Keeping a snake as a pet can be fascinating and a lot of fun. However, there are some important things to keep in mind if you are a first-time pet snake owner. First-time pet owners often make some of the same mistakes that can be deadly for their pet snakes.
These 45 snake care tips will provide you with the basics of what to do before and after bringing the fascinating reptiles home.
Snakes are exotic and hardy. They are exotic because they attract people’s attention. They are hardy because they only require minimal care. But you need to apply some simple tips to make sure they live comfortably and live long. Save yourself the hassle that many snake owners have had to go through learning from their mistakes.
Snakes may seem scary to some people, but it’s often because they just don’t understand this beautiful reptile. Snakes can make very good pets, as they can develop great loyalty to their owners and even be adorable in their own way.
Keeping a pet snake can be fun and exciting for the whole family, but you have to work to ensure that everything goes according to plan.
Things To Understand Before Bringing A Pet Snake Home
1. Be Prepared
Before you bring your wonderful new pet snake home, make sure you are ready for it. The first thing you need is a suitable environment. You need a cage big enough to accommodate their growth. Make sure there are no holes to allow them to escape. Don’t underestimate their ability to get out on small openings.
2. Are there small children?
You must be very careful if you have young children in your home. They like to get into things. Will they have access to the snake’s cage? You must put safety first. One mistake could cost a child’s life. Keep this in mind when choosing a large or small pet snake.
3. Items you need
Some of the items you will need are the snake itself:
- A cage
- A lockdown top
- A water dish
- A substrate (the surface at the bottom of the cage)
- A lamp
- A heat light bulb
- A heated rock
And also annual vet visits.
Depending on the type of snake you get, the costs for a snake can vary. Total costs for the first year can range from $300 to $900.
Once you have all the items, your ongoing costs will come down to just vet visits, food, and an occasional replacement part, like the heat light bulb. Generally speaking, the bigger the snake, the more it costs. If there are any health problems that require the vet’s attention, the costs will be even higher.
5. Avoid the difficult ones
As a beginning snake owner, don’t get a poisonous one. You should also avoid snakes known to be difficult to keep or have demanding nutritional or environmental needs.
Some examples to stay away from are water snakes, anacondas, large constrictors like Burmese pythons, and boas. Burmese pythons and boas constrictors are not poisonous, but they can grow large and harm people. Wait until your next pet snake after you’ve learned a few things.
You should prepare the cage before bringing your new pet snake home. Having it prepared ahead of time allows you to test equipment and monitor temperature and humidity. Make sure all equipment is working properly and temperatures are within acceptable parameters.
Make sure your cage is easy to clean, well ventilated, and sized appropriately. A good formula to use is 3/4 square foot of floor space for one foot of snake. Remember to allow for the snake’s growth. You don’t want to buy a new cage every year.
Decide what size snake you want. Do you want a small one that is easy to care for and handle? Or do you prefer a bigger one like a python?
If this is your first snake, consider a small one like a corn snake. A python can grow so large that it will need its own room. Some pythons may be small when you get them, but they can grow to the point where it is difficult to maintain.
8. Consider a breeder
You can buy a pet snake at the pet store, but a better option is to find a good breeder. Breeding snakes in captivity are comfortable with human interaction and are less likely to be temperamental or carry parasites.
Ask to see the snakes in their current dwellings so you can observe their behaviors. Look for the relaxed ones. Reputable breeders will house the snakes in clean, well-maintained cages. Select a snake that looks healthy (good weight), is alert, has clear eyes, and does not have small insects (parasites) crawling on it.
9. Make sure it’s healthy
When selecting your snake, check its health. Snakes have a slower metabolism, so it could take a while before symptoms appear if they have a disease.
Make sure the snake you are considering does not have parasites, mites, or ticks. Examine the snake closely for evidence of injury or infection by checking its scales. Look for mucus in the mouth. Find out if the snake also eats regularly. Check their eyes. Hold the snake and examine it closely for signs of health problems.
10. Make sure it is not aggressive
As mentioned above, watch the snake in its current home for signs of aggression. You don’t want an aggressive snake. An aggressive snake will hiss and pull into a strike position. Its tongue may flick straight in and out. Calmer snakes will move their tongue up or down and move comfortably.
Corn snakes, milk snakes, and ball pythons, all of which are three to five feet long, are good choices. However, you must pick up the snake and see if it is comfortable with human interaction.
Housing Fore Your Pet Snake
11. Escape proof
Remember, proper pet snake care begins with having the proper enclosure. You need a cage that will keep the snake inside. You don’t want the pet to go out and start moving around in your house.
You may never see it again as it sliver into small openings. You also don’t want the snake to get into bed with someone and hurt them. A glass aquarium with a lockable lid works well. Make sure there is adequate ventilation.
12. Cage size
Make sure the cage is big enough for your snake. The size of the enclosure should be large enough to allow the snake to stretch almost fully. If the snake is three feet long, get a three-foot cage.
The snake needs to move freely, grow, and capture live prey. Too small of an enclosure could inhibit its growth and affect its behavior.
13. Cage should be Clean and dry
Pet snakes should have clean, dry cages. All snakes require drying in captivity so they don’t develop skin disorders. Clean the cage regularly to avoid additional problems.
14. Equipment you need
The cage should have a few things to make their home comfortable.
- A cave or an area where they can retreat to get out of the light.
- A clean water dish with fresh water.
- Snakes need a source of heat, such as hot rock.
This allows them to warm up whenever they want, as they are cold-blooded and take the same temperature as their surroundings. A light fixture with a heated bulb will illuminate the cage and provide additional warmth.
15. The substrate
The substrate is the material at which bottom of the cage. You want your snake to rest on something more comfortable and natural than glass. A piece of artificial grass works well. It can also be a layer of paper towels or a couple of inches of sand that a snake can burrow into.
Other acceptable materials like newspaper, poplar shavings, cypress bark mulch, and dry leaves are fine too.
16. Hiding place
Snakes tend to be quite reserved. Snakes prefer to curl up in hiding areas. A proper leather box or “cave” can make the difference between a snake that eats or not.
If forced to stay outdoors, some snakes will get nervous and refuse to eat. This is especially true if the snake’s cage is in a high-traffic area. Captive snakes rarely outgrow the urge to hide. Burrowing snakes prefer to hide under the substrate. It is fascinating to see the snake come out of its hiding place when it is ready to sunbathe, have a drink or eat.
Since the substrate is the reservoir for the snake’s waste, it must be removed and replaced each time the snake eliminates. If you have artificial grass (astroturf), just remove the waste and clean the entire tank at the same time.
Acceptable cleaners include alcohol-based glass cleaners or mild soap and water.
Do not use phenol-based cleaners, such as pine cleaners.
A clean cage is essential for a healthy snake.
Captive snakes must be kept at the proper temperature. Cage temperature is one of the most important factors in keeping a pet snake healthy. Figuring out the right temperature for your snake cage will take some homework because each species of snake has its own ideal temperature. Buy a small thermometer and place it inside the cage permanently so you know the temperature at all times.
19. Heat source
Although snakes are cold-blooded creatures, they need access to warmth. It is best to give them the option to heat up whenever they want.
One option is to provide a heat source, such as an artificial hot rock, that is wired for heating. They look like real rocks and can provide a resting place for snakes.
Snakes love to bask on rocks and usually retreat to their hiding place when they’ve had enough.
However, make sure the rock does not malfunction. You don’t want it to hurt the snake.
A light fixture with a heat bulb can serve several purposes for your snake cage.
First, you can light up the cage so that everything looks good.
Two, you can turn it on in the same way as sunlight for half of the day.
As long as the snake has a hiding place, it can come out of the “sun” if it wants to. Then the heat light can help to warm the temperature of the whole cage. At night you can turn off the light and it can also be the night for the snake.
21. Water bowl
A clean water bowl is an absolute must for your snake. Make sure it is strong enough to eliminate any chance of it tipping over. It should be large enough that if the snake decides to soak itself, it has that option.
22. Cage humidity
Proper cage humidity is also very important for proper snake care. The cage ventilation and the size and location of the water bowl can help you alter the humidity a bit. You can increase the humidity by placing a large water bowl over an under-tank heater with a solid cover on top of the terrarium.
To decrease humidity, place a small bowl of water in the coolest place in the cage with a mesh top. You can also put some plants in the cage to stimulate more vapors.
Again, to determine the best humidity for your snake, do some homework, as many snakes have different requirements.
23. Cage Furniture
I already mentioned the importance of a hideout. But there are other important “furniture” that will help your snake feel at home in the most natural environment possible.
You can buy a “tree” with small branches at your local pet store. Such trees are not alive, but they provide branches on which the snake can choose to crawl and hang.
The limbs are particularly important for arboreal and semi-arboreal snakes. Being able to see the snake on the limbs is just another fascinating aspect of having a snake as a pet.
Feeding Your Snakes
One of the most challenging times you will experience as a snake owner will be when your snake is not eating. There may be several reasons for this. However, knowing some of the basics can prevent most problems. After all, your snake must eat to grow and stay healthy.
24. Don’t overfeed them
Snakes have a tendency to overindulge and eat too much. You will be amazed at how they can eat something that is several times larger than their head. Snakes will try to eat their prey regardless of size. So it’s up to you to make sure it doesn’t overdo it or hurt itself in the process.
25. How often should you feed your snake
Your snake will need to be fed every seven to ten days. Younger snakes may need to eat more often. Once a young snake excretes, it can feed again. This usually happens three to five days after the meal. Once the snake has eaten, the digestive process will need to take place and may therefore become a bit more lethargic for a few days.
Snakes are carnivores, which means that they get their energy and nutrient needs from a diet that consists primarily of animals. Some species also eat fish, birds, amphibians, and other reptiles. For many captive snakes, the diet will consist of mice and rats.
27. Live prey
If your snake prefers to kill its prey before eating, there are some basic rules to follow. Rats and mice should not be too large for the size of the snake. Second, if the snake doesn’t kill the prey within an hour, remove the prey. You don’t want the rodent to get hungry and start eating your snake.
28. Small Snakes
If you have a small or young snake, you may want to start feeding it with “pinkies.” Pinkies are dead baby mice. As the snake grows, you can gradually feed it larger ones called fuzzy ones. When the snake is large enough, small live mice can be introduced. You will need to adjust the food selection accordingly as the snake matures and is ready for larger meals.
29. Keep your hands back
Whether you are feeding your pet live or previously dead prey, you need to be careful. If you use your hands to handle the food, your snake can pick up the scent.
(I made the mistake of straightening the cage furniture immediately after feeding. My Burmese python smelled the smell of the rat on my hand and bit me. From then on I used tongs to place the food in the cage, or I washed my hands and waited a while before placing my hands in the cage.)
30. If the snake doesn’t eat
Some snakes eat food immediately once they are placed inside their cage. However, some will need a little prodding. If your snake doesn’t seem interested in food, you can try tempting it with the food held in tongs. Offer the food head first and let the snake hit it with the tongs.
One of the most fascinating aspects of owning a snake is watching the skin shedding process. Shedding is also known as sloughing or ecdysis. A snake sheds its skin when it grows too large for its current skin. It will be replaced by new skin. The old skin will be moist after it is shed, but it will dry out shortly after.
Shedding activity is under hormonal control and is dependent on growth. Most snakes shed their skin 4 to 8 times a year.
The frequency of shedding depends on many things, including the ambient temperature, the frequency and amount of feeding, and the level of activity. Young snakes shed more often than older ones simply because growth is relatively rapid in the first few years of a snake’s life.
32. What to expect before shedding
You know that the shedding process is about to begin when the color of the snake’s eyes begins to change. The color of your snake’s skin also changes color. After several days, it will normally return to its natural color.
“Going into the blue” is when you will notice faded skin over your pet’s eyes. At this stage, your snake’s sight is limited. Your snake can behave nervously and can even be aggressive.
Your snake will probably shed a few days after its eyes have returned to their normal color, although some snakes will show no signs before shedding.
33. Things you can do
Once the signs of shedding appear, there are a few things you can do to help the process. Increase humidity to aid the shedding process. Place a large bowl of water for the snake to soak up.
Make sure there is something hard that can help rub off the old skin, such as a rock or a piece of bark.
Don’t lift the snake. Do not remove any remaining skin that does not come off.
Treating Your Sick Snake
34. Mouth rot
Proper snake care includes getting your pet regularly examined. Mouth rot is a common problem for captive snakes. Lift the side of the snake’s upper lip. It should be clean, pink, and free of lesions. If it is pale, it may be mouth rot.
You can treat mild cases with “Rot Guard”. Dilute this powder with water and rinse the snake’s mouth with it. Do not neglect this problem, as severe cases can lead to death. Call your vet if it doesn’t improve.
Mites are external parasites that can wreak havoc on your snake. Examine your snake regularly for these parasites. If you see them, soak the snake in warm water mixed with reptile relief. This treatment should be available at your pet store.
You should also clean the cage daily for three consecutive days. Remove all bedding if it is disposable. If the substrate is astroturf, remove it and clean it thoroughly. Treat the snake’s skin with a triple antibiotic ointment if there are visible marks on the skin.
36. Internal parasites
Warning signs of a sick snake include bloody stools, regurgitation, expelling blood, among other things. These symptoms could indicate that your pet has internal parasites. Go to the vet as soon as possible. Treatment is usually simply an antibiotic.
37. No appetite
If your snake won’t eat, this is a problem. However, there are a few things you can try before taking him to the vet.
First, remember that if the snake is stressed, it will likely not eat. When you bring him home for the first time, you may want to wait a few days before feeding him the first time. During the shedding process, they probably won’t eat either.
But if for no apparent reason, he stops eating, there is a product called Appetite plus that is often available in pet stores. Put a few drops in the snake’s mouth to stimulate its appetite. Using a syringe is also an option. But if he doesn’t eat after two weeks, call the vet.
Just as no appetite is a problem, so is constipation. A few days after eating, the snake must relieve itself. If it doesn’t happen, you should look for a swollen belly. You can soak the snake in warm water several times a day until the blockage passes.
If it doesn’t eliminate after a few more days, make an appointment with the vet. If the problem is severe enough, your vet may need to surgically remove it.
Pythons can be dangerous. You should never allow small children or other pets to be unattended around them. Pythons can live a long time. Do not invest your money if you are not ready for the commitment.
Pythons are the best pets for experienced owners. If this will be your first snake, consider a smaller snake like the corn snake. Once you have some experience as a snake keeper, consider pythons.
40. Corn snakes
If you are about to own a pet snake for the first time, consider purchasing a corn snake. Corn snakes make good pets. They are docile and resistant. They do quite well in captivity and live for about ten years on average. Corn snakes will grow three to four feet.
Snakes can harbor Salmonella and other dangerous bacteria. You should wash your hands after handling your snake or any material it comes in contact with. Do not use bleach, Lysol, or Pinesol on the cage or accessories. These substances are dangerous for snakes. Cleaning and disinfecting the cage are very important.
42. No joke!
Do not put the snake around your neck, especially when you are alone. This is especially true if you have a constrictor like a python or a boa. Don’t try to impress your friends and joke around while holding the snake. Sudden movements can excite the snake. Treat your snake as a pet with the potential to cause harm. Always be vigilant when handling your pet snake.
43. The risks of venom
Unless you are a skilled snake buff, don’t get a poisonous snake. Of the 2,500 species of snakes, it is estimated that only about 20% are poisonous. You may think it would be great to have one but don’t.
Poisonous snakes act on instinct, regardless of how long they have been domesticated. Many snake experts over the years have died as a result of being bitten by a poisonous snake.
44. Risks of lack of heat
As stated above, you must provide an external heat source for your snake. If you don’t provide a source of heat, the snake is likely to stop eating, become lethargic, and become susceptible to disease. The bottom line is that it must provide heat or the results could be fatal.
45. Allow for cooling too
Your snake should also be able to cool down. One suggestion is to have a cool end and a warm end. Place the hideout at one end and the heating rock, heating pad, and heating lamp at the other end. This will allow the snake to cool down or warm up depending on what it wants. If your tank is big enough, you can put a hideout at both ends.