In your attempts to be a perfect pet parent, you may have contemplated taking your snake out of the confines of their enclosure for an outdoor field trip. Snakes love fresh air and the feeling of grass under their bellies, right? But is this safe?
Can I take my snake outside? Yes, but there are a few things to take into consideration before doing so. Firstly, the wide open world poses many threats to your pet snake. There is also the possibility that you will lose track of your pet, inadvertently allowing them to get lost forever.
In this article we’ll explore exactly why it’s a bad idea to allow your snake access to your yard, or any outdoor space. We’ll also discuss a few ways to entertain your snake and enrich their habitat that will keep them a lot safer and a lot happier.
Stress, Hiding, and a Lost Snake
As much as you or your pet dog may appreciate the great outdoors, wide open spaces are usually quite stressful to your snake.
Snakes have an abundance of natural predators: Raccoons, foxes, wild boars, coyotes, large birds, such as hawks or ravens, and even other snakes all pose a threat. Even if none of the aforementioned creatures are native to your area, which is unlikely, a neighborhood cat can quickly make a meal or a chew toy out of a wriggly, panicked snake.
Many people are also threatened by snakes. An unsuspecting neighbor might just kill or trap your snake if they make their way into an adjacent yard.
In both the wild and in captivity, snakes spend most of their time hiding. There is a good reason for this behavior. When they are out in the open, snakes make easy prey. Many snakes find open spaces extremely stressful because of this. They prefer to spend as much time as possible in tight hiding spots, and emerge only under the cover of darkness, at dawn or dusk, to search for food.
Turning your pet snake out into any open space, no matter the size, can cause them undue stress, which is unhealthy for them. Additionally, it will prompt them to seek out a hiding spot, in which they feel more secure.
Snakes such as ball pythons will seek out the tightest of hiding spots. There’s even a term for this, thigmotaxis, or the tendency of certain types of animals to hug the walls. These snakes absolutely love to feel all four sides of their hide hugging their little snake body. This tightness equals security, since it means a predator can’t creep in unannounced.
Even if you hold your snake, or attempt to keep close tabs on them, there is always the possibility that they could wriggle out of your grasp, or out of your line of vision. All it takes is a moment for a snake to slide out of your garden and into a hiding spot you would never think to check, and your pet could be gone forever.
If your snake does get lost outside, inform your neighbors as soon as possible. Let them know, in no uncertain terms, that your snake isn’t a threat to them. You may even want to provide a picture of your snake so they can quickly identify it and let you know if they do. Conduct a search of the area that is as thorough as possible.
Ticks and Mites
Ticks and mites both pose a threat to your snake. First we’ll talk about ticks. It’s true, the same little insects that spread Lyme Disease and other illnesses to humans can also harm your reptile. Ticks are commonly found on wild snakes, but do not pose as much of a threat.
A wild snake will often be able to remove a tick by rubbing its body on a rough surface. Once the tick is dislodged, the wild snake moves on. A captive snake, however, can easily carry a tick from your yard to its enclosure. Once there, even if your pet snake manages to remove the tick from their body, the tick could set up a breeding colony within the enclosure.
Ticks latch onto your snake and suck their blood, potentially causing anemia and blood poisoning, which can be fatal. In addition, they can spread diseases such as Inclusion Body Disease (IBD) and paramyxovirus, which can cause respiratory and central nervous system damage.
Snakes that are allowed to roam the outdoors also run the risk of picking up mites. Ophionyssus natricis, the reptile mite, is a parasitic mite that is most commonly found on snakes.1 Mites pose a serious threat to all the reptiles in your home. They are highly mobile insects, can spread easily between your pets, and are quite difficult to get rid of.
Juvenile mites are attracted to the smell of your snake and depend on your reptile’s blood for the nutrients necessary to grow into adults. Once a mite latches onto a good host, they can be found around the snake’s eyes and mouth, under the snake’s belly and chin, and on your snake’s side scales.
Mites may not kill your snake (afterall, they need a live host in order to survive themselves) but they will contribute to prolonged poor health due to stress and dehydration. Blood infections and even death are not uncommon when a snake is infested with a larger number of mites.
Mites are most commonly spread when your snake comes into direct or indirect contact with an animal or enclosure that is already infested. (Indirect contact means that you come into contact with a mite-infested animal, for example, and then carry the mites to your snake.)
However, there is the distinct possibility that your snake can pick up mites outdoors. Wild snakes can easily contract mites, and so can your captive snake when they are roaming the yard.
Improper Temperature and Other Dangers
In addition to ticks and mites, the temperature of the outdoors could adversely affect your snake. Although this may seem pretty obvious, you definitely should not take your snake outdoors during colder weather. Even weather that is too hot can be detrimental to your reptile.
We’ll use corn snakes as an example here, since they’re a common variety of pet snake. Corn snakes typically require a temperature ranging from 75-82°F on the cool side of their tank, and 80-85°F on the warm side of their tank, with a basking area that is kept around 88-92°F.
Improper temperatures can contribute to respiratory illness and digestive issues, among other ailments. If the temperature outdoors falls too far above or below the ideal range for your snake, and they are kept outside too long, their health will be adversely affected.
Also note that the temperature will be much hotter in the sun and on surfaces such as concrete patios. If you do take your snake outdoors, be especially vigilant in areas like these, as they could burn your snake.
Believe it or not, prey animals also pose a threat to your snake when they’re outdoors. Bees and wasps can be attracted to a brightly-colored snake and may sting them. Birds might also alight near your snake to check them out, or your snake could stumble upon a mouse, mole, or other wild rodent.
Your snake may just decide to make a snack out of any one of these curious little creatures. This is a problem because wild mice and birds can carry foreign bacteria and diseases that could make your snake very sick.
Live prey can also injure your snake. A mouse that is about to be eaten will not go quietly, and may scratch or bite your snake. Wounds like this are quite prone to infection, and can cause pain and stress.
Safe Enrichment for Pet Snakes
There are plenty of items that you can provide to your snake that will offer them enrichment without posing a risk to their health, or their lives. Mental stimulation is an important part of caring for your snake, and is just as key as proper diet and tank temperature.
First, be certain that you are providing your snake with a habitat that is the right size for them. Bigger is always better. Small, active snakes may need more room, relative to the head to tail length of their body, than a large, lazy python, so be sure to do thorough research on the amount of space your snake needs to thrive.
At minimum, the length of your snake’s enclosure should be as long as your snake’s body.
Provide your snake with ample hiding and climbing space (if they are climbers). Again, you will need to do your research about what types of items will offer your individual species of snake the greatest enrichment. You can start with adding snake-safe live plants, branches, rocks, and a shallow water dish for drinking and soaking.
Different types of substrate can also offer mental stimulation to your snake. Bioactive natural substrate, natural reptile bedding, coconut husk substrate, and reptile soil, are all fantastic substrate options for a ball python, for example. Rotating between these types of substrate can offer reptile enrichment.
While taking your snake outdoors may seem awfully tempting, it is not the safest idea. If you do decide to venture into the yard with your pet, be sure to keep them safe and free of stress, and supervise them closely. Providing your snake with enrichment inside their enclosure is your best bet for a pet reptile who is safe, happy, and mentally stimulated.