The Complete Beginners Guide to Keeping Snakes
The beauty of keeping reptiles is that once you’ve set up their caging requirements and learned a few basic skills, there are many species that can be safely and efficiently kept within the home and should live out a full, healthy life.
Fortunately, the clear majority of suitable snakes one might choose to keep, such as corn snakes, king snakes or milk snakes, require very little special treatment and soon become very low maintenance captives.
Quiet, well-behaved, not requiring regular walks and virtually scent-free whilst being unusual and fascinating, snakes can be an ideal pet for today’s ever-busy lifestyle.
At its simplest, a glass fish tank with a specially-sold reptile hood or one of the specially made reptile cages may be used, and these are often available for sale second hand in local papers.
Wooden cages should be avoided unless they are treated to avoid any spillage from the water bowl (many snakes like to bathe) and ventilation should be good as moist cages often lead to skin complaints or respiratory problems.
A length of around 30-45 cm is suitable for a hatchling snake whilst an adult will require a length of 60-90cm, so it can stretch out.
The cage should be furnished with one of the reptile-safe substrates such as beech chippings or corn cob granules and should be placed 1/3 – 1/2 over a safe, specially-sold, low-wattage heat mat to gently warm the substrate for the snake.
These cost just pennies to run each day and generate a gentle background warmth for your pet.
In particularly cold situations such as severe weather, during night-time or in a room which doesn’t warm up appreciably during the day an additional form of heat is recommended, such as a gauze-encased lightbulb, to warm the warmer end of the cage (the “hot spot”) to around 24-26’C.
This temperature should be maintained at one end of the cage throughout the day though this may drop by a few degrees at night without worry of danger to your pet. If using a bulb, a thermostat is recommended to enable you to accurately control the temperature and prevent the cage overheating.
A hide should be included as snakes are often quite reclusive and like to hide away for much of the day, showing themselves early in the morning and later in the evening.
This could be a specially-sold reptile hide but I often simply use a box – like an old cereal box – as they’re free and easily replaced when they get dirty.
A solid water bowl – ideally a terracotta dog bowl – large enough for the snake to submerge itself in (bathing is good for the skin) but difficult to tip over should be filled with fresh water and changed daily as in a warm environment plenty of water is likely to evaporate, and in addition many snakes like to defecate in their water bowl.