As a snake owner, you know that your pet snake can go days, weeks, or maybe even months without eating.
But what if you need to take away your snake’s water bowl while it is getting treated for mites?
What if you need to leave your snake on its own while you go on vacation when you are in the hospital, or when you go out of town for work?
How long can your pet snake go without fresh water?
While there is no fixed answer, it would be a good idea to not leave your snake without water for more than a week (it could be slightly longer in some cases).
How Long Can a Pet Snake Without Water?
The honest answer to this question is that it depends on the type of snake.
While it’s best to make sure your snake never has to go without water for more than a week, there are snakes that survive a very long time without water.
But while your snake won’t necessarily die while you are gone, deprivation of freshwater may jeopardize its health.
- If your snake is healthy and doesn’t have scales, make sure it doesn’t go without fresh water for longer than a week.
- If your snake is healthy and has scales, make sure it doesn’t go without fresh water for longer than two weeks.
Basic Facts About Snakes and Water
Snakes need less water than warm-blooded animals, but different snakes need very different amounts of water.
Snakes that ambush their prey tend to have a very slow metabolism except for those few moments they are catching their food, scientists have found.
Snakes that eat a few large animals, such as Boas and Pythons, have slower metabolic rates and need less water than snakes that catch and eat a few small animals, like Corn Snakes and Garter Snakes.
Some snakes that you wouldn’t get dehydrated very easily actually do. Sea Snakes, for example, get dehydrated when it doesn’t rain.
Even though Sea Snakes swim and hunt in saltwater, they can’t drink saltwater. (In fact, no snakes drink salt water.)
They have to wait for the rain to cause freshwater to pool on top of the saltwater in which they live before they can drink.
It is possible for a Sea Snake to die of dehydration even though it is surrounded by water.
And if you are wondering what happens to snakes that are deprived of water indefinitely, there is a good example from the ancient Egyptian pyramids.
When the Egyptians wanted a snake mummy, all they did was wrap it in tight bands of linen.
Thousands of years later, mummified snakes have been found with their mouths gaping open, trying to suck out the last drop of condensation in their tomb inside the pyramid.
The most common pet snakes differ from other pets in their use of water in these important ways:
- Snakes don’t excrete liquid urine. They expel solids that are processed by their liver and kidneys in the same processes that produce urine in mammals.
- Snakes get some of their water from the body fluids of the animals they eat whole. This is one of the reasons you can’t, for example, get your snake to eat beef jerky (and please don’t try).
- A snake’s scales keep its body from losing water through its scales. If your snake is an anerythristic, scaleless morph, for example, a dark-colored Boa Constrictor or a scaleless Corn Snake, it will need more water than most other snakes of its species.
- Desert snakes can collect water due on their backs, and drink one drop of water at a time. This isn’t something a snake that has no scales can do.
- When a snake is brumating (a process like hibernation) in the winter, it doesn’t need food, but it will still need water. Brumating snakes may wake up from time to time just long enough to crawl out of their dens to eat ice and snow to keep from becoming dehydrated.
- A female snake that is getting ready to lay a clutch of eggs or that is carrying live babies in its body may use the water in its muscles to take care of its offspring. Snakes that have just laid eggs or give live birth are usually very thirsty as well as hungry.
If all of this sounds to you like determining the exact amount of time your snake can go without fresh drinking water is complicated, you’re right.
But there are two very simple rules that will keep you from accidentally causing your snake to become dehydrated.
- If your snake looks healthy and doesn’t have any scales, make sure it doesn’t go without fresh water for more than a week.
- If your snake is healthy and has scales, make sure it doesn’t go without fresh water for more than two weeks.
Most snakes need 15 to 25 ml of water for each kilogram of body weight every day.
Put in Imperial units as used in the United States, this translates to about a cup of water a day for a 30-pound female Boa Constrictor, or just a teaspoon of water a day for a 5-ounce Garter Snake.
When water is abundant, snakes may not drink more than about once every two to four days.
But how do you know that your snake is healthy?
Most Snakes with Health Problems Are Dehydrated
With snakes, it isn’t so much that dehydration causes health problems as it is that health problems cause dehydration.
Snakes become dehydrated when they suffer food poisoning.
They become dehydrated when the air in their enclosures is not moist enough, especially if they are exposed to dry air while they are shedding.
Snakes can become dehydrated while they are soaking in their water bowls. It’s even possible for an elderly snake to become dehydrated when it develops diabetes.
However, whether it’s dehydration causing another disease or it’s another disease-causing dehydration, the best treatment is water, and the best way for your snake to get it is by mouth.
The signs your snake may be dehydrated include:
- Dry, sticky saliva. Your snake may have white, sticky crusts around its mouth.
- Sunken eyes. As the muscles around your snake’s eyes are drained of fluid to support other vital organs, they may seem to fall into its skull.
- Visible bones. As muscles become dehydrated, the bones in your snake’s spine may become visible just under its skin.
- Loss of interest in its environment. A healthy snake frequently sticks out its tongue to sample its environment. A dehydrated snake may not have enough energy to do this.
- Lack of coiling. A healthy snake will coil up to support itself as it raises its head to see what is happening around it. A dehydrated snake may just lie in its substrate, limp and non-reactive.
- Incomplete shedding. A snake that attempts to shed in a dry terrarium or that is suffering from severe thirst may have pieces of skin that get stuck, especially around its eyes.
When you see these symptoms in your snake, give it fresh water. Tap water is usually fine. If you drink your tap water, your snake can drink it, too.
Bottled water is OK, too. But don’t give your snake seltzer water—it’s too alkaline—or any beverages intended for humans, such as coffee, tea, milk, or carbonated drinks.
If your snake still seems dehydrated after you give it fresh water to drink, make an appointment with your vet.
Snakes can get IVs through their jugular vein to bring them back to full hydration.
Your vet can also determine the health issue that is causing or resulting from dehydration.
Choosing the Right Water Bowl for Your Snake
One of the most interesting things about keeping snakes is watching them drink. They don’t drink very often, but when they do drink, they guzzle it down.
Every snake needs a water bowl at all times.
A water bowl is an essential piece of equipment for any terrarium you use for your snake’s home.
Water bowls provide your snake with drinking water, but they also provide your snake’s enclosure with humidity.
A humid atmosphere inside your snake’s enclosure, especially during the winter when the air dries out in the rest of your home helps to keep your snake’s skin moist and supple, and mite-free.
The other reason every snake needs a water bowl is that some species, especially Ball Pythons, will put part or all of their bodies in their water bowls to calm themselves down.
Hatchling snakes, “pregnant” snakes, and snakes of tropical origins will retreat to the cozy walls of their water bowl to feel safe.
The best water bowls for snakes to soak are made from ceramics. A round ceramic bowl is perfect for the snake to soak in or to wrap its body around.
Ceramic gives the snake just enough resistance that your snake has the same sensation it gets in the safety of its burrow.
Your snake doesn’t get this feeling from a material it can bend or compress, like plastic.
How big should your snake’s water bowl be?
If your snake drinks a cup of water a day, like the 30-pound female Boa Constrictor we mentioned earlier, the bowl certainly needs to be big enough to hold at least a cup of water.
For a big snake, you may want to go with a quart (2-liter) ceramic bowl. But you don’t need bowls that are a lot larger than this for your snake’s drinking water.
A small, cup-sized ceramic bowl is enough for your snake’s drinking water if it is refilled regularly. You can always give your snake a separate tub for soaking.
Other articles you may also find useful: