There is no doubt that pet snakes need daily attention.
Your pet snake depends on you for food, water, warmth, and a comfortable enclosure.
You will have to keep your pet snake’s home clean and parasite-free, and it is up to you to bring your snake home if it escapes and to take it to the vet if it needs medical treatment.
Do Pet Snakes Enjoy Human Contact?
It’s not quite so certain whether your pet snake will enjoy human contact.
Most herpetologists believe that a snake is completely OK just hanging out in its enclosure for years on end as long as it has food, water, warmth, and a clean environment.
Most owners of pet snakes, however, will disagree.
They will tell you that snakes have their own personalities. Some snakes are aloof and only tolerate contact with humans.
Other snakes seem to enjoy contact with their owners and seem to perk up when they come into the room.
So, what can you do to maximize the chances of having some kind of relationship with your pet snake?
The first thing you need to do is to make sure your snake feels at home.
Also read: Can Pet Snakes Recognize their Owners?
What to Do Before You Buy Your Pet Snake
Establishing a good relationship with your snake begins before you ever see your pet snake for the first time.
Pet snakes are available wild-caught and captive-bred.
Wild-caught snakes are born in the wild, leading natural lives until an animal collector comes along and captures them. They are grabbed with a hook, usually at the neck or on their tail. This is painful for them.
These wild-caught snakes are stuffed in a burlap bag with other hungry snakes.
Some will eat each other. The musk and feces they release when they are scared get all over the snakes in the bag.
The bag is tossed in the back of a truck to be hauled to a wholesaler, who may or may give each snake its own new home and something to eat while it is waiting to be sent to a pet shop.
Snakes caught in the wild often pick up mites in their scales from tall grasses and dry leaves.
They may get infections with parasites from the tadpoles, earthworms, and mice they ate in their first few weeks of life. They come to you traumatized and sick.
While you may be providing your wild-caught snake with the best home it has ever had in its whole life, your snake starts out with the reptilian equivalent of PTSD.
This is a snake that will be much more inclined to escape than it is to let you pet it for a very long time.
A much better choice is that you buy a captive-bred snake.
These snakes are collected very soon after they hatch or are born alive. They are separated so they don’t have competition for food and are given their first meal about a week after they are born by hand.
They are observed for up to six weeks to make sure they don’t have any communicable diseases.
The seller will keep records of their feeding and shedding so you will know how and when to meet your snake’s basic needs.
That’s important, because snakes don’t pretend to be friendly so you will feed and take care of them.
Pet snakes are free to be friendly when their basic life needs are met.
You will have a much easier time meeting your pet snake’s basic needs if you meet their basic needs.
Decide to buy a captive-bred pet snake.
Getting Off to a Good Start with Your Pet Snake
Starting off with a captive-bred pet snake, there is something very important you can do the first day or two your pet snake is in its new home:
Leave your pet snake alone.
Allow your pet snake to find its basking place under its heat lamp.
Let your pet snake find its hiding place in its new enclosure.
Make sure it has water, if it wants it, but don’t offer it food before it is ready.
If it is a very young snake, in its first few days of life, it will want its first meal after it has shed its skin for the first time.
If it is an older captive-bred snake, a good pet shop will give you records of when your snake has eaten and what it likes to eat.
This way you will know what to feed your snake and when, and you can establish a regular feeding schedule.
It is more important to feed your snake than to pet your snake at this stage.
Feeding Your Pet Snake
Try thinking about your relationship with your pet snake from the snake’s perspective.
Which is more important, petting you or feeding you?
Finding a comfortable way to feed your pet snake is vitally important to have a good relationship with your snake.
If your reaction to feeding your snake is “Eww,” you will be missing a very important opportunity to make friends with your snake.
If you hate handling rodents, get a kind of snake that doesn’t eat mice.
Don’t hold your nose and throw food into your snake’s cage. Wearing gloves and long sleeves (just in case your snake tries to swallow something other than its food), offer food to your snake in a way that feeding is easy.
This always means feeding your snake in its own container without competition from other snakes.
It always means being very straightforward about feeding your snake: No teasing.
Then, when your snake has swallowed its meal, it’s time to put it back into its enclosure and just leave it alone for up to two days.
Snakes need warmth, quiet, and privacy to digest their meals. Then, when they are ready, you can pet them.
How to Pet Your Pet Snake (the right way)?
Once your pet understands that you provide food, then it is OK to begin treating it more like any other pet, except that a snake really isn’t like any other pet.
Snakes have instincts that keep them alive in the wild.
If an animal that eats snakes is about to attack, that animal will probably (1) move quickly and (2) approach the snake from above.
You don’t want your snake’s self-protective reflexes to kick in when you are trying to make friends with it.
Accordingly, you need to approach your snake slowly and make sure it sees you from its side before you reach into its enclosure to stroke it.
Walk slowly up to the clear glass side of your snake’s terrarium, and let your snake see you are nearby.
Slowly lift the lid off your snake’s enclosure and reach in with a gloved hand and long sleeves.
Run your fingers on the substrate lining your snake’s cage to the side of its head. Do this several times and gently stroke your snake on its neck.
Or just put your hand in the enclosure and take it out without touching your snake. The purpose of this part of your pet snake’s conditioning is to show it that you are not a threat.
Don’t do anything else with your snake for a day or two.
Then repeat this exercise, keeping contact with your snake for two or three minutes. When those two or three minutes are over, save the next session for another day or two.
If your snake eats relatively often, as do garter snakes, observe this rule: No petting your pet snake on feeding day. Let your pet snake digest its meal before you handle it.
Only after two or three weeks of handling your snake on a regular basis is it a good idea to take it out of its enclosure to play with you.
At this point, you won’t need protection against potential snake bites if you pay attention to your snake’s body language: Hissing, coiling, and hiding are signs you should leave your snake alone.
But if your snake is comfortable, let it out of its enclosure to move between your fingers.
Let it wrap and your arm or hide in your sleeve. Always pick up your snake by the middle of its body (never through its head or tail, which are the places a predator would grab it). Always move slowly and gently and never give it a hard squeeze.
It’s never a good idea to take your snake out of its enclosure when other pets are around.
Dogs and cats are a threat to small snakes, and large snakes have been known to suffocate and eat dogs and cats.
It’s just not realistic to expect your pet snake to get along with your other pets.
And although it may come to regard you with interest and even fascination, it will never be your buddy.
Your snake’s self-protective instincts will always limit how much it interacts with you.
The reward of socializing with a pet snake is that you can never be quite sure what will come next.
Take precautions to avoid harm to your snake, your other pets, your children, your elders, and yourself, and be the best owner you can be to a snake that instincts to interact with you.
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