A pet snake can be a wonderful companion, but choosing to keep one should not be taken lightly. Contrary to popular belief, they are not cold or slimy and most varieties aren’t dangerous.
They are easy to keep in small spaces, as their lifestyle doesn’t require a lot of exercises. Compared to dog pet, snakes are quiet and you don’t have to take time out of your day to walk them or clean up an excessive amount of excrement.
If you are squeamish, however, their dietary needs may be a deal-breaker. Pet snakes are great for the right family – as long as you are willing to meet some of their more unsavory requirements.
Reading about and understanding the requirements of owning a pet snake is the first step to a successful relationship with your pet. Decide what type of snake you would like to own, and then do as much research as you can before bringing one home.
Common types of pet snakes for first-time owners include ball pythons, king snakes, gopher snakes, garter snakes, and corn snakes.
Most of these snakes stay relatively small, growing to about 4 or 5 feet at the largest.
These species tend to be gentle and don’t mind being handled. Poisonous or other dangerous snakes should be avoided by all but the most experienced snake enthusiast, and even then liability issues make these kinds of snakes a poor choice.
Most snakes can live a very long time in captivity, so be aware of this when you are choosing one for your home. Kingsnakes can live about 20 years, while ball pythons have been known to live as long as 40 years.
While some of the housing requirements are similar for most kinds of snakes, their temperature and dietary requirements can be very different.
Housing Your Pet Snake
Before you bring home your new pet, you should have the enclosure ready to go. It should be big enough to house a grown snake and may take up a large corner of the room. Most pet snake owners opt for a large glass aquarium or Plexiglas enclosure with a tight mesh top.
Pet snakes make Houdini look like an amateur and can escape through tiny holes in a wire cage, so you need to make sure that it is secure.
Glass or Plexiglas also makes it easier to regulate the temperature in the enclosure so that your snake will stay healthy.
The snake needs to have some sort of bedding material in the bottom of the enclosure.
Materials such as butcher paper, newspaper, terrycloth towels are good materials; indoor or outdoor carpet is ideal because the material is safe and easy to clean.
Pea gravel or wood chips may look nicer but can harbor bacteria that could be ingested when the snake eats, causing intestinal problems.
A pet snake also needs a private area in order to feed well and feel secure.
A hollow overturned log, a wooden box with a hole in the front, or even just a large silk plant will work nicely.
They need to have something to climb on, so clean branches from the pet store or shelves are a must to keep your pet occupied. Just make sure that they can’t open the top of the enclosure as they are exercising.
Pet snakes also need a higher temperature than you are probably used to keeping in your home. Most tropical snakes need a temperature between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 70 to 75 degrees at night.
American snakes like a constant temperature of between 70 and 80 degrees. You can keep a heating pad under one side of the enclosure or use a heat lamp to achieve this temperature, but make sure that there is a “cool” side of your snake’s home to escape to if they get too warm.
Most snake experts warn against keeping heating elements such as rocks inside the enclosure as the snake can easily overheat or get burned.
The snake’s enclosure should get about 10 to 12 hours of daylight and 12 to 14 hours of darkness each day. A location where they can get some unfiltered natural sunlight is ideal.
Handling Your Pet Snake
One of the best parts of owning a snake is feeling its muscular body slip through your hands as it explores. Most common pet snakes can be easily tamed and actually seem to enjoy some human interaction.
Try to buy your snake from a reputable dealer who has hand-reared his young snakes so that they are used to people. Watch it feed if possible so that you can see that it has no trouble eating.
Once your pet snake has gotten used to its new surroundings, you should try to handle it for at least a few minutes every day so that it stays calm when you pick it up.
Snakes, like most other reptiles and amphibians, can harbor salmonella. Salmonella isn’t very harmful to adults and older children but can be dangerous to babies and younger kids.
For this reason, you should always wash your hands after you handle the snake and be particularly careful around young children.
Most snake experts don’t recommend that snakes live in a home with a child under five.
You should never ever put a large snake around your neck (no matter how cool it looked on Britney Spears). If your python’s crushing instincts kick in, it can be very dangerous.
Feeding Your Snake
Keeping snakes as pets has one large drawback for many people – they are not vegetarians. Snakes don’t eat nicely packed pellets or seeds; they eat mice, rats, frogs, and sometimes rabbits.
Most snakes will eat pre-killed pet food, which makes it more convenient for you as long as you don’t mind a baggie full of dead mice in your freezer.
Pre-killed food can also keep your pet safe from bites and scratches.
Some snakes need to be taught to eat pre-killed food and some won’t do it at all, so you need to be prepared to feed your snake live prey.
If you feel that your children are too young to see the circle of life in action, you may want to rethink your choice of the pet at this time.
Snakes also need a bowl of clean water for drinking and bathing.
The water can also help maintain the humidity of their enclosure at the right levels. Be sure to change the water often, as bacteria can grow in their water source and be very harmful.
Are snakes good pets?
The answer depends on what kind of person you are. Snakes won’t come when you call them or purr when you pet them, but there can be something calming about watching your snake slowly explore its enclosure.
They don’t take up a lot of room and they stay quiet, which is perfect for apartment dwellers or people who are out of the house a lot.
They do have fairly rigid requirements for temperature and housing. It can also be a chore trying to wrestle an escaped snake from behind your washing machine.
Their diet can also be challenging, particularly if you think small fuzzy rodents are cute. Snakes are not a traditional, cuddly choice of pet. They grow large, live a long time, and require a certain exactness and even bravery from their owners, but the benefits of owning a snake are also rewarding.
They don’t make noise, don’t require daily walks (or even daily interaction), and best of all, they don’t relieve themselves on your favorite pair of shoes when they’re mad at you.
As with any pet, owning a snake is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Do your research on the different types of pet snakes before you bring one home and you should be spared any unpleasant surprises.
This article was originally published at Everyday Health.