Keeping a snake as a personal pet can be a learning curve, especially when showing affection.
Cats and dogs may enjoy getting petted, but what about snakes?
Here’s what you need to know about showing affection to your slithery friend and whether you should be petting your snake.
Do Snakes Like Getting Pet By Their Owners?
While the answer can depend on the type of snake you own and their individual temperament, most snakes don’t enjoy getting pets from their owners, and some may not even like getting picked up or handled at all.
However, your snake’s species, age, and relationship with you can play a role in how much they’re willing to tolerate physical contact.
For instance, a snake that you’ve owned for years may not have any problem with getting picked up for a few minutes, but they may not be willing to tolerate it from strangers.
If you see a snake that allows its owner to hold or pet them for long periods, this is likely a learned behavior.
What Kind of Snakes Tolerate Physical Contact the Best?
Their tolerance for human affection can vary from snake to snake, but if you’re looking for a species that’s usually more comfortable around humans, a corn snake or red rat snake might be a good choice.
Although these slender, orange and yellow snakes may resemble deadly Copperheads, they’re harmless—they’re not venomous, and their teeth are so small that getting bit usually doesn’t feel any more painful than a cat scratch.
As far as temperament goes, corn snakes aren’t typically aggressive, and they may tolerate getting handled or petted a lot better than many similar species can.
Keep in mind that these are big snakes—as adults, they can grow as big as six feet long.
Are Snakes Capable of Bonding With Their Owners?
Since snakes don’t have the same desire for affection that cats or dogs do, many people wonder if our slithery pals are even capable of bonding with their owners.
The answer is yes—but not in the same way you’d expect with most pets.
Snakes operate off their instincts, and they don’t have the same capacity to feel love or affection that humans do.
However, snakes do get used to certain things in their environments, and that includes their owners.
Over time, most pet snakes tend to recognize their owners as a source of food and maybe even a comfy “tree” for them to climb on.
A snake is never going to curl up in your lap and purr, but they will come to realize that you’re not a threat and that they’re safe in your presence.
And, since they recognize you as someone safe, there’s a good chance that your pet snake is going to prefer getting handled by you over a stranger.
Your snake may tolerate handling sessions, but these creatures aren’t waiting all day for you to come home and pick them up.
So, even if snakes aren’t capable of bonding with us the same way that many pets do, there is still a type of bond that forms between a snake and its owner—but it’s based on mutual respect and security, not love and affection.
How to Make Your Pet Snake More Comfortable With Getting Handled
If you’re planning to get a new snake or you already have one that doesn’t enjoy being handled, there are a few things you can do to help your snake become more comfortable with getting handled.
Don’t Crowd Their Space
With new snakes, you don’t want to crowd their space.
These reptiles need time to adjust to their new environments, and a stranger that won’t leave them alone can come across as more threatening than friendly.
For the first few days or the first week, you may not want to handle your snake at all. Let them get familiar with their new environment and check their water regularly.
Your snake may begin to associate you with positive things, such as mealtime or freshwater.
Don’t Handle Them Too Often
At first, your snake may have a low tolerance for being handled, and you don’t want to push those limits too far.
For the first month, you may only want to handle your snake a total of three or four times, and only for a few minutes each time.
If your snake seems to tolerate that without becoming aggressive or anxious, you can try handling them once or twice a week until they are a little more comfortable.
But, if your snake seems to have trouble even getting held two or three times a month, you shouldn’t try to push those boundaries.
Keep your handling sessions spaced far apart until your snake becomes comfortable enough to be held once or twice a week.
Once you’ve gotten them used to handling, there’s no specific number of times you can handle a snake per week—it’s really up to your reptilian friend.
Some snakes may not mind being held several times a week, while others will only tolerate it a couple of times a month.
Let Your Snake Eat First
Snakes are instinctual creatures, and one of their top priorities is always going to be food.
A hungry snake may be more uncomfortable being handled, so it’s a good idea to let your snake eat their meal before you even try picking them up.
This may also help your snake recognize the correlation between being held and getting fed.
Take Their Age into Account
While it’s not always the case, younger snakes tend to be a little more temperamental, especially when it comes to getting handled.
Even corn snakes, who tend to tolerate humans better than most, may be easier to offend while they’re young.
If you’re dealing with a younger snake, especially one that hasn’t had a lot of human interaction, you’ll want to be careful not to upset them.
An older snake that’s been well-socialized might not mind a few pets on the head, but a baby snake that’s never been around humans could turn aggressive or try to bite.
How to Correctly Handle Your Pet Snake
Experienced owners may be able to let their pet snakes slither across their bodies, but if you’re a new owner (or dealing with a new snake), it’s important to know how to handle them correctly.
Mishandling a snake can not only result in a bite, but it can give your pet a bad first impression. Here’s a step-by-step guide for handling your snake the right way:
- The first step is to lift your pet snake out of its habitat. Using your fingers, you’ll want to grab the snake by its midbody and gently lift them.
You’ll need to be careful not to grip their body too tightly as this can cause injury to small snakes or raise your pet’s stress level.
As soon as you’re able to, you should slide one of your hands underneath the snake so that you can provide additional support.
- If you’re handling a small snake (less than two feet long), you may want to encourage them to crawl onto your hand rather than picking them up.
This will ensure you don’t squeeze your snake too tightly when you remove them from their habitat.
- If you’re handling a large snake and you’re an inexperienced owner, you may want to keep another person around in case you need to remove or restrain the snake.
You won’t injure a large snake as easily as a small one, but these large reptiles may injure you if they become stressed out or defensive.
- Although you’ll be providing support for the snake, you should let them slither around as much as they want to. Large snakes may need both of your hands for proper support, while a small snake might not leave the palm of your hand.
- You shouldn’t restrain your snake unless you have to. Restraining your snake will often stress them out, and it can lead to them becoming aggressive.
Correctly handling your snake is crucial to keeping both you and the snake safe, but handling techniques can vary based on the size and overall temperament of your snake.
For instance, defensive snakes may not tolerate getting picked up at all, and it may be easier for them to crawl onto a snake hook.
The length of the session can also vary by the type of snake you own—small snakes heat and cool down quickly, so some may not be able to tolerate more than a few minutes in your hands.
Although some owners may gently pet their snakes, it’s important to understand that you’re probably the only one enjoying it—your snake may tolerate this behavior, but they’re not going to seek it out like a dog or cat would.
For many snake owners, you may want to steer clear of petting altogether and focus on getting your snake more comfortable with regular handling.
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