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How to Prepare for Your New Pet Snake

By PetcoBlogger on Feb. 1, 2017

Looking to get a new pet snake? Here's what you'll need to know, and get, before you bring home your new pet. Let's get sssss-tarted: 

When it comes to pet snakes, a few of the most popular species for beginners include the ball python, milk snake, king snake and corn snake. It’s relatively simple and affordable to care for these snakes, but it’s always wise to educate yourself on the unique requirements for your chosen species.

First, decide if you want a smaller snake that will grow to be 2–3 feet in length, or a snake that can grow to be 5–6 feet or more. Depending on the size of your snake, you will need to provide rodents that vary in size from a small mouse to a large rat. Life span is also a factor to consider. Some snakes live to be 15–20 years old with proper care, while others can live for 30 or more years. 

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Once you decide which species is best for you, you can focus on lyour snake’s specific care needs, and set up his habitat before you bring him home. Tailor your shopping list to the specific species you choose.

No matter which species you choose, you'll need some basics:

Habitat setup
You’ll need an appropriately sized habitat to accommodate normal behavior and exercise. A 20-gallon long glass tank is recommended if you start with a juvenile snake. When your snake reaches adulthood, you may need to upgrade to a larger tank (a 40 breeder for example), depending on species. Place the habitat out of direct sunlight and away from vents or areas where there could be a draft.

  • Substrate: Aspen shavings, coconut fiber or reptile bark is recommended for bedding. You can also provide dampened sphagnum moss for extra humidity as needed. Avoid gravel and artificial turf, which is too harsh for snake skin.
  • Décor: Provide a hiding area just large enough for your snake to fit inside, as well as plants, branches, perches or other décor for your snake to climb on.
  • Heating: Snakes are cold-blooded, and need to bask (under a heat lamp) in order to warm their blood and increase their metabolism, and they also need a shady place (hideaway) to cool their blood. Radiant heat (an incandescent light as a primary source and an under-tank heater as a secondary source) is recommended to maintain the proper temperature gradient. A thermometer is also needed to monitor the temperature in your tank.
  • Lighting: Snakes need a photoperiod light cycle; provide 8-12 hours of light daily. Don’t leave white light on at all times; a black or infrared light should be used at night.
  • Humidity gauge: Maintain 40–60% humidity; higher during shedding, by misting with a spray bottle. Provide a large water dish for your snake to soak in, which will also help keep the humidity within the desired range.

Feeding your pet snake
Most snakes are carnivores, and will eat a diet of frozen, thawed rodents such as mice or rats. Use a separate tank dedicated to feeding so your snake doesn’t associate your hand or the habitat being opened with feeding time. It only needs to be big enough for your snake to eat in. A water dish is needed so your snake always has access fresh, clean water.

Ball pythons, milk snakes, king snakes and corn snakes are all carnivores that will thrive on a diet of frozen rodents that have been thawed (in cold water), then slightly warmed with warm water to make them more appealing for your pet. Depending on species, most juvenile snakes should be fed once or twice a week, and adults every one to two weeks.

Frozen rodents include mice and rats in various sizes:

  • “Pinkies” - Young mice that are almost hairless and smallest in size. Thaw time in cold water is about 30–45 minutes. 
  • “Fuzzies” - Juvenile mice with some fur. Thaw time is 60–75 minutes in cold water.
  • “Hoppers” - Juvenile mice with some fur. Thaw time is 60–75 minutes in cold water.
  • Small rats - Larger than a fuzzy, but without the fur of adult rats. Thaw time is 75–90 minutes in cold water.
  • Adult mice and rats - Used in feeding larger reptiles. Thaw time is 2+ hours in cold water.

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It isn’t recommended that you feed live rodents to your pet snake, for various reasons. Pet snakes don’t have to spend their time searching for food or avoiding predators. A prey animal left in a tank with a snake that isn’t hungry could become aggressive and bite or scratch your snake, causing injury or even death.

Frozen, thawed rodents are healthier and more beneficial for your pet, since the freezing process removes most parasites that could be harmful to your pet. Petco also irradiates all frozen rodents to minimize the risk of salmonella. In addition, storing frozen food is easier than caring for live food. If you must feed your snake a live rodent, do not leave the snake and rodent unattended. If you want to switch your pet’s diet from live to frozen rodents, it may take time, but in most cases can be successful.

 

Habitat maintenance
Thoroughly clean your snake’s habitat and feeding tank at least once a week. Place your snake in a separate, secure container. Scrub the habitat, feeding tank and all furnishings with a 3% bleach solution; rinse thoroughly with water, removing all traces of bleach smell. Dry the tank and furnishings completely and add fresh, clean substrate.

Hygiene
You should mist your pet snake daily with a water bottle or reptile mister to maintain 40–60% humidity levels. Snakes will regularly shed their skin; ensure humidity of habitat is at appropriate level to allow snake to shed properly. Healthy snakes are active an alert, they have clear eyes (except when shedding), they eat regularly (although appetite may vary), their skin looks healthy, they shed regularly and the skin sheds in one complete piece.

Handling
When you first bring your pet snake home, give him time to adjust to his new habitat and to you. Many pet snakes can be tamed and socialized with regular handling.

Learn more about caring for your species of snake by reading a book or by talking to a Petco reptile specialist. To avoid causing stress to your pet snake, time out of the habitat should be limited to under two hours. Avoid taking your snake outdoors in extreme weather. Always wash your hands before and after handling your pet reptile, and never let children under the age of five handle a snake.

Watch how to select the perfect pet snake

Learn more about Corn Snakes

Learn more about Ball Pythons

Read about Milk and King Snakes

Join our reptile pet forum filled with snake enthusiasts

1 Comments
Comments
by John Carston
‎09-23-2016 01:27 PM

I had a pet snake when I was younger and I've wondered about getting one now since they are one of the few types of pets my landlord will allow. It's good to know what's involved in caring for a pet ball python, from what I've read here. Overall I think a ball python may be a good pet to have since it can be cared for and contained in a habitat that would fit in my apartment. Thanks for the helpful post.

I had a pet snake when I was younger and I've wondered about getting one now since they are one of the few types of pets my landlord will allow. It's good to know what's involved in caring for a pet ball python, from what I've read here. Overall I think a ball python may be a good pet to have since it can be cared for and contained in a habitat that would fit in my apartment. Thanks for the helpful post.

Posted on Sep. 23, 2016
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