One of the great things about having a snake is that you can interact with them and handle them to bond with them and build trust over time. However, you should be well aware of when and for how long you should handle your snake to keep you and them from harm.
Depending on the type of snake, you can handle your snake anywhere from once per week to every day. Snakes that are skittish should be handled less frequently to get them used to it gently. Tame snakes can be handled daily as long as they haven’t just eaten, are shedding, or show stress signs.
However, there are instances when you shouldn’t handle your snake for a day or a couple of days. In this article, we’ll look at what these are, as well as precautions that you should take when handling your snakes. We end off by giving you an idea of how often and for how long different types of snakes should be handled.
Table of Contents
Common Pet Snakes And How Often They Can Be Handled
|Type of Snake||How Often They Can Be Handled||Approximately How Long Can They Be Handled At A Time?|
|Corn Snake||Every day (just not after eating)||20 minutes at a time|
|Ball Python||1-3 times per week||20 minutes at a time|
|Red-tail Boa||Approx. once per week||20 minutes at a time|
|California Kingsnake||2-3 times per week at least||25 minutes at a time|
|Gopher Snake||2-3 times per week||25 minutes at a time|
|Rosy Boa||Every other day||25 minutes at a time|
|Western Hognose Snake||1-3 times per week||25 minutes at a time|
|Garter Snake||Every day (except after eating)||25 minutes at a time|
|Common Kingsnake & Mexican Black Kingsnake||Daily (except after eating)||15-20 minutes at a time|
|Milk Snake||Every other or every day||25 minutes at a time|
|Kenyan Sand Boa||Every day (except after eating)||30 minutes at a time|
|Eastern and Western Hognose Snake||Every other or every day||25-30 minutes at a time|
|Rubber Boa||Daily (except after eating)||30 minutes at a time|
|Cape House Snake||2-4 times per week||20 minutes at a time|
|Smooth Green Snake & Rough Green Snake||1-3 times per week||15 minutes at a time|
|Children’s Python||3-5 times per week||25 minutes at a time|
|Ringneck Snake||1-3 times per week||15 minutes at a time|
|Rainbow Boa||Every day (except after eating)||15 minutes at a time|
|Carpet Python||Every other or every day||20 minutes at a time|
|Dekay’s Brown Snake||1-3 times per week||15 minutes at a time|
Are You Handling Your Snake Too Often?
Although some snake owners sometimes handle their snakes for an hour or two, it’s important that you never handle your snake when they show clear signs that they don’t want to be handled.
Some of the signs that your snake is stressed, are:
- Heavy breathing
- Stop flicking their tongue
- Not eating
- Hiding their head when they curl up into a ball
- Being overly active
- Defensive movements
- A hissing sound (especially in the case of gopher snakes)
What Can Happen If You Handle Your Snake Too Much?
The most important thing when handling your snake is to keep it from getting too stressed. Especially a new snake or baby/juvenile snake will still be skittish and you may find that you can only handle them for a few minutes at a time before they become too stressed.
When you handle your snake too much, you risk stressing them too much and, instead of building a bond between you, you will make them scared of you and of being handled by you.
Too much stress can also lead to your snake’s immune system being compromised, which could lead to health issues later on in their life.
Also, if you handle your snake for too long, it can happen that its body temperature gets too low, especially if its natural habitat is way warmer than it is in your room.
This means that your snake’s body won’t be able to function properly as it would when it has the right temperature.
With a body temperature that’s too low, your snake won’t be able to move and digest as it should be. It will also be more prone to diseases if this happens too often.
Precautions You Should Take When Handling Your Snake
You need to always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling snakes as you could be infected with a number of bacterial infections if you don’t practice proper hygiene.
As we’ve seen, you should only pick up and handle snakes that are okay with being handled and aren’t stressed.
Before picking up your snake you should make sure that they’re not asleep, as it’s possible to give them such a fright that they’ll lash out and bite because of it.
You should also not pick up snakes who may regurgitate their last meal (keep reading to find out more about how long to wait after your snake’s eaten before handling them).
Because snakes – like any other animal – carry certain bacteria that can make humans sick, it’s important to know which illnesses to look out for in case
Some Of The Illnesses and Parasites Snakes May Carry
Salmonellosis – caused by salmonella bacteria – is found in the intestinal tract of many animals, including snakes. Contact with feces, or even just the snake itself, can lead to an infection if the nose, eyes, or mouth is touched without properly cleaning and disinfecting your hands first.
Therefore, you need to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after touching your snake, touching anything inside the tank, or after cleaning the tank.
This parasite, Armillifer armillatus, is described as a wormlike arthropod parasite from tropical Africa. Like salmonella above, this parasite can be passed to humans after touching your snake’s tank interior or cleaning it and not thoroughly washing your hands afterward or before touching your face.
The Times When You Shouldn’t Handle A Snake
As we’ve mentioned, there are times when you shouldn’t handle a snake and these are:
- After your snake’s eaten
- When your snake is shedding
- When you just got your snake
- When they show you that they don’t want to be held
Let’s look at each of these instances in detail.
After Your Snake Has Eaten
You should never handle your snake just after they’ve eaten, as they can (and probably will) regurgitate their food. As you can imagine, this is even more unpleasant for your snake than it is for you who have to clean up!
When your snake regurgitates their food, its esophagus will be irritated by the stomach acid that they bring up with the food. The food may also injure the esophagus as it’s being regurgitated because of pieces of broken bones, for example.
These injuries may bleed and will need to heal before you feed your snake again. Therefore, if they regurgitate their food, you’ll need to wait for two weeks before feeding again to ensure that the wounds are completely healed.
This is because the wounds need to scab over and you need to wait for those scabs to become loose by themselves before feeding.
If you only wait a few days or a week, there is a good chance that the food, as it’s being swallowed, will remove the scabs before the wounds have completely healed beneath.
This will lead to the wounds reopening and having to start the healing process all over again, meaning you’ll have to wait another two weeks to feed in order to let the injuries heal completely.
How Long You Should Wait After Your Snake’s Eaten Before You Handle Them
The time you need to give your snake after they’ve eaten before you handle them, depends on the size of the meal and the type of snake.
- In most cases, you will need to wait 24 hours after feeding before handling your snake again.
- For larger meals you will need to wait 48 hours after feeding before handling your snake again.
- For some pythons and boas you’ll need to wait 72 hours after they’ve eaten their sizable meals before handling them again.
- Some snakes, however, are more skittish and will regurgitate their food even if you’ve waited 24 hours. If this is the case, rather wait 36-48 hours (or 60-72 hours if it was a large meal) before handling them.
Tip! Let your snake take the lead on how long to wait before handling them again. And, if you’re in doubt, rather give it some more time than risk them regurgitating the food.
When Your Snake Is Shedding Or About To Shed (“In The Blue”)
When you see that your snake is about to start shedding (when they’re in the blue) or they’re already shedding, you shouldn’t handle them. You’ll know that your snake is about to shed when its eyes turn cloudy and have a blue sheen.
Why You Shouldn’t Handle Your Snake When They’re In The Blue
In some snakes, especially the ones with darker coloring, you can also see the blue sheen on their skin. This happens when your snake is about to shed because the old skin is no longer attached to the new one.
One of the main reasons why you shouldn’t handle your snake when they’re in the blue is because their sight is so limited during the time that their eyes are cloudy.
Holding them – or even just picking them up – can lead to extra stress being placed on them as they won’t be able to clearly see where they are or where they’re going. This is especially true when they’re carried away from their tank where they feel safest.
Why You Shouldn’t Handle Your Snake While They’re Shedding
The main reason why you shouldn’t hold your snake while they’re busy shedding, is that the chance of accidentally injuring them is so much bigger than at other times.
When your snake’s skin is starting to peel off, you should never pull on it to “help” your snake.
Doing this can lead to you accidentally pulling off the new skin with the old, leaving a nasty lesion that could, in turn, get infected.
Even if you only handle your snake during this time, you’ll pull on the old skin as you move them around and could pull it and their new skin off.
When You Just Got The Snake
When you bring home a new snake, they will need to adjust to their new environment first before you start to handle them. You can still touch them after a few days (though briefly at first) while they’re in the tank, but don’t take them out yet.
During this time you also need to ensure that your snake is not in a busy part of the house where they’ll be scared and stressed by the presence of movement, people and/or pets much of the time.
Make sure, however, that you spend as much time as possible around the tank – for instance working next to it – in order for your snake to get used to your presence and no longer see you as a threat.
After a week or two (mostly dependent on their personality) you can start handling your snake and taking it out of its tank for short periods.
When They Show You That They Don’t Want To Be Held
Just like people, snakes all have their own personality and some like to be held and handled more than others.
Some snakes are also more prone by nature to look for a hiding place when you take them out of the tank, while others will happily remain curled around your arm (and even computer monitor!) for hours on end.
In fact, some snake owners keep their snakes outside the tank once or twice a week for hours, until the snake lets their owner know that they want to return to the tank.
In the case of gopher snakes, they will flatten their heads, shake their tails and make a hissing sound as a warning. These actions mimic the appearance and sound of rattlesnakes and are an unmistakable “back-off” warning.
Note! Keeping your snake outside the tank for longer than about 20 minutes depends a lot on the environment of the room that you’re giving the snake basically free reign of. This includes temperature and humidity.
Therefore, make sure that you get the room as close to the tank’s temperature and humidity before taking them out of their tank. If the room is really cold – for example in the middle of winter – you can even turn on a heater before taking your snake out of their tank.
Just make sure that your snake doesn’t go close to or can’t get to the heater as this could lead to accidental severe burn wounds and even death for your poor snake.