Not all bites from pet snakes hurt, and some snakes don’t bite at all.
But there are some kinds of pet snakes, especially Pythons, that can inflict a painful bite, and some pet snake bites require a trip to the doctor.
Every snake has its own personality. Not many snakes are aggressive.
Bites are usually defensive. Bites happen when snakes feel threatened—with a few exceptions.
So in short, while most pet snakes won’t bite, there are some snakes whose bite can hurt (and may even need a trip to the doctor). Also, all pet snakes (except the egg eaters) are capable of biting you.
In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about which snakes bite, how to avoid getting a snake bite, and what to do when you get a snakebite.
Which Pet Snakes Can Bite?
Some snakes are toothless.
Egg-eating snakes, specifically the African Egg-Eating Snake, the Montane Egg Eater, and the Indian Eggeater (the spellings of their names following the way they are listed in publications about reptiles), have bony plates where other snakes have teeth.
These snakes puff out their throats to swallow small eggs, and then sharp bones come out of their spines to puncture them.
These snakes regurgitate the shells. Egg-eating snakes couldn’t bite you if they wanted to, and they can’t wrap themselves around you, either.
Non-venomous snakes have relatively small teeth.
These teeth help them hold on to their prey so they can swallow it whole.
Snake teeth are solid, not hollow, although they can be brittle. Some of these snakes have teeth that will break off when the snake attempts to break the skin.
There are large snakes that have small teeth, like Boas and Pythons. Milk Snakes, Garter Snakes, and California King Snakes likewise have small teeth that are useful for holding on to food, but not for cutting it into smaller pieces.
Snakes don’t have molars for grinding their food.
Venomous snakes have fangs.
These are sharp, pointed teeth with grooves down which the snake squirts its poison into the flesh of its victim.
There are a few snakes that have fangs that hurt, but only a weak toxin that is harmless to humans, like Western Hognose Snakes (which usually don’t want to bite you, anyway).
But there are also snakes with fangs that can give you a bite you barely notice, like some water snakes that are loaded with extremely toxic venom.
All pet snakes except the egg eaters are capable of biting you.
Smaller non-venomous snakes can’t bite you very hard. Larger non-venomous snakes can bite you hard enough to hurt.
Most venomous snakes have fangs that can deliver a very painful toxin, although the bite itself may not be very painful.
Pet Snakes that are Least Likely to Bite
The common pet snakes that are least likely to bite you are:
- Ball Pythons
- Corn Snakes
- California King Snakes
- Rosy Boas
- Kenyan Sand Boas
- Rubber Boas
- Western Hognose Snakes
- Sunbeam Snakes
Among common pet snakes, Black Racers and Reticulated Pythons are the most likely to bite. They really aren’t good snakes for beginners.
But we hope you aren’t keeping any venomous snakes as pets.
What to do if your pet snake bites you
When you are bitten by a non-venomous snake, there can be several potential complications.
One is a bacterial infection.
Snakes take a relatively long time to digest their food. During digestion, the bacteria in the prey’s intestines can multiply.
They can be regurgitated by the snake. Getting bitten by a snake that has recently eaten can transfer these bacteria to your wound.
If your wound becomes infected, you will need to see a doctor about antibiotic treatment. Fortunately, most snake bites from non-venomous pet snakes don’t become infected.
If your snake has not eaten recently when it bites you, it’s usually enough to wash out the wound with warm soapy water and to apply an antiseptic like Betadine.
Consult your doctor to be sure.
If you have a venomous snake (other than a Western Hognose Snake), you need to seek immediate emergency medical care after any bite.
Do not attempt to suck out the poison. Do not cut your skin around the wound. Do not apply a tourniquet.
Get to an emergency room as calmly and quickly as possible.
Make sure the area where you were bitten stays above the level of your heart until you get to the ER.
What Do Friendly Pet Snakes Do Instead of Biting?
The friendliest pet snakes have self-defense mechanisms that don’t involve biting.
You should still make yourself familiar with the behaviors that signal that they are upset.
Ball Pythons Curl Up
Ball Pythons may be the most harmless of all pet snakes. Their popularity can be explained by the fact that they are especially docile.
When a Ball Python feels threatened, it rolls itself up into a tightly coiled ball, with its head in the middle of the ball.
Ball Pythons roll themselves up so tightly that they can be rolled along the ground like basketball.
This defense mechanism is unique to Ball Pythons.
Compared to snakes that stretch out into an S shape, raise their head, and get ready to leap at you to strike, Ball Pythons are much safer.
Some Live and Let Live
Most colubrid snakes, including Corn Snakes, Garter Snakes, and California King Snakes have cone-shaped teeth in the backs of their mouths. They are toothless upfront.
As adults, these snakes are inclined to live and let live, at least with regard to people and larger pets like cats and dogs.
When they are young, however, they are nervous, flighty, and “bitey,” until they get to know that humans aren’t going to harm them.
If they are handled gently and with respect—and left alone for a day or so around feeding time—they mature into gentle and easily managed snakes.
Strike at Food (not at you)
Kenyan Sand Boas are very common pets in North America, as they are easy-going. They aren’t venomous, and they seldom nip at humans.
You still need to take care while handling them, but Kenyan Sand Boas aren’t especially aggressive snakes.
You are most likely to be bitten by a Kenyan Sand Boa when you are feeding it. Striking at prey isn’t something Kenyan Sand Boas have to think about.
Their brains are hard-wired with circuits that enable the snake to strike at the food on sight.
Not every Kenyan Sand Boa, however, has great aim.
If you are dangling a mouse at them with your fingers, they may not be able to see where the mouse stops and your fingers start. It’s best to feed Kenyan Sand Boas with tongs.
And like all other snakes, you should feed each snake in a separate enclosure. Some snakes will strike at their cage mates or even their own tails if they are crowded at feeding time.
Let your Kenyan Sand Boa get a whiff of your scent as you approach it. Let it confirm that you are the handler who feeds it and not some huge, threatening animal.
Then pick it up from its midsection, not from its head or tail.
This prevents injury to your snake and also gives your snake just another second or two to confirm your identity by your scent.
Snake fans who are looking for pets that aren’t poisonous and don’t bite seldom go wrong with Rosy Boas. These snakes are easy to care for. They don’t grow very long.
And they are one of the slowest-moving of all pet snakes. These qualities make them a favorite for first-time snake owners.
The only time you might get bitten by a Rosy Boa is when it is hungry.
Like the Kenyan Sand Python we mentioned earlier, Rosy Boas are ambush hunters. They strike out at potential prey without warning.
If you approach your Rosy Boa with food when it is hungry, it may nip your fingers while it is grabbing its meal.
Or if you usually feed your Rosy Boa Reptilinks, it could confuse your fingers with tasty little sausages.
Just leave your Rosy Boas alone when they are in ambush mode.
It’s OK to handle them again about 48 hours after they eat, when they have had a chance to digest their meals.
Western Hognose Snakes have fangs and venom, but their venom isn’t toxic to humans. There is just enough toxin in Western Hognose Snake venom to paralyze a frog, lizard, or mouse.
Even if you are bitten by your Western Hognose Snake, chances are that the bite will just sting without causing any serious problems.
Western Hognose Snakes have their own unique defense system. When they feel threatened, they will play dead.
If you pick them up, they may roll over as if they were saying “See? I really am dead.”
How to Avoid Being Bitten by Your Pet Snake
Bites from pet snakes are very rare.
It is extremely unusual for pet owners to be bitten if they follow these rules.
- Always wash your hands, or wait a few hours, after handling prey before you handle your snake. You don’t want your snake to think you are another meal.
- Expect constrictor snakes to try to wrap around you when you pick them up. If they are holding on too tight, unwrap them from your body, starting with the tai.
- Don’t pick up your snake when it doesn’t want to be picked up. Handling your snake during the first 48 hours after it has eaten may force it to regurgitate its meal. Picking up your snake when it has been injured can cause it pain. And anytime you pick up your snake, it’s best to start with its midsection. When you are using a hook to catch and carry your snake, it is also easier on the snake if you grasp it by its middle.
- Don’t handle your snake when it is shedding. This can be very uncomfortable for your snake.
- Approach your snake in your snake’s line of sight, not from behind, and not from the sides. Predators usually approach snakes from behind their eyes. Move slowly enough that your snake has an opportunity to detect your scent and confirm that it’s use. Don’t be hesitant, don’t be shaky, and don’t get nervous. If you are nervous, leave handling your snake for another day.
- Move at a pace your snake finds comfortable. Don’t move quickly toward your snake.
Even hatchling snakes can bite.
Hatchling snakes may be wiry, whippy, and hesitant to be handed.
To your snake, particularly if you have never fed it before, you are just a huge, potentially snake-eating predator, until he gets to know you.
Don’t “grab” a baby snake. Hold them in the open palm of your hand.
It’s important to handle little snakes one at a time.
When you take them out of their enclosure, hold them over another open container so they can’t run off, increasing the likelihood that they will bite you when you retrieve them.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bites from Pet Snakes
Q. What are the most important things to remember about avoiding bites from pet snakes?
A. Here are five important rules:
- Always keep your snake well fed.
- Never feed your snake directly from your hand. Offer food with tongs.
- Always approach your snake slowly. Never surprise it.
- Support your snake when you are handling it. Don’t squeeze it, especially around the head or tail.
- Don’t handle your pet snake when it is shedding.
Q. If my snake has already bitten me, what can I do to keep him from biting me twice?
A. After you have obtained all the medical care you need, the first thing to do is to make sure that your snake’s enclosure is escape-proof.
An angry snake on the loose is a lot more dangerous than an angry snake in a terrarium.
But keep in mind that snakes bite to defend themselves, or because they are sick or hungry.
Take a long look at your snake, through the glass walls of its cage, to determine whether it looks sick or like it needs veterinary care.
If your snake is spending a lot more than usual hiding, or it has a pinkish color (that indicates systemic bacterial infection), or it is refusing to eat, take it to the vet.
The most important thing to remember to avoid getting bitten by your snake twice is not to get between it and food.
Feed your snake in a separate enclosure to make sure it doesn’t associate your going inside its enclosure to handle it with being fed.
Feed one snake at a time to make sure they do not bite each other.
And offer food to your snake with tongs, always making sure to wash your hands with scented soap and warm water after you handle any animal you feed to your snake.
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