Animal Care


snakeThe Right Pet for You?

Reptiles like snakes may be interesting and unusual, but they need specialist care and some can be a challenge to keep well. They are also expensive to look after correctly. Before getting any pet, you should think very hard about whether you can provide everything it needs.

What do reptiles need? Your snake deserves the best care possible so make sure you are also prepared to:

  • A great deal of space. A Burmese python can reach over five metres. As reptiles grow, they need more and more space.
  • To be fed with the right kind of food. You may have to obtain this from a specialist, and the reptile's diet could include insects or rodents.
  • A specially built home that recreates the reptile's natural environment as closely as possible. This includes controlling the levels and quality of light, with a range of temperatures and humidity in accordance with the animal's needs. Some reptiles need to spend time in water to bathe or swim, branches for climbing and many require ultra-violet light, which can all be very expensive to provide.
  • A secure enclosure is also important. A reptile that escapes from its warm environment into the wild can suffer and die. Some reptiles are dangerous, such as venomous snakes.
  • Anyone deciding to keep a reptile needs to find out about the specialist care it needs in captivity and be prepared to take on the commitment of time and money throughout its long life.
  • To have help from an experienced keeper on keeping and a veterinary surgeon if they are ill or injured. You may have to travel some distance to find a specialist vet.
  • To be looked after when you are away on holiday.

Life span
Some snakes for 50 years.

Most reptiles kept as pets originally come from tropical or sub-tropical climates. They are entirely dependent upon their owners to provide suitable conditions for them and will suffer a great deal if their complex needs are not met.

All reptiles need careful and expert handling. It is important to learn the correct way to pick up a snake, to avoid injuring the animal or putting yourself at risk. Large snakes may need more than one person to handle and large reptiles should not be handled by young children.

The RSPCA strongly advises that you do not breed from reptiles, unless you are prepared to take on the long-term commitment to provide the specialist care for any offspring, or you can already rehome to someone with the required knowledge and facilities.

Many reptiles need ultra-violet light from the sun to help make vitamin D and absorb calcium. In captivity this needs to be provided artificially, otherwise they will start to absorb calcium from their own bones, leaving them too weak to move.

Some snakes, like the Californian kingsnake or the garter snake, need artificial heat. However, they can be seriously burned if this is not provided correctly.

If a Burmese python does not have access to water for bathing, it may have difficulty shedding its skin. Some snakes, such as many pythons and the anaconda, need to spend time in water to stay healthy.

Despite many reptiles now being bred in captivity, every year, millions of animals, including reptiles, are trapped from the wild and sold into the international pet trade. Many die during capture or transport, and those that reach pet shops may be sick or weak from their ordeal.

A variety of illnesses, injuries and infections can be caused by keeping reptiles in unsuitable conditions. It is vital to find out as much as possible about a reptile's natural environment and its diet in order to prevent suffering.

  • learn more about what you're taking on - snakes can vary greatly in size, from less than one metre for some king snakes, to up to 10 metres for a reticulated python
  • take care choosing a floor covering that allows natural behaviour, like burrowing - so, if your snake eats it, no harm is caused
  • only keep venomous snakes if you have a secure enclosure, experience and a licence from your local authority.

Most snakes are only active at night or during low light levels, so make sure the location of your snake's home, the types of lamps and the time of day he/she is handled does not cause disturbance or harm.

Points to consider before you choose your pet:

  • research the species of animal you plan to keep.
  • each species will have special needs
  • take care to avoid acquiring a wild-caught animal
  • prepare a stable home
  • find out about the humidity, temperature and light levels needed for the reptile being kept and, therefore, the most suitable type of equipment
  • make sure you have the appropriate food and know where to obtain further supplies
  • find a vet with experience of treating the species of animal you plan to keep.

Points to consider after you acquire your pet:

  • maintain a stable home for your pet
  • use thermometers and thermostats to monitor and maintain a stable temperature range
  • hygrometers can also be used to monitor and maintain stable humidity levels
  • maintain good hygiene using appropriate products and ventilation, whilst minimising the disturbance of the animal.

Read the RSPCA Snakes Pet Card for essential information about your pet

Common Garter Snake

Download a Common Garter Snake Care Sheet from the RSPCA website

Rat & Corn Snakes

Download a Rat & Corn Snake Care Sheet from the RSPCA website.

Royal Python Snake

Download a Royal Python Snake Care Sheet from the RSPCA website.

Information & Photos are taken from the RSPCA


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