• October 3, 2023

Are Pet Snakes Safe?

You’ve been bitten by a snake before. You know that feeling — it’s like having a little electric current run through your body. The pain is intense but short-lived, and you know you’ll be fine in just a few minutes. Then there’s the fear factor. What if the snake decided to attack you?


Would its fangs break the skin or cause an infection? What happens when the snake decides to bite itself on accident? How do you get rid of the snake without killing it (and potentially releasing more snakes into your yard)? And what about those venomous serpents you see advertised online as “friendly” pets? Do you need special training to handle them?


It’s not surprising that some people have never had anything good to say about snakes. In addition to their slimy appearance and scaly bodies, many species display aggressive behavior toward humans. Some are known to bite people intentionally, while others may mistake our open pant legs for a means of escape and strikeout.


These types of attacks happen most often during mating season, which typically occurs during warmer months. Other times, snakes will seek shelter in places where people tend to gather (like yards, patios, and porches) and wait for potential victims to come within striking distance. If you own one of these creatures, you should consider keeping them outside, far away from your home. They’re dangerous enough to warrant this recommendation.


But what about the other type of snake? Those nonvenomous varieties don’t bother us nearly as much. We can keep them inside safely because we understand how they work. A snake’s diet consists primarily of mice, rats, and lizards. So why do we call them reptiles?


It all has to do with their digestive system. Reptiles use enzymes called proteases to digest food. Protease breaks down proteins into smaller pieces, allowing the snake to absorb amino acids. This process takes place mostly in the stomach, although the snake also uses specialized organs to aid digestion. When the snake ingests prey, enzymes in the stomach break down the animal’s muscle tissue. Once digested, this meat provides energy to move forward.


For many people, snakes provide entertainment value. Many owners enjoy watching their pets shed their skins and grow new ones. Others want to participate in reptile shows and competitions.


There are even snake breeders who create new species of snakes to meet the demand for exotic animals. People interested in owning a snake will find plenty of information online. Before you take matters into your own hands, however, it helps to learn a bit about snakes themselves. Read on for answers to common questions about snakes.


In 2010, Americans spent $1.7 billion on pet dogs and cats. Of this amount, $812 million was devoted to birds. Although pet birds aren’t quite as popular as their canine counterparts, they still accounted for $3.6 billion in spending. ­


Pet Snake FAQ


Q. Is there such a thing as a poisonous snake?

A. Yes, there are several different kinds of poisonous snakes in existence today. Most of the time, they release no toxins at all unless provoked. One of the best ways to determine whether or not a certain snake is poisonous is by checking its fang marks.


Nonvenomous snakes don’t have fang marks. Also, look closely at the head of the snake. Does it seem too long or thin compared to its neck? Poisonous snakes have elongated heads that appear longer than they really are. Because of their slender necks, toxic snakes sometimes appear shorter than they actually are.


Q. Where can I buy a pet snake?

A. You can purchase any variety of nonvenomous snakes from specialty stores or large retail chains. Websites offering exotic animals sell both live specimens and stuffed toys. As with everything else, make sure you thoroughly research the seller before parting with money or sending off a live creature.


Q. Can I feed my pet snake raw meat?

A. Raw meat isn’t recommended for your snake, or for anyone who wants to avoid getting sick. If you plan on feeding your snake raw meat, then you must first ensure that you properly kill the animal yourself. Never allow wild animals to die naturally under your care. Any animal that dies unnaturally could carry parasites or diseases that could harm your pet.


Q. Why does my snake slither?

A. Slithering allows snakes to hide better. Since they rely so heavily on camouflage, it makes sense that they would try to blend in wherever possible. Plus, slinking gives snakes greater mobility.


Q. Should I ever separate my pet snake from another snake?

A. No. Only trained professionals should ever attempt to separate two unrelated snakes. Doing so could result in injury to either snake. For example, if you have a boa constrictor and a ball python, the boa might become scared and lash out. Or if you have a corn snake and a milk snake, the corn snake could decide to eat the milk snake. Separating snakes only leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety. Your snakes should stay together whenever possible.


Q. What kind of cage should I buy for my snake?

A. Cages vary greatly depending on size and purpose. Small cages are great for housing multiple snakes, especially when trying to acclimate them to each other. Larger enclosures are required for breeding purposes. To prevent the enclosure from becoming overstuffed, leave room between the bars for ventilation.

Q. Will my pet snake hurt my children or other family members?

A. While your snake won’t go after your baby, it might feel threatened by intruders. Keep your pet close to you when guests visit. Have someone nearby to monitor the snake’s activity. Don’t let young kids crawl around the floor near the snake cage. Children should wear protective clothing and shoes.


Q. How big will my pet snake get?

A. Most nonvenomous snakes reach maturity by adulthood and begin shedding their skin once every year. However, larger species may require additional space throughout life.


Q. Is it OK to show my pet snake in public?

A. Technically yes. All snakes belong to the same classification. Even though they may behave differently, there is nothing inherently wrong with showing your pet snake in public. Just remember to treat them responsibly. Let everyone know that you are responsible for the snake’s safety. If you’d rather not interact with your pet snake, then maybe a reptile doesn’t fit into your lifestyle. Check out the next page for links related to snakes.


Q. How much water does my snake drink?

A. Water requirements vary based on temperature, size and age. Make sure to check the owner’s manual for specific details.


Q. My snake sheds its skin. Shouldn’t I clean the cage?

A. Absolutely! Cleaning the cage prevents bacteria growth, which can lead to illness. Be sure to wash your hands after handling the snake to avoid spreading germs.


Snakes Are Not for Everyone

The debate over whether or not to keep snakes as pets continues today. On one hand, snakes are fascinating creatures that are fun to watch. On the other, they pose dangers to human beings. After careful consideration, most snake enthusiasts choose to share their homes with these creatures.


Before deciding to add a snake to your household, think carefully about what kind of snake you want. If you already have an aquarium full of fish, then perhaps a snake wouldn’t mesh well with your existing collection. If you’re looking for a pet snake, then you should consider the following factors:


Size – Size varies widely among species. Take note of the maximum length and width measurements. Don’t forget to include scales.


Color – Coloration plays an important role in determining a snake’s temperament. Look for patterns of coloration instead of solid colors.


Diet – Consider the natural diet of the snake. Is it a carnivore or herbivore?


Predators – Watch out for predators, including raccoons, squirrels, owls, birds and other snakes.


Ventilation – Large snakes need lots of airflows. Their preferred temperatures range from 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) to 105 degrees F (40 degrees C).


Water – Alligators and turtles need access to freshwater. Snakes don’t necessarily need water, but they prefer it.


Light – Light exposure is important for maintaining a healthy environment. Place the snake cage in a location that gets ample sunlight.


Training – Training is essential when working with snakes. They’re not very smart and can easily injure themselves if mishandled.


Pets require patience and responsibility on the part of the homeowner. Learning how to control and care for a pet snake requires proper education. Luckily, there are numerous resources available on the Internet. With a little dedication and practice, you’ll soon master the art of caring for and training your pet snake.


While snakes are generally harmless, they can occasionally inflict serious injuries. Some of these incidents occur when a snake bites itself accidentally. Another danger lies in the way snakes hunt. Some species will chase and swallow prey whole, while others employ modified hunting techniques. Certain snakes will coil around their prey until the victim suffocates.


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