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Why Do People Keep Snakes as Pets?

Ball Pythons, Pet Snakes

I’ll admit it. Snakes are just cool, and that’s one of the best reasons to keep them as pets. They aren’t affectionate and playful like a dog or cat, but then, if snake owners wanted affection and playtime, they’d just get a dog or cat. Snakes have an appeal all their own, and a big part of that is the “wow” factor. To snake fans, snakes are beautiful animals, and nothing compares to their graceful, lithe movements or the feel of their smooth, dry scales. Some may find them frightening, but that only goes to show that snakes just have something about them — scary to some, but alluring to others.

Snakes have other advantages as pets, too. Once their basic needs are met, they’re some of the easiest and least time-consuming pets to keep. In many ways, they’re easier than keeping an aquarium. What other pet can go for weeks with nothing more than a bowl of water? Snakes only eat once a week or every other week, and if needed, can go a month or longer without food before any harm is done. I don’t suggest trying this with cat!

A snake-keeper’s routine goes something like this. Feed pet. Clean up pet’s after-meal poop. Change water in water dish. Ignore for a week. Repeat.

Okay, okay, there are occasional complications, but compared to just about any other pet, snakes are easy. For people who work long hours or who are away a lot, snakes can be the perfect pet, maybe the only pet. Not only will a snake still be alive after his owner has been gone for three days, but he might not even be hungry yet.

Not only do they not eat very often, but a snake’s diet is downright simpler than any other pet’s. Most snake species eat rodents. That’s all they need, that’s all they ever need, and snake owners never have to worry about their pet’s nutritional intake so long as they’re eating that one food item. This has a big “gross” factor for some people, but for others… well, watching a snake chow down on a rat definitely has a certain nature-documentary appeal to it. It may not be lions bringing down a wildebeest in the Serengeti, but lions don’t fit in my living room, either. Most snakes eat dead (frozen/thawed) prey, which makes it easier on most people, not to mention the meals themselves.

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Snakes are notably easier to keep than other reptiles. Lizards most often need more complicated diets, must be fed daily, and require special lighting which most snakes don’t. Turtles also require more frequent feedings, better lighting, and most often expensive filtration systems and/or frequent water cleanings. If you’re looking for something exotic but still easy to care for, snakes are going to be on the top of the list.

In some ways, snakes are “decorative” pets in the way aquarium fish are, but unlike fish, many can be handled. Most snakes learn to accept handling without fear or biting, and some even enjoy it. There are a few personable pythons, and other snakes, that just don’t seem happy if they don’t get out of the cage to see the world on a regular basis. They aren’t lovehogs like dogs are, but they’re handleable and, in their own way, personable. Individual snakes have distinct personalities and moods.

Some snakes make excellent children’s pets. They may not be as “cute” or fuzzy as what mom and dad had in mind when they said little Johnny could get a pet all his own, but they have other advantages. The snake won’t keel over dead when the kids forget to feed him one day… or even forget they have a pet at all for a week. And most of the more common snakes are surprisingly safe pets. It’s true, large snakes are potentially dangerous animals, but smaller species are actually one of the safest pets we can keep in our homes. Kids are a lot more likely to be bitten by a pet hamster or gerbil than a pet corn snake or ball python. These snakes can bite, but if they’re used to handling, they generally never do. There is a small chance snakes can transmit Salmonella, so kids should wash their hands after handling their pet, but actual cases of this happening are few and far between.

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For the serious snake enthusiast, snakes have even more to offer. As someone who has long been involved with pet rescue efforts, I hate to see people breed most pets — it always seems to lead to trouble for the animals. But snakes are so easy to care for, and difficult to physically or emotionally neglect, that I can talk about the benefits of breeding them without having to lecture about the drawbacks. Breeding snakes can be challenging and endlessly fascinating. There’s always new species, or new color mutations of old species, to keep the breeder interested. Breeding any other pet can seem like just an endless chore — cleaning, feeding, more cleaning, more feeding, and don’t ever think about going on vacation! But even large colonies of breeding snakes can be ignored for a few days, if planned for. I couldn’t recommend breeding animals of any other type to someone who works long hours, but with snakes, it can work. Hobbyist snake breeders can support their hobby by selling offspring, and some hobbyists have eventually gone on to make a living from their pets.

Snakes aren’t the right pets for everyone. No animal is. If you’re frightened of snakes, or someone else in your household is, I can’t think of a good reason to unnecessarily stress yourself or anyone else by keeping a pet snake. If you’re looking for an interactive, affectionate pet… well, snakes can be pretty cool, but they won’t ever truly appreciate a belly rub and won’t show you how glad they are when you come home from work everyday. If you’re looking for a doglike pet, you may find snakes to be just boring. And, of course, as simple as they are to care for, snakes do need care — safe, clean housing, proper humidity, some lighting for most species, and regular feeding. Individual snakes can be more difficult than others — some are picky eaters, some have shedding difficulties, and health problems can and do crop up from time to time. Some species of snakes are generally worse pets in most situations, and some can be downright dangerous in the wrong hands. Just as with any animal, potential snake owners need to do their homework before bringing home a new pet. Snakes are easy to care for, but they’re still living, breathing creatures whose needs we must meet if we take on the responsibility of keeping them in our homes.

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For some people, though, the answer to the question, “Why keep a pet snake?” is, why wouldn’t you? Snakes are just so cool!