General Snake Care: Facts about Keeping a Pet Snake
When people think of pets, most of the time "furry" and "cuddly" are adjectives that come to mind. For the owners of pet snakes, however, these words don't really fit. Still, snakes make interesting pets, and can even be lovable - in their own way.
Choosing to own a pet snake should not be a snap decision. Snakes can grow large, eat a lot, and require very specific conditions for staying healthy. Some varieties can even be dangerous to humans. Providing for their needs can be quite expensive. To top it all off, snakes tend to have a long lifespan. For the sake of the snake, don't purchase or adopt one without being sure you are ready to make the commitment.
Before making the decision to own a snake, it's wise to do a little research on the needs and personalities of the different types of pet snakes. If you are hoping for an animal you can handle frequently, be aware that many breeds of snakes are stressed by handling. Being solitary creatures, they much prefer to be left alone, and too much handling is detrimental to their health. It can even be fatal to the more sensitive species of snakes.
Some of the snakes that tolerate human handling include king snakes, boa constrictors, ball pythons, and corn snakes. The others should be handled less often. If you are afraid to handle the snake at all, however, you should perhaps consider a different type of pet. Snakes should be handled a little, perhaps five minutes a day, so that they will learn to be calm around you. Just be cautious about handling the sensitive breeds more often than that. In general, species that are recommended for beginners are king snakes, corn snakes, and ball pythons.
Another warning is needed for would be snake owners. There is a risk of salmonella infection with any type of reptile or amphibian pets. If the human happens to get the infection, the symptoms are similar to food poisoning. A healthy adult can tolerate this infection, but it can be very hard on small children or people with compromised immune systems. It is recommended that snakes not be kept at all in homes where there is a child under the age of 5. It is also recommended that cleaning of the equipment be done somewhere besides the kitchen. You should disinfect cleaning surfaces with bleach and always wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling a pet snake.
Another aspect of caring for a snake is that they need the security of a routine. This is true for all pets, really, and is even beneficial in the care of children. Forming a routine can be difficult for some of us humans, but it really does result in the best pet care, and is worth learning the habit.
If you're still interested in owning a snake, wonderful! One of the first steps in becoming a snake owner is to acquire an enclosure that will keep your snake confined. If there are gaps in the door to the cage or aquarium, the snake is likely to work diligently to try to escape. Snakes are skilled escape artists. The enclosure also needs to be big enough for the snake. A young snake will grow fast, and some varieties get very large.
All snakes are meat-eaters. Many snake owners keep live mice or rats, which multiply rapidly, as food for their snakes. It is recommended that snakes be fed pre-killed prey animals instead of live ones. Especially if the snake is not real hungry, a live prey animal can inflict injuries to the snake. It might cost more in the long run, but purchased food for snakes can be kept in the freezer, making a convenient (and less smelly) alternative to raising mice and rats. Some snakes, for example, the ball python, have to become accustomed to eating pre-killed food. It's recommended that novice snake owners make sure before buying the snake that it has already become accustomed to this sort of diet.
Snakes need their enclosure to be kept at the proper temperature and humidity for their particular species. There are different methods available for providing these needs. There are hot rocks that look like real rocks but are wired to heat up. Snake experts warn against these artificial rocks because of the danger of one shorting out and injuring the pet. Another danger is that snakes can be killed if they don't realize they are getting too hot, which can happen. They can be burned or become dehydrated.
You should be able to buy a heating pad designed to be used underneath the tank to heat it from below. There are also heat lamps designed for reptiles and similar pets. It's recommended that you plan to heat only half the enclosure so the snake has a cooler place to retreat to when it wants.
Humidity is another need that varies from one variety of snake to another. All snakes should have a dish of clean water for bathing and drinking. If this does not meet the snake's humidity needs (often it does), you can place the water dish beneath the light or heater, which will increase evaporation, and therefore, humidity in the enclosure. If you do use a water dish under the heater, get a second water dish and place it away from the heat source as snakes don't like to drink hot water. Also, you can place a plant in the cage for more humidity, too. It is a good idea to equip the aquarium with a thermometer and a gauge for checking the humidity.
Snakes like to hide from time to time, so it is good to provide your pet with a box or two for retreating. The hiding box can be made from any sort of container, as long as it has an entry hole and is big enough for the snake to curl up in. If you put one in each end of the enclosure, the snake can choose the cool hiding box or the warmer one. Many snakes like small branches to climb on, and you can get these from the pet store.
The floor of the enclosure will need some sort of covering. Placing newspaper in the bottom of the cage is a simple and inexpensive method that works well for all except the snakes that burrow. Newspaper makes cleaning a snap, since you simply need to remove the soiled paper and replace it with clean paper.
One final note about keeping a snake as a pet is that many snakes naturally hibernate when the weather gets cool in the winter. It's not absolutely essential to the health of the pet to allow it this luxury, but it is a necessity if you are going to attempt to breed the snake. To let it hibernate, you'll need to keep its enclosure in a dark cool room. It will still be necessary to keep an eye on the humidity and temperature and provide clean water as necessary.
Keeping a pet snake is a responsibility that can also be an adventure. If you are a beginner, you should probably start with one of the easier snakes to keep. In time, however, you can learn the ins and outs of snake keeping, and expand your family to include some of the more exotic types.