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Can Snakes Get Depressed? What Science Says

can snakes get depressed?

Most domesticated snake species are beautiful, docile, and fun to hold, but owners often ask whether their pets feel anything. It is possible to see when these reptiles are unsatisfied with food and environmental conditions, but the question is can snakes feel negative emotions and get depressed?

Reptiles, including snakes, do not have the intellectual capacity to develop emotions like humans. Some studies’ results show it is possible to notice signs of negative emotions in entirely isolated and neglected snakes. However, there is no evidence they can get depressed.

It is impossible to find enough studies researching snakes’ specific emotions. This article describes factors that indicate their existence in snakes at a certain level.

Can Snakes Get Sad and Depressed?

If you are a Carl Sagan admirer, you can conclude that the reptilian brain, including snake ones, is actually the same as a mammalian brain without some parts. (Cosmos p.276–277). Is that so?

Besides mammals, reptiles are the only vertebrates with a three-layered cerebral cortex, making these creatures capable of complex behaviors typical for mammals.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with emotions. Their brain functions according to the binary system principle and only allows snakes to survive by hiding, hunting, and eating.

On the other hand, snakes can’t feel emotions like sadness or hopelessness and definitely can’t experience a lack of purpose.

They have no possibility of low self-esteem because their intellectual capacity is not developed enough for such feelings. So, you can conclude that it is impossible for them to get depressed.

Some scientists indirectly ascribe feelings to snakes based on their brains’  physiological functions, but it is hard to confirm in practice. Some new studies even try to prove that isolated snakes show signs of depression.

However, it is a pretty controversial attitude. The problem is that it is hard to distinguish between depression and stress in these animals. It does not mean you can claim that snakes are without negative feelings.

For instance, these reptiles can feel pain and react to pain-reducing drugs. It is also highly probable for them to feel anger or fear, but you can conclude that only based on their general behavior.

No one can be sure whether the existence of such emotions is really possible.

can snakes get sad?

What owners have to say

As for owners, some are sure that their reptiles have emotions and can recognize their intentions at any time.

Others enjoy playing and handling snakes but are convinced that their cold-blooded pets only tolerate them when necessary but still prefer being left alone.

Many are sure that snakes are unable to develop emotions because there is no need for them in their natural habitat. However, many snake species seem to recognize owners and family members who frequently feed them.

Some owners believe that their reptile pets show affection and love, making negative feelings like depression possible.

Unfortunately, it is questionable, and neither pet owners nor scientists don’t have a consensus on this issue for now.

One thing is for sure! Everyone is aware of a significant difference in how people and snakes feel and express emotions. Therefore, most are convinced that snakes neither get depressed like people nor can be sad because of living in the terrarium.

The common and pretty reasonable attitude is that depressed snakes living in the wild certainly wouldn’t survive.

Depression leads to lethargy and lack of interest in the environment, and solitary snakes have no other species members to protect them while lying desperate.

One forum participant wisely noted that people often attribute their emotions to their pets that basically have no brain centers for them.

Snakes are primarily geared toward survival and can stop eating or start shedding excessively when the environment is inadequate, but it is stress, not depression.

Believe it or not, stressful conditions are natural to snakes living in the wild. They are constantly alert and show signs of stress whenever an atypical change in their environment occurs. It is the same in captivity.

As soon as you disturb its routine, your snake pet will become more or less stressed.

In other words, while it has a calm environment and regular food source, there is no reason to suppose that your reptile has a problem, particularly with depression.

What scientists claim

Snakes have relatively small brains compared to other reptiles, but recent studies show their complexity levels no one could have believed to exist.

A group of authors found 37 scientific studies that assumed reptiles, including snakes, are capable of emotions like:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Frustration and fear
  • Suffering, pain, and distress
  • Excitement

Additional four articles found evidence that these cold-blooded animals can feel pleasure. However, you can’t find scientific proof that snakes can be depressed.

For instance, Dr. Sharman Hoppes‘s study results show that reptiles demonstrate primary emotions, such as aggression, fear, and pleasure.

She also claims that you can see signs of these feelings. The best proof is a snake’s hissing when it is aggressive or trying to escape when it is frightened.

Morgan Skinner from Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada, researched social interaction in garter snakes and proved that they enjoy spending time with other members of the same species.

However, they become perturbed when their environment changes.

Snake Reactions That Are Often Mistakenly Considered Depression

Chances your snake feels depression, sadness, lack of self-esteem, and a sense of purpose are practically non-existent.

When it starts behaving strangely, it probably negatively responds to an unpleasant and unsatisfactory environment.

The first signs that something is wrong are:

Appetite loss – Snakes rarely eat daily. If it entirely refuses food, it is more likely to be sick than depressed.

Energy loss – Lack of reaction to movements is not proof of the snake’s emotional sentiment but is probably a sign of an injury or infection.

Calm tongue flickering – Your snake flicks its tongue to catch scents from the surrounding, including yours, not because it is depressed.

Stress – It can be a significant problem with snakes that can lead to death in extreme situations. Therefore, you should adapt the living conditions to your snake’s needs instead of thinking about its emotional state.

Signs of Anxiety and Sadness in Snakes

Snakes will change their typical behavior when they are under stress, often due to a change in environment or diet. Specific symptoms you can notice are:

  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Refusing to eat during a regular feeding time
  • Regurgitation after taking food, regardless of its quantity and quality
  • Escape attempt from the terrarium, probably because it wants to go away from a troubled environment
  • Behavior change, including hissing, tail rattling, rubbing nose against the tank, and constriction
  • Lethargy, energy loss, and decreased activity level

Since snakes have a long lifespan, repeated stress, sadness, or other negative emotions may result in long-term effects.

Therefore, your goal is to reduce stressful episodes’ frequency and severity and provide your snake with proper medical treatment when necessary.

What to Do When Your Snake Stressed

Remember that the primary reasons for stress in reptiles, including snakes, are inadequate temperature and humidity levels and the wrong diet in the terrarium.

Therefore, you can help your snake never become stressed by ensuring an appropriate, calm, and safe environment:

  • Check the temperature and humidity level recommended for each snake species
  • Provide enough space for hiding
  • Change the diet when noticing that your pet avoids offered food
  • Reduce handling, particularly after feeding, and follow guidelines to manipulate your pet snake properly
  • Visit a vet when your snake shows signs of severe health issues, like difficulty breathing, unusual weakness, dry skin, red stool, or reduced appetite


It is challenging to claim whether snakes can experience depression. You can notice behaviors, like lack of appetite or curling up in terrarium corners, which may remind you of depression in humans.

However, snakes do not seem to do that because of emotional problems but as a result of an inadequate living environment.

Scientists work on this issue, and additional research will definitely solve the mystery of depression in snakes at some point.

Pierre And The ReptileCraze Team