One of the things that many people find scary about snakes is that they seem to show very little emotion.
They wonder how you tell whether a pet snake is happy or depressed, friendly or aggressive.
A common question is therefore: “do snakes like being pets?”
The short answer is “no” – snakes do not like being pets.
They will, however, learn to tolerate it. And when cared for properly, many species will even thrive in captivity.
In this article we’ll dig more into that answer and look at how a snake’s natural lifestyle impacts their care as pets…
- 1 Snakes in the Wild
- 2 Tolerance Not Attraction
- 3 Do Pet Snakes Show Affection?
- 4 Do Pet Snakes Recognize Their Owners?
- 5 How to Tame Your Snake
- 6 What is the Benefit to a Snake of Being a Pet?
- 7 Conclusion
Snakes in the Wild
Even if you live in an area with lots of snakes you’re pretty unlikely to see many of them. Snakes, by definition, typically spend their days hiding away in nature.
This has two distinct benefits. Firstly it avoids them becoming dinner for a larger animal. It also makes it easy to take prey items by surprise.
When snakes are disturbed, such as by your heavy footsteps in the distance or an excitable dog out on a walk, they typically choose to slink off into the undergrowth or under a rock.
Only when cornered will a snake typically show any signs of aggression, and that’s because they want out of the situation now.
So broadly speaking snakes avoid contact with humans all costs, assuming that these heavy, lumbering beasts represent a potential source of danger to them.
This can create problems for snake keepers, as there is a risk that pet snakes can become stressed when housed in close proximity to us.
Tolerance Not Attraction
Naturally, snakes avoid human contact. Within the confines of your home, of course, this simply isn’t possible.
Over time, however, and with enough patience, your pet snake should start to calm down.
They should be less likely to bolt across their cage away from you. They’ll squirm less when picked up. Hopefully they’ll lose that willingness to bite – if they have it at all.
It’s important, however, to state that this is more “tolerance” than “attraction”. With enough exposure to you, your snake can learn that you’re really not a threat. They can act more normally around you.
In summary, snakes typically don’t seek out their owner’s attention, and would far rather be left to their own devices. So while many common pet snakes can be held for short periods of time, snakes are generally best thought of as pets to admire from a distance.
Do Pet Snakes Show Affection?
Snakes don’t show affection toward their owners. Your snake really couldn’t care less whether they see you from one day to next, assuming their needs are met. Quite the opposite; they’d probably rather they didn’t have to deal with you ever again.
Now there are cases where a snake may “appear” to be showing affection. For example, a snake that gets used to being fed when their vivarium is opening may come over to you when they’re hungry.
However it is important to highlight that this isn’t affection; they’ve just been conditioned to expect food when you go into the cage. They’ve gained enough confidence to come toward you in the hope that you’ve got a juicy rodent ready for them.
Incidentally, this is a situation that requires caution on your part; this is when bites can be more likely as your snake misidentifies your hand for a rodent. When you’ve been on the receiving end of such a bite you’ll be under no misapprehension that your snake was being “affectionate”!
Do Pet Snakes Recognize Their Owners?
This is my personal opinion after 25 years of keeping and breeding snakes, but I don’t believe that snakes learn to recognise their owners.
A snake that is tame and is used to being handled can generally be handled by anyone, whether that person is the owner or not.
A snake that is used to people in general will be more likely to eat in front of people, but their behaviour typically won’t change much if that person is you or your friend.
Either a snake learns to tolerate people or it doesn’t. And if it seems to behave differently around different people then that’s likely because they’re acting differently. For example, a snake may remain calm in the hands of an experienced reptile keeper, but lash out if held by an over-excited and noisy child.
This isn’t the snake “recognizing” its owner – it’s really just responding to the behavioural cues it’s being fed in the moment.
How to Tame Your Snake
Taming a snake takes a lot of time and effort. However this investment can be worthwhile because it may reduce the stress your snake feels around people, and it can make cleaning and maintaining your snake easier for both parties.
There are four golden rules when it comes to taming your pet snake:
Snakes like peace and quiet. Noisy, busy environments really aren’t great for snakes. If you want your pet to calm down and accept you as owner then the first step is really to create the right environment.
I suggest placing your snake vivarium in a quiet room of the house, away from sources of noise. That means no TVs or music systems nearby. No children screaming or running around. No dogs barking or cats trying to get into the tank. In essence your snake should be able to go about their days undisturbed.
Initially some pet snakes will appear hyper-active. They’ll explore their cage looking for a way out. They may refuse to eat. They may display aggression towards their owner. In time, however, most will calm down.
So give your snake the right environment where it can learn to feel relaxed. This can take some weeks for a new pet.
Once your snake is settled in and is feeding regularly you can begin the taming process. This really starts with just getting your snake used to your presence. Use slow, gentle movements as anything too fast may spook your snake, causing it to bolt or to try biting.
Perhaps you spend a little time watching them in the evening. Maybe you gently open the cage and try touching the snake. In all this try to maintain an air of calm.
In time, and with enough patience, your snake will learn that you’re probably not a threat. It may even accept being picked up, though this can vary by species and by individual.
Coming face-to-face with a human is an alien and uncomfortable situation for most snakes – unless they’re a captive-bred specimen that has been handled since birth. You therefore need to “ease” into the taming, taking it a step at a time.
Start off with very short doses. Just a few minutes here and there. And slowly build up to longer sessions.
Lastly, remember that this is a process that you can’t hurry. Expect it to take weeks or even months. Over time you’ll establish this mutual trust but it’s unlikely to happen as quickly as you’d like. So – patience, grasshopper!
It is important to mention that snakes can vary significantly in how they handle captivity.
Some species like ball pythons calm down almost immediately.
Others struggle to ever settle down as pets.
Then there can even be differences between members of the same species. I’ve had corn snakes that were almost dog-tame, and one in particular that just wouldn’t accept being handled no matter how hard I tried.
The message here is that all I’m giving you here is “general” advice. As each snake is different, so your experiences may also differ.
What is the Benefit to a Snake of Being a Pet?
So far we’ve discussed that snakes don’t like to be pets, that they don’t build up a bond with their owner, and that they can be difficult to tame. So the obvious question is what are really the benefits to a snake of going through this process?
A tame snake that can be easily handled is perfectly placed for regular health checks. With a little bit of knowledge any snake owner can give their pet a routine check-up, looking for any obvious signs of sickness. For a wild snake, these health issues go untreated. For a pet snake, however, there are veterinarians specializing in reptiles, and so treatment can be provided.
Let’s be honest – snakes are pretty successful at catching prey in the wild. All the same, many attempts to catch prey end in failure, and a snake may go for long periods of time between feeding. In captivity we can provide more regular feeding, so your snake neither goes hungry nor puts on weight.
Your snake’s vivarium provides a safe, predictable environment with places to hide, correct lighting, a constant water supply and the optimal temperature.
Lack of Predation
Possibly the biggest benefit for pet snakes is that there is no risk of them being eaten by predators. This, combined with proper diet and healthcare, means that pet snakes can live a lot longer than their wild counterparts.
Competition for mates and for food is a challenge that most wild animals have to cope with. In captivity, of course, none of this matters.
So – do snakes like being pets? No, but they may learn to tolerate it in time. That’s probably the best we can hope for, and even that process can take time and effort to gently teach your snake that you don’t represent a threat.
Snakes are best thought of like fish. They’re beautiful and fascinating. But ideally you should be looking to give them the perfect environment to keep them healthy, then generally letting them live out their lives with as little interference as possible from you.
The end result is a healthy, happy snake that lives a long and fruitful life.