First, we must dispel the myth that snakes are slimy vile creatures. It seems that even with increased awareness about snakes, this idea somehow persists. Snakes are silky smooth, quiet creatures, and pet snakes make wonderful companions. They are free of allergies associated with fur and feathers, and create no noise or odor. Apart from the initial costs associated with buying the snake and the proper housing for it, owning a snake is a fairly inexpensive hobby. Pet snakes are perfect for owners who may not be able to spend the same amount of time spent bonding with, and taking care of, a dog, cat, horse, or bird.
It should be noted that snakes are obviously not the right pet for every person. To start with, you must be comfortable handling a snake. You also must take into consideration the feelings of people who live with you or may who potentially interact with your snake. Also remember that even small, beginner snakes grow up to a size of at least 3-5 feet long and should have at least a 20 gallon aquarium. Pet snakes are not a short-term commitment either, and it can be hard to find adult snakes a good home. A well looked-after snake can easily live up to 20 years.
For many new snake owners, the most difficult challenge is often feeding it whole animals. Yes, a snake does need to eat the whole animal to provide it with proper nutrition. Mice and rats are the most commonly fed foods. If you own a captive-bred pet snake, you will most likely feed it dead mice. However, you must be prepared to feed it live food if it refuses to eat. Live food should only be fed if necessary, as it can severely injure the snake, and possibly pass diseases to it. Many people do not feel comfortable feeding their snake whole, cute animals such as mice.
As with any exotic pet, you will have to do your research before purchasing your snake. It will have special housing needs. Snakes do not cope in the same environment that humans, cats, and dogs do. They need a different level of temperature and humidity. Snakes, unlike other common pets, are cold-blooded creatures and have the very important additional need of temperature regulation. Your snake will need a temperature gradient set up in the aquarium. The temperature needs to be tightly regulated, and held on the cool end of their temperature range at one end of the aquarium, and on the hotter end of their range at the other. There will need to be sufficient access to hiding spots in both areas. This gradient is needed in order to avoid overheating your snake, and also to give it the warmth it needs to properly digest and function.
As mentioned above, snakes are not expensive to maintain. However, the initial cost must be taken into consideration. It is highly recommended that you buy a captive-bred snake; they are usually easier to feed and handle, and also have decreased parasites and illnesses. On this note, captive-bred snakes are sometimes more expensive and harder to find than the wild snakes often sold in pet stores. Also, your snake will need a fairly large aquarium. The aquarium should be longer, rather than higher, giving your snake more space to roam around. Your snake’s enclosure will also need bedding, lighting, heating, and hiding spots. Heating should be in the form of overhead or under-tank heating. Hot rocks and other in-tank heating devices tend to burn the snake in contact with it, burn out (eventually causing your snake to freeze to death), or not sufficiently heat the entire tank.
Other general considerations that should, but might not be, first on your mind include: is owning this snake legal in my area? Check with your local officials to find that answer, as the types of snakes allowed varies greatly between locations. Also, it is not recommended to own snakes or other reptiles and amphibians in houses with children under five or immunocompromised individuals. These animals commonly carry Salmonella in their digestive tracts, without showing any signs of disease. It can be transmitted to humans through direct contact (handling the snake) and indirect contact (handling of bedding, housing, etc). Salmonella, the same bacteria that can be carried through food, can cause stomach cramps and severe intestinal discomfort in adult humans. However, in immunocompromised people and young children, Salmonella can be fatal. This concern is so important that steps have been taken by the US government as far back as the 1970′s to reduce the amount of reptile-related Salmonella fatalities.
Most health problems that may occur in your pet snake are related to stress or improper diet and environment. If you do your research into the species you have selected, you will most likely own a pet that will not cost you much in veterinary bills. However, you should be aware that it is somewhat difficult to detect illness in semi-wild creatures such as snakes. You must be comfortable noticing changes in your snake’s activity level. Also keep an eye on how skinny it is (you should be able to just barely see the spine). A change in feces or eating habits should be a cause of concern. As with all pets, snake owners must become comfortable with detecting abnormal behaviour in order to catch any illnesses early on.
If you are interested in purchasing a snake, you will be pleased to know that there are a quite a few species that make excellent pets for first time owners. These include the corn snake, king snake, and ball python. They are reasonably small (3-5 feet) and easy to care for. These species have no special needs beyond basic snake care, and they are known for being fairly docile. Snakes such as the boa constrictor (and other constrictors), Burmese pythons, and anacondas are not recommended for non-expert snake owners. These snakes are dangerous based on criteria of size, strength, and bad temperament. Venomous snakes are also not recommended, as they are dangerous, may be illegal to own, and can cost you a lot in legal fees if they escape! Snakes are great escape artists!
As long as you do not have an inherent fear of snakes, they make wonderful pets. They are low maintenance and cost, and can be interactive and relaxing without being demanding on your time. As with any pet, there are some precautions to take into consideration, but with the proper research and preparation, there is almost nothing that should stop you from getting a pet snake!
By Ashley O’driscoll – Pets.ca writer