Can I Give My Snake Distilled Water?

photo provided by AceMackin Photography

All species of pet snakes are healthiest and happiest when provided with a shallow dish of fresh water. Not only will your reptile drink this water, they may soak in it as well. So, what type of water is best for your snake?

Can I give my snake distilled water? You should not give your snake distilled water. Distilled water lacks the minerals that your snake needs for good health. Tap water is typically safe for reptiles, but if you are unsure, you can also give your snake bottled water, such as spring water.

Many people believe that snakes don’t need water at all, or that they require very little of it. This simply isn’t the case. In this article we’ll discuss why water is necessary to the health of your pet snake and how you can best determine which type of water to provide to them.

Snakes and Water

photo provided AceMackin Photography

We’ve already established that yes, snakes do need drinking water. They need to hydrate just like most other land animals. Even sea snakes will occasionally leave the ocean in search of fresh water! 

Snakes don’t drink like humans and other mammals. Instead, they have a specialized bottom jaw. The tissue that makes up their jaw helps them to absorb water, and to drink, using small, sponge-like grooves.

These grooves absorb the water, and the snake uses their jaw muscles to force the water down into their body. Snakes also have the ability to siphon, making their jaws air-tight when drinking, so that the front of their mouth acts like a straw, enabling them to take in and absorb water more easily.

A snake will also use their water bowl for a good soak for several reasons. Sometimes snakes will soak if the temperature or humidity in their tank is not at the proper level. A snake that is too warm will soak in an attempt to cool off.

A snake whose enclosure is too dry will also spend more time soaking. This is especially common in the winter months when the heating system in your home is running continuously and drying out the air.

Snakes may also soak if they are infested with mites. To determine whether your snake has mites, you can examine them under a bright light. Look for tiny, moving “dots” on their skin, especially on their belly and head. You can also check their water bowl. If your snake has been soaking because mites are an issue for them, you will most likely find some floating in the dish. 

It is important to check on both your snake’s health and environment if you find that your pet is soaking a lot more than usual, or if any of their other habits have recently changed.

A soaking snake isn’t always cause for alarm, however. Sometimes a snake will soak simply because it feels good to them. It is also common for captive snakes to soak when they are going into a shed cycle, as this process uses up a lot of moisture.

If your snake is about to shed, their eyes will typically appear blue and cloudy. If you realize your snake is about to shed, in addition to providing them with a water bowl, you can help them out by misting them.

What Type of Water Is Best?

When giving your snake water, it is very important to avoid two things: Distilled water and water conditioners.

Always avoid using distilled water for your pet reptile. Distilled water lacks the calcium and magnesium that snakes need for good health. A lack of these minerals can create an osmotic imbalance in your snake’s body.

This force’s your snake to “give away” their own stored minerals and electrolytes to restore the proper balance in their bodies. Over time, your snake will become dehydrated, even when it is drinking water regularly.

You should also beware of water conditioners, or dechlorinators, even those marketed specifically for reptiles. Without getting overly scientific, the chemicals in these water conditioners, the ones used for dechlorination, often produce Sodium sulfate in your reptile’s drinking water.

Sodium sulfate, according to the National Institute of Health, can result in gastrointestinal irritation and diarrhea when consumed by humans.2 There have also been reports of poisoning in pigs due to an overdose of this chemical.

The effect of Sodium sulfate hasn’t been studied in much detail in reptiles, specifically, but some studies show that it poses a hazard to certain aquatic species, such as the striped bass. 

Additionally, there is the case of Herman the Russian tortoise.2 Herman was regularly given Reptisafe in his drinking water for approximately one year, and ultimately developed kidney failure and died. Herman’s rescuers can’t be absolutely certain that this water conditioner caused Herman’s untimely demise, but why would you risk it when it comes to your pet?

Generally, tap water is considered to be safe for both humans and reptiles. Well water can also be acceptable in most areas (however, if you are near the coast, for example, it may contain too much sea water). If you are unsure of the water quality in your area, you can use bottled spring water.

If you’re uncertain about your water source, you can also buy kits to test the levels of pH and “hardness” of your tap or well water. “Hardness” is a term used for the measurement of the amount of minerals dissolved in your water, namely calcium and magnesium.

The mineral levels of different types of bottled water vary as well, so you may want to do your research, as well as performing your own at-home test, before regularly giving one particular brand of bottled water to your reptile.

Interestingly, one study actually found that European bottled waters typically contained higher amounts of minerals than both North American tap water and bottled waters.

Providing Your Snake With Water

photo provided by AceMackin Photography

So, how exactly should you provide water to your pet snake? First, use a shallow, heavy dish that they can slither in and out of it easily without knocking over. Place this dish on the cool side of your snake’s enclosure. If you put your snake’s water too close to their heat lamp, it will cause the water to evaporate more quickly and can interfere with the humidity level in your snake’s tank.

You should change your snake’s water every two or three days. If you notice that your snake has been soaking in their dish more often than usual, you should in turn change the water more frequently. If you notice that your pet has defecated in or near their water dish, change it right away. You should also wash your snake’s water bowl about once a week using Dawn dish soap.

You can also help your snake to stay “moisturized” by providing them with a humidity hide. These types of hides provide a wealth of benefits to your snake by boosting the humidity. They can help to minimize stress for your snake and help with shedding issues.

It’s pretty easy to make a humidity hide yourself. There are a plethora of tutorials across the web about how to accomplish this. The easiest way is to find a plastic box of some sort that includes a lid.

Cut a hole in the side of this box, and be sure the edges of the hole are smooth. This hole should be just large enough to allow your snake to climb in and out of the box. The hide should also be large enough to fully conceal your snake, but small enough that they will feel secure within it.

Next, fill the bottom of your chosen container with a moisture-holding substrate. This could be coconut husk, moistened paper towels, or sphagnum moss. Just be sure that this substrate is always moist enough to ensure that the hide provides a small area of high humidity.

If you’ve got money to spend, you can also purchase a humidity hide. There are several options on the market that are very natural looking and come in a wide variety of sizes. You will also need to purchase a moisture-holding substrate to place in your purchased humid hide.

Keep in mind that higher levels of moisture often promote bacterial growth, so your snake’s humid hide will need to be cleaned regularly. Plastic boxes make great humidity hides because they are also very easy to clean!

Conclusion

It is very important to keep your pet snake well-hydrated and well-moisturized. Be sure to provide your reptile with the type of water that best supports their continued good health. Be sure to avoid distilled water and water conditioners, and perform tests on other sources of water if you are unsure about them.

You should provide your snake with a shallow dish of fresh water, as well as a high humidity hide to promote hydration and good health.

Sources:

  1. https://bigandsmalltortoise.org/main/water-conditioners/ 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1495189/