Your pet snake might show some strange behaviors from time to time: hissing, glass surfing, even head wriggling. But if you’ve noticed your snake shaking, you might be wondering what’s happening. Are they shivering? Is it a seizure? What’s going on?
There are several factors that may cause a snake to start shaking, twitching or trembling. These include confronting a predator, laying eggs, or health issues like neurological problems or nutritional deficiencies.
We’re here to tell you when shaking/trembling is okay, and when the snake shakes are something to be concerned about. Keep reading to find out more about each issue.
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Behavioral Reasons Why Your Snake Is Shaking
Shaking can be a behavioral thing, either because your snake is trying to tell you something, or because of natural processes that are occurring.
Tail vibration or rattling
Certain species of snakes shake their tails when they feel threatened, usually when a bigger or more aggressive predator is close by. This tail vibration is better known as “rattling.”
You might think rattling is a feature of rattlesnakes – and that’s true to an extent. From the relatively tiny ridge-nose to the monstrously sized diamondback, rattlesnakes have special rattle sections on their tails which can make a loud noise.
But other species can rattle their tails too. The sound isn’t as loud, but it is usually audible. So if you notice that your snake is only shaking or rattling when you approach, be aware that you may be scaring your reptile companion.
Want a visual? This video breaks down how to tell what mood your snake is in by reading its body language.
To stop your snake from rattling, try using slow, measured movements when getting close to your snake. Never try to handle it when it’s showing signs of fear like rattling, frenzied movement, or hissing.
Also, be wary of handling your snake right before shedding. Signs of impending shedding are cloudy eyes, more frequent hiding, and an overall duller color.
She’s laying eggs
If you have an oviparous snake (a species that lays eggs instead of birthing live young) and your snake is a girl, then reproduction might be behind your snake’s shaking. Female snakes often shake or twitch while they’re laying eggs.
Tip: Read this article if you’d like to find out if your snake is a boy or a girl!
Don’t be shocked if your female snake lays eggs, even if she hasn’t been in the company of a male. Snakes, particularly ball pythons, experience parthenogenesis. This is reproducing without a mate, creating tiny little genetically exact clones.
A ball python at the St. Louis Zoo produced eggs more than 15 years after last being in the company of a male!
While many species of snakes leave their eggs alone after laying, others such as pythons tend to stick around. In that case, females will wrap themselves around their brood and vibrate their muscles to warm their eggs and incubate them.
Health Problems That Can Cause Your Snake To Shake
While behavioral reasons are usually not problems, if there’s a health reason behind your snake’s shaking, it warrants some extra attention.
Have you changed your snake’s diet? Maybe you should! Shaking can sometimes be a sign that your snake isn’t receiving proper nutrition. Specifically, it can be a symptom of vitamin B1 deficiency, also known as thiamine deficiency.
The best way to avoid this problem is by varying your snake’s diet, particularly if they eat fish. Fish have an enzyme called thiaminase, which breaks down thiamine. The amount of thiamine in fish also depends on what they ate and the time of year.
Vets can diagnose if your snake lacks vitamin B1. The vet will be the one to administer vitamin B1 via injection. Another way to combat this is to feed the snake with a vitamin B1-rich diet, or adding B1 to its food.
Also, if you’ve given your snake something too large to easily digest, your pet may shake to get the large meal to move either further down or back up. Snakes are famous for being able to unhinge their jaws, but even they have a size limit.
Is this a new, unpredictable behavior? If so, this means it’s time to contact your vet. Like with many animals, sudden behavior changes can be a sign that something is wrong.
Some snakes are more likely to have neurological illnesses than others. Jaguar pythons are one of those subspecies. The same gene that makes their coloration so stunning can lead to neurological issues throughout the snake’s lifetime.
Shaking is sometimes accompanied by behaviors referred to as “stargazing”. This happens when the snake lies spread out with the head cocked upward and backward. There can be several potential causes, including viral infections and liver disease.
If your snake’s shaking seems to be:
- Repetitive (like a tic) or convulsive
- Involving any other behavioral changes
then it could be a symptom of a neurological condition, and it’s a good idea to book an appointment with a reptile vet to get it checked out.
Is my snake shivering from cold?
Probably not. Snakes are cold-blooded creatures, meaning their response to cold is to move more slowly and decelerate their own metabolism.
One of the other key signs is regurgitation/vomiting, which happens when your snake is too cold to produce energy to digest food.
However, like with nearly all animals, there are exceptions to that rule. The Burmese python can also purposefully vibrate its muscles to keep itself temporarily warm. It’s a rare but normal behavior in these kinds of snakes.
When should I be concerned?
Be concerned if this is a sudden change in behavior. If your snake was acting calmly and normally for a while and then suddenly started shaking randomly and without visible cause, this is a troubling sign.
If the behavior worsens, make sure your vet knows.
What steps can I take to handle the shaking?
Try making sure that your snake has a varied diet as close to what they’d hunt in nature as you can provide. If you have to, introduce thiamine supplements into your snake’s diet.
However, if your snake only does this as a fear response, make sure your movements are slow and non-threatening when approaching your pet.
Don’t over handle your reptile, especially right before shedding. Your snake is already stressed at this time and may have limited vision. This can increase shaking and fear responses.
Snake behavior is different from mammal behavior, which can make it difficult for humans to understand. However, there are typically signs when something is wrong.
If your snake’s shaking is new, repetitive, or pairs with other troubling symptoms like stargazing, contact your vet with your concerns.