what are the signs of a stressed snake?
Snake Health

How to Tell If a Snake is Stressed Out

It’s true that your snake can die from stress, so it’s not a health problem that you can allow to continue. Pet snakes become stressed out due to their living environment and your behavior. But how do you know if your snake is in a stressful situation, and how can you de-stress a snake?

How can you tell if a snake is stressed out? You’ll notice changes in your snake’s body language. They may refuse to eat, rub their nose against objects, and start hissing or striking. The cause could be improper care, such as their tank is too large or hot. Snakes also get stressed out if you handle them incorrectly, or too frequently.

Stress can kill your pet snake, so you need to take steps to make your pet feel more at ease. The good news is that stress in pet snakes is easy to resolve. It’s always related to something being wrong with their care, which with some simple modifications you can quickly correct.

What are the Signs of a Stressed Snake?

Stress doesn’t have obvious visual symptoms like other snake health problems. However, there are behavioral signs that your snake is unhappy. This is your snake’s way of letting you know that there’s something wrong. The symptoms of stress in snakes include:

  • Your snake will refuse to eat, even if by their regular schedule, they should be hungry.
  • Your snake will rub their nose against their enclosure, repeatedly, even if it causes them pain.
  • Your snake will be agitated, and even violent. According to Live Science, a snake that experiences stress is more likely to strike out at you.

If your snake is stressed because of how you handle them, the signs are a little different. They get into a defensive position, which differs between species.

Some species will coil up into an S-shape so that they’re ready to strike. And all snakes hiss to warn you that they don’t like you. They may strike at you if you keep coming closer. When you handle them, they’ll consistently try and get away.

What are the Causes of a Stressed Snake?

If the snake feels that their living conditions differ to what they’d like in the wild, this causes them stress. You may notice that your snake is experiencing a strong desire to find somewhere more suitable to live.

how to destress a snake

In the wild, they could go and find somewhere better. But, when they’re kept in an enclosure, they can’t. This is the cause of all reptile and snake stress. Here are some reasons for stress in snakes:

  • An enclosure that’s too small or too large for them can cause stress.
  • If the snake doesn’t have anywhere to hide, they’ll feel vulnerable.
  • If the enclosure is too warm, cold, humid or dry, they’ll feel a strong desire to find somewhere more suitable.
  • If they’re cooped up with other snakes, whereas they wouldn’t be ‘social’ in the wild, they’ll want to find their own private space.
  • If they’re ill, they’ll naturally be unhappy and stressed.
  • If you don’t handle them properly, they’ll see you as a threat and react accordingly. The same applies if you handle them too frequently. Some snakes, like milk snakes, hardly like being handled at all.

Each of these things relates to improper care. Every case of stress in snakes is directly related to their owner not taking care of them properly.

It’s therefore vital that you look deeper into how to care for your snake, either by reading a care guide or by doing your research.

Can Stress Kill a Snake?

Stress itself can’t kill a snake, but the knock-on effects of stress can. 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. After all, snakes that brumate will naturally go months without eating. But not eating at the wrong time of year will make your snake much weaker, and will damage their immune system.

Beyond that, their nose-rubbing behavior can cause problems too. If they keep going for long enough, this can cause abscesses and open wounds. These wounds can become infected, which can become fatal (septicemia).

Stress is also associated with poor husbandry. If you keep them at the wrong temperature or humidity, or in the wrong-sized enclosure, this can cause them unnecessary stress. These factors, combined with their stress, can lead to a failure to thrive and death.

How to De-stress Snakes

If you think your snake is stressed out, there are many ways you can help. But first, you have to identify what’s stressing them. Figure out whether their enclosure is too small or you’re keeping them at the wrong temperature/humidity.

Do Snakes Need Hides?

Hides are where your snake can go if they’re feeling stressed or vulnerable, or if they’re just in need of a rest. It’s best for your snake if they have two hides in their enclosure.

There should be one on the basking side, which is warm, and one that’s cooler on the other side. These two hides will help your snake to regulate their temperature effectively.

Aside from hides, your snake also needs cover. This is just something they can hide under, that isn’t necessarily a hide. Think things like branches, leaves, twigs, anything that will make their environment a little more natural.

A cover helps them feel more secure. The same applies if your snake is a natural burrower, like a western hognose. You need to provide them with a proper substrate that they can burrow into and feel safe in.

Get Your Snake a New Enclosure

Some snake enclosures are better for stressed snakes than others. An enclosure with glass on all sides, even on the top, will leave your snake feeling exposed and vulnerable.

It’s like if you were out in wolf country with nothing to defend yourself with, and nobody else around. You’d feel vulnerable and stressed out.

snake health problems

Other enclosures are more suitable. Wooden enclosures, for example, usually are wooden on all sides except one. Your snake will feel like they’re safe on all sides because they can keep a close eye out front and feel safe at the back.

If you can’t buy a brand-new enclosure, consider using backgrounds and linings to cover at least two sides of the enclosure. Or, place their cage up against the wall, at least.

Give Them Something to Climb

Your snake might be stressed because they’re bored. This is often the case with snakes kept in standard enclosures, with nothing inside to climb on or interact with, and newspaper substrate. A snake in an environment like this won’t be happy, and this may be directly or indirectly causing them stress.

While you’re providing them with a cover in their enclosure, you should also offer them something to climb. Many snakes enjoy basking on branches in the wild, and other snakes beside enjoy having something different to sit on.

It might not sound like it would make a difference—if you were kept in an enclosure, for example, it wouldn’t make much difference if you had a branch to sit on—but it does.

How to Handle a Stressed Snake

Handling a stressed corn snake or ball python can be quite difficult since they make such an effort to get away from you. It’s also quite stressful for the owner, too, to see that their snake is so unhappy. So, how do you handle a stressed snake?

Follow these guidelines:

  • Handle your snake regularly. Make sure that they spend plenty of time with you aside from when you’re feeding them. Otherwise, they’ll expect food each time that you handle them.
  • Don’t handle them before they shed (blue phase), just before they’re about to eat, or before they finish digesting their last meal. Handling during these times causes your snake to feel more stressed. It could also lead to your snake regurgitating its food.
  • As for the process itself, start by getting your snake used to you. If they’re cage aggressive, begin by opening their enclosure and standing there. Once they’re used to that—over the next few days—get them used to your hand by letting them sniff it and flick it with their tongue.
  • When handling a snake, don’t ever restrain them. Don’t overhandle them.

You also have to make sure that you’re always calm and collected with your snake, never moving too quickly or forcefully. A calm owner means a more relaxed snake.