One might think that since snakes are cold-blooded, it is okay to leave them cold as that is their average body temperature. But no, this should never be done! In fact, you should do the opposite and provide them with a heat source. What happens if your snake gets too cold? Can they die?
If your snake is left too long in the cold, it can develop respiratory infections and regurgitate its meal, and will continuously vomit. Hypothermia will also happen and it will start refusing meals. Your snake will also become lethargic and if no medical intervention is done, it will die.
Sounds scary, right? Therefore it is of utmost importance that you regularly maintain the temperature conditions in your snake’s enclosure. We will talk about the effects on your snake when its enclosure is too cold and how to avoid this from happening.
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What Happens To A Snake When It Gets Too Cold
In the wild, snakes prepare for colder months. They find a safe place to stay or burrow in the ground to keep themselves warm. They enter a brumation state where they slow down their activities but still go out to eat and drink.
With this, we can conclude that snakes do anything that is necessary to protect themselves from the cold. The same goes for snakes in captivity. Even if they have controlled temperature conditions, they can still enter a pseudo-brumation state. It is simply their instinct.
This is why it is important not to let the enclosure get too cold as snakes are not equipped to deal with long hours of coldness. They need an external heat source to keep themselves warm in order to survive and thrive.
1. Snakes Can Develop Respiratory Infections
Just like humans, snakes can also get colds! Snakes need heat in order for their immune system to work properly. So without heat, your snake is vulnerable to infection.
Add to that their already cool environment which makes it easier for viruses and bacteria to thrive.
Here are some of the symptoms of respiratory infections:
- Nasal discharge
- Loss of appetite
- Excess mucus in the mouth
- The mouth is always open to breathe
- Making gurgling sounds
Respiratory infections in snakes are treated with antibiotics. It can be injected or given orally. Therefore, you need to take your snake to a veterinarian to administer medication and to get other tests like x-rays, blood tests, etc.
2. Snakes Can Get Hypothermia
Hypothermia in snakes is characterized by lethargy, dry scales, sunken eyes, and loss of appetite. The scary thing about having a hypothermic snake is that it will refuse to move even for the purpose of eating and drinking.
Therefore, they become starved and dehydrated. When a snake refuses to move, it will literally freeze due to the cold. In this study, it was found that snakes have a brief tolerance to freezing temperatures.
Snakes that do not burrow underground can still survive overnight frosts. However, their brumation instinct is not enough for long-term freezing survival.
3. Snakes Can Vomit And Regurgitate Their Food
As snakes rely on thermoregulation for their bodily processes, the absence of heat will lead them to readjust their bodily functions.
When the conditions in the enclosure are optimum, your snakes can digest their food properly with the help of heat or a basking spot.
However, if the warm area of the enclosure is also cold, then your snake has no way to digest properly. Instead of it being backed up, it will regurgitate its meal.
During this time, your snake can also get stressed so it will continuously try to vomit all of its stomach contents to save energy that could have been used for digestion.
4. Snakes Will Refuse Food
When the temperature is too cold for snakes, their survival instincts kick in. They try to conserve their energy and will take no interest in food.
If you have noticed that your once eager snake is suddenly refusing its food, you should immediately check the temperature of your enclosure.
As snakes know that they cannot digest the food and will require more energy to digest without heat, they would rather refuse the meal than risk regurgitation.
Tip: If you have a skinny snake, you might want to check this article for more information on how to bulk it up.
5. Snakes Become Lethargic
A snake that has been exposed for long periods of time to lower temperatures than what is needed will refuse to eat, drink, or even move. This leads to lethargy. A lethargic snake cannot even lift its head.
At this time, your snake does not have enough energy to do anything. It will just remain in one place, hoping for better temperature conditions.
In this study, it was observed that boas and pythons deal with “fatal cold” in different ways. Some try to minimize activity to survive and try to find sources of heat.
While others do not have the motivation to deal with the cold temperature.
6. They Can Die When They Get Too Cold
Your snake will die if it has stayed in a cold enclosure for far too long. The cause of death can be freezing due to cold shock syndrome.
This is when the snake’s body cannot deal with the sudden drop in temperature that the systems in its body shuts down gradually due to hypothermia. We definitely do not want this as this is a very slow and painful way for your snake to die.
Add to that the possibility that your snake is already suffering from a respiratory infection and has not eaten or drunk for days. It is truly a terrible way to go.
How To Avoid Your Snakes From Being Too Cold
It is important to check the temperature settings of your snake’s enclosure regularly. A lot of factors may affect the internal temperature even if it has been set to the desired setting.
An example is the change of temperature outside the enclosure. During winter, the external temperature may affect the heat in the enclosure, especially if the enclosure is made of glass.
You should do a daily check on the temperature not just by checking if the settings are right, but by using a temperature gun that can accurately check the current temperature of the enclosure.
If you suddenly have a power outage, you can fill up hot water bottles and put those in the tank. If possible, you can temporarily move your snake into a tub and place it in an area that is not too cold.
How Long Can A Snake Be Cold?
In general, snakes can survive for six hours when the temperature is 75 F. However, temperatures that are lower than 75 F can prove to be dangerous for snakes as their bodies start to shut down even after just two to three hours of exposure.
In the table below, it is assumed that there is no longer a warm area in the enclosure. Thus, 75 F is the margin used for the base temperature as it is the lowest range for the temperature in the cool area.
|Type of Snake||Survivability in the Cold|
|Corn Snake||Can survive for two to three weeks if the temperature is 75 F. If the temperature is lower than 75 F, the body starts to shut down in just two days,|
|Ball Python||Can survive for six hours if the temperature is 75 F. If the temperature is lower than 75 F, it can only survive for one to two hours before its body shuts down.|
|California Kingsnake||Can survive for eight hours if the temperature is 72 F. Body starts to shut down after 9 hours, even when the temperature is adjusted to 75 F.|
|Rosy Boa||Can survive for six hours when the temperature is 75 F. Can only survive for three to five hours when the temperature is lower than 75 F.|
|Red-tailed Boa||Can only survive for six hours in temperatures lower than 72 F.|
|Kenyan Sand Boa||Can only survive for four to five hours when the temperature is 75 F.|
|Carpet Python||Can survive for eight hours when the temperature is 75 F. When the temperature is 65 F or lower, it can survive for six hours.|
|Rat Snake||Can only survive for six hours when the temperature is 75 F.|
|Children’s Python||Can survive for six hours if the temperature is 78 F. Can easily go into cold shock syndrome when constantly exposed to temperatures lower than 78 F.|
|Milk Snake||Can only survive for five hours in temperatures lower than 75 F.|
|Gopher Snake||Can survive for four to five hours when the temperature is 75 F. Initial exposure to temperatures lower than 72 F, can immediately lead to cold shock syndrome.|
|Bull Snake||Can survive eight hours when the temperature is 75 F. Can only survive for five hours in temperatures ranging from 65-60 F.|
|Western Hognose Snake||Can survive six hours if the temperature is 65 F. Lower than 65 F triggers cold shock syndrome.|
|Burmese Python||Can only survive for five to six hours when the temperature is 75 F.|
|Green Tree Python||Can survive for six hours if the temperature is 72 F. If the temperature is lower than 70 F, it can only survive for one to three hours.|
|Garter Snake||Can survive eight hours if the temperature is 75 F. For lower temperatures, the body starts to shut down within one to three hours.|
Can Snakes Come Back To Life After Freezing?
Snakes do not come back to life after freezing. Even if a snake survives after being exposed to extremely cold temperatures, most of its systems (brain, heart, lung, liver, kidney, etc.) have already shut down. Thus, the snake could not even live for 24 hours after being thawed.
As snakes are cold-blooded creatures, they depend on thermoregulation to survive. Therefore, it is our duty as snake owners to properly maintain their enclosure temperature.
The key is always maintaining the heat level of the temperature in the range of 75-90 F. Adjust the heat settings accordingly based on how cold the area would be during nighttime and winter.
In this way, when the temperature drops, there is still a healthy allowance of heat that your snake has access to.
Be prepared in cases where your heating breaks down. Move your snake or put warmers in the enclosure. Make sure that these warmers do not directly come into contact with the snake as they can burn the snake.
Lastly, rush to your vet if there are signs that your snake has cold shock syndrome. Time is of the essence to make sure that your snake’s body does not shut down.