11 Supplies For A First Time Snake Owner

Snakes are amazing animals and they can be some of the easiest pets to keep in your home. I personally believe that snakes can also help people with anxiety. There is something about holding a snake and feeling it slowly slither on your arm that is quite calming. Maybe because snakes are typically slow movers and your heart rate slows to match with their movements. They all have different personalities and have different needs varying from snake to snake. ball python is blind in one eye so he has to be handled differently so he isn’t startled and he can’t be fed live food because he doesn’t have the ability to hunt with accuracy. However, he has a very social personality and gets antsy if I don’t take him out and handle him on a regular basis. There are others that don’t want to be handled often. Some snakes are timid, some are aggressive, and some of them are like mine and just love meeting new people. While they can be different in their personalities and their needs, there are some things that don’t change from snake to snake; and those things would be the supplies that a snake owner needs.

1. Housing

There are a number of options when it comes to where your snake will “live” and it’s really up to you and your preferences. While there are many options, I personally believe that a snake needs a real terrarium like this one on amazon. A terrarium is an enclosure that is made of glass, not mesh. It’s not good for a reptile of any type to have a mesh enclosure because it lets too much heat and humidity out, which we will talk about later. The size of terrarium will depend on the type and size of your snake. For example, a ball python can be stressed out or overwhelmed by a terrarium that is “too big” for its size. A ball python should never be in a 40-gallon tank, it is common to want to provide your snake with a lot of room because that is what mammals need but reptiles are very different animals. Male ball pythons aren’t commonly known to go over 4 feet and females aren’t commonly known to get over 6 feet. While that sounds like it will need a large cage, ball pythons spend their lives in hiding places and only actively slither about if they are stressed or scared. Because they spend their lives in hiding, it is usually a good idea to cover 3 sides of the terrarium with black poster board to help them feel more secure. If the cage is too open, the snake will feel exposed and unsafe. Even if it is in a hide, the snake can feel like it is vulnerable to attack and could become more aggressive out of fear.

2. Temperatures

Reptiles are cold-blooded animals and they cannot regulate their own temperature. In the wild, snakes live in areas that are high heat like the dessert. Due to this fact, it is absolutely vital that you have a heating source for any reptile. The most common heating source for a reptile is an overhead heating lamp. This is significantly different than a desk lamp and cannot be substituted by such. A heating lamp must be paired with a special kind of bulb; again this bulb cannot be substituted by an every day light bulb. Many snake owners believe the myth that all snakes need a UVB light, which provides heat as well as a “sun” for the snakes, while in actuality; the reptiles that require the UVB light are lizards and tortoises. There are a small number of uncommon snakes that do require it, but those snakes aren’t the best option for a first time owner. They are mostly venomous ones. 

Corn snakes, ball pythons, boas and king snakes are able to satisfy their Vitamin D needs on their own through dietary means. Because many snakes are nocturnal, having an overhead “sun” beaming down on them constantly will actually stress them out. The best option for overhead is a ceramic infrared heat bulb. There are different wattages so it’s important to research what is best for your snake and tank size.

3. Substrate

Substrate is basically the ground that the snake lives on. As with everything else, different snakes will need different kinds of substrate. It usually depends on the humidity that the snakes need to live in. Desert based snakes will feel more comfortable with sand and forest based snakes will feel more comfortable with something like coconut fiber substrate. It’s important to know what your snake’s natural habitat is and do your best to mimic it. Additionally, many reptiles need high levels of humidity (minus the desert based reptiles, obviously) and some substrate hold humidity better than others.

4. Humidity

As I mentioned before, humidity is very important for many reptiles. Ball pythons, for example, are found in the grasslands of Africa, which is a very high humidity environment. Snake owners should take different approaches based on where they live and the natural humidity of their area. Snake owners that live in a desert area like Arizona in the United States or Cairo, Egypt should consider having a reptile humidifier. People who live in more humid areas like the Southern States in America might not need an actual humidifier but should get a spray bottle so that you can mist the cage and the snake a few times a day.

5. Laser Thermometer

It’s important to remember that you cannot assume your snake’s home is warm enough. Because they need specific temperatures, it is vital to make sure you know exactly what the temperature of their terrarium is. Believe it or not, your snake’s tank can also be TOO hot. Ball pythons need a “warm side” and a “cool side” to their tank and the “warm” side should never go above 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 32 degrees Celsius. If the tank is too warm, it can cause neurological damage and if it is too cold, the snake can get very sick. Using a laser thermometer can ensure that you know the exact temperature of the different parts of your snakes tank to keep them happy and healthy.

6. Humidity Monitor

Just like monitoring your snake’s heat, humidity is important to keep track of. Your snake will need one level of humidity during most of their time but when they are going to shed, they will need higher humidity so that the skin they are getting rid of comes off in one piece and they aren’t stuck with little pieces on their bodies. Weather also changes the humidity in their tank; it won’t always be the same. For example, during a storm the air is naturally more humid; during that time, your snake’s tank will likely be more humid and you will need to adjust accordingly. I like to use this two in one humidity and temperature gage inside the enclosure.

7. Terrarium Décor

Substrate isn’t enough to mimic the snake’s natural environment. If you have a tree boa, it needs to have sturdy branches to climb onto and hang out in and vines to mimic the leafy trees they are used to. It is best to get artificial branches and leaves for this so that you can ensure that there are no bugs from the outside that are getting onto your snake that could harm him. Ball pythons require two or more places to hide. They feel most comfortable when they are in a tight, dark place. Desert snakes will also need places to hide and objects to slither over, but won’t need vines or branches to slither on. When you learn about the heat and humidity of where the snake is from, take note of things that are found in that environment and do your best to make a copy of it for them.

8. Snake Hook

All snakes will have varying temperaments and different comfort levels but it is always a good idea to have a snake hook. One reason to have one is simply to help you get a grip on the snake if it’s a boa or something large that can be difficult to get your hand around without lifting it up first. It’s also important if you have a jumpy snake and are nervous to pick it up with your hands right away. What the hook comes in most handy with is if you have a snake that’s in a bad mood but you need to change the water in the tank or clean up some poop, you can just lift the snake slightly or use the hook to come between you and the snake so it doesn’t bite you while you’re doing what you need to do. It also comes in handy if your snake is an escape artist that slithers under your bed or something.

9. Food

When it comes to feeding, it is very much snake specific. You can feed them mice or rats (or rabbits for the larger snakes but, again, I wouldn’t recommend them for a first time snake owner). Most snakes will have a preference of what they eat and how it is given to them. The easiest way to find out what your snake needs is to ask the breeder or pet store what he/she has been eating; rats or mice. The different ways to feed are using live rodents, frozen rodents that you thaw before feeding, or pre-killed rodents that you have to kill before feeding. This is all up to the snake’s preference. The first thing you should test is frozen feed. That’s the easiest way to feed because you don’t have to handle live rodents, the risk of your snake being bitten is taken away, and you can have a number of them on hand so you don’t have to go out and buy food each week.

10. Feeding Tongs

Not only is it a little bit less gross to handle the feed with tongs so that you don’t have to touch a dead rat with your hands, it is also much safer to use tongs. When a snake is in “hunting mode” it will not be able to differentiate your hand from the rat or mouse. You risk getting bitten by a hungry snake. There are a few herpetologists that believe if a snake bites your hand when it is hungry, it will continue to think your hand is food and will become more aggressive. This is not a common belief, but either way it is a very good idea to have specific feeding tongs.

11. Tank Cleaning Spray

Remember, snakes are from the wild. Even when born in captivity, their genetics are bred for the wild. Their skin, tongue, eyes, etc. are not used to typical cleaning products that you have around the house. It’s important to clean and disinfect your snake’s tank every 4-6 weeks so that bacteria in the substrate doesn’t grow. Remember that the snake is pooping and peeing in the substrate and even if you clean it out of the cage, the bacteria is still there. Additionally the substrate can collect bacteria on its own. When you clean out the tank, you need to throw out all of the used substrate and disinfect with reptile safe cleaning spray. Having a snake is very special and very cool, but they have different needs than the pets that everyone is used to. These 11 tips will put you on the right path to a happy and healthy snake. 

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