Snake

 

Snakes as pets

You might be surprised to know that reptiles are the UK's most popular pet.  These unusual and fascinating creatures are low maintenance, quiet and don't need exercising which can make them ideal pets for today's busy lifestyle.  Snakes make great pets for people with allergies, can be fed once a week or less and don't require much space.

Each type of snake has specialized needs that differ from one variety to the next. There are many types of snakes that make good pets for beginners and as long as you stick to these you will find that they are easy to care for and feed.  Harmless smaller snakes that are commonly kept as pets are the Corn Snake, King Snake, Milk Snake and Rat Snake.  

 

Frequently asked questions about pet snakes

How long will my snake live?  Some snakes can live for 20 years or more!

How big will my snake get? Most pet snakes commonly available reach 4 – 5 feet in size.

What do I feed my snake?  Snakes eat worms, insects, frogs, fish, birds and mammals.  Most pet snakes can be fed mice which can be bought frozen.  Never feed your snakes live animals.

Will my snake need company?  Snakes can live quite happily on their own and some snakes must be housed separately as they can be cannibalistic.

What sort of housing will my snake need?  Snakes can be housed in glass or perspex tanks called vivariums.  A rough guide for the right size of the vivarium you will need is that your snake must be able to stretch out fully from corner to corner. It must be as secure as possible – snakes are good escape artists!

What sort of heating, humidity and lighting will my snake need?  Depending on the type of snake you have as a pet you will need to set the heat, light and humidity in their vivarium to their requirements.  

Will my snake bite me?  Surprisingly enough, the majority of snakes are not poisonous and pet snakes will only try to bite if they are frightened or injured.  The bite of a non-venomous pet snake is usually harmless as their teeth are not designed to puncture.  

Are snakes slimy?  No.  Snakes are actually dry to the touch.

Does my vet cover reptiles?  Not all vets cover reptiles.

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Snake facts you need to know

Snakes are cold blooded which means that they are unable to regulate their body temperature by generating heat themselves.  They warm themselves by basking in the sun or on hot rocks that hold their heat.  When the temperature is too hot they seek shelter in cool burrows or under stones.  This process of shifting from one temperature to another is known as thermo-regulation. Although snakes can be found almost all over the world they can not survive in places where the ground stays frozen all year long - like the Arctic Circle.  Depending on the type of snake you have the temperature in their vivarium should be between 21°C – 30°C.  

Which type of snake?

There are about 3000 species of snakes in the world and they range in size from the Reticulated Python at over 28 feet long to the Barbados Threadsnake at 4 inches in length!  Some snakes lay eggs, others give birth to love young, and some live in the sea whilst others climb trees.    However they can be categorised into 4 basic families, 2 of which are non venomous and are popular as pets:

Colubrids – mostly non venomous and mostly harmless.  Colubrids are the main snake family and include about two thirds of all snake species on earth.  Corn Snakes, King Snakes, Rat Snakes and Milk Snakes belong to this family.
Boas and Pythons– non venomous medium to large snakes which use their size and weight to constrict and kill their prey.  The giant sized African Rock Python and Anaconda belong to this family.
To learn more about which type of snake would suit you as a pet visit our Types of Snakes guide
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Handling your snake

How you handle a snake depends on what type of snake it is.  Snakes should be handled gently and we have a few tips to help you – and your snake – become accustomed to regular handling.

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Getting started

We have a great guide to help you make bringing your snake home stress free and smooth with some handy tips for you to help settle your snake in to their new life happily. Our check list below will ensure that you have everything for your new snake's arrival.

Check list

 

Settling in your snake

Once you have arrived home place your snake into the vivarium, make sure the lid is secure and leave your snake alone. Snakes are very sensitive to their environments and they need time to adjust to their new living situation.  Do not try to handle your snake for about 5 to 7 days to give it time to settle in and feel safe.

Establish a feeding schedule

Establish a regular feeding schedule for your snake – perhaps on a particular day of the week at a set time.  Snakes do not have to eat every day – typically a snake tends to feed between once a week to every three weeks, with the most common being 10 – 14 days.  It's a good idea to keep a record of how much your snake eats and when, as snakes have such a long time between meals.

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Daily maintenance

Snakes are not demanding creatures to keep but daily maintenance keeps them in good shape and allows you to spot potential problems early.

Monthly maintenance

At least once a month all the substrate should be removed and disposed of and the entire vivarium cleaned and disinfected before new substrate is placed inside.  All reptiles carry salmonella and therefore hygiene is very important when keeping a snake as a pet.  Always wash your hands immediately after feeding or handling your snake and after any contact with their equipment.  

Feeding your snake

Snakes are carnivorous (meat eaters) and different types of snakes eat worms, insects, snails, frogs, fish, birds, lizards, eggs and small mammals.  Most snakes kept as pets will fall into the range of eating mice or rats (pinky mice when young). Only the largest snakes (Burmese pythons or Anacondas) will need to be fed anything bigger like rabbits.

What should I feed my snake?

All snakes no matter what their size should be fed commercially sold frozen animals.  You should never feed your snake live animals as they may injure your snake and pass on disease or parasites to them.  It's also inhumane.  Commercially frozen foods ensure that the animals you are feeding your snake are healthy and disease free.

 

How do I feed my snake?

The food should be defrosted completely before feeding.  Once defrosted place the food in a freezer bag and place the bag in a bowl of boiling water for 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the food. This is to warm the food up, as your snake won't want to eat it cold. It's important not to place the food in the water directly as it will lose its scent and your snake may refuse to eat it.  Many snakes like to be fed in the evening as night falls.

How much do I feed my snake?

Because snakes cannot bite or tear their food to pieces, they have to swallow their prey whole.  As different types of snake are different sizes a good rule of thumb is that the food you feed your snake shouldn't be bigger than the thickest part of your snake's body.

How often do I feed my snake?

Snakes do not have to eat every day – typically a snake tends to feed between once a week to every three weeks, with the most common being 10 – 14 days.  In the wild snakes can go for a long time before catching anything to eat so their bodies are adapted to surviving a long time between meals.

A general guide on how much to feed is below:

Age of snake

Days

0-9 months

Every 5 days

9-12 months

Every 6 days

1-3 years

Every 10 days

Over 3 years

Every 14 days

 

 

Water

Your snake will need fresh clean water to drink provided in a shallow bowl that can not be easily upturned or tipped over.  Snakes often defecate in their water, in which case it should be immediately cleaned. You may find your snake soaking in the dish, particularly before shedding.

 

 

Housing your Snake​

The Vivarium

A vivarium is an indoor glass fronted enclosure for housing your snake.  It allows you to recreate the snake's habitat on a smaller scale under controlled environmental conditions.   There are a wide variety of vivariums available to choose from and some are oak panelled with a transparent front, others are made of glass or tough acrylic.  There are also stands, cabinets and vivariums that come with rock backgrounds.   

Whatever type of vivarium you choose must be escape proof, ventilated and large enough for your snake to live in comfortably.

What size vivarium should I have?

The size of your vivarium depends on the adult size of your fully grown snake.  Your snake must have enough space to thermoregulate (regulate their body temperature by moving from the hotter part of the vivarium to the cooler).

Where is the best location for the vivarium?

The vivarium should be in a quiet, draught free spot away from direct sunlight and hot radiators as the vivarium can heat up quickly during the day.  Don't forget to have an electric socket point nearby to plug your heating and lighting equipment into without trailing cables.

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Habitat

Deciding what habitat to set up for a your snake depends on:

Your snake will need places to hide, rest, climb and bask, so provide things such as rocks and logs and branches that are clean and have had their bark removed.    Petstop supply a wide range of vivarium accessories and ornaments which will help you to create an environment for your snake to live happily in.  

Your vivarium should have 2 hide boxes for your snake to retreat into, one for the hot end and one for the cooler end of the vivarium.  The hides should be large enough for your snake to fit into whilst still touching the sides.  If your snake has nowhere to hide it will become stressed – which can lead to a variety of illnesses, including refusing to eat.   You should also provide a damp hide box and a rough stone to help your snake shed its skin.

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Substrate

Substrate is the material that lines the bottom of the vivarium.  Aspen fibre, Beech chip and Cage Carpet are a popular choice.  Sand can be dangerous for snakes (unless you have a desert dwelling snake) as it's well known for causing impaction as they can not injest it.  It also gets under their scales (including the ones that cover their eyes).  Do not use Cedar shavings as these are toxic.  

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Humidity

Some types of snake need a higher level of humidity than others and our staff in store will be able to advise you of the best level of humidity for your snake.  Humidity is important when your snake is shedding its skin.  Normally a shallow dish of water in which your snake can soak or a damp hide box should be sufficient.  Hygrometers are available that measure humidity should you need to check.

Water

All snakes should have a shallow bowl of clean water for bathing and drinking.  Ideally the dish should be bottom heavy to prevent tipping or flipping over.  Certain types of snakes like to soak in their water bowls (especially when they are shedding their skins) so the bowl should be large enough to allow for this.  If your snake is soaking and drinking from the same bowl it should be cleaned every 2 days.

 

Hygiene

Substrate should be replaced with fresh as soon as it is soiled.  At least once a month all the substrate should be removed and disposed of, and the entire vivarium cleaned and disinfected before new substrate is placed inside.

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Lighting your Vivarium​

Lighting is not essential for most types of snake but if your vivarium is in a dark corner or a room without natural light you will need to illuminate it to mimic night and day.  The lights will need to be on between 8 – 12 hours a day and you can use a timer to turn the vivarium lighting off at night.  Extra lighting can make viewing easier, makes the habitat more attractive and specialist fluorescent tubes can enhance the colours of your snake.

 

Ultraviolet Light

While ultraviolet light (UV) is necessary to provide Vitamin D-3 for most reptiles few snakes are thought to require UV lighting.  This is because snakes consume whole prey in their diet and the prey is nutritionally balanced.  However providing UV light will not harm your snake and some breeders find it can be beneficial.  Snakes are sensitive to excessively bright artificial light, however, and this must be avoided.

 

Heating your Vivarium​

Most snakes kept as pets will need heat of some sort and it depends on the type of snake as to what temperatures they like to live at.  Depending on the type of snake you have the temperature in their vivarium should be between 21°C – 30°C. Our staff in store are available to advise you on the best temperature for your type of snake.

 

Thermo-regulation

Snakes are cold blooded which means that they are unable to regulate their body temperature by generating heat themselves.  They warm themselves by basking in the sun or on hot rocks that hold their heat.  When the temperature is too hot they seek shelter in cool burrows or under stones.  This process of shifting from one temperature to another is known as thermo-regulation.  

 

Heat mats

Heat mats are a popular way to provide a thermal gradient in your vivarium.  They   should only cover between a third and a half of the floor space to allow your snake to thermo-regulate. This heat mat should be regulated by a thermostat to ensure that it does not overheat.  Heat mats work very well for ground dwelling types of snake but if you have an arboreal type (tree dwelling) heat mats are not as effective.

Heat lamps / bulbs

An alternative to a heat mat is to place a heat light or bulb with a dimming stat on the roof at one end of your vivarium.  Make sure you have a guard for any heat source so your snake doesn't get too close and burn itself.  You will need a thermostat to make sure the tank temperature is not too hot or cold.  You will need 2 heat lights, each on a 12 hour cycle:  one for the day and a nocturnal one for the night.  Our in store staff will be happy to advise you of the range available.

Ceramic Heat Emitters

Ceramic Heat Emitters are heating elements produce no light and very intense heat. They require a special porcelain socket to absorb the heat. Because they get so hot it is very dangerous to use them directly in a snake's cage.

Radiant Heat Panels

Radiant Heat Panels produce no light and intense infrared heat. Unlike ceramic heat emitters these are safe to use directly in your snake tank because the surface temperature doesn't get overly hot. These are normally permanently installed on the top of the snake's tank.

 

​​Keeping your Snake Healthy

 

Shedding

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