Housing and Husbandry of Reptiles, Snakes

Snakes are great pets, they are quiet, seemingly easy to care for and great topics of conversation at parties! Before showing off your reptile,



important questions About Snake Check-list

The veterinarian will need to obtain answers to a number of routine but very important questions when the hobbyist presents his snake for a routine health check or because of a suspected medical problem. This list includes the following questions and instructions:

  1. How long have you owned the snake?
  2. From what source was the snake acquired?
  3. Do you have other snakes, and if so, how many, and of which species are they?
  4. What are the housing arrangements between the snakes?
  5. What are the dimensions of the enclosure?
  6. Of what materials is the enclosure constructed?
  7. What horizontal substrate is used within the enclosure?
  8. What vertical substrate is used within the enclosure?
  9. Describe the heat source used within the enclosure.
  10. What is the environmental temperature within the enclosure?
  11. Is an artificial U.V. light source used?
  12. Describe the water container/soak pit used.
  13. Are there hiding places provided for the snake?
  14. What is the snake fed?
  15. Is the snake fed live, stunned, freshly killed, or thawed “frozen” prey?
  16. How often is the snake fed?
  17. Has the snake regurgitated recently?
















Snake Husbandry

Snakes are great pets, they are quiet, seemingly easy to care for and great topics of conversation at parties! Before showing off your reptile, preview the information we provide for you here- especially under the 'Caring for Your Snake' section as there is a host of valuable information for you, the pet owner.

About Snakes

Snakes are elongated, legless animals possessing dry, scale-covered skin. Their skin is unusually elastic which allows it to stretch when large prey items are swallowed. Snakes are rather unique because of these features and because they lack moveable eyelids and external ear openings. Lengths of snakes may vary from only a few inches to several yards long!

Snakes inhabit a wide variety of ecological habitats: land, trees, underground, freshwater, and saltwater. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and no native snakes are found on the islands of Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, and Ireland.

Selecting a Pet Snake

Some snakes are rare and endangered and are, therefore, protected by law. These snakes may only be kept by zoos and legitimate herpetologists possessing the appropriate permits. This is also the case with venomous snakes, which should not, under any circumstances, be kept by the average hobbyist.

The most common snakes kept by enthusiasts are the many and varied constrictor species (Boas, Pythons, Rat and Milk snakes), and the Race, Gopher, and Garter species. The husbandry and dietary requirements for these types of snakes vary considerably. Furthermore, some of the same species (notably the Boa constrictors and Pythons) reach very large sizes in captivity and their considerable space requirements must be anticipated.

Usually, an individual eager to own a snake as a pet already has a species preference and because of some prior familiarity with it or because of an inexplicable attraction to a given species' physical appearance, size, activity, habit, etc. Before the acquisition is made, it is advisable that a prospective snake owner carefully considers the following recommendations:

  • Research the major husbandry requirements of the snake and determine whether or not you can successfully meet them now and in the future. Husbandry requirements include dietary, environmental (living space, temperature, humidity, lighting, etc.) and sanitation considerations.
  • Research the temperament of the species to be acquired. If you intend to enjoy your snake primarily by observing it within its enclosure and rarely handling it, this becomes a less important consideration. If you intend to regularly handle the snake, however, you must be able to do so with minimal stress and injury to both the snake and yourself.
  • Snake temperaments vary among species and between individuals of the same species. Certain snake species almost always retain a gentle, docile nature when they are raised from infancy (i.e. Boa Constrictors). In fact, a healthy young Boa Constrictor makes the most suitable pet among the tropical snake species available. Other species (i.e. the larger Pythons) are unpredictable and tend to be quite pugnacious as they mature, whether or not they are handled quite frequently. Reticulated and Burmese Pythons are especially unpredictable when they are handled infrequently, become conditioned associating feeding with human contact and often cannot distinguish the difference between these two situations. The small Ball Python has the most predictable and even temperament of all the python species.
  • Some species (i.e. Anacondas) rarely develop temperaments suitable for captivity. Wild-caught adults of all species generally make unsuitable pets because they resist becoming tame. One notable exception to this is our native California Rosy Boa. Even when obtained as an adult, they usually possess a very shy, docile nature.
  • Select a snake that can feed without difficulty and one that is eating regularly.
  • Select a snake that appears healthy in all respects. Avoid choosing an unthrifty-looking snake out of sympathy with the idea that you can "nurse" the snake back to health. Many of these animals have suffered irreparable damage and cannot be rehabilitated.
  • Avoid selecting a snake belonging to a species that is notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, requires difficult or elaborate environmental setups, or that spends most of its time hiding or burrowed underground.
  • Avoid selecting a poisonous or venomous species of snake. Only the very experienced herpetologists should attempt to keep these types of snake in captivity. State and local laws prohibit the possession of venomous snakes except by experienced individuals holding legitimate permits.

Snake Housing

Snakes, as a general rule, require relatively little space because of their limited and non-exertional activity. Generally speaking, the size of the enclosure should allow the inclusion of certain required items that will be discussed below and still allow the snake adequate space to stretch out and move about. Snakes will utilize both the horizontal and vertical space within their enclosure if provisions are made for its activity.

Aquaria or other similar glass or plexiglass-lined enclosures are usually most suitable because they allow optimum visualization of the safety for the occupants and help to maintain desirable environmental temperatures and generally high relative humidity levels. Wire-lined enclosures may afford adequate visualization of the snakes within them but certainly cannot contribute to the maintenance of desirable environmental temperature and humidity levels. Furthermore, such enclosures promote injuries to the rostrum (nose and surrounding tissues) as snakes continuously attempt to "escape" through the wire mesh.

Any enclosure used must have a secure top and be escape-proof. All hinges and locks should be secure. All snakes are potential "escape artists" and many (especially the California King Snakes) can escape from almost any apparently secure enclosure.

Horizontal and Vertical Substrates

Unprinted newsprint, butcher paper, paper towels, terrycloth towels, and indoor-outdoor carpeting are the most suitable materials covering the bottom of a snake's enclosure. In fact, the first two materials mentioned can be cut to size and be placed many layers thick on to the floor of the enclosure. When the top layers are soiled, they can be easily removed, leaving the clean, dry paper in its place. This makes cleaning of the enclosure very quick and efficient. If the indoor-outdoor carpet is used, it is best to have two or three pieces cut to the correct dimensions. This way, there are replacements that can be used while that piece which has been soiled is being cleaned and disinfected.

Under no circumstance should pea gravel, kitty litter, or crushed corncob material, and wood-shaving be used. These substrates are unquestionably more visually esthetic than most of the materials mentioned in the previous paragraph. They are, however, unsuitable because they trap moisture and filth, provide unlimited "hiding places" for external parasites, and make enclosures containing them very difficult to clean. Furthermore, these types of particulate substrates are easily and inadvertently ingested while the snake is feeding which can cause mechanical injury to or obstruction of the digestive tract.

Snake Visual Security

It is very important to provide some privacy for a captive snake. Many snakes will not feed without the privacy afforded by some degree of visual security. This can be accomplished by providing a "hide box" into which the snake can retreat when it feeds or at other times when privacy is desired. Visual security can also be provided by the use and strategic placement of silk plants (and trees if the enclosure is large enough to accommodate them). Silk plants are esthetically pleasing, easy to clean and disinfect, require minimal maintenance, help to augment the relative humidity level of the enclosure if the foliage is frequently misted, and can complement a snake’s ability to camouflage itself, thereby providing the snake with the visual security it requires.

Climatic Considerations for the Enclosure

The tropical species of snakes kept in captivity require relatively warm temperatures and high relative humidity. Daytime temperatures should range between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Nighttime temperatures can fall between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit without creating problems for most snakes. Native American snakes will do well when maintained at temperatures between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Relatively large enclosures can be supplied with heat lamps or heaters equipped with thermostats, whereas small enclosures may be adequately heated by placing a heating pad directly underneath them. Exposed heat sources must be protected to keep snakes from receiving serious burns as they attempt to war themselves by coiling next to them.

Large and small enclosures would also provide the snake with a focal (spot) source of warmth. Small snakes should be offered a hot rock. Large snakes can utilize one or more, well protected and waterproofed heating pads. These appliances allow the snake to have direct but safe, contact with the heat source, which helps to raise their body temperature. This allows the snake to be more active and increases its rate of digestion. Owners must check these appliances frequently for malfunction and periodically check the snake for evidence of burns because snakes will generally not move away from heat-generating appliances when they are being severely burned.


Ideally, it would be advantageous for all captive reptiles to be housed in such a way that they could be exposed to and benefit from direct, unfiltered sunlight during the daylight hours each and every day. This represents the healthiest and most natural situation. Unfortunately, this set of circumstances can rarely be fulfilled by owners because it is neither practical nor possible. The next best solution is to use artificial ultraviolet light sources rather than fluorescent or incandescent light bulbs. We recommend that one or more Vitality TM to be used to illuminate the enclosure during daylight hours. In order to approximate a natural photoperiod, it is best to supply 10 to 12 hours of daylight and 12 to 14 hours of darkness each day with a gradual increase in the number of hours of light provided in the spring and a gradual decrease in the number of hours provided in the fall and winter months.


Water should be provided at all times. Most snakes drink infrequently but will use a suitably sized container for immersing themselves and soaking. Another advantage for including a relatively large water container is that the evaporation of the water from it contributes to the relative humidity level of the enclosure. This is especially true if the enclosure is glass or plexiglass-lined. The water container should be room enough to allow adequate soaking and heavy enough so that it cannot be easily overturned.

Water containers must be thoroughly and regular cleaned. Failure to do so allows water within them to stagnate, which encourages bacterial proliferation. Snakes drinking out of and soaking in this water soon become ill. We recommend the use of Roccal-D as a disinfectant for the snake's enclosure and furnishing at least once every 2 to 4 weeks.
































































































Specific Dietary Recommendations For Snake

The variety of snakes kept in captivity is considerable and their food preferences are quite variable. The following is a list of preferred prey animals for the snakes most commonly kept in captivity:

Boa constrictors, pythons, rat snakes, gopher or bull snakes:

  • Warm-blooded prey is preferred such as rodents and birds.
  • Juveniles of the same species prefer the very small warm-blooded prey species; they may also consume very small lizards and snakes.
  • Some tree boas and pythons prefer lizards to mammals and birds.

Garter snakes, ribbon snakes, water snakes, etc.:

  • Fish, frogs, salamanders, toads, earthworms, slugs, and carrion.
  • Many will accept dead mice if they are covered with external mucus of frog or fish before they are offered.

Indigo snakes, king snakes, and many racers:

    • Warm-blooded (i.e. mice, etc.) and cold-blooded prey (i.e. other snakes, lizards, etc.).
    • The indigo snake prefers frogs but may eat anything when hungry, including dog or cat food.

Ring-neck or brown snakes and their relatives:

      • Salamanders, earthworms, very small snakes, and lizards.

Racers, vine snakes, coachwhips:

    • Lizards are preferred.
    • Racers will also eat mice and chicks of ground-nesting birds.
    • The young of these snakes will eat large insects such as crickets and grasshoppers.