Owning a venomous or ‘hot’ snake is dangerous. That’s why most people’s first instinct is to think about removing their fangs, so that they can’t bite you. But if you were to ask any experienced snake breeder or owner, practically none would say that they remove a snake’s fangs.
You can make your snake a venomoid, but it’s a painful procedure for the snake, and their fangs will grow back anyway. That’s why people remove their venom glands or ducts instead.
The biggest problem with defanging a snake is that it can cause them a lot of pain. That’s why you can’t and shouldn’t attempt to do it at home. Even if you do get a vet to perform this procedure for you, the snake still won’t be happy, and it can cause them feeding problems.
Can You Take a Snake’s Fangs Out?
You can ‘defang’ a snake. A snake that has been defanged, or otherwise rendered non-venomous, is called a venomoid. This can be achieved by removing the fangs themselves, or removing the venom glands. This procedure is common, but illegal in some parts of the world.
Most owners who want to turn their snake into a venomoid do so by removing their venom glands, or the ducts that connect the venom glands to their fangs. These take longer to grow back than fangs do, although they will still grow back eventually.
If you do own venomous snakes, then getting them defanged isn’t an alternative to learning how to handle them correctly. You have to be sure that you know what you’re doing when you handle snakes, whether they’re venomous or not.
That’s because they still aren’t safe, and can hurt you. If you leave their venom glands alone, then they still have venom, even if they can’t use it effectively.
And needless to say, but there’s no reason to remove a non-venomous snake’s fangs. Non-venomous snake bites can still be painful, but they can’t really hurt you.
How Are Snake Fangs Removed?
So, how do vets remove snake fangs? A paper in 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 of the animal from infection.
He, therefore, stated that the ‘more elaborate operation’ of removing the snake’s venom glands was the better idea. The process of removing the fangs itself, though, is simple:
- To safely remove a snake’s fangs, they have to be anesthetized. This stops them from being able to stop you by biting you.
- The vet should then test whether the snake is fully sedated by holding them behind the head, and testing their bite reflex—and not with their fingers.
- Once the snake is adequately sedated, the teeth can be removed using either clippers, pliers or some other tool.
However, you will be hard pressed to find any vet or breeder that will do this for you. That’s because removing snake fangs isn’t approved practice.
What they may be able to do instead is remove their venom glands, which is much more effective at rendering venomous snakes harmless. There are many published sources available that detail exactly how this is done.
Do Snake Fangs Grow Back?
Snakes naturally lose their fangs and teeth in the wild all the time. Even though venom incapacitates prey, they can occasionally knock a snake’s fang or teeth out.
Some snakes hold onto prey after they bite it for the first time, and these snakes often break their fangs as they do. The prey is intent on not being eaten, so they’ll try their best to get away.
When they do lose fangs or teeth, they can grow them back quite quickly, depending on the species. Snakes often have spare fangs and teeth that will take the place of the lost one.
Alternatively, they can grow a new one back in place. That means if you’re intent on defanging a captive venomous snake, you’ll have to have it done repeatedly. The same applies to their venom glands.
So, how come snakes can grow their fangs back but we can’t? Reptiles generally are better than mammals are at regrowing body parts, like lizards that can lose their tails and grow them back again.
Snakes can’t grow their tails back, but they can grow fangs. That’s because a snake without fangs is a snake that can’t eat. They, therefore, grow them back quickly, with time to spare so that they don’t starve to death.
How Long Do Snake Fangs Take to Grow Back?
So, as we’ve said, a snake’s fangs will grow back. But how long does it take? The answer is between a week and a month in most cases.
An interesting article in the South China Morning Post on a restaurant known for serving snake soup stated that most snakes would grow their fangs back after a month.
The owner would defang the snake—without anesthetic, and using a pair of pliers—and keep them stored away alive until somebody asked for their snake soup. The restaurant would serve many species, from bamboo vipers to king cobras.
This is the main problem with removing a snake’s fangs. They grow back so quickly that you’re practically guaranteeing that they’ll live a life of pain. That really shouldn’t be an option for your pet, or pets.
Does Defanging a Snake Kill It?
Defanging a snake doesn’t kill it, but it does have side effects. The snake will have trouble digesting.
It’s thought that snake venom acts a little like stomach acid, in that it starts breaking down the snake’s meal—but before they’ve even swallowed it. So, by removing the snake’s fangs, you make it more difficult for them to digest food.
Removing the fangs also increases the risk of infection. Snakes can experience a condition called ‘mouth rot,’ which is exactly what it sounds like. This often occurs when a snake loses a tooth naturally, but it can also happen if you purposefully remove their fangs.
Essentially, the small wound left behind can become infected. Even worse, this infection can then pass into their bloodstream and cause sepsis, which can be fatal. So, yes, defanging a snake can kill it (albeit indirectly).
Besides that, you could argue that it’s inhumane. Snakes, like other highly developed animals, can feel pain. By removing their fangs, you’re undoubtedly causing them pain—even if they can’t express that to you. If you keep snakes as pets, then your pet’s welfare should surely be one of your top priorities.
Should You Defang Snakes?
Well, the first part of the case against defanging snakes is that the fangs grow back. As we said, they can grow back quite quickly, too. So, you’d need to remove the snake’s fangs again and again.
Aside from that, there have been documented cases where a defanged snake has successfully bitten and envenomated someone. How? Because their teeth were partially grown back. The same applies to getting their venom glands removed, which can grow back.
There’s also the chance that the snake will puncture your skin using their other teeth, and deliver venom by getting some on the wound. So, regarding safety, defanging doesn’t entirely prevent the chance of them harming you anyway.
There are, however, many good reasons to defang a snake. If you keep a naturally venomous snake for educational purposes, defanging it will render it harmless and more easily used for those purposes.
That’s why zoos defang venomous snakes that are used to teach people about handling, or about the animals themselves. And while it isn’t a perfect solution, it’s also safer for the owner than not defanging them at all.
Other reasons include if you keep multiple venomous snakes together in an enclosure, defanging them will stop them from killing one another.
And if you keep venomous snakes for scientific research, defanging them can make them less dangerous while you’re studying them. So, long story short, there are pros and cons of defanging snakes.
Can You Remove Snake Fangs at Home?
You should not attempt this at home. It’s highly likely that you would accidentally kill your snake. The main problem is that they will develop mouth rot as a result. However, there are other potential problems:
- You could use the wrong amount of sedative, which could kill the snake. Or you could accidentally not keep them sedated—resulting in a bite while you’re trying to work.
- You could damage the lining of the snake’s mouth while you’re trying to remove the fang.
- You could struggle to remove the fang, damaging their mouth further as you try to pull it out.
Leave surgery to qualified experts, even if you’re an experienced breeder and you know how to handle and care for snakes. Unfortunately, it’ll be hard to find a vet that will perform this for you.
It’s not a commonly accepted practice. Instead, a small number of breeders and vets may remove your snake’s venom glands instead. Your best option is to find a breeder that sells venomoid snakes, and buy one from them.
Alternatives to Removing a Venomous Snake’s Fangs
There are two alternatives to removing a venoms snake’s fangs. These are removing their venom glands, and not removing them at all. The majority of hot snakes that people own haven’t had either their fangs or venom glands removed.
Instead, the owners rely on handling techniques and safety equipment to ensure that the snake won’t or can’t bite them. It’s still dangerous to own a venomous snake either way, as they could escape or surprise you some way.
Those who want to own a venomous snake haven’t owned a snake before, but like the idea of having a dangerous pet. If that sounds like you, you should talk to some local snake owners or breeders.
They’ll explain why owning a venomous snake is such a dangerous idea. A rattlesnake has an entirely different temperament to a ball python. So even if you are used to snakes, and have owned them for years, it’s still not a great idea.
That’s why the best alternative to defanging a venomous snake is not to own a dangerous snake in the first place. There are plenty of amazing and interesting snakes out there that can’t hurt you, and that make great pets. We strongly recommend owning one of these instead.