How to care for your pet snake
Updated: May 24, 2020
Snakes are one of the best pets if you like your independence and the ability to sit down without your pet jumping up on your knee and sitting on you, but they also require a lot of resources when setting up their homes and have needs you wouldn’t think of if you’ve only ever owned a dog. Our Snake Pet Guide will hopefully give you everything you need to know to keep a happy and healthy pet snake!
Before we start you need to check that you and your home are suitable, for example are you in a rented property? You’ll need to check whether snakes are permitted. Snakes eat small animals, will you be comfortable feeding them? Are your family comfortable with having a snake around?
First off, your pet snake needs a home. Their enclosures are called Vivariums, or Vivs, and unlike most other pets such as fish, dogs, cats, rabbits and horses to name a few, bigger isn’t always better! Snakes like to be curled up in their hidey homes and don’t enjoy being out in the open, so for small snakes a large enclosure is anxiety inducing. As a generalisation, there are two types of snakes when considering an enclosure.
Arboreal snakes prefer living in trees and enclosures for this type of snake and usually taller than they are wide, these will typically be a terrarium which are typically made of glass. People often also use these for keeping frogs in too. They give excellent views of your little pets as all sides but the back and bottom are glass and they allow you to put in tall logs and sticks for your snake to climb around and interact with.
On the other side of things, and probably the most common, are the ground dwelling snakes that are typically kept in vivariums, although terrariums also come in wider, shorter builds so you can also have great visibility for these guys too.
So when choosing a snake, make sure you’ve got either the horizontal space for their enclosure or the vertical, depending on the type you want. It’s important to research the snake you want before you buy them and this will tell you firstly, which type of enclosure they need. It’ll also tell you what sort of substrates they need and what decorations they need - you’ll want to try and replicate their natural environment as closely as you can.
Substrates are the material that lines the bottom of the tank, you can use newspaper, which works fine and is the cheapest method, but there are sands, gravels and mulches which can more accurately replicate your snake’s natural environment which will lead to a happier and comfortable snake.
Decorations include things like rocks, tree branches for climbing or vines and they’ll also need a hidey hole. Ground dwelling snakes will also need something to climb on too, but the tree climbing snakes will obviously need a more elaborate set up.
Hides might be a cave made of rock or just a plastic box in the corner of the viv but all snakes need one, in fact they may need a few! Snakes are cold blooded so you’ll need to bring in some form of heat source, but they also need a place to cool off if they get too warm. We recommend small heat mats that sit under the tank for this. It needs to be substantial enough so that your snake's full body can curl up on it and get warm, but small enough so that only one section of the vivarium is the ‘warm section’. You’ll also need another heat mat for the cool section, as although it’s considered the cool section it’s still quite warm. Check for your specific snake breed’s needs, but typically the warm side will be around 82F to 84F, and the cool side will be between 71F and 75F. The heat mats are required to maintain these temperatures at all times to keep your snake healthy.
We recommend these heat mats, and you'll also need a controller for them to set the correct temperature and monitor it.
To keep on top of temperatures, don’t opt for a basking lamp as these won’t really work the way your snake needs them to. Also stay away from sticking on thermometers as these won’t accurately reflect the floor's temperature. Opt for digital thermometers that have probes so that you can place them in the warm side as well as the cool side.
You should place a hidey hole on each of these sections but you may also need a third hideyhole with something like moss inside with a high humidity, this will help your snake shed its skin easier as it grows. If the enclosure is low in humidity your snake will find it harder to shed.
Some snakes will require a UVB light (Ultraviolet), and some won’t. Make sure this is included within your research. IF you do require one then place it over a basking rock or a branch so your snake can sit underneath it.
Exercising your snake
Pet snakes won’t need a whole bunch of exercise, just provide them with climbing equipment and let them do their thing. They love to explore and if you can create a second layer in the vivarium for them to stretch up to and explore, similar to a hamster hammock, they’ll appreciate that and inspect it.
Some bigger snakes like to have a bit of a swim in a shallow pool from time to time, you can include a large, shallow water bowl for your snake in case they fancy a dip too!
Feeding Your Snake
One of the most difficult aspects of snake keeping for a lot of snake owners is feeding. Skares are carnivorous, they strictly eat meat. Sure, lots of animals eat meat, cats and dogs eat meat, fish eat meat. Snakes eat their meat whole, as in the entire animal. And a little further on the tragic side is that small snakes eat baby animals. Make sure you can deal with feeding your snake a dead baby mouse, if you’re squirmish then perhaps opt for a different pet.
There’s different animals to feed them, typically based on their size. Mice and rats are the most common - mice for smaller snakes. You’ll want to feed them based on your snakes size. Their meal should be around the same thickness of your snake at their middle section. They can be bought frozen in packets from most pet stores or online, or directly from people who breed “feeder mice”. To keep yourself safe, it’s best to keep the frozen snake food in a separate freezer to your human food. Snakes do not require daily feeding, we suggest feeding them once a week while they’re young and growing quicker, then once a fortnight when they’re older. Transition this slowly or you’ll have a hungry snake on your hands which won't be fun. The amount you feed your snake might vary but as a baseline, stick to one portion of an animal, be it mouse or rat, that’s as thick as the snake at the snake's middle. If your snake suddenly decides it doesn’t want to eat, don’t force them to. They can go an extra day without food and it won’t harm them.
Some snakes however, will refuse to eat dead food. It’s uncommon for this to happen but it does. In this case, try moving the food around to mimic it being alive, or try putting up a towel over their tank to create a privacy curtain. Some snakes benefit more from having life food, and this isn’t for the faint of heart. If this is the case you’ll have to watch your snake hunt, trap and kill the live food in front of you. You will need to watch all of this happen as live animals can hurt your snake if they scratch or bite.
There’s a few different feeding techniques - some people drop the food in using tongs, some place the food in a tupperware box and add it to the tank, this ensures that your snake learns that their food will always be in a box, if there’s no box, it’s not food time. This is important if you plan on playing with and holding your snake regularly - you don’t want them to confuse a finger with a mouse.
A way to expand on this is to bring your snake out to a cardboard box with the food in so that they don’t associate their tank with being fed at all. This has it’s down sides to it though, as snakes really don’t like being held or interacted with after eating. We prefer feeding them in the tupperware. You’ll also want to leave your snake alone for a few days after feeding - it takes them a while to digest and if you handle them too soon they may bring back up their food. On that note, it’s also best to wait until they’ve completely passed the food before you handle them as the first time you do and if they haven’t completed the digestion cycle (pooped) then they’re likely to do that on your knee. Speaking from personal experience, this is far from pleasant.
Clean water is important for snakes, just as it is for other animals. Clean and refill her water bowl at least twice a week.
Grooming is most important when your snake sheds their skin. If the temperature and humidity are right, and if all goes well, they’ll manage just fine on their own. Usually, a snake will shed once a month or so and as a result of them growing, they shed their old skin to leave new, looser skin to grow into. Expect the process to take upwards of a week. If there are any problems such as an incomplete shedding, make sure the tank is humid and warm. You can also try adding damp paper towels or moss to help this. Don’t try to peel the rest off for them, this is likely to hurt them.
Snakes need smooth things to rub against to get their old skin off because they don’t have hands, so make sure they have something like rocks to help them with this. Their eyes will go cloudy when they’re about to shed their skin. If you’ve given your snake the right temperature, humidity, some damp paper towels or moss and they have something to rub on but they still aren’t shedding, take them to the vet.
A good home environment for a snake is one where she has enough time to herself that she can relax and digest her meals, but where she is tended appropriately even after the novelty of a pet snake has worn off.
Many pet snakes learn to tolerate being handled, but you should not even attempt to try hand-taming them until they’ve successfully eaten at least four meals in their new home. If the snake you’ve opted for is one of the larger varieties or even a constricting type, do not ever trust them. They aren’t like cuddly dogs, they will try to eat anything they think they can. There’s even been reports of a woman who woke up every morning for a few weeks to find her snake in bed with her. She thought this was cute until she learned her snake was “sizing her up” to see if the woman could be swallowed.
Anyway, wait until there is no bulge from their meal before trying to touch them. Start slowly, and place both hands under their belly to support their weight. Only handle the middle third of their body, unless a veterinarian instructs you to do otherwise. There are some medical reasons to hold their head or tail, so if the vet tells you to (for example, for cleaning the snake’s face), go ahead. In these cases, support their body with your other hand.