As with any pet, it is imperative that some consideration is given to whether a snake offers you what you want from a pet. Some snakes make great pets whilst others are definitely not pets but make fascinating captive specimens. Beautiful to watch; low maintenance, if their habitat is set up correctly, low odor and silent; these are all attributes that the species has to offer. However, they cannot be trained, spend a lot of time in hiding and are not affectionate; their penchant for spending time alone might be deemed to be boring and result in neglect. The fact remains that there is a difference between the relationship you have with a pet and with a captive exhibit; it is that simple.
Snakes can live for many years, so you need to establish what the lifespan is of your intended pet and consider if this aligns with your own plans for the future. Consider possible lifestyle changes; a move to another property; town or country and be fair and realistic before you take on a snake as a pet. A corn snake can live for 5 to 10 years whilst a boa constrictor or python can live up to 30 years! It is all about responsible pet ownership and consideration for the animal’s welfare.
Generally it is best to start out with a smaller species, whilst you become accustomed to handling. Ensure you know just how big your snake can grow to, as this will impact on the requirements regarding the habitat/enclosure. Generally start with a snake which is fairly placid and tolerant of handling, such as a corn snake or milk snake.
Health and Environment
When choosing a healthy snake, look for one that is alert with good muscle tone and can move with ease. Check the eyes and if they are sunken, it may have mites or be dehydrated. Check the skin for any wounds or retained skin. Check for bubbles, froth or any discharge around the mouth, which could be signs of respiratory illnesses or mouth rot.
Snakes are ectothermic - cold blooded and rely on external heat sources to regulate their temperature. For snakes in captivity, we need to provide a heat source and a temperature gradient across their enclosure, so that they can continue with their natural process of moving between areas. It is best to control your heating device with a thermostat to avoid over heating or a cage that is too cold.
Substrates are necessary to soak up waste products so that your snake isn’t lying in it. Newspaper and kitchen towel are often the most appropriate choice for hatchlings as they are cheap and easy to clean.
All common pet reptiles must have access to drinkable water at all times. Try to use a flat heavy water dish with sloping sides so that the snake can easily access it and even lie in the bowl if it needs to. A hide box for the snake to retreat to is essential for a happy snake. Make sure the opening is in a U shape and not a hole, to prevent it getting stuck as it grows.
Most pet snakes feed on a variety of rodents, birds, lizards, etc. Most foods are bought frozen and defrosted on the day of eating. Feeding live food is dangerous for the snake and should be avoided. Do not handle your snake for 24-48 hours after it has fed, or it may regurgitate its food.
Always wash your hands with warm soapy water after handling any animals.
There is a wealth of information available on responsible snake ownership and it is recommended that extensive research is done before deciding to make one a pet. Reptile forums on the internet can also give sound, honest advice and guidance.
Author: Heidi Pfeifer