Snakes are one of the most hygienic pets to own. Aside from their pee and poop, snakes don’t smell much. Contrary to popular belief, snakes don’t smell like fish, skunks, or rotten eggs unless they musk in self-defense.
Snakes don’t normally have a scent. If your snake smells bad, it may have slithered through its own poop or pee. Alternatively, it may have musked (released a foul-smelling liquid from its cloaca) out of fear. Musking is most common in young colubrids. If your snake’s tank smells, this could be due to bacteria or mold growth.
To prevent bad snake smell, use an absorbent substrate in its enclosure. Clean out your snake’s tank regularly using a disinfectant, and remove snake poop whenever you see it. To clean a smelly snake, you can bathe it in warm water.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Do Snakes Smell Like?
- 2 Why Does My Snake Smell Bad?
- 3 Why Does My Snake Tank Smell?
What Do Snakes Smell Like?
Many people erroneously believe that snakes smell. Some people say that snakes smell like cucumber or sulfur. But this isn’t true: a snake’s body is naturally completely odorless.
Snakes that eat a diet of fish can sometimes smell vaguely fishy. This is occasionally noticeable in wild snakes that live by the water, or captive garter snakes. But snakes that eat rodents don’t smell at all.
The only exception is when a snake ‘musks’. This is a self-defense technique which a snake may use when it feels threatened. It releases a strong, foul-scented liquid from its anal glands, with the intention of deterring its attacker.
Captive snakes can sometimes musk when they’re being handled. You’ll know when your snake has musked, as you’ll see and feel the liquid on your skin or clothes. As your snake becomes more used to your presence, it will musk less often.
Snakes may also smell if they’ve accidentally slithered through their own feces or urine. If your snake smells like urine or poop, this is probably what’s happened.
Can You Smell a Snake in Your House?
Prospective snake owners may wonder if a snake’s tank emits an odor. If you’ve ever kept small mammals, you’ll know that their cage can be quite pungent.
Fortunately, snakes are one of the cleanest pets, and their tanks don’t usually smell much. You certainly can’t smell a snake’s tank from elsewhere in the house. This is largely due to the fact that most snakes release solid urates instead of liquid urine.
Of course, how bad a snake’s tank smells depends on how well you’re maintaining it. Like all animals, snakes poop after every meal, and their feces can smell quite strong, especially when fresh.
The presence of feces in a snake’s tank can promote bacteria buildup. So, if you don’t remove the poop right away, its vivarium can start to stink. And the longer you leave it without cleaning, the worse it will smell.
Your snake’s tank might also smell because of the type of substrate you’re using. A non-absorbent substrate, such as newspaper, won’t absorb waste very well. Aspen shavings, on the other hand, are good at masking odors.
Which Snakes Smell The Worst?
Certain species of snakes smell worse than others. This is due to two things: the consistency and scent of their waste, and their tendency to musk.
The least smelly snakes are pythons and boas. They defecate infrequently, and their poop doesn’t smell very strongly, especially when dry. Though pythons and boas can musk, it’s uncommon. Ball pythons are especially good with humans, and very rarely musk. When frightened, they’re more likely to curl themselves into a ball.
Colubrids are some of the worst-smelling snakes. Hognose snakes, milk snakes, corn snakes, and rat snakes all have a tendency to musk when handled. Some snakes grow out of this as they age, whereas others never do.
Colubrid poop is also regarded as the smelliest of all. They poop more often than other snakes, and their excrement has a wetter consistency. If your colubrid snake poops, you should clear it up immediately, as its odor can permeate a room.
How Bad Does Snake Poop Smell?
Snake poop smells about as bad as any other animal’s poop. It’s made of the undigested materials of a snake’s last meal. For most captive snakes, this means the fiber, hair and claws leftover from eating a rodent.
A snake’s food spends several days fermenting in its gut. There, it’s broken down by bacteria and enzymes, until all that’s left is waste material. Snakes usually poop around 5-7 days after eating a meal. However, some snakes poop more regularly than others.
Snake droppings come out brown and log-shaped. Their consistency can vary between firm and loose, depending on how hydrated the snake is. They have a pungent, fecal smell when wet. After a few hours, the excrement will dry out, and won’t smell much anymore. In this way, it’s similar to horse manure.
Some snakes have much smellier poop than others. A snake’s poop can also smell worse than usual if it has a gut problem, such as an infection. Normally, you won’t notice a smell until you open your snake’s tank.
You may also notice large whitish or yellowish lumps in your snake’s enclosure. These are urates (solid urine) and they’re often passed at the same time as feces. Boas and pythons usually pass larger and smellier urates than colubrids.
Does Snake Urine Smell?
Snakes are different from mammals in that most of their urine is passed in solid form. These droppings are called urinary pellets, or ‘urates’. According to Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, this is a trait shared by many reptiles including tortoises.
Urates have a surprisingly strong smell. This is because they’re so highly concentrated. They have a much lower percentage of water than liquid urine. If you notice a strong smell of pee in your snake’s room, check the tank for urates.
Snakes can also pass liquid urine alongside solid urates. This is more likely to happen in captivity than in the wild. Well-hydrated snakes produce more liquid urine, and pet snakes have constant access to water.
Liquid snake pee doesn’t smell very much. However, it depends on the snake. Snakes that don’t drink much water have smellier pee. To encourage your snake to drink, try dipping a frozen-thawed rodent in water before offering it your snake.
How to Get Rid of Snake Poop And Pee Smell
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to make your snake’s poop less odorous. Excrement is always going to have an unpleasant smell, no matter what animal it comes from. The only thing to do is to remove your snake’s waste from the tank as soon as possible.
To keep on top of things, spot-clean your snake’s enclosure daily. You don’t necessarily have to take your snake out of the tank to do this. Look around the tank for any feces, urates, spilled water, and soiled bedding. Remove and dispose of it.
While you’re there, it’s also a good idea to clean the water bowl. Wash it in soap and water, rinse it thoroughly and refill it. This will prevent bacteria from building up in your snake’s drinking water. Give your snake’s tank a more rigorous clean every 1-4 weeks.
Why Does My Snake Smell Bad?
You’ve been told that snakes are hygienic animals, and shouldn’t smell. However, you notice an unpleasant scent whenever you’re handling your snake. You can even smell it on your hands or clothes after you’ve returned your snake to its tank. Why?
Snakes can sometimes smell if they’ve inadvertently crawled through their own excrement. They can also smell bad if they have a condition called scale rot, caused by excessive humidity. However, what’s most likely is that your snake is musking.
Musking is a defense mechanism that snakes can demonstrate when they’re scared. It involves the release of a pungent fluid from the snake’s anal glands, inside the cloaca. This fluid smells and tastes rancid, so it effectively dissuades predators from eating the snake.
According to The Anatomical Record, all snakes have anal glands, and therefore the potential to musk when handled. However, certain species are more likely to musk than others. They include:
- Garter snakes
- Milk snakes
- Corn snakes
- Rat snakes
- Hognose snakes
By contrast, pythons (such as ball pythons) and boas (such as boa constrictors) rarely ever musk. Younger snakes musk more than adults, and captive-bred specimens are less likely to musk than wild-caught individuals.
What Does Snake Musk Smell Like?
According to the Journal of Chemical Ecology, snake musk is made up of several different components including acids and aldehydes. Many of these chemicals are volatile, meaning they easily vaporize into the air, and can be smelled.
Different snakes have different chemicals in their musk. This means that snake musk can smell extremely distinct depending on the species. Snake musk may smell like:
- Rotten eggs (sulfur)
- Skunk spray
- Decomposing flesh
- Wet dog
- Dirt or rotting foliage
Hognose snake musk has a particularly pungent odor. They roll onto their back and play dead while releasing their musk, which smells like a dead animal. Rat snakes also have a very powerful musk, especially Texas rat snakes. The larger the snake, the larger its scent glands are, and the more musk it can release.
Some people claim that venomous snakes (rattlesnakes and copperheads) smell like cucumber or watermelon. This is untrue – a snake’s musk always smells strong and unpleasant, rather than fresh or fruity.
How to Remove Snake Musk Smell
Snake musk can linger on clothing and the skin for several hours or days. The best thing to do is to launder your clothes, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
Hand washing will help to reduce the smell, but it won’t get rid of it straight away. It’s likely you’ll still notice an unpleasant scent on your skin for some time. Hand sanitizer, body spray, and baking soda can all help to neutralize the smell. However, time is the only real cure.
You can also train your snake to tolerate handling, and prevent it musking in the first place. To do this, handle your snake frequently and confidently. Be gentle, so that your snake knows you’re not trying to hurt it.
The more you handle your snake, the more comfortable and tolerant of handling it will become. Once it learns that you aren’t a predator, it should stop musking on you. There’s no reason to musk on someone that you know is a friend.
Can You Wash a Snake?
If your snake has an unpleasant odor, you may wonder: can I wash my snake? You can give your snake a bath, but only in plain water. Don’t start scrubbing your snake with soap, as you could seriously hurt it.
Fill a plastic tub with lukewarm water. The ideal snake bath temperature is between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Any hotter, and you risk overheating or burning your snake. If the water feels warm to the touch, it’s too hot. Don’t add any soap, shampoo, or any other additives.
The water shouldn’t be too deep – not more than 75% of your snake’s width. Your snake should be able to sit on the bottom with its head poking out. Place a large rock in the tub so that your snake can anchor itself if need be.
Let your snake soak in the tub for around 20 minutes. Supervise your snake constantly so that it doesn’t escape. You can rub your snake gently with your hands to dislodge any dirt or debris. Afterwards, let your snake slither through a lint-free cloth to dry.
Why Does My Snake Tank Smell?
Perhaps you’ve noticed that your snake’s tank smells, rather than your snake itself. A snake’s vivarium usually doesn’t have a noticeable odor. You shouldn’t notice an odor unless you open the tank and sniff the inside.
Even then, you should only really detect the scent of whatever substrate you’re using. Most snake tank substrates have a pleasant woody or earthy smell. If your snake has recently been to the bathroom, you’ll smell the waste until it has dried or you’ve removed it.
Your snake’s tank shouldn’t smell if you’re taking good care of it, and cleaning it regularly. Every day, you should conduct a spot-clean of the tank, removing any waste (urates, feces, and soiled bedding). You should also clean and refill the water bowl. If the tank still smells, check for:
- Hidden urates and droppings (inside the hide, underneath or behind tank decorations, buried in the substrate)
- Regurgitated food. Rarely, snakes can bring up their last meal (due to stress, for example). This has a very strong and unpleasant smell.
- Rotten objects, such as wooden tank decorations or shed skin that has started to decompose
- Mold. This may be on the tank itself, underneath the substrate, or on a vivarium accessory. Mold is more of a problem with wooden tanks than glass or plastic ones
If you can’t identify what’s causing the smell, you’ll need to give the vivarium a thorough clean.
How to Reduce Snake Tank Smell
The best way to stop your snake tank smelling is to clean and disinfect it regularly. Depending on your snake, you may need to do this anywhere between once a week and once a month. Here’s how to clean a snake tank efficiently to reduce unpleasant odors:
- Place your snake into a temporary enclosure, such as a large plastic lidded tub.
- Remove all the vivarium accessories, such as the hide, water bowl, rocks, logs, and other decorations.
- Put the accessories into a large tub of warm, soapy water. Thoroughly wash everything and rinse it well with clean water. Leave to dry.
- Remove all the used substrate (bedding) from the tank, and discard it.
- Wash the tank, inside and out, with warm soapy water. Rinse thoroughly, then sterilize with a food-safe disinfectant (such as iodine) and rinse again.
- When the tank is fully dry, add fresh substrate. Refill the water bowl and place it back in the vivarium along with all other accessories.
To discourage the buildup of smell, use smooth plastic tank accessories, rather than wood or natural materials. Plastic can’t rot, and it has fewer crevices in which to harbor bacteria. Also, make sure the tank is well ventilated.
The substrate you use for your snake can also make a difference. Aspen shavings are better at soaking up waste and masking odors than paper towels or newspaper. Paper pulp bedding for small mammals also works well. Don’t use anything with added chemicals or perfumes, as these could be bad for your snake.