Have you hugged your pet (snake) today?

By Dr Dorianne Elliott


Over the last ten to fifteen years the keeping of snakes as pets has changed drastically from something done only by a few (considered decidedly “odd”) individuals to a massively popular hobby. Let’s take alook at what’s bitten these people!

As more and more people are moving into smaller homes, it seems that the interest in smaller pets and especially those that can be kept in cages or terrariums is growing at a remarkable rate. Today everyone from young children to middle-aged house wives can be seen with pet snakes of a variety of species ranging from the little corn snakes to huge Burmese pythons.

Caring For Your Slithering Pet

Snakes are, on the whole, fairly easy to care for so long as their basic dietary and environmental needs are met. For this reason it is important to research the species of snake before purchasing it. (An animal from a tropical jungle can hardly be expected to live happily in the same conditions as one from the North American Prairies!) One part of the hobby that puts many people off is the fact that all snakes are carnivores (meat eaters). All the commonly-available pet species will happily eat rodents such as mice or rats. It is important that no live prey animals ever be offered to a snake both for the humane aspect to the mouse and for the fact that a live rat can do severe damage to a snake by biting it. A snake that is not hungry will not kill a mouse placed into the cage but will simply ignore it. The rodent will then be free to attack the snake and we have seen multiple examples of the supposed prey severely injuring or even killing the hapless snake.

Quantity And Quality Of Food

Smaller snakes such as corn snakes which only grow up to approximately one metre in length usually eat once weekly. Larger pythons will eat less frequently, some only once a month. After a snake has eaten it will become quiet and often rest for a while in its hide box while digesting the meal. Once it has passed stool and become active again it is ready for the next meal. As with anything in life, what you put in is what you get out and it is extremely important to make sure that you are feeding good quality food to your snake. As long as the prey items themselves are healthy and well fed, the snake should not need any further vitamin or mineral supplements. One should check that the rats and mice are being fed a balanced diet to make sure they have good vitamin, mineral and especially calcium reserves in their own bodies before the snakes eat them. It is also healthier for the snake to eat adult animals (i.e. an adult mouse has better body calcium levels than a baby rat) when possible.

Anyone For A Sssssoak?

All snakes need constant access to fresh water. Reptiles, due to their impervious scaly skins do not lose as much body moisture as we do. They thus need to drink less but do still need water. Some species such as anacondas are semi aquatic and will spend long periods of time lying submerged in their ponds. It is always a good idea to make sure the water bowl is big enough for the snake to fit its entire body into should it feel the need to soak. Some snakes enjoy variety in the diet but many will have a preferred prey item and will stick to that. For example some will prefer rats, some, mice etc. Feeding Guinea pigs to snakes is not recommended as some snakes will regurgitate them. It is believed that the coarse hair of the guinea pig may irritate the snake’s stomach.

Don’t Be Chicken…

Owners of larger pythons often feed them chickens. One has to be careful feeding chickens to snakes as chickens may spread a bacterial infection known as Salmonella to the reptiles. On the subject of Salmonella, this bacteria can cause diarrhoea in people and may be dangerous in young children, immuno-suppressed individuals or older people. For this reason it is important to always practice sensible hygiene around reptiles. Hand washing after handling snakes is necessary and any high risk individuals should rather not handle reptiles at all. With sensible care and responsible handling your scaly friends should bring you many years of pleasure.

¬©Pet’s Health

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