So, you love snakes and have decided to get one as a pet. If you’ve never owned a reptile before, you should inform yourself about these animals because they’re different than mammals. They require specialized care and personalized housing conditions, which you may not be familiarized with.
Fortunately, I’m here to help with that. Today, we will discuss the ideal housing conditions, diet, and overall care that most snake species require to thrive in captivity. Let’s get it going!
Choosing a Pet Snake
You have determined that you need to have a pet snake, but you don’t know which is the best for you. There are several factors that can influence your decisions, so let’s break them down:
- Availability – There’s no point in preparing yourself for a specific species if that snake isn’t even available in your region. Or it could be that there are laws in place preventing you from keeping that particular snake as a pet. First, make sure that your preferred reptile is available in your region and is not prohibited by law.
- The cost – Some snakes are more expensive than others, both in terms of acquisition price and long-term care. Many factors can influence the snake’s price, such as the species, the snake’s adult size, the reptile’s demands in terms of housing conditions and care, etc. If you don’t think you can meet the actual costs, I say skip that species. It’s better to get one that you’re confident you can care for properly.
- Temperament – This is another important one. Some snakes are more active and aggressive than others, while others are more docile and laid-back. If this is one aspect that matters to you, choose wisely.
- The snake’s size – The snake’s size dictates several things, including the size of the enclosure, the handling difficulty (you’ll need to remove the snake periodically for generalized cleaning and maintenance), and the snake’s appetite. Larger snakes require more food, which increases the costs over the years. So, have this one in mind as well.
- Lifespan – Some snakes only live up to several years, while others live decades. Choose the one that meets your preferences and expectations.
- Care requirements – Some species are more demanding than others in terms of housing conditions and environmental parameters. Overall, all snakes demand specific living conditions like a temperature gradient, stable humidity levels, and personalized lighting. But some species are more sensitive overall. If you want a lower level of commitment, look for low-maintenance snakes that don’t require as much care and maintenance.
These overarching factors should provide you with an accurate picture of what species is the best one for you.
Now that you’ve made up your mind let’s see how you can craft the ideal enclosure for your pet snake to come.
The enclosure is the snake’s home, where the reptile will spend its time over the years. When choosing the right enclosure, size is the main concern. Here are 3 pro tips to consider
- Think ahead of time – Don’t choose your snake’s enclosure based on how large your snake is at the time of purchase. Instead, choose it based on your snake’s maximum size, which the reptile may achieve over several years. This should save you from needing to upgrade the tank because your snake has grown larger than you expected. Which is more common than you’d expect in the snake-keeping business.
- Adjust the enclosure’s size to the snake’s size – In short, the snake length should inform your enclosure’s length. The terrarium should also be as wide as half the snake’s length. Just keep in mind that this tip works in tandem with the previous one. So, you should assess your snake’s future full-size length when measuring the enclosure, not the current one. Because your snake may be a juvenile, which means it has a lot of growing to do.
- Consider the layout – The necessary layout will also inform the tank’s size. For instance, arboreal snakes demand a larger setup necessary to accommodate climbing elements like branches, rocks, and wood. So, the enclosure also needs to be quite tall for that. Ground-dwelling species require more horizontal space instead.
As for the overall décor, stick to the snake’s natural habitat. The reptile’s enclosure should mimic its natural environment for a plus of comfort and safety. Overall, though, all snakes require a combination of open space and hiding areas where they can rest and sleep whenever necessary.
Temperature, Lighting, and Humidity
Snakes have similar requirements but are not identical. Different snake species require different environmental parameters, so let’s discuss the main ones for a clearer perspective.
- Temperature – All snakes demand temperature gradients specific to the species’ physiological needs. There are 3 standard temperature ranges for each snake and reptile. The basking spot is the warmest region, where snakes only spend a limited amount of time. The main dwelling area contains moderate temperatures, and then the colder region is where snakes retreat to cool off. The actual values to consider depend on that snake’s particular needs. Just keep in mind that, for arboreal snakes, the basking spot should be elevated, while for ground-dwelling species, it should be at substrate level.
- Humidity – Not all snakes require the same humidity levels, as this also depends on the species. Generally speaking, snake species living in arid regions require less humidity than those from rainforests and geographical areas with naturally-high humidity.
- Lighting – Nocturnal snakes only require moderate lighting during the day, just enough for a stable day/night cycle and proper vitamin D synthesis. Diurnal species may require higher intensities, depending on their natural habitat. Just remember to keep the snake’s enclosure safe from direct sunlight. This can cause the snake to overheat, which can result in temperature shock, dehydration, and death.
Adjusting these parameters properly is vital because your snake’s quality of life depends on it.
Diet and Feeding
When it comes to diet and feeding, there are 2 things to consider:
- The diet itself – Snakes are overwhelmingly carnivorous animals that prefer to consume mammals, birds, reptiles, other snakes, etc. Only some will also consume insects or even fruits and plants in moderation. You should consider feeder mice and rats, lizards, guinea pigs, and even fish and birds as standard food items. The food items to use depend on the snake species and the snake’s size, as not all snakes eat the same things.
- Feeding frequency – This is another critical aspect because not all snakes eat as much or as frequently. Generally speaking, adult snakes only require one sizeable meal per week, although many snakes are fine with a meal every 2 weeks. It’s important to adjust the feeding frequency to your specific pet and remember that younger snakes eat more often than adults. This is due to the higher metabolism.
Aside from these 2 points, you should also consider the type of food your snakes prefer as well. Mice and rats are pretty much standard snake foods, but be mindful about it. Don’t feed your snake wild-caught rodents, as these can carry bacteria and viruses and can make your snake fall ill. Also, supervise your snake during its meal (I probably didn’t need to mention this one since watching snakes eat is half the fun.) This is to prevent the food from deciding to attack the snake.
If you think this is an issue, try switching to dead and refrigerated food instead. Just make sure you warm it up before feeding it to your reptile.
Handling and Care
The handling part is a bit tricky because it all depends on the snake species itself. Smaller snakes are easier to handle, while larger ones not so much. As a general idea, keep in mind that reptiles, in general, snakes included, aren’t fond of cuddling. They will only tolerate being handled for a short while, after which you want to put them back in their enclosure.
Don’t handle and pet your snakes too often, either, as they can get stressed and aggressive because of it. Snakes are solitary animals that want to be left alone for the most part.
In terms of general care, consider the following:
- Clean the enclosure regularly – What ‘regularly’ means depends on your snake’s species, size, and overall hygiene. Snakes require regular cleaning to remain healthy in the long run, and many species are particularly sensitive to poor husbandry practices. You should always clean your snake’s habitat to prevent the buildup of bacteria, mold, and parasites. This includes cleaning the tank’s interior walls, changing the substrate once a week, removing feces, etc.
- Freshwater – Snakes need a source of fresh water for drinking and soaking purposes. A bowl of fresh water will also maintain environmental humidity stable.
- Regular vet checkups – You should always take your snake to regular vet checkups to make sure the reptile is healthy. Once or twice per year should be enough, provided the snake doesn’t need more frequent sessions due to health issues along the way. As a general rule, you can decrease the need for more frequent vet appointments by adjusting the snake’s diet properly, providing top care and maintenance, and keeping your reptile’s stress levels as low as possible.
Health and Diseases
Snakes are prone to several health problems, such as:
- Parasites – Parasitic infections can be internal or external, and they each deliver an array of different symptoms and effects. These pathogens are often the result of external infestation or the direct result of poor tank hygiene. Parasitic infections aren’t always easy to treat, so I recommend speaking to a vet to approach the situation safely and effectively.
- Respiratory infections – These conditions are the result of a mix of poor enclosure hygiene and inadequate environmental parameters. Low temperatures, high humidity, and dirty tanks are generally the standard causes. It’s also worth noting that older snakes with compromised immune systems are more prone to respiratory infections and at higher risk of developing complications.
- Mouth rot – Mouth rot is a common health problem experienced by most reptiles at some point. The number one cause of mouth rot is poor enclosure hygiene and lack of adequate maintenance and cleaning.
- Dehydration – Low humidity and lack of sufficient drinking water can cause the reptile to dehydrate fast. Severe dehydration leads to muscle weakness, lethargy, organ failure, and death. Reptiles, in general, are particularly sensitive to dehydration.
- Malnutrition – Snakes prefer a diverse diet with different food items. Keep in mind that snakes are prone to calcium deficiency, which is normal in the reptile kingdom. Always discuss your snake’s diet with a professional to gauge your pet’s needs over the years. Furthermore, keep contact with your vet to make sure your snake doesn’t experience any nutritional deficiencies.
As you can see, most, if not all, of these issues are easily manageable as long as you properly care for your snake. Always keep your snake’s diet within optimal parameters, clean the enclosure regularly, and monitor the reptile daily for any signs of sickness. Identifying these health issues in time can make a world of difference.
In terms of legal requirements regarding the owning and breeding of snakes, consider the following points:
- Consider the state laws – Generally speaking, snake keeping is neutral under federal law in the US. So, you don’t have any restrictions there. That doesn’t mean that the state law follows the same pattern. Different states have different laws in terms of snake keeping, with some prohibiting some species while others regulating the number, size, and type of snakes you can have. Make sure you understand your state’s laws before acquiring your pet reptile.
- Verify the snake’s protected status – Some snake species are protected by international, national, or even local conventions. This means that trading with them is illegal and can land you in more trouble than you can handle. Always check a given species’ protected status to make sure you’re in the green.
- Check the law regarding housing conditions – Some states may allow the ownership of a snake species, but only if you provide specific housing and care conditions. So, you might want to look into that as well. The law is in place to protect the snakes from mistreatment, especially if we’re talking about vulnerable species that require high-quality care and maintenance.
Reproduction of Pet Snakes
Snakes exhibit different reproductive behaviors, depending on the species. Some are oviparous (lay eggs), others are viviparous (give birth to live young), while others are ovoviviparous (the eggs hatch inside the female’s body.) The snake’s habitat and environmental conditions should also consider the reptile’s reproductive behavior.
It’s important to note that snakes exhibit specific behaviors when breeding and require more sensitive environmental conditions, which you may not be able to meet. This is the main reason why snakes are generally more difficult to breed in captivity than in the wild.
If you plan to breed your snakes, ask a professional’s assistance for a plus of guidance and insight.
Snakes as Therapy Animals
Snakes don’t qualify as therapy or service animals, but that doesn’t mean that they can play at least part of the role. Snakes can be effective therapy animals for people with snake phobia, who can alleviate their stress by interacting with the reptiles regularly. They can also serve as companions, providing people with emotional support in some cases.
However, to get the full experience of what animal-related emotional support means, other animals may be fitter for the job. Including dogs, cats, horses, etc.
Safety Tips for Keeping Pet Snakes
If you’ve never had a pet snake before, you might want to consider the following safety tips:
- Choose the snake species carefully – You want to stay away from venomous species, especially if you’re a beginner. The reasons should be fairly obvious.
- Go for smaller snakes – Don’t jump straight to a python. Experiment with smaller species first, as these tend to be easier to care for.
- Hygiene is key – Snakes often carry bacteria and viruses that you want nothing to do with. Always wash your hands before and immediately after you handle your snake.
- Give your snake space when shedding – Shedding snakes tend to be extra irritable and aggressive. This is due to them feeling more vulnerable when shedding. Given them the space they need to prevent tensions and unwanted incidents.
- Keep an eye on your kids – Never allow your kids to handle or pet the snake in your absence. Even the most docile snakes can turn violent on a whim, leading to unwanted scenarios; after all, these are feral animals, unlike other pets like cats and dogs.
- Monitor your snake regularly – Keep an eye on the snake’s behavior, temperament, and physical health. This will allow you to detect any health issues in time to prevent them from aggravating.
You already know the standard advice regarding environmental parameters, diet, general care and maintenance requirements, etc. So, I won’t reiterate those.
Snakes are amazing and unique creatures with equally unique requirements. They can be great pets, but it’s up to you to provide them with a long lifespan and a higher quality of life. Treat the snake as you’d want to be treated (generally speaking), and the reptile should be fine.