Considering jumping into ‘exotic pets’? Snake pets are some of the most common exotic pets but how prepared are you?
Here’s a snake care guide to see your reptile buddy is comfortable in your home.
Snake Care Guide: What You Need to Know
Having a snake as a pet requires some preparation, as well as making sure that everyone in the household will be comfortable having one around. You will also need to make sure pet snakes are allowed where you are living and take into consideration any other pets that live in the home.
Snakes are carnivorous by nature and tend to eat their food whole, so you will need to take into consideration where and how you will be storing the food they eat.
Snake Care 101: Essential Equipment for Housing Pet Snakes
Before you go out buying the essentials for you soon to be reptile addition, it would make sense to choose what variety of snake you will be getting.
This way you buy the right enclosure and necessary equipment. Also, be sure you’re choosing from the best snakes for pets which includes corn snakes, kingsnakes, green tree python, milk snake and other python families.
Unlike buying a rodent or fish enclosure, big is not always better for a snake. A small snake, for example, can become anxious when placed in an area that is too big.
As a rule of thumb, ground-dwelling snakes require wide enclosures, and arboreal snakes require taller enclosures. While choosing a snake type before buying the enclosure, you still want to get the setup for their new home before you buy your snake.
You can find an excellent variety of terrariums and canopy/covers in pet stores that deal with amphibian and reptile supplies. Once you’ve chosen the right size enclosure you will need to get your substrate material to line the bottom of the tank.
Materials that closely replicate a snake’s natural environment are gravels, mulch, and sand. Another cheaper option is to use several layers of newspaper, which is fairly easy to keep dry and clean. With that in mind, the closer to the snake’s natural habitat you get means the healthier your snake will be longer-term.
Climbing and Hiding
Other things to put in the snake’s environment are climbing branches, rocks, vines, and anything else that your chosen type of snake requires. Small ground-dwelling snakes, such as pythons, need to have rocks and a branch to climb on.
Other types of snakes will need a number of vines and branches to hide and climb around on.
Speaking of hiding places, every snake needs a hidey-hole, which can be made from rock or just a clean piece of cardboard that the snake can fit itself under. It needs to be a place where they can feel safe, rest and relax.
Lighting and Heating for a Snake Pet
Some varieties of snake require an Ultraviolet-B light. Other snakes will do fine with 30 minutes of unfiltered sunlight every day. All snakes, however, require a basking light that should be positioned over a nice little basking branch or rock.
Also necessary is an assortment of hygrometers to measure humidity, and thermometers, some to be placed at floor level of the tank and some on the walls. Every snake home needs to have some form of under tank heating. But you need to be cautious with this.
You can’t just place the heating element under the tank, pop it on and then forget about it. It will need to be small enough to heat only part of the enclosure’s floor, which is under the hidey-hole.
Basically, you are trying to create a heat gradient, meaning one section of the floor needs to be a constant and specific temperature. Here’s an example; your snake requires an ideal temperature of 85 degrees F. So, the spot under the hidey-hole should be a bit warmer, about 87 degrees.
There should also be a spot that is a bit cooler, say around 82 to 84 degrees. And then there needs to be another section that should be even cooler unheated area, somewhere between 71 to 75 degrees.
This allows the snake to be able to regulate their body temperature by simply moving around the enclosure. But their ideal temperature needs to be located under the hidey-hole.
It’s not a good idea to solely rely on a basking lamp for your snake’s needs. You also don’t want to just go by the thermometers that are on the wall of your tank because they won’t really tell you how cool or warm the floor of the tank is.
You need to track air temperatures, floor temperatures, and humidity levels several times per day and at night for about a week before you actually put the snake in their new home. Getting this wrong can lead your snake to suffer.
A pet snake really doesn’t require that much exercise. Let them do their own things with the proper climbing equipment you have provided them, and they will be happy. Some of the larger snakes like having a safe little wading pool to swim around in now and then.
As mentioned earlier, all snakes are carnivorous, meaning they are meat-eaters. They will eat their meals whole, innards and bones included. The majority of snakes feed off rats and mice, whereas some will eat reptiles and amphibians. The smallest of snakes can live off eating large insects.
Some snakes will only eat their prey alive but there are those who will accept their meals dead.
If this is the case you may want to keep a small separate freezer to store their meals, as its safer than storing their food with your own meals. You can usually get frozen packages of dead rats and mice in a variety of sizes in pet supply stores or direct from breeders who breed “feeder mice”.
Depending on your snake, they may eat 3 to 4 in one meal. Some may only eat one per meal. Make sure you keep at least 6 on hand just in case. You’ll want to start off feeding them prey that is around the same size around as your snake’s middle.
If you are finding that your snake won’t eat its prey dead, you could try wiggling it around a bit, so it looks like it’s moving. Or you can try placing a piece of fabric over the tank for a bit of privacy. One or both of these options may work.
However, if all else fails, you will need to feed your snake its meals live, and this can be a bit more complicated, as well as not being for the faint of heart. One thing you will need to do, should you be feeding an adult rodent to your snake, is keeping an eye on it while it hunts and feeds.
This is because your snake can become injured should the animal panic and use its teeth and claws. Another necessity for your snake is clean water. Keep a water bowl and be sure to clean and fill it at least twice a week.
Snake Care: Grooming Your Pet Snake
The most important part of snakes grooming habits is when it sheds its skin. If you have the humidity and temperature right, they will take care of this on their own. Snakes tend to shed once a month give or take.
The whole process can last for up to a week. If your snake has not shed in quite some time or has problems with the shedding process, you may need to get them help.
One of the most common causes of not being able to properly shed is dry air. If this is the case, raise the humidity of the tank by placing a box of moss, damp paper towels, or similar material, partially filled, in the tank.
This may be all that is needed to solve the issue. Something else that can help is some gentle rubbing under the snake’s chin area. Make sure you have enough items in the enclosure for the snake to rub itself on too, such as smooth rocks and branches.
Should your snake still have trouble shedding, you will need to have them checked at a veterinarian.
Snake Care: Your Home Environment
You know about the home environment your snake will need, but how about your own home environment? A good home environment for your snake is one where they have plenty of time to themselves for digesting meals and relaxing, but also where they are appropriately attended to.
Snake Care: Handling Your Snake
Never try to handle a snake that has not successfully eaten 4 meals in their new home. Most snakes will tolerate being handled, but you need to wait until you see no bulge left from the last eaten meal. Begin slowly by placing both of your hands under the snake’s belly so that you are supporting their weight.
You should only be handling the middle third area of their body unless you have been instructed otherwise by your vet. There are actually some medical reasons for holding their tail or head, such as for cleaning their faces.
Snake Care: Licensing and Regulations
Just like some amphibians, certain countries and states may require you to have a snake license, so you need to check with where you live before buying your snake. This is even more important if you are going to be moving to a new state or country.
A snake that is legal where you reside now may not be legal elsewhere or may need a different type of license.
Snake Care: Your Pet Snake Housing
You will want to make sure your housing arrangements will allow for having a pet snake to start off, especially if you are living in rented premises. If you are a beginner snake owner with a beginner’s license, you will need to see what snakes you can legally have as a beginner.
Once you know what species of snake pets you are getting, you will need to buy the right size terrarium and equipment. It’s important to set up the environment and check humidity and temperatures for a week before even putting a snake in its new home, to make sure the snake will be safe, healthy, and happy.