Basic snake care is something that can seem intimidating for someone who is new to reptiles. Given how sensitive reptiles are, it’s very important to know how to take care of a snake before getting your first one.
Rest assured, we’ll give you all of the basic information so you don’t have to worry (too much) about what you’re supposed to be doing. As always, make sure to research the species so you can adjust and be able to properly take care of a snake that you bring home.
How Do You Take Care of a Snake?
Animal husbandry is something that keepers constantly work on improving. Things that might have been common in the past gradually get replaced by better practices to maximize the quality of life for your animals. We will go over the absolute basics of how to take care of a snake, but remember that there is always more that can be done. The things we discuss here are considered the bare minimum needed to ensure you have a healthy new friend.
What are you going to house your new snake in? It’s very important to make sure that you are getting an appropriately sized enclosure for the snake you are getting.
There are a few different common options for enclosures that all have their pros and cons, so it’s important to look into each one and decide which one might be best for you.
Although you should do some extra research on which might work for you, it’s also important to know that you don’t need to get your snake’s forever home immediately. If you are getting a baby snake, it’s common (and often recommended) to start with smaller enclosures and gradually upgrade as they grow up. Doing this also makes it easier to find and monitor your new snake to make sure everything is okay. As long as the snake is able to stretch out along the length of the enclosure, it isn’t too small.
One of the most important things to know about how to take care of a snake is that they need a heat source. Snakes are ectothermic, which means that they need to use the world around them to regulate the temperature inside them. In the community, there are usually two different kinds of heat sources that are considered safe: Overhead Heating and Under Tank Heaters.
Overhead Heating is usually accomplished with different kinds of bulbs. It’s the most “natural” way to help a snake regulate their temperature since you are essentially mimicking the sun. You get an appropriate bulb and set it up above its tank, allowing the snake to have an area to bask and absorb warmth when needed. Some people prefer Ceramic Heat Emitters because they do not emit light, which means you can leave them on during the night without interrupting your snake’s day/night cycle.
Under Tank Heaters: An Under Tank Heater (commonly referred to as UTH) is often preferred for shy or burrowing snakes since it allows them to regulate their temperature without having to expose themselves. Under Tank Heater options vary from heat mats to heat tape that is placed underneath (sometimes they are placed on the side) of a snake’s enclosure so that they can absorb heat through their belly scales.
A thermostat is an electronic device that regulates the temperature of your heat source. You simply set the maximum temperature and plug your heat source into the thermostat. This ensures that heating mats or bulbs don’t get too hot. If left unregulated, heat sources can damage your snake. Snake burns are far too common with unregulated heat sources, making this an extremely important purchase. If you are wondering how to figure out how hot is “too hot”, the answer depends on the snake you’re getting. Again, this is why researching about the specific species will be helpful. Making sure you have the correct temperature gradient will make it easier for you to take care of a snake at home.
As you can imagine, snakes also need to drink water. Water dishes are useful for more than just that though.
Of course, the main purpose of the water dish is so your snake can have access to water. This allows it to hydrate itself when it is thirsty. Snakes are usually pretty good at keeping themselves hydrated as long as water is available. Some species of snakes (or even individual snakes) enjoy soaking in their water dish and others use the water as an aid when trying to shed. Make sure that the water dish is not too big or too deep for your snake to drown.
The second purpose of a water dish is humidity. Some snakes, such as Ball Pythons and Brazilian Rainbow Boas, require higher humidity levels than other snakes. A water bowl adds humidity to the enclosure as the water evaporates. Spraying or misting the enclosure can also help achieve higher humidity levels. Sometimes, people will have large, shallow bowls in their enclosures instead of a simple water dish to help with humidity.
There are some amazing water dish designs that even include built-in ramps to help prevent drowning. Other interesting designs include having a hollow inside so the snake can also hide underneath the water dish.
What are you going to put along the bottom of the enclosure? There are so many different options for bedding and substrate you can use for your snake that it might be hard to decide.
When you first get your snake, it’s okay and even recommended to use something simple like paper towels. Although it is very plain, it makes it a lot easier for you to monitor your snake’s health. If your snake has any mites, they will easier to spot against the white paper towel. If your snake is able to properly digest its meal, you will not have a hard time finding its poop in the enclosure. Once you know your snake is healthy, you can switch over to something better for both your snake and your eyes.
Sand: Personally, I don’t recommend sand as a substrate on its own. Although it can look very nice, it can accidentally be ingested when a snake is eating its meal. If it swallows too much sand, it can become impacted. Precautions can be taken to try and avoid the problem, but snakes move their food everywhere and sand is bound to get stuck on the food.
Reptile Carpet: This is not something I recommend, but there are some picky snakes that refuse to use anything else. Although there is no risk of swallowing the carpet, it isn’t the easiest thing to clean and it can harbor a lot of bacteria. Although you can technically wash it and reuse it, the risk of bacteria growth is a bit too much for me to feel comfortable.
Cypress Mulch: This is a more natural kind of substrate for snakes. It is recommended to bake it first so it can be sanitized. It’s a great choice for when you need to take care of a snake with high humidity requirements!
Aspen Shavings: By far one of the most popular substrates, aspen is great for snakes that do not require high levels of humidity. Caution is recommended around water though since aspen does have an easier time building mold. Additionally, for snakes that love to burrow and tunnel, aspen is usually capable of holding their tunnels!
Coconut Fiber: Another natural-looking substrate that is very easy on the eyes. Coco Fiber is very soft and extremely effective at fighting odors. It can hold humidity pretty well, but you need to mix in the water, otherwise, it will just sit on the top of the substrate. Snakes can also dig and burrow in this bedding.
In regards to impaction, a good way to avoid it (despite which choice in bedding), is to either place the food on to of a plate or lid. Some people even go the extra step to make sure the prey item is dry, making it harder for the substrate to cling onto it. There are plenty of hides that can be flipped upside-down and used as food bowls. Other people just use a lid to an old plastic container. It’s very important to know exactly what kind of humidity your snake requires before picking a substrate for your pet snake.
A thermometer is a very important addition to have inside your snake’s enclosure. It allows you to monitor the temperature inside and adjust the heat source if needed. There are analog and digital thermometers built specifically for reptiles, though analog thermometers are not the most accurate. Personally, I prefer digital thermometers because I can know what the temperature is at a quick glance.
Don’t feel obligated to use a reptile-specific thermometer! Many people get other kinds of thermometers and they all work perfectly fine. I do enjoy aquarium thermometers and reptile thermometers with probes so I can place the probes in specific areas of the enclosure and see what the temperature is like over there. Ideally, you will want two thermometers: one in the warm end of the enclosure and one in the cool end. This allows you to make sure that the snake has the correct temperature gradient.
Having a hygrometer should not be overlooked when getting ready to take care of a snake. It monitors humidity levels inside the enclosure so that you can make any necessary adjustments in case it is not where it needs to be. Too much humidity can often lead to upper respiratory infections in snakes. When you don’t have enough humidity, they might have problems shedding or even refuse to eat.
Of course, there isn’t one exact humidity level that is perfect for all snakes, which is just another reason why it’s important to know exactly what kind of snake you want and research its care requirements. Something I have found extremely useful is a hygrometer/thermometer combo. This allows you to monitor the humidity and temperature with the same piece of equipment. I keep my combo meter on the warm side of my snake’s enclosure. Saving space is always helpful!
This is probably the most overlooked and underestimated part of the enclosure. Not having enough hides can make it seem impossible to successfully take care of a snake. When snakes do not have enough places to hide, they feel exposed and this can cause extremely high levels of stress (especially with babies). When they are stressed, they will not eat. The absolute minimum for any snake is two hides. You want to have one on the warm side and one on the cool side. This gives them the option to choose which temperature they need while still feeling safe. In addition to hides, snakes love clutter! Anything to fill in the space that lets them roam around such as fake leaves or vines will really help it feel less exposed. When a snake feels safe, it will explore more often.
There you go! Hopefully, before you go out there and get your first pet snake, you’ll have all of the things listed above ready to go. Do your research on what species you want to make sure you can do your best to take care of a snake in your home.
Always strive to do better in every part of your life.