Snakes
by Nancy Rothenrand

If you are one of the legions of people who have acquired, or are about to obtain a new pet snake, then you are also about to have a rewarding experience. Snakes have a lot to teach us. A properly maintained terrarium can be a work of art -- many are prominently displayed in homes -- so long as the snake keeper keeps some essential information in mind:

  1. Be sure you give your snake enough heat -- that means enough for the snake, not you. A snake is best kept at warmer, summer temperatures of 85 - 100 F, unless being cooled for hibernation. Temperate zone species may tolerate a 30 drop in temperature at night, but tropical species rarely do well with such fluctuations.
  2. Never, ever use your snake to scare somebody! Many people are afraid of snakes, some pathologically so. Using a snake to scare a person is irresponsible of you, may injure the other person and is traumatic for the snake.
  3. Be sure to feed your snake an adequate diet at appropriate intervals. Snakes under 3 feet should generally be fed prey about the size of an adult mouse once or twice per week. Larger snakes take more or larger prey at less frequent intervals. Truly large snakes may eat only once per year, but these are not snakes for novices.
  4. Do not handle snakes after feeding, or until they have digested their meals. If a snake is handled too soon after eating, it is often likely to regurgitate the meal, and may refuse to feed for many days afterward.
  5. Snakes must shed their skins, but they do much better if you do not help them. If the snake has been fed and watered well, it will grow, and the old skin is carefully broken by the snake and shed in one piece. If a snake sheds in patches, it may be dehydrated or have a nutritional disorder.
  6. Do your homework! Buying a snake is not the same as knowing how to care for it properly. It is your responsibility to learn about your snake and any special needs it will have in captivity. For example, unless you carefully teach your snake otherwise, many have specialized diets: garter snakes eat fish and frogs, hognose snakes eat toads, and corn snakes eat small rodents and eggs.
  7. Get a snake veterinarian lined up now. Snakes have slower metabolisms than us mammals, so they may manifest symptoms long after contracting an illness. Waiting to find a qualified vet until the snake is ill may be too late.
  8. Clean the snake's cage as it becomes dirty -- don't merely wait for Saturday morning.
  9. Only use appropriate disinfectants for a snake cage. You may use rubbing alcohol, soap, and specialty products available at your pet shop. Do not use chlorine bleaches, or industrial cleansers such as Ajax or Comet, as their residues are often toxic to snakes. Lysol is particularly dangerous.
  10. Always wash your hands well with soap and water after handling your snake or the cage accessories. Snakes, like most animals, may harbor dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella.
Okay, now go watch your snake and have some fun!