Have you ever gone hands-free with your pet snake, wearing them around your shoulders while you go about your day? This might seem like an easy way to give your snake some time outside their enclosure. Or you might just like the idea of being as close to your snake as possible for the purposes of bonding. But is it really a good idea?
Can I put my snake around my neck? No, you should not put your snake around your neck. There is greater potential for one of you to get hurt when handling your snake in this manner. Your snake may constrict or bite, or their position around your neck could harm their spine.
The smaller your pet snake, the less dangerous it might seem to let them spend some time draped around your neck. However, it is still possible for something to go wrong when you hold your snake this way, and if it does, your snake will be a lot harder to remove quickly. In this post we’ll discuss how to keep both you and your snake safe during handling time.
Dangers of Putting Your Snake Around Your Neck
As a general rule, no matter the size of your snake, you should avoid placing them around your neck, or the neck of any other human handler.
Many species of snake tend to aim defensive strikes at the face of the perceived threat. Any type of quick, unexpected movement on your part can seem threatening to a snake, and they will defend themselves.
Many snakes also become stressed when they are touched or handled. A potentially stressed snake, held in close proximity to your face, when there is the potential for any type of quick movements on your part, is a bad combination.
Even handling your snake under perfect conditions (sitting with your snake in a quiet room with the door closed, for example) can leave you open to startling your snake enough to deliver a bite. A phone or doorbell could ring, causing you to jump, or another person or pet could enter the room unexpectedly.
When you are handling your snake, it is always best to keep their head as far from your own face as possible, and to point their head away from yourself.
With a constrictor snake, there is always the possibility that they will warp themselves tightly around your neck. The consequences of this scenario are less dire with smaller varieties of snake, such as ball pythons, but it should still be avoided. Any type of snake should never be allowed to coil around your neck or get into a position where it will be difficult for you to remove.
If you’re handling a larger snake and cannot support the snake’s entire body with your hands, you might consider draping the lower half of the snake’s body over one shoulder. This will allow you to keep their head pointed away from you and remove their body if they begin to wrap it around your neck.
If you ever find yourself being constricted around the neck by a constricting snake of any size, you need to attempt to remove the snake starting with their tail. Constrictors anchor themselves using their tail.
If they cannot properly anchor themselves, their constricting efforts will be diminished. Grasp the snake’s tail firmly in your hand and begin unwinding the snake from your body or neck. You should always have a snake-handling “buddy” who can step in to help you in situations like this.
Proper Snake Handling
So, now that you know how not to hold your snake, how do you do it the right way?
First and foremost, never attempt to handle a snake that has recently had a meal or is preparing to shed its skin. If this is absolutely necessary for some reason, you’ll want to handle your snake as gently as possible, providing as much support as possible, to keep the snake from vomiting or becoming stressed.
Before you attempt to handle your snake, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. You should also gauge your snake’s mood. If your snake seems frightened or stressed, wait to handle them on another day. You should also try to handle your snake at a time of day when you observe them to be the most lethargic.
Next, be sure that your snake is aware of your presence. You can try gently tapping on your snake’s enclosure before opening it to make sure your snake is awake. Move slowly. Touch your snake firmly, but gently, somewhere along the mid-body.
This prevents your snake from being surprised by your presence and also lets them know that you do not have food. If your snake does begin to move toward your hand, mistaking it for food, you can tap them gently on the nose with a soft object. This typically discourages their hunting behavior.
If your snake recoils into an “S” shape, stop attempting to handle them. This is a striking position and means the snake has become agitated.
Never pin a snake by its head, or attempt to lift it by its head or neck. The cervical vertebrae of a snake are extremely delicate and harming them can cause permanent damage to your reptile. Instead, slide your hand under the snake’s body, about a third of the way down its body behind the head, and lift from there.
Once you begin lifting, support the snake just behind the middle of its body. Always be sure that your snake’s body is properly supported when you handle them, and use more than one person to support larger snakes, if needed.
If your snake seems resistant to being lifted using your hands, you can try lifting them out of their enclosure using a snake hook, and then transferring them to your free hand.
Other Handling Tips
In addition to simply picking up your snake correctly, and holding them in a position that doesn’t put either of you in danger, here are some other pointers for handling reptiles of any type.
1. Give new pets some space. If you have a snake who is new to your home, you should allow them an ample adjustment period before attempting to handle them. Most snake experts agree that 5 to 7 days is sufficient. During this period, you should keep your snake in a quiet, low-traffic area and avoid both handling and feeding them.
2. Be respectful. If you are not entirely confident with an animal, attempt to gain knowledge with a smaller, gentler species. Start with snakes that are easy to maintain and who are known for being docile and easy to handle, before you move on to more difficult specimens.
3. Show your confidence. When you are handling a reptile, maintain composure and avoid fearful jerking of your body parts, hesitantly approaching the animal, and being timid in general. Your body language will dictate how your reptile responds to you. If you cannot handle them confidently, you shouldn’t be handling them at all.
4. Wash your hands before and after handling. Wash your hands prior to handling your snake not only to avoid smelling like food, but to remove parasites or bacteria that may be harmful to your reptile if transferred to them. Wash your hands after you handle your snake to prevent harmful bacteria from your reptile or their enclosure being transferred to you or any members of your household.
5. Handle with supervision. Even adult handlers should have a “handling buddy” especially when handing new pets or larger snakes. This buddy can be available to help you out, should anything go wrong during the time you are holding your snake. Additionally, children who are handling a snake should always be supervised by a responsible adult. Children who handle any type of pet reptile should avoid touching their mouth, nose, and eyes while doing so, and should wash their hands thoroughly when they are finished. Children are a group that is far more vulnerable to becoming sick from Salmonella bacteria, which is transferred by reptiles. Snakes carry a lower risk than some other reptiles, but should still be handled with caution, especially by people belonging to high-risk groups.
6. Use Common Sense. As previously mentioned, if your snake does not seem like they are in the mood to be handled, do not attempt to handle them. If you remove your snake from their enclosure and they seem tense or frightened, put them back and try again later.
While it isn’t the best idea to drape your snake around your neck, there are many ways you can safely and successfully handle your pet. Take your time and build confidence with new pets, never handle a snake who seems stressed, and always be sure to lift and handle snakes properly to keep them from being injured.