Please tell me what it's like to have a pet snake...

I’ve never had a pet reptile of any type, and I can’t say I’ve ever particularly wanted to have one, either. I’ve had many cats and dogs over the years, and they have been well cared for and loved up to the end of their days. We (my wife, my 10 year old daughter, my 7 year old son and I) have been pet free for just over three years now, since Turbulence the cat passed away. I kinda like having my stuff free of cat hair and un-scratched - I’ve got kids to wreck things for me, what do I need a pet for? With all that, I could see us maybe getting another cat. I’d like a dog, but my wife would kill me the first time I go away for a month leaving her to look after one. It’s all in that vague, parental “We’ll see…” stage


my son is jonesing for a snake. Massively. Hugely. My wife is a bit creeped out by the notion. I can’t say I’m any too thrilled at the idea, either. However, in the interests of maintaining an open mind on these things, I ask you, fellow Dopers - what’s it like to look after a pet snake? At least with a dog or a cat, I know what the responsibilities are, and I can assume those responsibilities while teaching them to my son (Yes, I was a kid, once - I know better than to swallow this “I’ll look after it, I’ll feed it, I’ll clean the litter box, please, please, please, Daddy” line.) - what do you do with a snake? What kind of snake is better to look after than another? Where do you get a snake? Help me make this decision, please.

While I’m not a huge fan of snakes, 9YO mudgirl has three of them: an adult ball python; an adult albino corn snake; a young corn snake.

The adult albino would be the “hardest to look after” if only because he’s very physically active most of the time, and would escape his cage readily at any given opportunity. Spot (the ball python) is pretty sedate, except when hungry, when he goes into “hunting” mode and becomes more active. Flame, the young corn snake, is active if you pick him up (which I certainly don’t, but mudgirl does).

All three snakes were adopted from an exotic pet rescue. They all have their own cages. Now, realistically speaking, two or even all three of them, could share a cage, except for feeding time.

They need:
Warmth. Snakes are cold-blooded. They need to be kept in a reasonably warm place. Being at under 50 degrees Fahrenheit
won’t kill them, but will probably have a negative impact on their appetite.

Fresh water. They each have a water bowl in their cage. It’s checked every couple of days, cleaned out at feeding time.

Bedding. Shredded coconut shells (available at pet centers) work well, but some plain brown paper (like torn up grocery bags) will do. Corn snakes especially (more so than ball pythons) like to burrow.

Food. Our snakes get fed once or twice a month. The grown snakes eat adult mice (ask for ‘feeder mice’ at the pet store) and the young corn snake eats ‘pinkies’ (baby mice who are not old enough to have fur yet); the mice can be live (preferred by some snakes; specifically, Spot the python and Steve the albino corn prefer live prey) or can be frozen. If frozen, you need to thaw them to at least room temp before feeding. Snakes have no interest in “cold” food.

My husband was raised around snakes (his father raised them as a hobby), so knows everything that we need to know. I would not recommend a venomous snake to someone who is not very conversant in caring for snakes. I would not get one for mudgirl until she is at least 13 or so.

Snakes are not slimy. Some of them are quite attractive (Flame, for instance, is a lovely pink color with brilliant corral markings). They are quite smooth and soft. They are, as pets are concerned, low-maintenance, relative to pets with fur.

Some problems to think of in advance: what if you get a snake, and your kid has a problem with it eating live prey? What if you get a snake and it escapes? Who will teach your child to safely handle the animal? (With us, it was her father).

I don’t enjoy having snakes. I’d rather have pets that can love me back (like my kitteh). But eh, there are worse things.

If you have more questions, ask away. I’ll try my best to answer them.

All during high school I had a pet boa constrictor. His name was “cuddles” and nobody else in my family would handle him (or even get close to him). He was 2 feet long when I got him and I put him in a empty 10 gallon aquarium with wood chips/litter on the bottom and a bowl of water. When I eventually got rid of him he was closer to 5 feet long.

I lived in California so it never really got that cold, but I had an incandescent light in the aquarium hood so his cage stayed warm. I took him out of his enclosure regularly and would even take him outside once in a while and let him crawl around the lawn if it was warm enough. I started feeding him crickets and soon moved up to baby mice and finally small adult mice.

A few things you need to know:

  1. Snakes are generally easy to take care of. You have to clean their enclosures every week or so, and once they get larger, you have need to feed them live food every week or so.

  2. While you may think they are cool pets, most people won’t go near them.

  3. They have teeth and they can bite if they are frightened or pissed off. You have to handle them with care and be aware of their moods. Boa constrictors are not venomous, but it hurts when they bite you (trust me).

  4. Watching a snake eat a mouse can be disturbing to children. On days when I would feed him I would go to the pet store to buy the mouse, bring it home in a paper bag, and my mother would head out the back door as I was coming in the front door. I would put the mouse in the aquarium and wait. Within a minute or two the snake would pounce and then devour the mouse whole.

  5. Most of the time my snake would curl up and sleep. Not a very interesting pet to have except during feeding time or when I took him outside to terrorize the neighborhood.

I eventually moved on to breeding tropical fish since at least they were interesting to look at during the day. Snakes make okay pets… but don’t expect any affection from them. You’re just a meal ticket to them.

Easiest pet I’ve ever had (and I’ve had cats, dogs, horses, various rodents, various fish, hermit crabs, various birds, turtles, lizards, etc.).

I feed Cleo the corn snake about 1-2x/month now that she’s an adult. As a hatchling, I tried to feed her about every 10 days. I’ve had her since she was 2 weeks old and 10" long; she is now 7 years old and about 5’ long. It doesn’t matter how often I feed her; she’s always hungry. For a starter snake, I highly recommend a corn snake. Just watch out–they are expert escape artists. They can compress themselves to fit into a seemingly impossible gaps.

Seymour is my 6yro ball python, whom I’ve had since he was about 6mos old. He is far more sensitive and went through a phase where he refused to eat for more than 6mos. Turned out, this was because I was out on maternity leave and had a series of subs before a long term sub was found (my snakes live in my classroom 10mos/year); meanwhile, my students tapped on the glass, would “accidentally” leave the lid open, etc. (Doofuses!) This made him nervous, understandably. Problem was solved when I bought a cave for him; he felt much more comfortable having a hiding place. While I know it is good practice to feed a snake in a separate cage (which I do with Cleo), with Mr. Sensitive, I always put the rat directly in the cage with him. Typically, he kills, then drags his meal into the cave. He does come out more often than he used to, and my students know to leave him alone.

Snakes are very low maintenance: they need a reliable heat source that meets their needs (Cleo needs about 80 degrees; Seymour, about 90); safe substrate (I use shredded aspen–at least, I think that’s what it is. It’s what the reptile store recommended); fresh water; a secure cage; proper feeding; feces/urine removed.

All the snake-related problems I’ve had were associated with ball pythons. Balls are notoriously finicky eaters; the slightest stress, and they stop eating. Their appetite also slows around the winter months. My ball pythons have also had some problems with shedding; whereas my corns tend to shed all in one piece, the pythons have had more complications. A few times I’ve had to use ReptiRinse to help loosen the retained shed and tweezers to remove retained eye caps.

That said, corn snakes are higher energy animals. I could wrap Seymour around my arm and he’d hang there for hours. Cleo would be slithering all over the place.

Oh, that reminds me: I learned the hard way corn snakes have a stinky musk they use as a defense mechanism. One of my more high-strung corns let that lovely scent fly when my cat got a little too inquisitive. Cleo has never reacted that way, mercifully.

I love snakes and find them terribly unfairly maligned. I tell my students that every pet I have ever had is more likely to bite and hurt them than either of these snakes ever would. No, they aren’t affectionate, but their needs are few and their life fascinating. Again–I highly recommend them.

BTW, if you get a young corn snake, you may have to feed them Cute Widdle Baby Mice. Cleo ate “pinkies”–newborn mice–at first. (This will seem extra gross, but those you can actually buy frozen and prepackaged; you just reheat them in hot water, never the microwave.) Then she graduated to “fuzzies,” baby mice with fur, but eyes still closed. Then “cruisers,” the cutest baby mice with their eyes open but still not fully mobile. After that comes “hoppers” (fully mobile subadult mice) before reaching adults. Right now, Cleo eats 2-3 “bombers” (retired female breeders–the biggest mice you can get). I had fed her small rats until I was advised rats are too fatty a food for corn snakes. Seymour eats medium rats at this point.

I gotta find a picture of my slithering friends and post them here.

We have a corn snake - Sassy - we’ve had him for about 3 years now. We found him on Craigslist; a young fellow had a new girlfriend who did not appreciate sharing the apartment with a snake. I can recommend a corn snake as a pet.

He lives in an aquarium with a heating pad and lots of places to hide and climb. Corn snakes are escape artists - he’s only escaped once, and now we secure the top to his aquarium every
Corn snakes are (I think) the easiest snakes to keep. They generally have a good appetites (although mine went 2 months without eating - freaked us out). They are more tolerant of low temperatures for at least part of the year. Sassy is quite friendly, and likes to come out of his aquarium and curl up around us, or go into a pocket. The more you handle an animal, the friendlier it will become (generally true) We’ve taken Sassy to school and cub scouts, and use him as a “teaching tool” whenever possible. My colleagues at work have vetoed a “bring your snake to work day” though.

I concur with what most everyone has said here. Someone mentioned venomous snakes - where I’m from these are (highly) illegal to own without a special permit, and it would be ridiculous for an amateur to own one.

A word about feeding. My take is that you should NEVER feed live mice to a snake. I have a few reasons:

  • It’s nasty. Some people I know who do this are those that are showing off - they generally don’t keep a snake for more than a year because the novelty wears off. They don’t reallycare about having a snake as a pet.
    -Believe it or not, a live mouse can actually bite or harm your snake. This is especially true if the snake is not particularly hungry. Bites around a snakes mouth can get infected.
    -What happens if your supply of live mice runs out/moves/is delayed? If you feed frozen/thawed mice, you can always have a supply on hand.

So… If you are getting a snake, find out if they have been feed exclusively frozen/thawed. If they have been feeding on live food, it may be very hard to get them to make the switch - some snakes can be very fussy about their food.

So… they’re much like a cat then.

<ducks and hides>

If you do get a snake, please name him Jörmungandr. I want there to be a pet snake named Jörmungandr.

(Okay, I’m not exactly sure how it’s pronounced. Consult your local Norse mythology expert).

Here we go–a pic of 3yro RuffLlama with Seymour. You can see, Seymour is a vicious creature my son is deathly afraid of. :wink:

I knew a guy who had a GIGANTIC snake. I mean, so huge that at its thickest point, it was as thick as a sassafrass tree. I can’t remember exactly how long it was - 14 feet, maybe? - or what kind of snake it was, but it was HUGE. He would feed it live rabbits, and they were big rabbits! The snake would eat them up with great glee after squeezing the life out of them.

I had a couple of garter snakes as pets when I was a kid.
My mother and sister refused to enter the room when I had one out of its terrarium. This was a tremendous Power, and I tried not to abuse it.
Unfortunately, they died pretty quickly. One got away outside for a time, which made my sister unwilling to go out. we re-captured it, though.
Garter snakes, although easy to catch, and the most common to find where i’ve lived, aren’t the best pets. Their main defense (aside from biting) is to excrete on you. mine did when I brought him in to Show and Tell.

It’s not just female relatives of mine who freaked out with snakes. In one of my former jobs the factory doors were often left open in the summer, and I saw a garter snake in the factory. I picked it up and was carrying it out, but met the Boss on the way. The Boss was a big, hefty, mustachioed guy who was a Coach in his spare time. He freaked when he saw the snake, and insisted that I get rid of it immediately.

I have a ball python named Dante, and would recommend them for beginning snake owners/handlers. They are quite docile most of the time, and when frightened, will curl in a ball rather than strike out or attempt to flee.

I have attempted to feed Dante dead/frozen mice, and he ain’t havin’ any - he’ll only eat live mice. Given that ball pythons have a tendency to be picky eaters in captivity (in my opinion, the only possible drawback to them), I’ve decided to stick to that. I do recognize the validity of your points regarding possible harm to the snake, though.

Used to live with a guy who had 70-some snakes, mostly corns,but 4 boas/pythons over 50#. And a bunch of other lizards.
He raised mice to feed them - had a string of cages in the basement turning outall manner of pinkies and adults. He anaesthetized the mice before feeding to avoid them injuring the snakes. Some of them really wanted the mouse to be still twitching before they would strike.

The big guys ate frozen rats. Had a whole freezer full of them in the kitchen.

Some watersnakes and (I believe) garters prefer to be fed fish in water. I had some water snakes as a kid that were like that. So that makes feeding a little different than with mice. And can you keep any smaller snakes on crickets and mealworms?

Snakes are way cool animals, and pretty low on the maintenance scale. But they are also pretty limited in their interaction with their owners. Gives experience in keeping an animal, but not much as a pet (IMO). And like folks said, you gotta make sure your kid won’t have problems with the whole feeding them animals bit.

The neatest snake I’ve seen lately was kept in a beautifully planted terrarium - a focal point in the living room.

I had snakes for about 45 years…as a kid and a bio teacher. Fascinating critters!

Snakes are great captive animals, but remember that they don’t really form the same kind of emotional attachments that dogs and other mammals can.

I would recommend getting a species (and individual snake) that is easy to care for, with a special eye to feeding. My recommended species would be a corn snake. They come in a variety of colors, and are not fussy eaters. Additionally, the usual ones you can buy are the results of generations of captive breeding, so you aren’t impacting wild populations. Cornsnakes also don’t need carefully regulated humidity like some tropical species. If you have a male and female, expect to have eggs; these can be removed and hatched!

An added benefit of a snake that will take dead prey is that you can order frozen mice and rats - delivered to your doorstep in a frozen condition - just throw them in the freezer and thaw/feed as needed.

Many thanks for these responses. It doesn’t seem too difficult - I just wanted to make sure I can handle it in case my son starts to lose interest in looking after a pet. A friend has offered us his 15 year old corn snake, and I haven’t exactly said ‘No’. The hardest thing is going to be convincing my wife, who would end up being the default person assisting the wean in fulfilling his responsibility whenever I’m out of town. I’m not sure if she’d be willing to thaw a mouse and warm it for a snake to eat. We’ll see.

Thank you for helping out, all of you.

I just had to laugh at this. I just explained to a poster in another thread why I didn’t make a whole lot of threads…and this one illustrates my number one reason: all my ideas for threads get stolen :D!I was going to make my own thread about this much later, when I felt like I was in a living situation more conducive to owning one, but since the thread’s here now, I might as well take advantage of it.

All right, so while I’m not quite in the same boat as the OP, I too wish to know more about owning a snake. I’ve decided I want a corn, as I find them quite cute and I have the most experience with them (we had a couple at work for a traveling exhibit and I learned a lot about how to own and feed them). My own questions:

-What’s the cost of a typical vet bill? I know the answer is going to be “pretty durned expensive,” but I want to know because I don’t want to have to give up my pet just because I can’t afford it. I’m figuring I can’t afford it now, since I don’t have a full-time, well-paying job, but I’ll keep this thread, etc., around for future reference.

-What sort of cages work best for corns? More specifically, what size should it be? Can I start a baby snake on a larger habitat right away (anticipating its growth) or would that be too stressful for the snake? What kind of latch or closing mechanism works best to prevent escape?

-What do you do when you find the snake HAS escaped?

-How can I tell if my snake is sick? What warning signs should I look for? Conversely, what does a healthy snake look and feel like?

-What did you use for a heat source, and what are the pros and cons of this method?

-When cleaning the cage, where should I put the snake in the meantime? Or can the cage be cleaned with the snake still inside? Are there any sorts of materials I absolutely should not use in the cage?

-Any other miscellaneous advice would be much appreciated. Seriously, ANYTHING.

Thanks, everyone. I know this is sort of a tall order, but I’ve never owned a reptile before and want to be prepared.

What a beauty! Your son is adorable, too. The pic makes me miss our old ball python, Saba. We got her for our daughter when she was a teenager but when Daughter married a man terrified of snakes, Saba became ours. We had her from 1993 through 2008, when I had to rehome her because I could not bring her in our last move. She was the best pet we ever had. I simply must squee whenever I see a young ball python! They are so gorgeous!!

Le Ministre and Maiira, if you want a snake as a pet, I suggest you read every single thing you can get your hands on, especially anything specific to the kind of snake you want. We chose a ball python because they are very gentle and non-agressive. She balled up when we first got her, but stopped doing it after only a couple of months. After that she was more like picking up affectionate spaghetti!

And Saba absolutely showed affection, although she probably thought we were just warm trees. She knew her vet, too and would let go of me to climb onto him when he entered the room! We liked her a lot, but could go weeks without even seeing her. She lived in a console television set with the electronics removed and a plexiglas front and had an upside down terracotta flower pot for a burrow. The tv had carpeting under which we put a heating pad under a part of it, and there was a light bulb at the top. It was a good set up. The cats loved it, especially at feeding time. She ate more frequently in the spring and early summer and a lot less frequently in fall and winter.

My mom, who turned 80 in November, has kept up to three corn snakes in the past 10-15 years. I think she’s down to one now. Believe me, if my timid little momma can do it, anyone can.

Good luck. Snakes can make marvelous pets.

I too am seriously looking at getting a snake. My husband is a bit leery about it but I think he’ll come around :slight_smile:

My question is, how tolerant are snakes of being handled? I just know that I’ll want to pick the thing up as often as possible. I love snakes. My daughter will want to be very hands on as well.

Partly it’s a matter of breed of snake; as noted, ball pythons tend to be very docile. mudgirl often “wears” hers around the house; the corns, OTOH, because they tend to be so much more active, require more. . .proactive handling.

Then it depends on conditioning the individual animal. Snakes can be temperamental, and if you insist on handling them more than they’re comfortable with, it could put them off their feed, etc.
But if you slowly condition them to being handled, they’ll eventually come to accept you handling them. Remember, snakes are cold-blooded, so one of the reasons they like being held by humans is that humans are warm. Once the snake is conditioned to accept their human as “not food” and “not a predator”, they generally take to being handled fairly well.

Spot (our ball python) and Flame (our baby corn) both seem to enjoy being held. Steve (the adult albino corn) tolerates being held, but seems to see it as an opportunity to attempt escape.

One rule in our house: other children do not handle the snakes without their parents express permission to do so. Behavior that children don’t understand, like moving your hand in front of their faces a lot, can be interpreted by the snake as a trigger to hunt, leading to getting bitten. Not only do snake bites hurt (even non-venomous ones), but if they kid does what comes naturally (pulling away from the bite), you’re left with a human hand that has dozens of tiny snake teeth embedded in it, that need to be tweezed out. Not fun!!

But then I’d have to kill it, and will drown in its venom. I’d rather put that off for a little longer.

“-How can I tell if my snake is sick? What warning signs should I look for? Conversely, what does a healthy snake look and feel like?”

Muscle tone. The better the muscle tone the healthier. If a snake has a cold or resperatory problems the two tips of the forked tongue often will be stuck together. That’s a really bad sign.
I’ve had snakes for many years and never recommend them as pets because once the novelty wears off they are a pain to take care of. Snake urine sets up like white concrete and can be very difficult to clean off some surfaces. Their feces often smell really bad and in a larger snake can be pretty substantial.
That said, I would agree that corn/rat/king snakes are a pretty good choice if you can keep them secured in the cage. I had a California King that was a very beautiful snake, was an enthusiastic eater (including other snakes which I discovered the hard way) and had more “personality” than boas and pythons in my experience.