First Few Days With a New Pet Snake
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 to 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.
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 you don't give it time to get settled in. That's why the 5 to 7 days is often recommended.