Caring for Snake

Although king snakes and corn snakes are easy to care for, it is good to be knowledgeable about your pets in case something goes wrong.  This care sheet provides information on general care and what potential problems can arise.


Your snake should not be released into the wild.  If you must give up your pet, please donate it to a fellow snake owner, a pet store or a wildlife center.  King snakes and Corn Snakes are easy to care for and remain healthy fairly easily.  They are also notoriously good eaters.  NOTE... two king snakes cannot be kept in the same cage (or one will disappear), and that if you’re handling a king snake you should make sure your hands do not smell like another reptile.  King snakes are NOT venomous but do eat venomous snakes in the wild, as they are partially immune to the venom.  King snakes will bite if provoked, but if handled frequently make very docile pets.  Corn snakes can normally be kept together if necessary.

CAGE SET UP
The baby snake can be housed in a 5 to 10 gallon aquarium.  At least a 10 gallon aquarium is needed once the snake is two years old (about three feet long).  When full grown (4-5 years old) the snake will be 4-5 feet long so it would be good for the snake to be in at least a 20 gallon (or larger) aquarium.  I start with at least a 20 gallon to keep costs down.

Provide the snake with a water dish and a hide box.  The water dish should be small, just large enough for the snake to submerge in (when the snake is about to shed, soaking in water helps the skin come off in one piece).  Make sure the snake always has clean water.  The hide box should be opaque and just big enough for the snake to curl up inside.  The snake feels comforted when it is in a small enclosed place, and a hide box that is too large might make the snake stressed.  A hide box can be made out of cardboard or plastic, or they have more expensive and attractive hide boxes for sale at pet stores.

There are many different substrates that can be used in the cage.  Paper towels or newspapers work fine, as does sand, gravel or wood chips.  When buying a substrate, make sure that it is approved for reptiles.  Pine and cedar wood chips in particular are TOXIC for snakes, so make sure to ask at the pet store if a substrate is ok before buying.  I use shredded Aspen.

Snakes are notorious escape artists, and if they can find a way to get out, they will.  So be sure to have the lid attached tightly on the cage, either by putting a heavy object on top, or clips sold at a pet store.

Keep the cage between 75-82ºF at all times.  Room temperature is usually just fine for the snake, but a higher temperature can help their digestion if they’re having difficulties.  You can heat the cage using an undertank heater (heat tape that sticks to the bottom of the cage) or an overhead heat lamp (sits on top of the cage and shines in through the lid).  NEVER use a heat rock or a heat lamp inside the cage.  Heat rocks often short out, burning or electrocuting the snake, and if the snake can reach the heat lamp it will often coil around it and burn itself.  In general, extra heat is not necessary for king snakes or corn snake unless they start throwing up (more on this later).   Remove waste as soon as you can, as it will dampen the substrate and can contribute to the growth of bacteria or mold, as well as smelling bad.

FEEDING
Feed the snake 1 pinky mouse every 5-7 days.  At 6 months of age, you can start feeding 2 pinkies every 5-7 days, and at 9 months you can start feeding 1 fuzzy every 5-7 days.  As the snake grows, you’ll see when it is ready to move on to larger food (mouse sizes are, in order, pinky, fuzzy, hopper, weanling, adult).  Never feed the snake something that is larger than 1 1/2 times the snake’s thickest part. If you are feeding the snake an item that is too large, it may regurgitate after eating.  The snake may also regurgitate if its environment is not warm enough.  If your snake regurgitates, try increasing the temperature and/or feeding smaller food but wait until the next feeding.  Regurgitation is very stressful for the snake, so try to keep it from happening.
If feeding the snake frozen mice, thaw the mouse in a bowl of hot water first.  The mouse is ready when you squeeze it and no longer feel a hard spot of ice in the middle.  This only takes 10 minutes with pinkies, up to an hour with large rats.  Thaw the mouse, do NOT cook it!  Try to use tongs, tweezers or whatever, just try not to touch put your scent on the mouse. If feeding live mice (not advised), be sure to watch to make sure that the snake is interested.  This is not a problem with young mice, but when you get to older mice and rats, if the snake is uninterested in feeding then the mouse can actually wind up attacking and harming the snake.  I recommend using frozen mice, which can be purchased either in pet stores or on websites like Rodentpro.com.  When feeding the snake a thawed mouse, do not hold the mouse in front of it with your hands, as the snake may mistake your hand for the mouse and bite you instead.  Either leave the mouse lying in the cage and try to show the snake that it’s there, or use tongs to hold the mouse in front of the snake.  If the snake refuses to eat, try again the next week. Also note, since the mouse will be wet, the substrate in the cage will stick to it and get pulled into the snake’s mouth.  This can be dangerous for the snake because it can cause an obstruction.  To avoid this, either put a paper towel under the mouse when you place it in the cage, or take the snake out of the cage and feed it in a separate feeding container that has sufficient ventilation. If the snake refuses to eat, try again the next week.
  
This is a rough guide that can be used to determine feeding size.


SHEDDING
The snake will shed about once a month.  You will know it is about to shed when its skin grows opaque and its eyes get cloudy.  The snake will be cloudy for a few days, then go back to normal for a few days, and then shed.  Often, the snake will not eat while cloudy, and will be ill-tempered.  Although the snake can still be handled, it will be ornery because it can not see well, so it might be better to leave the snake alone during this time.  The snake will want to soak in its water dish while it is cloudy.  If it is not able to soak, it may have trouble shedding properly.  In order to shed the snake needs something rough to rub on, like a rock or a stick, so it’s a good idea to have something like that in the cage at all times.  It can take the snake about an hour to shed, and it’s best to leave it alone while it is doing so.

HANDLING
When you first get the snake, let it sit undisturbed in its cage for a day or two.  It will need some time to adjust to its new environment.  After that, you can handle it once or twice a day and increase time gradually.  Handling baby snakes too often can cause them a lot of stress because they will usually freak out when you hold them.  Do not handle it the day after it eats as this may cause it to regurgitate.  When you pick up the snake, grab it very gently by the middle and let it rest in the palm of your hand.  Try not to squeeze.  If the snake is striking at you as you try to pick it up, you can distract it by covering its head with an item such as a paper towel.  Usually the snake will settle down once it is in your hand.  Until the snake is about 6 months old, it will often pee or musk on you when you handle it, as well as buzz its tail (like a rattlesnake).  Try not to hold on to it tightly or make sudden movements, and it should settle down.  Keep holding the snake even after it’s peed or musked on you, and don't put it back into its cage until it is calm.  If your hands smell like mouse or like another snake, the snake may think that you are food, so be sure to wash your hands before handling.


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