Snake Care - The Ultimate Care Guide for Snakes
While snakes certainly aren’t going to be playing fetch or curl up with you on the sofa, we still think they’re by far one of the most fascinating pets to have. Snakes are exotic, have unique personalities and you can spend hours watching their interesting behavior.
However, you need to put in a bit of groundwork first if you’re going to be looking after a snake, which is why we've put together this comprehensive guide on how to raise a pet snake. With our snake care tips, your slithery friend will be moving into a comfortable and happy home.
How long do snakes live?
This all depends on the type of snake, but you should expect a long term commitment with your reptilian companion. When taking care of a ball python, one of the most popular breeds, it can live between 20 - 30 years in captivity. Smaller varieties like corn snakes live between 10-20 years.
Snake pet behavior and body language
You might not think your snake could exhibit much body language, essentially being a long mass of around 15,000 muscles, but learning how to read their behavior is part of any snake care guide 101. Keep an eye out for:
- Head shaking - This means your pet has smelled something tasty. It’s perfectly normal behavior when feeding. However, if they’re doing this constantly, or it tips its head upside down, it might be a sign of a neurological issue
- Coiling up - This is where you snake coils into an S shape. This is a defensive stance indicating your snake is ready to attack. It’s best to leave them alone until they’re more relaxed
- Tongue flicking - Another common behavior, and one your snake uses to smell its surroundings
- Yawning - Many owners interpret a wide jaw as a yawn, but in fact, it’s a way to take in a wider range of scents and smells
- Eyes changing color - This is a sign your snake is preparing to shed. Bear in mind snakes can be uncomfortable when shedding so try not to handle them during this period
How to know if your snake is healthy
It’s usually easy to spot a healthy snake, and obvious when something is wrong. Our advice for snake care for beginners is to look out for:
- Normal basking patterns
- Eating regularly, usually about once per week
- Regular shedding
- Clear and shiny skin
- You find well-formed droppings two to three days after feeding
Getting the right enclosure will first depend on how big your snake is. Some of the best snakes for beginners include the little rosy boa and corn snake. These are relatively small snakes and can grow to about four feet. A good rule of thumb is to have a tank that’s between 75% to 100% of the length of your snake. It’s important not to go too big, as many small snakes can feel anxious in large tanks. For rosy boa and corn snake care, a closure about three to four feet across should be ideal.
Remember to place a little hidey-hole in the tank too, but don’t over-clutter it as you’ll need to be able to keep an eye on your snake to check it’s healthy.
Once you’ve got the right-sized terrarium for your snake, you’ll need to pick out your substrate materials. These are the sands and gravels that line the bottom of the tank, along with mulch, that simulates the snake's natural environment. In order to ensure the best pet snake care, you should clean the enclosure once every four weeks, including a replacement of the substrate material.
The next step is lighting and heating. As cold-blooded animals, your snake will need the enclosure to be heated between 80 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 75 -80 degrees at night. Checking on the tank heaters should be one of your daily snake care tasks. Some snakes will need an ultraviolet bulb to replicate the rays they’d normally be getting from the sun, but this will depend on the breed.
Snakes are famous for gobbling up their food whole, and it should come as no surprise that all snakes are carnivores. Most types of small and medium-sized snakes will be perfectly healthy and happy on a diet of mice and rats, while particularly tiny snakes will do fine on a selection of larger insects, like crickets.
This makes getting a balanced and nutritional diet very simple for snakes, however, the biggest issue you might face is a fussy eater that refuses to eat dead prey. If you have a young snake, introduce dead prey to them early so they get used to it, or you might find yourself having to use live prey, which definitely isn’t for the faint of heart!
Some pet snake tips for feeding include dangling the prey in front of them or even installing a privacy curtain across the tank, which can both help encourage the eating of dead prey.
Purchasing your snake
You should always check regulations and licensing laws in your state. Pet snakes of any kind are currently illegal in 19 states, while some restrictions apply in others. Others might require you to purchase insurance before you buy, and those keeping venomous snakes will be required to keep a stock of anti-venom.
It should go without saying that you should only ever buy a snake from a licensed dealer. A quick Google search should bring up those local to you.
How to hold a snake
Having a pet snake can certainly be something you want to show off to your friends, but remember not all snakes like being held. Follow these handling tips to stay safe:
- Don’t handle them when shedding - This is an uncomfortable time for your snake and they could bite if you handle them when shedding
- Wash your hands - Do this both before and after handling to protect both you and your snake from bacteria. Some snakes also emit an odor when handled, so washing is essential
- Wait until it’s comfortable with you - You should wait until your pet has eaten at least four meals in its new home before handling them
- Only hold from the middle - Don’t grab your snake by the head or tail as this could alarm it and cause it to bite. Holding from the middle provides the best support
When learning how to take care of a snake, it’s important to be able to spot any signs of illness. You should always have exotic pet insurance to cover unforeseen circumstances, and if you notice any of the following symptoms, you should make an appointment with a vet.
- Parasites - A common ailment among snakes. Signs include diarrhea, swelling, breathing difficulties, and regurgitation of food
- Skin infections - Often found on snakes that live in environments that are too moist or dirty. You’ll notice red, inflamed skin and small blisters on their underbelly
- Septicemia - As dangerous in snakes as it is for humans, look out for lethargy, open-mouth breathing, and lack of appetite
- Stomatitis - Also known as mouth rot, this disease is an infection of the mouth which causes swelling and a build-up of mucus and pus. This could be caused by an underlying condition, bad nutrition, or an overly humid tank
- General signs of illness - Other symptoms that could have a number of underlying causes include a cottage-cheese like substance coming from the mouth, lack of appetite, and deviation from normal behavior