Getting a Pet Snake

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 23, 2023
4 min read

While most snakes are wild, many are domesticated as pets because of their reputation for being mysterious and exotic. 

Are snakes legal to keep as a pet? In most places, reptiles are legal. However, some states and localities may have restrictions or bans on certain reptile breeds. This can include where and how you adopt. For example, you may need to obtain a permit if you want to capture a wild reptile to keep as a pet. This might not be necessary, though, when adopting one from captivity. You can check your local US Fish and Wildlife office for more specifics.

Keep in mind that it is never legal to release a reptile into the wild that is not native to your area. If you find that you cannot provide proper care for your pet, contact a wildlife preserve to take over care of your reptile.

Prepare for the purchase of a snake. First, you’ll want to decide what breed of snake you wish to adopt. Once you’ve decided on a breed of snake, consider how big your new pet will get so you can have appropriate housing in place for it.

Make sure you understand different breeds of snakes and stay away from ones that are venomous, including:

  • Rattlesnakes
  • Copperheads
  • Cottonmouths
  • Water moccasins
  • Coral snakes

Common pet breeds that are considered domesticated include:

  • Kingsnakes
  • Rat snakes
  • Garter snakes
  • Corn snakes
  • Pythons
  • Boa constrictors

If you’ve had pet dogs or cats, you’re familiar with “pet-proofing” your house. It’s important to remember that snakes also require diligent preparation. For example, airborne toxins from chemical cleaners can cause damage to your snake’s lungs and should be used only when your reptile is safely put away. 

Preparing your home for snakes. Snakes are not always compatible with other animals as pets. In fact, even well-intentioned owners make the mistake of leaving snakes at home with other pets. This can lead to unfortunate events where another pet is harmed.

Since snakes carry diseases like salmonella that can infect humans, your pet should be kept confined in an appropriate cage or room. Snakes were not intended to be cuddled or held. If your snake spends time roaming around, plan to disinfect your home afterward to avoid cross-contamination. 

Snake accommodations. Appropriate housing ensures that your pet feels safe and stress-free, leading to better health outcomes. Your snake’s health is a direct reflection of its environment. 

Each breed has varying requirements, but there are some general guidelines you can expect to follow: 

  • Adequate space for the size of your snake
  • Good ventilation for his cage or tank
  • Clean, safe bedding and surroundings
  • Fresh water
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Secure lid latches or clips to prevent snakes from escaping
  • Appropriate environment – consider whether your snake prefers a warmer or cooler environment or if it likes to climb
  • Some snakes need adequate humidity

Feeding your snake. Snakes are primarily carnivores, no matter what the breed. You should primarily feed your pet snake thawed, pre-killed rodents. You may be tempted to provide live rodents during mealtime, but this isn’t humane for the rodents or safe for your snake.

Rodents that fight back may cause harm to your snake. Additionally, you don’t know what diseases a live rodent may carry and introduce to your snake.

Shedding. Since snakes are constantly growing new skin cells, your pet snake will shed the old. In some cases, it may need help removing the old skin.

Veterinary care. Seek out a veterinarian who specializes in the care of snakes. In fact, you may consider enlisting the help of a veterinarian before finalizing the adoption of a snake. A vet can help you navigate local laws, choose a breed that is easier to maintain, and find a reputable breeder for adoption. 

Your vet can also tell you what to do to create the best home environment for your snake. Since housing conditions and nutrition affect your pet’s lifespan, you want to make sure you get it right from the beginning.

Snakes are very intelligent. Since they are wild animals, however, they are not considered a species to train. 

General training for your snake. The majority of snakes cannot be trained. It is important to note that snakes bred in captivity are considered tame. Their wild counterparts may have difficulty adjusting to life as a pet. 

Toilet training. The good news is, your pet snake doesn’t want to live in an environment covered in urine and feces. Because of this, it may choose one place in the cage to use the bathroom. With this in mind, choose a cage or tank with enough space for your snake, and clean up after your pet regularly to maintain good health.