Snakes as Pets: What to Know Before You Bring One Home
Snakes — most people love them or fear them. They are not your typical cuddly pet, but as snake owners will tell you, their pets recognize them and respond to their voices. They can be gentle, beautiful animals, but they have very specific environmental and dietary needs that must be met to keep them happy and healthy. If you’re considering a snake as a pet, there are certain things you should know before you bring one home.
1. Snakes need certain temperatures and humidity levels. Snakes’ body temperatures adjust to their environmental temperatures. They generally require both a hot, basking zone in their tanks, often in the 90°s, and a cooler zone in the 70°s, to regulate their body temperatures properly. Some snakes also need ultraviolet light to help them make vitamin D in their skin, which in turn enables them to better absorb calcium from their food. Without adequate humidity, they will not shed the skin on their bodies or the clear coverings (called spectacles) over their eyes properly.
2. Snakes grow long — sometimes very long. Many young snakes start off very small but, depending on their species, may grow to several feet long and several inches in girth. Some large species can weigh more than 100 pounds when fully grown, which may not be for several years. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot limit the size of a snake by confining it to a small tank. Be sure you research the species you are considering so that you know how big it might ultimately be. In general, snakes should be provided with a tank large enough for them to fully stretch out in. The best way to purchase an appropriately sized snake tank is to approximate the size of the snake and visit or contact a reptile specialty supply store (there are many online) to order the correct one.
3. Snakes eat rodents. If you’re not prepared to feed your snake mice or rats, then don’t have a snake. Live rodents should never be offered to a snake, as they can bite the snake and inflict serious injury. Thawed frozen rodents or freshly killed ones are recommended instead. The size of the rodent fed is determined by the size of the snake and may change as the snake ages and grows.
4. Snakes have personalities. Too often, people select a pet snake based solely on its appearance and don’t consider what its temperament will be like. Some snake species are known to be more aggressive, while others are more likely to be docile. This is an important factor, particularly if you want to be able to handle your snake rather than simply look at it. Remember, if you do handle your snake, always wash your hands afterward, since all snakes potentially carry the salmonella bacteria that can make people sick.
5. Snakes can live for many years. Different pet snakes have different life spans. However, on average, with proper housing and nutrition, in captivity corn snakes can live 15 to 20 years, captive ball pythons can live 20 to 30 years, and captive boa constrictors can live 25 to 30 years. So, if you are considering a snake as a pet, be prepared to care for it for at least a decade.
Snakes are not for everyone, particularly if you want a low-maintenance pet. They require a great deal of time and effort, have very specific food and housing requirements, and can live dozens of years. Just like more traditional pets, they also need to be under the care of a veterinarian who understands their unique health care needs. Snakes are truly beautiful creatures that can be wonderful pets in the right circumstances but that have gotten a bad reputation for being aggressive — often as a result of improper care. Be sure that if you’re considering a pet snake, you learn all about what it needs to stay healthy — speaking with a knowledgeable veterinarian is a great place to start — and that you have the finances, space and patience to properly care for one for a very long time.