Heating pads, also called heat mats or under-tank heaters (UTHs), provide a convenient and easy way of warming up your snake’s enclosure. They provide consistent heat, allowing you to create the optimal temperature gradient inside your vivarium.
This guide explains why you need a heating pad for your snake’s enclosure, and whether they’re safe. We’ll compare and review the top heating pads for snakes, and run through the setup process.
- 1 Why Do Snakes Need Heating Pads?
- 2 What Are the Best Heating Pads for Snake Cages?
- 3 Are Heating Pads for Snakes Safe?
- 4 How to Set Up a Heating Pad for a Snake
Why Do Snakes Need Heating Pads?
Snakes are ectothermic, also called “cold-blooded.” This means that they can’t regulate their own body temperature like humans.
Their body temperature fluctuates according to their surroundings. To warm up, they must find a source of heat; to cool down, they must move to a cooler place.
In the wild, snakes naturally seek out heat sources in their environment. Corn snakes, for example, may find a sunny spot and bask on top of a rock or log until they’re warm enough. Ball pythons do not bask, as they live in a tropical climate which is naturally warm enough for them year-round.
When keeping a snake in captivity, it’s essential to replicate the temperature of their wild habitat as closely as possible. This is especially important for tropical snakes, as your home is likely far cooler than their natural environment.
It’s also vital that you provide a temperature gradient inside the vivarium. There should be a “warm end” and a “cool end”, so that your snake can regulate its body temperature.
You can create this by choosing a heat mat which is about one third the size of your snake’s enclosure. Each species of snake has different temperature requirements, so make sure to do your research.
Heat Mats vs. Heat Lamps
Heating pads, heat mats or under-tank heaters (UTHs), are rectangular mats which heat up. They sit underneath the tank and provide belly-heat for your snake.
Heat lamps are quite different. They hang above the vivarium and radiate heat downwards. They also emit light, brightening up your snake’s enclosure.
Whether you should use a heat mat or a heat lamp will depend on:
- Whether your snake likes to bask. Basking snakes, such as corn snakes, generally prefer heat lamps. Pythons and boas do better with heating pads.
- The kind of enclosure. Heat mats work best with glass and plastic tanks. They generally struggle to penetrate wood, so heat lamps are usually better for wooden enclosures.
- How much humidity your snake requires. Heat lamps dry out the air inside the enclosure, so they work better for snakes with low humidity requirements, such as hognose and corn snakes.
We prefer heat mats because they provide no light, meaning they can keep your snake warm 24 hours a day. If you use a heat lamp, you’ll need to use a different heat source during the night. Leaving a heat lamp on at night can disrupt your snake’s circadian rhythm (day-night cycle), causing confusion and stress.
What Are the Best Heating Pads for Snake Cages?
There are many heating pads available. They aren’t all equal, however. You’ll often find, as with most products, that the more reputable brands tend to be made to a higher standard of quality.
1) Zoo Med ReptiTherm Under Tank Heater
Zoo Med is a very well-known brand of exotic pet products and foods. They sell pretty much everything you’d need for snakes, including enclosures, backdrops, water bowls, and substrates. Among their offerings is the ReptiTherm Under Tank Heater.
This heat mat is one of the most popular choices, for both beginner snake owners and experienced reptile hobbyists. ReptiTherm UTHs are suitable for all kinds of animals, including most reptiles and even insects.
- There are several sizes available to choose from: mini, small, medium and large. No matter what size your snake’s enclosure is, there should be an option to suit you.
- They are compatible with most brands of thermostat, and easy to set up.
- One side of the UTH is adhesive, so it will stick to your tank, preventing it from becoming displaced.
- The product comes supplied with “bump-on feet” which attach to the underside of your snake’s tank. They raise the vivarium slightly, so that air can circulate around the heat mat underneath.
- Though they provide adequate heat, ReptiTherm heaters don’t use very much energy to operate.
- They are extremely affordable, especially for a well-known and reputable brand.
- Only the smallest size – the “mini” – is listed as suitable for plastic enclosures. The manufacturer recommends that all other sizes are used with glass enclosures only. This is because there is a risk of the heater melting the plastic.
- The adhesive is permanent. Once you’ve stuck the heating pad to the tank, you can’t remove it again afterward. This can make cleaning the outside of the enclosure difficult.
- ReptiTherm UTHs do not self-regulate, so a thermostat is necessary. Some people have found that, without a thermostat, the product can become hot enough to cause serious burns.
The disadvantages of this product can be overcome with DIY measures. For example, to remove the heat mat for cleaning, many reptile owners recommend sticking a sheet of foil to the adhesive side, and then taping the mat to the underside of the tank using electrical tape. That way, when you need to clean the tank, you can pull away the tape to remove the mat without it breaking.
Overall, the pros of the Zoo Med ReptiTherm UTH outweigh the cons. We’d rate it as the best heating pad currently available, as long as you follow the instructions correctly.
2) Zilla Reptile Terrarium Heat Mat
Zilla is another well-known and trusted brand when it comes to reptile keeping. They are a rival of Zoo Med regarding what they offer to reptile owners.
Zilla mainly specializes in tanks and tank accessories, such as hides, water bowls, and decorative pieces. They also offer heat lamps, thermometers and hygrometers, and heat mats.
Reptile owners that do not choose the Zoo Med heat mat choose the Zilla reptile terrarium heat mat. It is very similar regarding both its pros and its cons, as well as its price point.
- Like the Zoo Med heat mat, the Zilla heat mat comes in a range of sizes, from mini to large. This allows you to choose the most suitable option for your snake.
- Zilla heat mats are thermostat compatible, allowing you to regulate heat in your vivarium.
- They are around the same price as the Zoo Med mat, and are similar in quality.
- They do not use much energy to operate, though the larger the pad, the more it will use.
- Again, these mats are designed to stick to the tank, and adhesive “feet” are provided for air flow.
- The adhesive which sticks the Zilla heat mat to the tank is temperamental. It sticks well at first, but many reviewers have mentioned that it falls off within hours to weeks.
- The Zilla mat works well for glass and thick, robust plastic tubs (such as Rubbermaid or Really Useful Box brand). However, it may be a melting hazard for thinner or cheaper plastic.
- Again, this heat mat does not self-regulate. You’ll need to separately purchase a thermostat to prevent the heating pad from getting too hot.
- Some reviewers mention that if your room is particularly cold, this heat mat does not produce enough power to adequately heat the vivarium.
The Zilla heat mat has many of the same benefits as the Zoo Med heating pad, with the slight inconvenience that the adhesive is not particularly strong. However, you can get around this by using some electrical or HVAC tape to secure the mat back onto the tank.
As long as you purchase a thermostat to use with it, we would recommend the Zilla reptile terrarium heat mat and consider it a solid choice.
3) iPower Under Tank Heat Pad and Digital Thermostat Combo Set
iPower is a company that specializes in products designed for growing plants, such as lights and greenhouse ventilation. However, they have released a UTH specifically for reptile enclosures. They are a well-known brand in the horticultural world that receives good reviews.
The main benefit is that it comes with both the heat pad and a temperature regulator.
- Because the heat mat comes with a thermostat, there’s no need to purchase any additional equipment. You can plug the mat into the thermostat and set the temperature right away.
- The thermostat is digital, meaning it’s very precise, and will keep temperatures in your enclosure within a set range.
- The heat pad is adhesive and sticks to the bottom of the tank.
- Due to the inclusion of the thermostat, it’s suitable for use with strong plastic containers (as long as you do not set the temperature too high).
- The heat pad is made to be water-resistant (though we would still not recommend using it inside the vivarium).
- It heats up to the desired temperature very quickly.
- The quality of this product can be a bit hit-and-miss. Some reviewers have complained of receiving a faulty thermostat, or that the heat pad does not warm up to an adequate temperature.
- There is only one size of heat pad available – 4” by 7” (4W). This is fine if you have a smaller enclosure, but isn’t suitable for large vivariums.
- The package states that the product is supplied with under-tank feet; however, some reviewers have claimed that they did not receive them, so you may have to purchase them separately.
- The heat mat isn’t suitable for thinner or more flimsy plastic tubs which may have a lower melting point.
Despite the above cons, the majority of reviews for the iPower heat mat and thermostat combo are positive. It is a cheaper option than Zilla or Zoo Med, when you consider that the thermostat is included in the price.
Overall, though this product is slightly lower in quality than more reputable brands, it is certainly not bad. We would certainly recommend it for smaller enclosures.
4) Fluker’s Heat Mat for Reptiles and Small Animals
Fluker’s is a reasonably well-known brand in the reptile world. They mainly specialize in reptile food, such as turtle food and bearded dragon food. However, they also sell reptile tank accessories, such as lights, water bowls, and heat mats.
The Fluker’s heat mat for reptiles and small animals generally has positive reviews. Unlike most other popular heat mats, Fluker’s hat mats are not adhesive, meaning that they are reusable.
- There are four sizes available: mini, small, medium and large. Whatever the size of your snake’s vivarium, there will be an option to suit you.
- Because the heat mat is not self-adhesive, it is reusable time and time again. Perfect if you need to clean the outside of the tank, or switch your snake to a larger enclosure.
- It uses very little energy, yet still reaches up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The mat itself is very durable, made of high-quality materials, and is thermostat compatible.
- The price is very reasonable, and in line with other major brands.
- Because the mat isn’t self-adhesive, you’ll need to purchase some tape separately to stick it to the tank. Use a heat-resistant kind, such as electrical tape or aluminum (HVAC) tape.
- The heat mat does not come with under-tank “feet,” so you’ll need to purchase these separately to ensure proper airflow under the enclosure.
- There is no way of setting the temperature, so you will need to purchase a thermostat separately.
- Some reviewers have remarked that their heating pads have not reached high enough temperatures. However, most reviewers are happy with the temperature. It may be that some products are shipped faulty.
The Fluker’s heat mat is an excellent choice for anyone who isn’t a fan of self-adhesive mats that permanently stick to the tank. This is a good thing for owners of hatchling or juvenile snakes, as they’ll require moving to larger enclosures as they grow.
We’re impressed with the quality of this product, and would recommend it, as long as you can separately source a thermostat, heat-proof tape, and under-tank feet.
5) Sequoia Reptile Under Tank Heating Pad with Temperature Control
The final product on our list is the Sequoia reptile UTH with temperature control. This is unique in comparison to the other products we’ve reviewed. It comes with a built-in analog temperature control dial, which is wired into the product itself (rather than being a separate thermostat).
Sequoia is not a particularly well-known brand, and so their heat pad is very affordable. However, this does not necessarily mean that the quality is lacking. The reviews for this product are generally quite good.
- The heat pad comes with an analog temperature control dial, built-in. There is no need to purchase an additional thermostat to regulate the temperature.
- The control switch can regulate the temperature between 32 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning it’s suitable for almost all kinds of snake.
- The heating pad is waterproof and condensation proof.
- There are two different sizes available: 11” x 11” and 5.5” x 5.9”.
- The heating pad does not consume much power, even when adjusted to the highest setting.
- Because the thermostat is analog, not digital, it is not very precise. There are no numbers on the dial to indicate the temperature that you would like to set it to. For this reason, you’ll have to purchase a separate thermometer for your vivarium and adjust the dial as necessary.
- The heat mat is self-adhesive, but there are only two thin strips of adhesive on the product, rather than the entirety of one side. For this reason, you may need to use tape to secure it further.
- The Sequoia heat mat only reaches a maximum temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (though inside the tank, the temperature may be much lower). This means that for snakes requiring higher temperatures, this heat mat may not be adequate.
The Sequoia heat mat is not as high quality as some of the others that we’ve reviewed. That being said, most reviewers seem very happy with it, when considering the price. It is a cheaper option, suitable for reptile keepers working on a limited budget.
We would recommend using this mat with a proper digital thermostat anyway, to be on the safe side. Be sure to closely monitor the temperatures inside your vivarium while you’re using the mat.
Are Heating Pads for Snakes Safe?
Heating pads for snake tanks are perfectly safe, so long as you follow some basic safety guidelines:
- Read and follow all of the instructions carefully when setting up your heat mat.
- Never place the heat mat directly inside your snake’s enclosure. There’s a risk of burns if your snake touches the heat mat directly, and you don’t want your snake to become tangled up in the wires. Spilled water or urine could also damage the heat mat.
- Always use a thermostat with your heat mat.
Thermostats keep the temperature inside the vivarium within 2 or 3 degrees of the optimum level. They continuously monitor the temperature, and automatically switch off the heat mat once it reaches the correct level. When the temperature drops below the optimum level, the thermostat switches the heat mat back on again.
If you’re using a snake tank heating pad, a thermostat is necessary. Unregulated heat mats can quickly become too hot for your snake, which can result in bad burns.
According to Veterinary Clinics Exotic Animal Practice, environmental temperatures which are too high or too low can also result in a weakened immune system. This can predispose the animal to various illnesses such as respiratory infections.
Can Heating Pads Malfunction?
Heating pads, like any electrical appliance, can malfunction. An article in the Daily Express details a case of a Woma python which ended up with severe burns from a malfunctioning heat mat.
If a heat mat malfunctions, it can become far too hot very quickly. This can cause glass vivariums to shatter, and wooden shelving, flooring or carpet to burn. And it isn’t just heated mats: heat lamps, ceramic heat emitters, and heat rocks can all malfunction as well.
Of course, as this incident managed to make the news, it’s a testament to how rare it is. However, this is why it’s vital to use a high-quality thermostat, and also to choose a good heat mat from a reputable brand.
How to Set Up a Heating Pad for a Snake
Snake heat mat setup is quite straightforward. Here are some general guidelines:
- Plug the heat mat into the thermostat. Follow the instructions to set the thermostat to the optimum “warm end” temperature for your snake. For example, if you’ve got a ball python, you might set it to around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember that the temperature above the substrate will be slightly cooler than the mat itself.
- For ideal placement, set your heating pad underneath one end of your snake’s tank or box.
- Sandwich the thermostat’s temperature probe in between the heat mat and the bottom of the enclosure. You can use electrical tape to secure it there. Do not place it inside the enclosure as your snake shouldn’t be able to touch the wires.
- Closely monitor your heat mat and thermostat for the first five or six hours, to make sure that everything is working correctly. Use an infrared thermometer (temperature gun) to check the temperature inside the enclosure, just above the substrate. Adjust the thermostat if you find that it gets too hot or cold.
From there, you shouldn’t have to do anything more. Your thermostat will do all the work monitoring and adjusting the temperature. Just make sure you check it every now and then to make sure that it’s all still working as it should be.