Our Legless Friends
This Hub is dedicated to my pet snake
Summer of 93-7/9/2010
Research is needed!
One day while I was working in an animal hospital a man brought in a snake that had been badly burnt on its underside. I overheard the doctor telling the man that when the snake is sick it sometimes cannot move away from the heat source on its own and that he recommended an exam to see if that that was what caused the snake to get the burns all along its stomach. After we had applied a type of ointment to the burns, one of my co-workers shook her head and said "I never want a snake as a pet. They take too much effort." Upon hearing this I turned to her and said "You have got to be kidding me, I have a snake that is nine years old and it takes me no effort at all to take care of her!" Unfortunately, not all people are as astute at taking care of their pets as I am. On average, most pet reptiles ( snakes included) do not live past their first year in captivity due to improper care and handling. However if you, the perspective owner, know what it is that you need to keep your legless friend happy, snakes can be very easy to take care of.
When they are taken care of properly, a corn snake (which is the breed I own) can live to be about ten years in captivity. My corn snake, Rosey, is now sixteen years old. I have had her since I was eight and she is still alive. I have only ever had to take her to a veterinarian once and he was amazed at how long she had lived(she was nine years old at the time). This is mostly because of my efforts to know everything I need to know about taking care of her. Important information to consider when getting a snake is the breed you want and the living environment it needs. This information can be obtained from online sources, veterinarians, or snake breeders and make sure to always get second opinions; this is your pets' life in your hands.
First and foremost you need to know what kind of breed you are going to get because it is the breed that decides all of the other things you will need to keep your snake happy. For a beginner I would suggest starting with a small sized king snake. They are constrictors as apposed to venomous and because of their small size they cannot injure you too badly if they bite. Next you need to research (before you get the snake) what kind of living environment the snake prefers to live in which includes preferred temperature range(and the preferred methods to reach that range), humidity, bedding, something rough to rub against, a water bowl, cage size, and food. A good place to go for this information is a breeder or a veterinarian who specializes in exotic species. From my personal experience, sawdust shavings and sand do not work very well even if they are recommended. There are some kinds of sawdust shaving that can make it hard for the snake to breathe and can cause a buildup of nasal fluids which can lead to them only being able to breath through their mouth. If they can only breathe through their mouth, they can't eat and breathe at the same time. Sand is also a good place for bacteria to live. So that means every time your snake has a bowel movement you're going to have to replace all the sand in the cage.
Keep things simple. A piece of artificial turf or newspaper works fairly well. If you choose artificial turf have two sets so when the snake goes to the bathroom you can switch in one, clean the other, rinse and repeat. The only problem I have had with artificial turf is that when it got old and started to fall apart, my snake had healthy problems. Newspapers you don't have to clean so you can just line the cage with news papers and just replace it when the snake goes to the bathroom. If some of the mess gets on the cage be sure to clean the area with soapy water and a sponge and then rinse the soap away. I personally use newspaper since it seems to be the most agreeable for my snakes health.
Now, you will absolutely need something rough in the cage for the snake to rub against. Snakes are not like humans where skin is concerned; their skin cells do not fall off all the time. Instead they shed it in one massive layer every month or so depending on how fast they are growing. A rough object will help them do what they need to do and keep them happy, even better if the object also gives them something to hide under. Some snakes love being in dark places so a place to hide is always a good idea. If it doesn't provide a hiding place you can always put a log or another piece of newspaper in there. If they want to hide all that much they will get creative, trust me.
Water bowl, temperature and humidity gauge, adjustable heat pad that can be put under the cage. If you have properly researched your pet you will know the room temperature and humidity they need to survive. If it isn't humid enough throw in some wet sponges in a plastic bowl. If it is too humid, you need to speak with a vet about it. There may be a few ways to solve the problem, none of which I know. I cannot stress how important it is for the heat pad to be adjustable. Like people with hot or cold showers, snakes like their heat pads at certain temperatures and there is even a way to tell what your snakes personal preference. First off the heat pad should only be underneath half of the cage. This way the snake can get off the heat pad if the snake is warm enough. Now with that said, it is really easy to tell how to set your pad. First make sure which way on the dial makes it hotter or colder. Second, set the pad to a setting that is low. If the snake stays on the heat pad all the time, it's too low, if they stay off it, its' too high. If the snake is making its' way around looking happy and spending some time on both sides, you most likely have the right temperature. I personally stay away from heat lamps and rocks as neither of these have a heat setting most of the time and are generally too hot.
For food once again your research should have told you what is best to feed the snake while it is young and an adult. For my snake, I fed her baby mice when she was young and then moved to two babies and then adult sized mice. Be sure to know what it is your snake likes to eat. Also if you are feeding it live mammals be sure to supervise the eating without making much movement or noise. The mammal could hurt your snake and any noise or movement you make could make the snake feel unsafe and persuade it not to eat its kill. Because snakes have a slow metabolism, they only need to eat about once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. If they are getting ready to lay eggs it can be up to five times a week. If the snake is crawling around the cage flicking their to.
And oh yes, lets not forget the cage. Now, this is yet another thing your research should have told you but sometimes things don't always work out the way research says it will. My research showed corn snakes live to about ten and grow to be about 3 feet in length. Well Rosey is 12 years old and is now 4 and ½ feet long so naturally I upgraded from her recommended 50 gallon tank to a 70 gallon. Even with her new tank, she doesn't have all that much room. If I had the money for it I would buy her a large tank to crawl around in but the bigger the cage the more complicated making the proper environment for the snake becomes. Go with the recommended size of cage when you start out, but be ready to make a size increase in case you have an above average snake.
Ok, so let's say you get the ideal habitat set up, good for you. Now you need to actually spend time with your snake. Hold it as much as you can when the snake is young. This way it gets used to being handled and is less likely to feel threatened when crawling around on you. If you do as I did and avoid a heat lamp, take it for walks outside and get it some sunlight. Snakes need their vitamin D just like we do and that comes from sunlight. Just make sure that if you are walking around with your snake to keep an eye out for birds of prey and dogs or cats. From what I hear snakes taste like chicken. Lets' not have the new addition to the family become someone's next meal. Leaving the snake near a window is not a good idea. Direct sunlight is like going to the beach, too much of it and you can get burnt; best to leave the snake in indirect light and take them for walks.
So, when it come down to it, you need to be sure to first research the breed of snake you whish to own, then find what kind of habitat the breed of snake requires in which to be happy while it is in your care. If you talk to a proper authority about these things (preferably a breeder or a veterinarian) and are able to acquire the equipment you need to fulfill these requirements, your pet snake will live to grow old and be happy.
- Corn snake information
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