First Few Days With a New Pet Snake - PetHelpful - By fellow animal lovers and experts
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First Few Days With a New Pet Snake

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Mainly I'm into reptiles, mostly snakes but other scaly creatures as well.

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Adjustment Time and Handling

If you're like most people when you get a new pet of any kind, the first thing you want to do is spend time showing it to anyone and everyone who you might meet. While this is certainly tempting, it is one of the worst things you can do with a new pet snake. They need a period of adjustment during which they can get comfortable with their new surroundings. The length of time required varies, but most people who deal with snakes agree that it generally takes 5 to 7 days.

During the adjustment period, you should make every effort not to disturb or otherwise stress the snake. There are a few things you can do that will help with this effort.

  • Keep the cage out of high traffic areas, so the snake isn't bothered by lots of people walking by all the time
  • Avoid handling the snake during this time.
  • Don't attempt to feed the snake during this time
  • Change the water every day
  • Spot clean any waste in the cage but don't clean the entire cage

Once the 5 to 7 days have passed begin by handling the snake a little bit at a time. Some are more tolerant of it than others. If the snake is agitated, trying to bite, and generally uncomfortable with being held don't force it. Sometimes you'll be able to hold one for an hour other times a snake will take several weeks of dedicated effort before it trusts you. There are a few tricks you can use to calm a snake down.

  • Because snakes are ectothermic, they become lethargic as the temperature drops. If you allow the snake to cool down slightly it might be a little easier to handle. Please if you decide to try this approach make sure you know the safe temperature ranges for your pet and stay within those. Going to low for too long can cause a variety of health issue.
  • Let your snake become familiar with you by putting your hand in it's cage. Don't try to grab it or even touch the snake. Just let your hand rest inside the snake's tank, so it begins to become familiar with your scent and doesn't associate you with something trying to eat it. Even 2 or 3 minutes at a time twice a day will help. Eventually, the snake will come out and investigate.
  • Handle the snake during it's "down time." I find it much easier to handle a stressed snake during the times they would normally be sleeping. Many snakes are nocturnal, so the best time to handle them might be during the day. At night those snakes are more active, and their natural tendency to be moving around could be mistaken for agitation.

Once your snake gets used to you handling, it should become much easier, but remember each snake has a distinct personality and just because it's normally considered a gentle or easily handled species doesn't mean it is true of every member. I have a ball python that hisses and bites if you get within 2 feet of her and they are known as a species of snake for being docile. I've had her for 12 years, and she's been like this since day one. In other words, don't assume that every snake is going to be a lap pet, some won't be.

First Feeding

Five to seven days after you get the snake home, regardless of if you are able to handle it or not, you need to feed it. I like to give it the same thing it has been eating before I brought the animal home because I find it to be much less of a hassle. Before I get the snake I make sure I know what it's diet has been and also make sure to have it in the house. Since I feed frozen/thawed, this is pretty easy to do. The way I feed the first time is straight forward.

  • Thaw the frozen rodent (or other mammal) out thoroughly. Don't microwave or otherwise "cook" it. This will cause all kinds of problems, one of which is there is a better than good chance it will explode all over the inside of your microwave, leaving a nice smelling, green disgusting mess to clean up. Been there, done that... Instead, put it in a plastic bag and set it next to the snake's tank. It might take all day or a few hours depending on how warm the room is. Either way, this is a good practice and has a huge benefit which I'll explain in the next item.
  • Prescenting the room with the odor of the prey is a great way to get a snake's "feeding mode" turned on. By letting the rodent thaw out at room temperature right near the snake's cage, you will be prescenting that room. Even after you've had the snake for many, many years, this is a good practice to continue.
  • Put the prey in with the snake. I highly recommend you use feeding tongs instead of just sticking your hands in or throwing the food in. First, because you don't want to startle the snake by just tossing a dead rat in on top of its head and second because you don't want the snake to mistake the heat and movement of your hand for dinner. Remember, it has already been smelling and tasting the scent of the food because you've been prescenting the room and the snake is poised and ready to eat!
  • Leave the prey in for about 90 minutes (1.5 hours). Often I find the snake will come out immediately and take the rodent from the feeding tongs, but if it doesn't, I'll leave it in the cage with the snake. Be sure to secure everything, so your snake doesn't get out. I'll come back about an hour and a half later and see if the snake has eaten or not. If so I'll just leave it alone for about 3 days while it digests the meal. If the rodent is still there, you have to take it out and throw it away. Do not save it for another feeding, don't refreeze it just throw it out.

The first feeding is often the hardest with a new snake. This is particularly true if the snake has never fed before. A reputable breeder will have made sure that a snake has gone through its first shed and first feeding before selling a snake, but there are people who can't be bothered. Another reason it can be difficult is that you don't give it time to get settled in. That's why the 5 to 7 days is often recommended.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2009 petsnakes

Reader Comments

Grace on September 01, 2020:

Hi, just got a ball python today and was she was fine in the car on the way back and when i got her out the box, but when i put her in the vivarium and tried to stroke her an hour later she tensed up and started hissing at me? Is this normal and how long will it take for her to calm down?

Brenna on July 08, 2020:

I’m getting my first snake so I’m researching

CG on January 21, 2020:

I think it depends on the snake, where it came from, its experiences and health and breed etc. I had some snakes that did just fine, then some where it was a no handle and some where it was a force feed moment. It varies. But, a good rule for new owners I can see would be to follow a standard protocol of acclimation, introduction, then feed. So many different situations with a new environment for any reptile. There sometimes can be no one way to handle it.

Belle on October 06, 2019:

Hello I was wondering since I got my snake two days ago I’ve had to handle it a few times so I could move her thermostat, she didn’t seem to care very much and moved around in my hands instead of balling up and hiding. Plus she likes to wander around her cage a lot and explore instead of staying in her hides all day. I just wanted to know if that was a good thing or not and if I’m stressing her out to much.

Lisa hoy on September 19, 2019:

While trying to feed my ball python her meal I dropped the mouse in tank off the tongs she never ate it and now is acting strange she came out during the day looking around and was more active then normal she tried to strike at me a few times never done this before is this normal

ivy on July 13, 2019:

Just got ball python , he is very social and loves to be handled should i still leave him alone for 5 to 7 days ? he isnt showing any signs of stress and shows to be very comfortable while handling . Any info would be appreciated , thanks.

Anonymous on April 28, 2019:

Is it the same for every snake?

Hadley on December 22, 2018:

Can it eat anything other than the frozen rodents? My mom isn’t very happy with the idea of them in the freezer.

ARRAKIS on September 11, 2018:

Just got my new baby jaguar Carpet Python today, just want to let you know what we did together. First thing i held her got a good 10 min straight so she would get to know my scent, secound i put her in her new encloser where she exslored fully, once that was complete she passed out for hours, then i held her for a other 10 min and then ran to the store picked up a fuzzy mouse and fed it to her. She took it without hesitation, i find this leave your snake alone nonsese.

Adler on August 19, 2018:

I got a new baby corn snake yesterday and she said it was supposed to be fed tomorrow do I feed it tomorrow or wait 5 to 7 days?

Sara on August 18, 2018:

My new ball is not latching on to fuzzy, it strikes and then let’s go immediately, the breeder told me just to leave it in the cage but that didn’t work either ,, any suggestions

Max on April 29, 2018:

I fed my new snake on the 2nd day and handled it on the 1st and there seemed to be no problem

Erin Johnsonvega on March 28, 2018:

Ok which is the LESS. Strikiest which one doesn't bite or strike a lot is it the female of male????

Kylir on January 03, 2018:

Christa I’ve heard to just let it be, if you pull away or yank the snake away too hard, then results of dental health problems may occur, and it only hurts like a cat bite

Shannon on November 14, 2017:

I just got a new ball python and she seems like she wants to strike i just feed her two hoppers and now she has went under her bedding

Christa on April 09, 2017:

I may get a corn snake. I've decided I will put it in my bonus room, out of the way, and so it's not stressed. But I have a question. If the snake bites me, should I pull it off, or just let it be. I've read many articles telling me to let it be, but this is my first snake, and I feel like I might panic if it bites me and try to pull it off. How do I become more comfortable with letting it smell and get used to me?

michael smith on March 07, 2012:

just got an 8ft snake how often do i need to feed it at this time it on 2 med size rabbits and 4 med rats am i doin the right thing or not

petsnakes (author) from United States on May 12, 2010:

A few times Reese...

No Lenny, it's not one of the few snakes that can eat insects. Try small frogs, worms, and fish.

Reese on May 12, 2010:

Have you ever seen the site pet-snakes.com?

Lenny on May 06, 2010:

i got a garden snake in the back yard last night. can it eat bugs