snake venom gland removal
Snake Health

Can You Remove Venom Glands from a Snake?

Owning a venomous snake can be dangerous for obvious reasons. Most snake owners rely on ultra-safe handling and feeding methods. However, others want to know if it’s possible to have their snakes rendered harmless through removing their venom glands.

The venom glands can be removed from ‘venomoid’ snakes. The surgery makes their bite almost harmless since they can’t produce venom anymore. However, the glands grow back, and the surgery is painful for the snake and leads to the risk of infection.

It’s difficult to find vets that will do the procedure, so many who perform it are enthusiastic amateurs. It’s also painful for the snake if not performed correctly, and prevents them from being able to catch and kill live prey. At the same time, there are some good arguments in favor, too.

How to Make a Venomous Snake Safe

People have interacted with venomous snakes for millennia. The most obvious example of venomous snakes that have historically been kept captive is in India, where the snake charming tradition still exists today. The charmers would remove the snake’s fangs by cutting them off or ripping them out. Alternatively, they would sew the snake’s mouth shut to stop them from biting. The issue with these approaches is that the snake can’t properly feed, and removing their fangs often causes mouth rot.

Today, removing a snake’s venom glands is the preferred method of making the snake harmless. The procedure is surgical: an incision is made, the glands are removed, the incision is sewn shut, and the wound is then treated to prevent infection. This is far safer for the snake than removing the fangs themselves. And the snake can continue eating prey that’s already been killed.

While it isn’t a commonly accepted practice, it’s debatably the best way to keep highly venomous snakes like the rattlesnake, king cobra, and gaboon viper.

Snake Venom Gland Removal

So, how does the process of removing snake venom glands work? A paper by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) details how the author tried to find a way to render venomous rattlesnakes harmless.

He started by removing both the fixed and reserve fangs, but found that this led to mouth rot more often than not, which almost always led to the death from infection. He, therefore, stated that the ‘more elaborate operation’ of removing the snake’s venom glands was the better idea. His method was as follows:

  • Employ an assistant to bind the snake, act as an anesthetist, sterilize and otherwise prepare surgical instruments, and so on.
  • Place the snake in an airtight box with chloroform vapor. Leave them inside for between twenty and forty-five minutes, depending on how long it takes for them to succumb to the chloroform.
  • Once their head droops, and they stop responding to touch, but before they are completely limp, take them out and place them on the surgical table. Tie them to the table so that they can’t move. Take special care to fix the area just behind their neck, as this is the most critical area—it’s vital they don’t move their head.
  • Insert a glass tube into their trachea to assist them with breathing. This glass tube is connected to a rhythmic air pump and ether bottle.
  • Briefly remove the tube to make a slit in the correct area. Replace the tube and remove the venom glands.

This is just one way to remove the venom glands. If you find a veterinary surgeon that uses a different method, that doesn’t mean they’re ‘wrong.’ It just means that they find it easier to work another way, e.g., by anesthetizing the snake in a different way, or by securing the snake in place before surgery in a different way.

Venomoid Surgery for snakes

Can You Perform Venomoid Surgery at Home?

You should not attempt this at home. It’s highly likely that you would accidentally kill your snake. Leave surgery to qualified experts, even if you’re an experienced breeder and you know how to handle and care for snakes. Mistakes at any point in the procedure could cause:

  • The snake to feel the pain of the surgery, i.e., if not enough anesthetic is used
  • The snake to die as a result of too much anesthetic entering their system
  • The snake to die as a result of infection, caused by not correctly sterilizing instruments or caring for the wound as it heals

If you see the snake as a pet, then, you can sympathize with how this procedure isn’t always in the snake’s best interest.

Venomoid Surgery Costs

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to say precisely how expensive venomoids surgery is. That’s because it is not the kind of surgical procedure that a local veterinary surgeon can perform. You’ll only find venomoid snakes from reptile breeders that sell them, which perform the surgeries themselves. Like all snakes, they can range in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

As for the procedure itself, ask a known breeder that sells venomoids how they have the surgery performed, who performs it, and how much it costs. Since there are only a few breeders nationwide, your choice might be quite limited.

Should You Remove the Venom Glands of a Snake?

It can be done—but should it be done? On the one hand, there is a subsection of venomous snake owners that swear by it. But there are just as many, maybe more venomous snake owners that think it’s a bad thing to do to a snake.

They don’t just disagree with the idea; they think it’s practically evil. So, as you can imagine, there’s a debate in the world of herpetology as to whether you should remove a snake’s venom glands.

Advantages of Removing a Snake’s Venom Glands

The central argument for venomoid snakes is that there will always be people who want to keep venomous snakes as a pet. Since that market will always exist, it’s better than the snakes are rendered safe and nonvenomous. That’s is the case for anybody keeping snakes in urban areas.

Besides that, venomoid surgery makes snakes safer for educational purposes. Knowing that the snake is no longer venomous means that the snake can be used for shows, where people inexperienced with snakes can interact with it without any risk of harm. This helps educate the general public about snakes in a way that would be impossible if the snake were still venomous.

Other than that, venomoid snakes are necessary for:

  • Biological studies, where scientists want to learn more without the danger of being bitten.
  • Breeders who want to keep the snakes and breed them to sell them to other herpetologists
  • Zoologists who are breeding the snakes to keep population numbers up, i.e., in the case of endangered species kept in zoos

Nobody would argue that it’s better for snakes used in live demonstrations to still be venomous. The same goes for venomous snakes kept in houses with family members, especially children who aren’t familiar with snakes.

Recovery usually is quite fast. That’s because only the tissue of the venom gland is taken out. No teeth or bones are removed, which means that it’s like any other surgical cut. It’s quickly sewn shut, and will then recover within a week or two with optimal care.

Disadvantages of Venom Gland Removal in Snakes

The main argument against venomoid snakes is that the people who want them are typically those with little experience. If you have any friends that keep snakes, after they got their first ball python or corn snake, did they suddenly start saying I want to get a rattlesnake—they’re so cool!

Well, they are, but they’re completely different to a regular domesticated snake. Inexperience can make you feel like you know what you’re doing, when you don’t. You should, therefore, thoroughly research what keeping venomous snakes is really like before you come to a decision.

Keeping venomoid snakes isn’t necessarily safe. First of all, since they still have fangs, your snake can still bite and hurt you. And if you don’t properly take care of the wound, it can become infected. Even worse, snake venom glands and venom ducts have been shown to regenerate.

This means that once they’re removed, they start growing back. Some people have been envenomated by their supposedly non-venomous snakes. It isn’t exactly clear how or why, but it’s thought that this is the result of the surgeon removing just some or most of the gland rather than all of it, by accident.

There’s also the fact that while you might think the snake is a venomoid, they may not be. There was a case in 2011 highlighted by CBS New York of a man that was bitten by an albino monocled cobra. The breeder had told him it was a venomoid, but it was still fully venomous.

Are There Laws Against Venomoid Snakes?

Few laws specifically address venomoid snakes in the U.S. It’s unclear whether they’re considered legal or not.

Most states have laws that specify that ‘dangerous’ animals are not to be kept as pets. State laws define which animals they consider dangerous, and which they don’t—so keeping rattlesnakes is legal in some states but not in others. But, is a venomoid snake considered dangerous?

In most states, they are. According to the animal dealer permit application in New Jersey, for example, specifies that venomoids are still thought of as ‘dangerous.’ And in Louisiana, in Baton Rouge specifically, municipal law states explicitly that venomoid snakes are prohibited.

You should also seek out municipal ordinances in your area, perhaps asking local lawmakers themselves to see whether you can legally own a venomoid. The last thing you want is to run afoul of the law, because illegally kept snakes are destroyed rather than rehomed.