If you’re worried about the way your snake is acting and that it may be stressed, you’ve come to the right place. There are many reasons why snakes can become stressed and in this article, we’ll cover 14 signs of stress and how you can keep your snake from being stressed.
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Signs Of Stress In Your Snake
Although snakes show stress in different ways than, say, a dog or cat would, their actions do make sense once you know what to look for. Here we’ll look at the top 14 signs of stress that your snake may exhibit.
It’s important to note that not all of these signs need to be present for your snake to be stressed – in fact, the more stressed they are, the more signs they’ll exhibit and the quicker you need to act to remove the stressors.
Loss Of Appetite
A loss of appetite is most likely the first thing you’ll notice about your snake that shows that it’s stressed.
Refusing one meal (especially after eating a big meal previously) may not be anything to worry about unless there are other signs of stress present.
However, refusing to eat again and again is certainly a problem and needs to be investigated.
One reason why your snake may stop eating that is not a cause for worry, is that they’re preparing to brumate during the winter. Because they are basically “shutting down”, their digestive system needs to be empty.
Note! You shouldn’t feed your snake while they’re brumating.
Tip: Keep note of when your snake usually goes into brumation each year (and whether they do!). This will help you to stress a lot less in future when your snake stops eating as preparation for brumation.
Along with a loss of appetite, weight loss is one of the first signs that your snake is stressed. In smaller snakes this can be difficult to pick up at first, therefore always be vigilant when your snake isn’t eating, that it isn’t also losing weight.
Note! An abnormal amount of weight loss can also point to other health complications.
Rubbing Their Nose Against Objects In Their Tank
Another sign of stress in snakes is rubbing their noses and faces against objects in their tank like hides, the water bowl, etc. The rough surfaces of these items can cause injuries which can get infected and cause major health problems down the line.
Kingsnakes and ball pythons are especially known for this behavior.
Note! Snakes also rub their faces when they’re about to shed. However, you’ll notice the other signs of shedding when this is the case (like going “blue”).
A snake hisses when they feel threatened or stressed. This is a way for them to appear threatening and is a sure sign for you to step away or to stop doing whatever it is that you’re busy doing.
If, for example, you’re busy handling your snake and they start hissing, it’s definitely time to return them to their tank as they’re uncomfortable, feeling threatened, or dislikes the way they’re being handled.
Striking is a defense mechanism. Your snake uses it when they feel very threatened or stressed and that they need to defend themselves against a perceived danger which, in this case, is you.
It may simply be that you’re handling your snake in the wrong way or have been handling them too long and need to place them in their tank.
However, if they’re already in their tank it may mean that they don’t want to be handled – especially when they’re new and not used to you yet.
Attempting To Escape
Snakes are curious creatures by nature and will often try to escape their tank when they have the chance.
However, there’s a difference between the casual look around to see if the cover clips have been fastened or locks locked and the panicked search for a way – any way – out.
If your snake is doing the latter, you’ll need to check what is wrong in or around the tank that has your snake stressed and scared and sort it out immediately.
Make Sure To Check The Following To Keep Your Snake From Escaping:
Whether the temperature and temperature gradient is correct for the type of snake that you have. If the temperature is too high or low for the specific species, your snake will try to escape in order to get somewhere where the temperature is correct. The wrong temperature could kill your snake.
Note! Never put your snake’s tank next to a window or in direct sunlight as the temperature inside the tank will rise rapidly and you’ll essentially cook your snake to death by accident.
Whether the humidity inside the tank is correct for the type of snake that you have. Like temperature, the humidity inside the tank is extremely important for your snake and their very lives depend on it.
Should the humidity be too high, your snake may even get one of various airway infections, which could lead to their death.
Whether the tank is clean. Basically, you don’t want to live in a filthy home and neither does your snake. You need to spot clean your snake’s tank every day in order to keep it clean enough for your snake to live in between deeper cleanings.
Keep reading for more information on how you can relieve your snake’s stress by making changes to their tank.
Tail Rattling And Vibration
Another sign of stress that is breed-specific, is tail rattling or vibrating. While rattlesnakes are most often associated with this action as a way to ward off would-be predators, pet snakes that also rattle or vibrate their tails are:
- Gopher snakes
- Corn snakes
Regurgitation, or throwing up their food, usually happens when you handle your snake too soon after it’s eaten. In these cases, snakes get very stressed and agitated and will regurgitate their food.
It’s important to always give your snake anywhere from 24 hours (for a small meal) to 72 hours (for a large meal) to start to properly digest their meal before handling them again. When in doubt, rather wait a bit longer.
Note! If your snake has regurgitated its food, you need to wait two weeks before feeding them again to give their esophagus time to heal from any lesions the regurgitation may have caused.
Snakes will naturally coil themselves around an object to hold onto it, but if they start to constrict it when it’s not prey (for instance when a ball python starts to constrict your hand or arm) it’s not a sign that they want to eat you. It’s a sign that they are stressed.
Remove them from the stressful situation immediately, i.e. put them back in their tank and leave them alone to relax. It may not be that you handled them incorrectly, it may simply be that they weren’t in the mood for venturing outside their tank.
Your snake may also show this behavior when they are put in a new tank, a cleaned tank or a tank where everything’s been rearranged. This is quite normal and they should get over the stress pretty quickly and start to roam around their kingdom normally.
Note! If your snake doesn’t show signs of relaxing in their new space, there is most likely something wrong – check the temperature, humidity, etc. and make sure that everything’s in order.
No Flicking Of Tongue
A calm, non-stressed snake will flick their tongue relatively slowly and at a “leisurely” pace. If they are very stressed, they may stop doing this altogether.
Be on the lookout, therefore, especially when you start spotting other signs of stress in your snake.
Flinches Or Jerks When Touched
While your snake will flinch if it’s startled and doesn’t know that you’re about to touch it (and then could strike at you), if it does know that you’re about to touch it and still flinch or jerk away, it may mean that they are stressed.
You should always make sure that your snake knows that you’re about to touch it or pick it up and remove it from its tank. The last thing you want is to get bitten or your snake to hurt themselves trying to get away from the “predator” that suddenly caught it.
Tip: If your snake is a rescue snake or you got it from someone else, it may be that they were either handled incorrectly or hurt in some way and don’t expect a gentle touch from a human. You will need patience to build a proper bond with a snake like this.
Defecating And Urinating (On You)
Definitely, the least … delightful … of a snake’s stress responses, is that they’ll sometimes defecate or urinate (or both) when they’re stressed. This often happens when they’re being handled and, as they can’t ask you to put them down first, well, you get the picture.
Note! The opposite of this is also problematic – if you find that your snake isn’t defecating as often as it should (and it’s not brumating), your snake may be compacted and may need rapid veterinary intervention.
Heavy Breathing For Prolonged Periods
Heavy breathing just after catching live prey is fine, but prolonged heavy breathing could be a sign of stress in your snake.
Be sure to keep an eye out for this behavior as it can easily go unnoticed, especially when you’re not handling your snake or if your snake is nocturnal.
Forces themself into a small space, like a small hide/ corner of a hide
Although snakes will often spend time in their hides, they shouldn’t – for lack of a better word – be hiding in them. This hiding behavior can usually be noticed as your snake, instead of being coiled in a relaxed way in their hide, will be tense and will try to hide as far back in the hide as possible.
They may also be difficult to be able to get to come out of the hide and, if you do get them out, you may notice other signs of stress like hissing, striking, constricting, etc. are present as well.
When Is Stress Okay For Your Snake (If Ever)?
Although prolonged stress isn’t good for any animal, there are times when you don’t have to worry about your snake being stressed for a while. These times are:
- when your snake is new
- when your snake is placed in a new environment
- when your snake is hunting live prey
Let’s look at each of these instances in more detail.
When Your Snake Is New
When you first bring your snake home, it’s actually natural for them to be stressed as they will be bombarded with new stimuli and will need to find their way to a brand new hide in their tank.
Not to mention that they’ll have to ensure that they need to make sure their new home is safe!
Keep an eye on your snake for signs of prolonged stress though, as this could mean that the tank isn’t set up correctly and may lead to other health complications.
When Your Snake Is Placed In A New Tank Environment
Replacing your snake in their tank after cleaning and rearranging the tank or placing them in a tub while you’re cleaning your snake’s tank can also lead to some stress.
If you have to put your snake in a quarantine tank or take them for a vet visit your snake may also show signs of stress.
However, in these cases as well, the stress shouldn’t be prolonged.
When Your Snake Is Hunting Live Prey
The third time when it’s normal for your snake to be stressed is when they’re hunting live prey like mice or rats. In this case, the stress is protective and keeps them vigilant against prey that will most likely fight back.
When Should You Worry About Your Snake’s Stress Levels?
Your snake’s stress becomes a problem and health risk when:
- the stress is prolonged and/or worsens instead of getting better
- your snake still shows signs of stress when the tank setup has been checked and the temperature, humidity, etc. is correct
- your snake shows multiple signs of stress or acute signs of stress at the same time
- it accompanies symptoms of illness; like an airway infection, and your snake seems in distress
- it could be a sign of egg binding in gravid females.
When Should You Visit A Vet About Your Stressed Snake?
There are some instances in which you will need to take your snake to the vet in order for them to either do a simple annual check-up or give your snake some other type of therapy for whatever is ailing your snake.
You’ll need to take your snake to the vet under the following circumstances when they are stressed:
- If the stress is prolonged and you have already checked that the tank is at the right temperature and humidity, etc.
- If you suspect (or can tell) that the cause of the stress is egg binding. This is life-threatening, so you’ll have to get your snake to the vet immediately.
- If there are signs of illness or injuries. For example, if they have been rubbing against the items in their tank and there are sores on their noses, you may need to have them treated professionally.
What Could Happen To A Snake That Is Under Constant Stress?
Although stress may seem like something intangible that can’t really cause any trouble for your snake, prolonged stress and acute stress can actually cause your snake’s early death.
The reason why your snake may die early is that your snake’s immune system will start to weaken if it’s stuck in a high-stress state. One of the contributing factors to this weakening is that your snake doesn’t eat anything while stressed.
Getting the wrong nutrition will not only lead to nutritional deficiencies but will also lead to an overall weakening of your snake’s immune system. This means your snake can get sick much more easily – and die more easily.
Therefore, keeping your snake’s stress to a minimum can prolong their life!
What Causes Stress And How To Help A Snake To Experience Less Stress
The causes of stress in snakes can be broadly divided into two types:
- environmental causes
- incorrect handling
Next, we’ll look at each of these types as well as practical steps you can take to lessen the stress that your snake may feel.
Environmental Causes Of Stress
Environmental aspects are usually the culprits when it comes to stressors for your snake. This not only includes stressors outside their tank but also inside their tank. Let’s first look at the changes you can make inside the tank to lessen your snake’s stress.
Tank Setup And Decoration
When it comes to your snake’s tank setup you should focus on the tank as a whole habitat as well as the temperature and humidity instead of simply going for the decor that looks cool.
Temperature And Humidity
To put it bluntly, the temperature and humidity inside your snake’s tank literally decides whether your snake will live a healthy, happy life or die because of heat, cold, and too much or too little humidity.
To make sure that the temperature and humidity stay at the desired levels for your breed of snake, you will, therefore, need a thermometer and a hygrometer. The thermometer measures temperature and the hygrometer humidity.
You can either get a thermometer and hygrometer separately or as one measurement tool:
Hides And Plants
Hides, and giving your snake a safe space where they can rest or watch the world from, is also extremely important. If your snake feels unsafe in their tank their stress levels will be very high and will stay high unless you do something and make their habitat more natural.
When it comes to hides, you can take your pick between artificial hides:
or hides that are made from real wood, cork, or other bark. We quite like these two natural hides for snakes:
Foliage can also play a part in making your snake’s habitat closer to that which they would know in the wild. Here are some of our favorite artificial plants that you can use to add an instant greenery boost to the tank.
This gives you time to plan which real plants you’re going to use, if any.
When it comes to tank placement, there are only a few things that you really need to keep in mind:
- Never put the tank next to a window or in direct sunlight as it will heat the tank too much too quickly.
- Don’t put the tank in a part of the house that is very busy as your snake could start to feel threatened by the constant movement.
- Don’t put the tank in a part of the house that is very noisy as this could also keep your snake on edge.
- Don’t put the tank where other curious pets or children could get to it. While they may just be curious, your snake could be scared out of its mind at the “threatening monsters” outside the tank.
Stress Caused By Incorrect Handling
When you handle your snake, you should first and foremost focus on what your snake is comfortable with and when they’ve had enough interaction for the day. This is especially true if you’re dealing with a new snake.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when handling your snake:
- When your snake is new, handle it only for a few minutes a day as a way to start building your bond.
- Slowly increase the amount of time that you interact with your snake as the days go on.
- Don’t keep your snake outside its tank for longer than 30 minutes as the temperature and humidity change may start to negatively influence them.
- Make sure that you don’t handle your snake too much for its breed. Some breeds are more inclined to “cuddle” with their owners than others.
- Never handle your snake within 24-48 hours after feeding them as they’ll regurgitate their food. Then you’ll be stuck with a snake that’s not allowed to eat for two weeks (as well as half-digested food to clean).
- Don’t let people who your snake isn’t used to just handle your snake if they’re not used to strangers. This can be extremely stressful for your snake and, if the person doesn’t know how to hold a snake, may make your snake scared of people.
How Can You Prevent Your Snake From Being Stressed In The Future?
Although it’s near impossible to keep your snake from feeling any stress – you have to clean their tank, after all, and that may cause stress at times – you can prevent them from being stressed unnecessarily.
To prevent your snake from being stressed unnecessarily:
- Always make sure that the temperature and humidity of your snake’s tank is correct for their breed.
- Give them enough hides in their tank along with plants, etc. to let them feel that it is a safe space.
- Don’t wake them up in order to feed them, but wait for them to awaken by themselves in order to feed them.
- If you want to take your snake out of their tank, keep the room in which the tank is close to the temperature and humidity that’s inside the tank.
- Don’t let someone else – who they’re not used to – take your snake out of its tank, as they will most likely see this person as a threat. (Your snake may injure said person through constriction or striking as well.)
- Don’t handle your snake when/if they show you that they don’t want to be handled. This includes handling snakes that have just eaten within the past 24-72 hours and gravid females.
- Make time every day to bond with your snake, as they will become more relaxed around you when they know that you’re not a threat to their safety. You will also then pick up easier when their body language changes and they are stressed.
Although it can be dangerous for your snake’s health to be stressed, there are lots of easy, straightforward things that you can do to ensure that your snake doesn’t feel unnecessary stress.