Approximately 3% of US households keep 7.3 million pet reptiles, with snakes being the most common. Pet snakes are gentle, beautiful, and amazing animals. They also have fewer maintenance needs than other pets such as dogs. However, the reptiles have unique requirements, need commitment, and adequate understanding to meet their needs.
Before you rush to the store and bring home a pet snake, you need to realize you are making a long term commitment, since most species can live for up to two decades. This article will discuss key considerations to make before buying a pet snake. We will also discuss the common mistakes to avoid once you have brought home the ideal species that fits your environment and lifestyle.
Before you bring home a pet snake, you should understand that they are meat eaters that don’t eat just any meat sold at the grocery. Most species like ball pythons are so picky and will eat only mice or rats but not both. Others prefer eating only live mice or rats over frozen ones. Therefore, you must find out if the species you want to buy is picky.
You should also understand the following two methods of feeding and their upsides and downsides:
- Frozen/thawed feeding method– This method is very popular with most snake owners. Typically rodents are frozen, and when it is feeding time, they are thawed or warmed to room temperature and fed on the pet. This method’s upside allows you to buy more food, which you will store in the freezer to wait for feeding time, thus reducing trips to the pet store. Additionally, the rodents will not fight back to injure your snake. However, the downside is that it is not a natural way to feed snakes, and some pets may decide it doesn’t want to touch thawed food.
- Feeding live rodents– This method involves feeding your pet live rats or mice. It is a natural way of feeding snakes that guarantees the pet is receiving fresh nutrients. Besides, the snake will feel happy hunting its food in the enclosure. However, the pet can get severe injuries if the rodent fights back. It is not the best feeding method for baby snakes that are not strong enough to efficiently hunt down and kill rodents.
You should first consider the adult size of the snake you want to bring home. A Burmese baby python may seem fun when young but will reach 5 feet in less than five months and 18 feet at maturity. What will you do when the snake reaches such length? When looking for an ideal pet snake, find out whether you will comfortably handle it once the pet matures. Besides, some species tend to be more aggressive with age to force you to invest in costly cages that keep them safe and away from your family. Also, large species tend to eat more food, and you need to consider whether you will afford the reptile’s nutritional needs once it reaches adulthood.
Snakes can be housed in terrariums or vivariums. As a rule of thumb, house baby snakes in smaller enclosures and upgrade to larger units when they grow to more than twice the house’s length. However, the enclosure you set up will be influenced by the specific needs of the species you are keeping. The smaller species and baby snakes require 10 to 20-gallon aquarium. You can purchase commercial units or built your cage using Plexiglas, wood, fiberglass, or plastic. You should also provide enough semi-natural places with plants, rocks, and tree branches for the snake to hide and curl itself. Ensure that the cage is escape-proof and well ventilated.
Additionally, your snake will do well with substrate or bedding materials on the floor. The ideal substrate should be easy to clean and non-toxic. You can spread newspapers, towels, butcher paper, or artificial grass on the housing floor to provide enough traction for the reptile to move. Avoid sand, wood shavings, corncob materials, walnuts shells because they are challenging to clean and may cause intestinal problems if eaten. Cedarwood shavings are especially toxic to all reptiles and should never find its way inside the snake cage. The natural branches inside the habitat should slope from bottom to the top and end near a light or heat source where the snake bask. The snake will also need an ideal thing to rub on during shedding time.
Importantly, a heat source is crucial for the well-being of the pet. Snakes are cold-blooded and depend on external sources to maintain their body heat. Set up the cage in a way that gradient temperature can be established quickly. This means that one side of the tank should be warmer while the other side should be cooler. Place one thermometer on the cooler end and the other on the warmer side to monitor the cage’s temperatures. Generally, the cooler side should be between 70 to 75 degrees while the warmer side should be 90 to 95 degrees. The species you choose may also need UV-B lighting that provides D-3 vitamins.
Before you bring home a pet snake, you must do a cursory exam to check for any signs of illness. Ask the breeder to feed the snake in your presence to demonstrate that the pet readily takes pre-killed prey and is eating it well. Ball pythons are known to be poor feeders, and before you get one, establish if their feeding problems are related to health issues. Avoid any reptile with closed eyes, retained skin, mouth rot, or bubbles coming out of the nose.
A healthy snake should feature the following:
- Body– the body should be robust and firm. Check their weight by feeling or observing the bones. If the bones are visible, the snake could be underweight
- Scales– healthy snakes should feature smooth and shiny scales. Before you buy a snake, check its body, especially the belly for lesions, sores or redness. If you can make out tiny red or black dots, the pet could have mites, which is a sign of poor husbandry by the seller.
- Mouth– a healthy snake’s mouth should be clean and pink. Warning signs to check out include swelling, pus, drool, or any foreign substance that is dripping from the pet’s mouth.
- Breathing– before you buy the reptile, check whether it is breathing quietly through the nose. If it is breathing through the mouth, it could be a sign of illness. Other warning signs to watch out include gasping or wheezing breathing sounds.
- Behavior– although most snakes are not personable, you should look out for signs of alertness. A healthy pet will respond well to stimuli, such as food. They also tend to stick out their tongues frequently.
- Posture– if the pet is moving strangely or adopts a strange posture, don’t buy. Snakes that tend to sit stiffly or move their heads in a peculiar position could be ill.
Where to buy
You should only buy a pet snake from a reputable breeder. Some pet stores obtain their animals from untrustworthy mills. Such pet snakes will easily fall ill and die a few days after purchase. Besides, several online websites sell snakes. However, due diligence is important before you transact with any online stores. Not all companies sell healthy pets, and some will not guarantee the safe delivery of the pet. The best place to purchase your pet is from a reputable breeder in your locality with a proven track record for delivering healthy, thriving pets. You should also attend local reptile shows to choose from a wide range of healthy snakes for sale. While at it, be cautious of purchasing any venomous snakes unless you have extensive experience handling such hot reptiles.
Handling and caring
Different snake species come with varying handling needs. Some love to be handled a lot, while others prefer to be left alone. You should choose easier snakes for more straightforward care and handling. If you are a newbie owner, there are a couple of species that make for great first pets. Go for snakes with a calm temperament and few needs. Some of the great options include:
- Corn snakes/ ribbon snakes, milk snakes– these snakes are easy to care for. They can also be held and tamed easily. However, they are very active and curious and love to slither around to check out their environment
- Ball python– ball pythons are less active and are slow at moving. They don’t also grow big to present habitat challenges. The snakes love to sit in your hands or hang around your neck.
Presence of children
Before you buy a snake, it is crucial to consider the presence of children in your home.
Although children derive more fun from different kinds of snakes than adults, not all snake species are ideal for children. Besides, the CDC recommends that children under five years should not hold or own a snake. Like other reptiles, snakes carry salmonella bacteria that may cause severe illnesses in children. Some of the friendly options for kids above five years include ball pythons and corns snakes. Such snakes are friendly, slow, and don’t grow to enormous sizes. You should avoid snakes from larger species such as reticulated pythons, anacondas, Burmese pythons, and venomous snakes. Such species are dangerous and require special care requirements. A small mistake with these snakes can result in fatal accidents.
Snakes, just like all other reptiles, carry salmonella. Salmonella is a bacterium that can be easily transmitted to humans from direct contact with feces or other contaminated surfaces or equipment. You can get the disease if you eat or drink with a contaminated unwashed hand. It can also be transmitted through open sores or cuts when handling the pet. Salmonella infections cause fever, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches, resulting in blood poisoning if not treated. Before you bring home a snake, ensure you understand the precautions that will help prevent salmonella infections.
These precautions include:
- Wash your hands meticulously for at least 20 seconds with hot soapy water each time you handle a reptile.
- Keeping reptiles out of the kitchen, eating areas and other food areas including the food store and confining reptiles inside their enclosures at all times.
- Any surfaces that have come in contact with the reptile should be washed with hot soapy water.
- Wash the reptile inside its own basin. Don’t share sinks or baths with your snake. When cleaning the reptile and their equipment or cages, wear disposable gloves. Wastewater and feces should be safely disposed of in the toilet.
- Don’t eat, smoke or drink while you are handling your pet, their tanks or equipment.
- Carefully wash clothes that may have come in contact with the reptiles using hot soapy water.
- Discourage older children who handle the snake from putting their hands near their mouths until they have washed their hands thoroughly.
It is vital to remember that snakes can bite. Although there are several easy options to adopt, the pet can snap if not handled well. Snakes bite as a warning sign for you to keep off or in self-defense. Children should be taught how to treat pets with the utmost respect. You should also create time to interact with the pet form an early age to enable them to get used to human handling.
The vet factor
Although you may be accessible to a number of vets in your locality, not all of them are knowledgeable about common snake diseases and treatments. Before you buy the reptile, it is essential to check with your favorite vet if they can treat the pet if it falls ill. If you cannot find the right vet in your locality, widen your search until you identify the nearest pet store personnel trained for reptiles’ medical care. You should research their contacts, and where possible, visit them.
Mistakes to avoid when you first bring home a Pet Snake
Once you have brought home your pet snake, it is essential to practice the correct husbandry and routine feeding schedule that is best for that particular species. Unfortunately, the level of care that snakes need may be taken for granted and costly mistakes made. The following are some of the common mistakes to avoid, especially if you are a beginner snake owner:
Assuming all snakes are the same
It is quite common for first-time owners to forget to research thoroughly about the species they want to adopt. You should never get a pet snake as an impulse buy. Research well the species you intend to buy to establish their specific diets and other needs. Most breeders also sell them as hatchlings, and it can be hard to differentiate the diverse species just by observing them. Some beginners may randomly pick a baby snake and quickly regret their decision once the pet grows to larger sizes.
Providing the wrong diet
Several health issues come as a result of poor or improper pet diets. The right diets and amount of food can vary from one species to another. Do not underestimate how much the snakes rely on their specific diets for healthy growth. Ideally, some pet snakes love live rodents, while others prefer frozen/ thawed rodents. The food should also be sprinkled with calcium and multivitamin supplements. Before you bring home a snake, get information from your vet on the ideal diets for the right age and species you bring.
If you provide your pet snake with a small enclosure for its size, it will get stressed or die. Many beginners provide enclosures that are too small or not adequately secured to let the snake out. Most pet snakes are excellent at escaping and may easily slip out of the unsecured container and get lost. Besides, a snake that grows will need an upgrade to a larger terrarium. You should also set up proper lighting and heating.
Forgetting vet visits
Just like any other pet, snakes should have regular checkups. However, most beginners overlook this critical fact. You should also take your pet snake to the vet whenever they show signs of illness. Constant vet visits will enable the pet to develop a relationship between both you and your vet.
Most pet snakes tolerate handling. However, if not handled well, they may get injured or feel threatened and bite. When handling the pet, use the following tips:
- Gently handle the snake and never hold them by their tail.
- Be aware of the snake’s species and put on protective gloves where necessary. Some snakes can bite.
- Don’t handle any new snake during the first few weeks in your home until they get accustomed to your presence.
- Always supervise your children as they are handling a new pet snake.
Using wrong substrates
If the snake ingests loose substrates, it can lead to serious health complications. When the substrate gets caught in their gastrointestinal, it may lead to starvation or blockage. To remedy this problem, your vet may need to perform specialized surgery. However, this issue can be avoided if you use the right substrate.
Not providing UVB rays.
Although some snake species don’t require UVB lighting and are healthy without it, most species require the lighting. UVB light enables the pets to produce vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D could lead to serious health issues like a metabolic bone disease. Mistakes could also be made when an inexperienced owner is purchasing the light. Avoid UVB coil that tends to be cheaper but provides an inadequate amount of UVB output. Also, undertake to change the light every 6 to 12 months.
Frequently Asked Questions about Snakes as Pets.
Do pet snakes like their owners?
Snakes lack the intellectual capacity to feel human emotions such as affection or love. You should not be surprised, therefore, if your pet doesn’t feel any affection towards you. However, most pet snakes tend to feel an affinity for you as a non-threatening creature that cares for them.
How will I know if my snake is happy?
The level of happiness is expressed differently in different species. For example, a happy ball python will eat regular and sleeps all the time. When your snakes refuse to eat or constantly cruise around its habitat, it could signify that the animal is stressed.
Do snakes bite?
Typically, most snake species kept as pets are docile and don’t bite. However, some snakes can bite if provoked. They may also be more irritable and bite during shedding or when they are ill. If a snake bites you wash the wound and dry it before you see a doctor immediately
Do snakes like being held?
Although some species of snakes tolerate a lot of handling, most don’t enjoy being petted. Your pet may be uncomfortable if you initiate too much physical contact.
Do pet snakes need attention?
Pet snakes make a great companion and require minimal care. Unlike other pet mammals like dogs and cats, they don’t need much attention. They are quiet and need no cuddling, walking, or training.
Do snakes see color?
Snakes are dichromatic and can see only two primary colors; blue and green. They are also sensitive to UV light that enables them to see in low light conditions.
What scent repels snakes?
Snakes recognize scents and can recognize their owner’s sweat, pheromones, and other scents. You should get rid of clove and cinnamon in your house as these particular scents tend to repel or stress the most. Besides, cinnamon oil, clove oil, and eugenol repel the snakes the most.
If you plan to buy a snake, there are essential things to consider in advance; purchase a suitable pet for your family. Most snakes need specific environmental and dietary needs to thrive. Your first step as a pet snake owner is to research the particular requirements of the species you are bringing home. This article is a resourceful tool that will equip you with all the information you need as a new snake pet owner.