Snake Basics

Snakes can be fascinating pets, but it is important that would-be snake owners do their research to make sure a particular species of snake is appropriate for their household. People who adopt snakes should be prepared to make a long-term commitment since snakes often live 20 years or longer. Snakes must be fed prey animals, so anyone adopting a snake has to be comfortable with feeding rodents, or other small animals, to the pet.

Once the decision is made to purchase a snake, a reputable pet store or breeder should be visited. It is not recommended to attempt to keep a wild snake as a pet since snakes captured in the wild are more difficult to tame and more likely to be carrying parasites or infected with disease.

Home Environment

Snakes need room to move around and should be able to stretch out to at least two-thirds of their body length in their terrarium. It is usually best to get an enclosure designed to fit the snake's eventual size, rather to to keep buying larger enclosures. Because snakes are extremely good at escaping, they have to be kept safely enclosed in a container without small holes or gaps. The bottom of their cage should be lined with newspaper or aspen shavings. Cedar chips should not be used because they can be harmful to snakes.

Snakes, being reptiles, are cold-blooded and require external sources of heat in their cages. The heat source should be at one side of the container so that the snake can regulate its own body temperature by moving closer or farther away. Since snakes like to be able to hide, there should be smaller tubes or enclosures at either end so the snake can make itself comfortable at different temperature settings.


Rodents are the major nutritional mainstay of snakes. Some snakes are more fussy about eating live prey and some are perfectly content with frozen specimens. For potential snake owners, it is considerably more convenient if the snake will eat frozen or thawed rodents. While this will involve giving over freezer space, it will necessitate far fewer trips to the pet store.

In general, snakes should be fed once a week, although very young snakes may need to be fed twice weekly. Snakes should not be handled until they have finished digesting, demonstrated by the absence of the bulge of their last meal, or by the fact that they have defecated.

Snakes, like all animals, need fresh water available at all times.


Snakes require clean conditions to thrive. Snake cages should be cleaned regularly with frequent special attention paid to the water bowl which can easily become contaminated with uneaten food or feces, especially since snakes often enjoy curling up in the moisture.

Choosing a Pet Snake

There are many varieties of snakes available for adoption, but not all snakes remain equally healthy in captivity, so the choice should be made carefully. There are several things to consider before adopting a specific species of snake as a pet. These include:

  • Lifespan
  • Nutritional needs
  • Space considerations
  • Dangers

It is important to know how large the particular snake will grow so space can be set aside accordingly. It is also necessary to understand whether the pet will need live prey or will be content to eat frozen prey. Temperament of the species chosen is also a consideration.

In terms of ease of handling, health in captivity, size and nutritional habits, the following snakes make good pets:

  • Corn snakes
  • King snakes
  • Gopher snake
  • Ball pythons

Snakes that are dangerous to their humans, such as venomous or constrictor snakes, are poor choices as pets.

Additional Resources