Your snake can die from the knock-on effects of stress, so it’s not a health problem that you should allow to continue indefinitely. All pet snakes, including corn snakes and ball pythons, can become stressed due to their living environment and your unwanted actions, such as over-handling.
A stressed snake’s body language will be different from normal. It may refuse to eat, rub its nose against objects, and start hissing or strike. The cause will be improper care or living conditions, such as the tank is too large with no hides or there’s too much or little humidity. Snakes also get stressed if you handle them incorrectly or too frequently.
That’s why you need to make your snake feels more relaxed and at ease. Fortunately, stress in pet snakes is relatively easy to resolve. It’s always related to something being wrong with their care or enclosure.
What are the Signs of a Stressed Snake?
Stress doesn’t have obvious physical symptoms like other health problems. However, there will be behavioral signs that your snake is unhappy.
This is your snake’s way of letting you know that there’s something wrong. The behavioral symptoms of stress in snakes include:
- Not eating. Your snake will refuse to eat, even if it’s feeding time.
- Attempted escape. Your snake is trying to get away from what’s bothering it. You’ll notice more movement around the sides of the snake’s enclosure, pushing the substrate towards the middle.
- Nose rubbing. Your snake will rub its nose against the enclosure wall repeatedly, even if it causes it pain and discomfort.
- Tail rattling. Snakes rattle their tails like a rattlesnake to warn you. Colubrids, such as corn snakes, will often tale rattle as a warning sign.
- Regurgitation. Excessive handling after feeding is stressful.
- Constriction. Additional squeezing is a sign of anger and frustration.
- Hissing. All snakes hiss to warn that they don’t like your presence.
- Striking. Your snake is agitated. According to Live Science, a snake that experiences stress is more likely to strike out at you. Snakes will coil up into an S-shape so that they’re ready to strike.
What Causes Stress in Snakes?
If your snake feels that its living conditions differ to what it experiences in the wild, this will cause it stress. You may notice that your snake is trying to escape when its cage is being cleaned, for example. Here are some reasons why your snake is feeling stressed out:
- The enclosure is too small or large
- Nowhere to hide so it feels vulnerable
- The living environment is too warm, cold, humid, or dry
- Two snakes in the same enclosure. Snakes aren’t usually social creatures, so very few species live together
- If they’re ill, they’ll naturally be unhappy and stressed.
- If you don’t handle them properly, your snake will see you as a threat. Some snakes, like milk snakes, dislike being handled at all.
Can Stress Kill a Snake?
The side effects of stress can cause a snake to die. The most noticeable adverse effect is that stress causes the snake to stop eating.
Over the first few weeks, this isn’t much of a problem for a healthy, adult snake. After all, snakes that brumate will naturally go months without eating. But not eating will usually weaken your snake’s health and damage its immune system.
Beyond that, a snake’s nose-rubbing behavior can cause problems. If it continues for long enough, this can cause abscesses and open wounds. These wounds can become infected, which can become fatal (septicemia).
How to De-stress Snakes
You have to identify what’s stressing out your snake. Figure out whether its enclosure is too small, you’re handling it too often, or you’re keeping it at the wrong temperature/humidity, etc.
Minimum of Two Hides
Hides are where your snake can go if they’re feeling stressed and vulnerable, they need rest, or they want to avoid detection by predators. Your snake needs a minimum of two hides in its enclosure.
There should be one hide on the basking side, which is warm, and one on the cooler side. These two hides will help your snake to regulate its temperature much more effectively.
Cover (Branches, Rocks, And Plants)
Items like branches, leaves, twigs, plants, rocks, etc will provide cover and make a snake’s environment look more natural.
If your snake is a natural burrower, like a western hognose or Kenyan sand boa, it will feel stressed if it’s unable to burrow. These snakes need the right type of substrate to burrow into and feel safe.
An enclosure with glass on all sides will leave your snake feeling very vulnerable. Enclosures that are wooden on all sides, except one, will mean that your snake feels safer and more secure.
If you lack the funds to get a new enclosure, consider using backgrounds and linings to cover at least two sides or put its enclosure up against a wall.
Things To Climb
Many snakes, especially if they’re arboreal, enjoy basking on branches and climbing trees in the wild. Without branches, your snake may be bored. Here are some ways to enrich your snake.
- Handle your snake regularly. Spend time with your snake aside from just when you’re feeding it.
- Don’t handle your snake before it sheds, before it’s about to eat, or before it finishes digesting its meal. Handling at these times will cause your snake to feel more stressed, and can lead to regurgitation.
- Get your snake used to you. If it’s cage aggressive, begin by opening its enclosure and standing there. Once it’s used to that, get it used to your hand by letting it sniff and flick its tongue.
- Don’t restrain or overhandle your pet snake.
Make sure that you’re calm around your snake, never moving too fast or forcefully. A calmer owner means that you’ll have a less stressed snake.