4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Adopting My First Snake
Do ample research. Ask lots of questions.
***Please note, I am not a veterinarian or a certified reptile expert or anything of that caliber. I am simply an enthusiastic snake owner. The below are things I have learned from frivolous research as well as my own experiences. All opinions are my own. Should your pet appear to be in a state of distress or emergency, take it to the nearest emergency animal hospital immediately. Additionally, please do not consult me for any of your animal's medical questions, consult a vet first. This website has lots of great resources for finding local reptile and amphibian veterinarians as well as other information.***
Kimchi (above) is my adorable yearling* albino Western Hognose (Heterodon nasicus) snake. I've had her for about two months and she's doing great aside from the fact that she has only eaten once since I adopted her and is also ridiculously dehydrated despite having fresh water daily—more on that to come.
I adopted her from an Orange County, CA pet store in December of 2018. The whole experience was quick and somewhat unplanned. It more or less started with a fascination that probably began with me seeing lots of cool reptile pets on social media. Within about a 48 hour time-span of seeing someone with a pet snake on Instagram, I had adopted a snake and dropped about $800. While reptiles can be more low-maintenance than say a dog or a cat, they can still be costly especially for cooler morphs (see tip #4).
Don't get me wrong, having a pet snake has been nothing short of f**king awesome. She's the coolest to look at and handle and despite what I'm sure many believe, they definitely have distinct personalities. She's a veterinarian favorite (everyone says she's super cute, which is totally true), and she's definitely way more unique than a cat or dog (not to say I don't love fur babies—I hope to have one of my own someday), and she's also sort of an idiot. I love her no matter what, but there definitely are some things I wish I knew before I adopted my sweet Kimchi.
After some speculation, the spontaneous adoption of my pet snake may have been a bit irresponsible. BUT I have four pieces of advice so you (hopefully) don't make the same new-snake-parent mistakes I did.
1. Do AMPLE research.
When I adopted Kimchi, I really only researched snakes for a day or two (and not even the exact breed of snake that Kimchi is). Originally, I had planned on adopting a Mexican Black Kingsnake (which is still on my list), so most of my research (again still not much at all) was geared toward Mexican Black King Snakes. A friend of mine mentioned Hognoses to me, and I Googled them and actually found that they're not great eaters** and had sort of decided that meant I didn't want a Western Hognose. The next day at the pet store, one thing led to another and bada-bing, bada-boom. I got a Western Hognose who is absolutely impossible to feed.
Long story short. If you are going to adopt a snake, KNOW WHAT KIND OF SNAKE YOU WANT TO ADOPT, do ample research on that snake, and DON'T CHANGE YOUR MIND ABOUT WHAT KIND OF SNAKE YOU WANT TO ADOPT unless you do ample research about that type of snake as well.
Note: this research should include, but is not limited to:
- Required Terrarium Size (and the possibility of needing a larger terrarium in the future as your snake grows).
- Heat and Humidity requirements (and how to maintain humidity).
- What they eat and how often (knowing what they eat naturally in the wild can also help if you have a snake that's a picky eater, but it should not necessarily be their regular diet).
- How big they can get and how old can they live to be. Reptiles are as much of a time commitment as a cat or dog.
- Possible health issues (most diseases seem to be common amongst all snakes except for a few that are species specific i.e. wobble in Ball Pythons).
Bottom line—do as much research as possible. You should know everything about your snake before you even meet your snake (I know, creepy, right?).
2. Buy equipment & housing BEFORE you purchase the animal.
And set it all up before you bring the animal home, too. Make sure heating pads & humidity are functioning and being monitored properly for at least a week before introducing the animal into the environment. This will save you both a lot of stress knowing that everything is correct as far as husbandry goes, and you won't need to make a lot of adjustments after bringing in the animal. (This can stress them out if you keep sticking your hands in all the time and changing things. Especially when they're trying to get used to their new digs).
3. Ask all of these questions when purchasing (especially if this is your first snake):
Whether you're purchasing from a breeder, pet store, or off Craigslist, if the seller can't answer all of these questions, it's probably not a great idea to buy that animal unfortunately :/.
- How old is the animal? (Breeders should have exact hatch dates. If you don't ask them, it can be difficult to tell their age. Even vets can only give an estimation.)
- What gender is the animal? (Pretty sure this one explains itself.)
- Was the animal captive-born or wild-caught? (this can make a big difference in temperament and also eating habits. Wild-caught is not recommended for a first-time snake owner.)
- What specific morph is the animal? (This is not only for bragging purposes, but can also be helpful if you plan on breeding snakes in the future and also sometimes specific morphs can have specific conditions; i.e. wobble in Ball Pythons mentioned above is specific to spider morphs.)
- What EXACTLY has this animal been eating? How often? Has it been eating consistently? (I would HEAVILY advise against picky eaters for all first-time reptile owners. This can be a super stressful situation for both you and the animal. I also emphasize "this animal" because I think sometimes sellers may tell you what they feed their general animal population where each animal can have its own specific preferences, habits, and needs.)
- How does the animal eat? (What I mean by this is, will it take food off tongs? Do you leave the food in the enclosure overnight? Does this animal have a strong feeding response? Do you feed it in a separate enclosure? Etc.)
- When was the last time this animal shed? And when did it shed before that? Was it a full shed or did it come off in pieces? (Stuck shed can be fixed with some fairly simple remedies, but can also sometimes point to underlying health issues.)
- Has this animal had mites or other health issues in the past?
4. Be aware of the costs.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I dropped about $800 when I initially adopted Kimchi. This included Kimchi herself, substrate, heating pads, water dish, places to hide, other tank decor (i.e. fake plants, branch for climbing), thermometers, thermostats, feeding tongs, UVB bulbs, light timers, and more. My friend was kind enough to donate an old tank she was no longer using, so I saved $$ there at least.
Food is fairly cheap. I buy Kimchi frozen/thawed pinky and/or fuzzy mice which boils down to about $1 per mouse and if you're feeding (or attempting to feed) once a week, that's only $1/week (wow maths). Frozen rodents can also be purchased in bulk for pretty reasonable prices online. Though I have yet to try this, I plan on doing so in the future. This website has some good resources in general, but more importantly, it has some recommendations for frozen feeder vendors :).
Don't forget about vet costs. Hopefully, you don't ever have to take your scaly baby to the vet for anything other than routine check-ups. But things happen and you should establish a relationship with a herp vet as soon as you adopt your new snake. It's always best to take your snake in for an initial visit to rule out any external or other health issues and get a clean bill of health right off the bat. You should also identify your closest 24-hour emergency animal hospital in case of, well... emergencies. In my experience, each visit to the vet for a snake is about $85 and some change for a checkup and not including any prescriptions or procedures (though I have read that it can be up to $150 depending on the vet. Definitely ask about cost when making an appointment). Just like any animal, you should try to have enough money tucked away in case of an emergency or you should not have the animal at all quite frankly. There are some emergency payment options available though. You can ask your vet about payment plans, or you can try applying for CareCredit to help cover your animal in situations when you might not be able to pay. There are also a few pet insurance options out there. I personally have insurance for Kimchi through Nationwide. Additionally, if you've not yet found a vet, this website can help you locate local herp vets!
If someone had written this article back before I got Kimchi, I probably would have thought twice about adopting her or at least made sure I was more prepared for her arrival (but I don't regret adopting her one bit). However, I have definitely learned some lessons the hard way.
As mentioned before, she hasn't eaten since late December 2018 (right after Christmas), but is still very active and doesn't appear to have lost much body weight (2g according to the vet, which can still be worrisome as mentioned before, but is not immediately troublesome according to our vet). I took her to the vet on 2/23 and they said there are no immediate signs of infection or disease and she may be dehydrated. I'm soaking her in warm water for 15-20 minutes/day for about one week and two to three days per week for two weeks after that. I'm hoping she comes around and starts taking food again. If she's not eating by March 9, I'll have to take her back to the vet for an assisted feeding :/. I'll be sure to keep you guys posted on my lil noodle and wish you the best of luck with your noodle adventures, too!
Some other great informational resources (for your research (; ):
*Her age is an estimation per tip number 3.
** As mentioned before, Hognoses (as well as other breeds of snakes - include this in your research) can be super picky eaters and for this reason, I would not recommend them as a beginner snake unless you know for a fact from a trustworthy, reputable breeder that the snake has been eating consistently. Snakes can generally go for a few months without food in the wild and do tend to go off feed between Nov-March (brumating months). However, the biggest sign that feeding strikes are becoming dangerous for your snake's health is if it's losing weight. Especially if your snake is small, even 1g of weight loss is cause for worry and your snake needs to be taken to a veterinarian. Feeding strikes can often be signs of other underlying diseases such as internal parasites, dehydration or even broken bones in some cases. This website is a great resource for reptilian and amphibian veterinary needs and can help you locate your local herp vet.