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Natural Awakenings Hudson County NJ

Snakes as Pets: Fostering a Unique and Rewarding Relationship

Feb 29, 2024 09:22AM ● By Ruth Roberts, DVM, CVA, CVH, CVFT, NAN

AnnaStills from Getty Images/CanvaPro & Ixepop/Shutterstock

Contrary to popular belief, snakes make excellent pets, providing the opportunity to connect with one of nature’s most enigmatic creatures. It can be both fun and calming to observe these scaly creatures up close as they navigate their terrarium-based habitats. Snakes are less demanding than dogs or cats because they do not require regular walks, consistent attention or even daily feeding.

Due to a slow metabolism, most adult snakes typically eat from once a week to every few weeks, depending on their species, age, size and health. Younger vipers may eat more often, while some large species may eat less frequently. Of course, as with any pet, prospective owners need to be prepared for the unique challenges and responsibilities of caring for their sinewy companion.

Adopting a Healthy Snake

Mariah Healey, a reptile husbandry specialist and owner of the online database, provides the following tips for selecting a healthy snake.

  • The eyes should be bright and clear. Cloudy eyes might occasionally occur when the snake is about to shed, but persistent cloudiness or signs of discharge can indicate health issues.
  • The nostrils should be clear of obstructions. Blocked nostrils can be a sign of respiratory infection or other health problems.
  • Breathing should be silent. Noticeable noise, such as wheezing or crackling during breathing, can be symptoms of respiratory issues.
  • The snake should be alert and flick its tongue as it is handled. This is their way of exploring and sensing their environment. A lack of flicking or lethargic demeanor can be evidence of an illness.
  • The body should feel smooth and muscular. An overly bony or excessively plump body can be a cause for concern.
  • Constricting snakes should wrap firmly around a persons arms without being aggressive. This is indicative of healthy muscle function and strength.
  • There should be no lumps, scars or open wounds. These might point to past or present problems. The skin should also be free of any patches of stuck shed, which can lead to health complications.
  • The vent, or cloaca, should be clean and sealed flush with the rest of the belly. Any signs of swelling, discharge or protrusion can be an indication of internal health problems.
  • No mites or other external parasites should be present. Mites are small and can often be seen around the eyes, mouth and under the scales, appearing as tiny black or red dots.


Tips for Snake Care

Healey cautions that each snake species has different needs, and owners should learn about their animal’s unique requirements, rather than relying on so-called starter kits. Some species thrive in a humid environment, while others prefer drier conditions. Although many snakes eat rodents, some prefer birds, frogs or other reptiles. Some are active during the day, whereas others are nocturnal. Consult books, forums, breeders and websites about the snake to ensure proper care. Healey offers the following additional tips.

  • Provide an enclosure that matches the snake’s length. Snakes can be deceptively large. Despite their slender build and ability to coil up, they require enclosures that enable them to stretch fully. This is supported by a study from England’s Bristol Veterinary School, which involved 744 snake owners and indicated that such setups lead to healthier and more enriched lives.
  • Make the enclosure high enough. Most land-dwelling snakes do well with two feet of height, but species that spend a significant time in trees should have at least four feet of height to accommodate their natural climbing behavior.
  • Keep track of temperature and humidity. Snakes require a carefully controlled environment with specific temperature and humidity needs and regular monitoring to maintain a safe environment.
  • Feed them prey. Snakes typically eat rodents or birds. Handling dead animals may be off-putting to some people.
  • Find a specialized healthcare provider. Identifying health problems in snakes can be challenging. Although they may be harder to find and more expensive than general veterinarians, a specialized snake vet is preferable.
  • Commit to lifelong care. Owning a snake is a long-term undertaking, as some snake species can live for decades.
  • Adjust to their lifestyle. While snakes can be fascinating to watch and care for, they typically do not enjoy being handled, and they do not form bonds with owners in the same way mammals do.
  • Check the legal and ethical considerations. In some areas, owning certain species of snakes is regulated or even illegal and may have ethical and ecological implications. It is always best to check local statutes for guidance.
Ruth Roberts is an integrative veterinarian and holistic health coach for pets, as well as the creator of The Original CrockPet Diet. Learn more at
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