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Pet Corner: Snakes for Pets

05/02/2017 04:15PM ● Published by Jennifer Gonzalez

By Dr. Shannon Poole of Cross Creek Animal Hospital

Having an exotic pet, such as a snake, is becoming more popular and can be exciting and interesting to care for as a pet. As with any animal, careful research and consideration of a snake’s needs should be taken into consideration to determine if the having a snake is the right fit for your home and lifestyle. Remember that a snake’s lifespan can range from ten to thirty years in captivity! 

                There are many species of snakes that are commonly kept as pets; each with different requirements for care. For example, the boa constrictor is widely considered the most common pet snake, the “Labrador Retriever” of the snake world. This species is typically moderate in size (six to ten feet in adulthood), has mellow, tolerant personalities, and has relatively simple housing requirements. They can learn to recognize and even enjoy being handled by their owners. Corn snakes and milk snakes, both of which can be found in a variety of colors and patterns, are good beginner snakes, as they are generally calm, easy to handle, are smaller in size (three to five feet) and thrive in captivity. Keep in mind, these are typically solitary snakes and are best housed alone. This is especially true for milk snakes as they have been known to eat other snakes. The ball python is an attractive, gentle snake that is often seen as a pet. Ball pythons can be more challenging to manage as they are more easily stressed than other species, are often shy and have more husbandry or housing requirements then some of the other species. 

It is important to ensure your snake will have proper housing, temperature, humidity and an appropriate diet. Each species will need an enclosure that provides good ventilation, but that can be secured, as many snakes are escape artists. Keep in mind these enclosures may need to be very large. For example, an adult boa needs an enclosure at least six feet by two feet wide and at least two feet tall. Others species, such as the corn snake and milk snakes, can be housed in a smaller terrarium. Many species should be provided logs or branches to climb on, as well as multiple hiding areas. Bedding can be made of newspaper, artificial turf, soil or wood shavings, being careful to avoid cedar, redwood and those with heavy aromas.

Maintaining a temperature gradient is important for all snake species, however is especially important for the ball python. The temperature must be kept between eighty to eighty-five degrees during the day with a basking area of ninety to ninety-five degrees. If the temperatures are not kept within these ranges, digestion of food will not occur properly and can put the snake at risk for health concerns. Humidity also needs to be monitored as this helps snakes with hydration and to shed properly.  Remember, when bringing a snake home as a pet, research the specific species to ensure all requirements of their housing can be provided. 

A snake’s diet is not for the faint of heart. Snakes generally will eat pinkie mice (one- to two-day old mice), small adult mice and even rats, which can be killed, frozen or live. Some will eat earthworms or small lizards. Snakes will only need to be fed every five to seven days.

There are many illnesses and health concerns that snakes can acquire as they age and grow. As with any pet, please be sure to have a veterinarian perform an examination to ensure your new family companion is healthy and give you tips on further care.




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