holes in front of their eyes that sense heat, helping them locate warm-blooded prey. The bones in their lower jaws can also pick up vibrations.
  • Most snakes shed their skin about once a month in a process called ecdysis. It makes room for the snake to grow and helps get rid of parasites as well.
  • Snakes can be great escape artists, but not necessarily because they are highly intelligent – they just don’t need a lot of space to be able to sneak out. Snakes explore their habitat constantly, so they will always find an opening if it exists.
  • Some species of pet snake are fairly easy to breed, but you’ll need certain equipment to do it. Many breeders use a snake rack system which enables them to keep a large number of breeding pairs and hatchlings in a limited amount of space.

Keeping a pet snake can be a challenge, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it quite rewarding. Take what you’ve learned here about snake care and think about what kind of snake is the right fit for you. There are plenty of options to choose from!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do snakes live?

The average lifespan for a pet snake is 15 to 30 years, depending on the species.

How much do snakes cost?

The cost to keep a pet snake varies, depending on the species. The biggest expense is generally the terrarium, including the necessary equipment for lighting and heating. You’ll spend anywhere from $30 to $200 to purchase one of the more popular species of pet snake and an additional $50 to $300 on a terrarium. Supplies cost anywhere from $100 to $300, depending what you need.

How big do snakes get?

Snakes range in size from as small as 4 inches to as large as 30 feet in length.

What do snakes eat?

All snakes are carnivores, but their natural diet varies by species. Many snakes eat warm-blooded prey like rodents and birds while others eat insects and cold-blooded prey items like amphibians, fish, and other reptiles. Snakes swallow their food whole.

Are snakes good pets?

Whether a snake makes a good pet depends what you’re looking for and how much work you’re willing to put into it. They are certainly different from other reptiles like the bearded dragon, but some species are very gentle and can get used to be handled by their owner.

Are snakes messy?

Snakes are actually fairly clean pets, primarily because most species don’t eat every day and don’t excrete waste every day. It’s still a good idea to check and spot clean the tank on a daily basis, but you shouldn’t have to do much to keep it tidy.

Where do snakes come from?

Snakes can be found in almost every part of the world on every continent except Antarctica. Some other exceptions include islands like Hawaii and New Zealand. Ireland and Iceland also have no native snake species. There are many species in the United States and North America.

Do snakes bite?

Generally speaking, snakes do not bite unless they feel threatened. Certain snake species are more likely to bite than others, but you shouldn’t have to worry about it if you treat your snake well.

Do snakes sleep?

Most snakes are neither strictly nocturnal or diurnal but will be active during the day and night. They tend to be most active in the early morning during the spring and summer when the sun is out, warming the earth. They typically sleep at night to preserve their body temperature.

How long are snakes pregnant for?

Most snakes lay eggs rather than giving birth to live young – the exception is rattlesnakes. The gestation period for snakes is about 28 to 45 days, depending on the species.

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Kate Barrington is avid pet lover and adoring owner of three cats and one dog, her love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. She has been writing about pet care and pet products since 2010
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