Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
  Issue 1 Vol 4 January 2009
Yikes! Snake Bites In this Issue

by Roberta A. Avila-Guevara CVT

Snakes are wild animals that react by instinct. Knowing how to handle your pet according to its breed and temperament will reduce the chances of your pet returning your care with a painful bite.

Snakes possess different types of aggression. Researching your pets’ breed will help determine the type of aggression your pet possesses. This is important for proper handling. Defensive aggression is seen in shy snakes, such as Ribbon snakes, or ones that are preyed upon. They might strike at anything they consider a threat. This can happen if you make sudden moves or pick up your snake before he knows you’re there.

Snakes demonstrating territorial aggression prefer to live solitary lives. They will strike at anything they feel is intruding on their territory. Some snakes, such as the Burmese Python, are naturally aggressive. These snakes should be left to experienced handlers because they tend to keep their aggressive behavior regardless of how often they’re handled. In some species, acquired aggression occurs during breeding season or when a snake hits sexual maturity.

Handling your pet appropriately also depends on the type of hunter he is. Active hunters watch for the movement of their prey. These snakes are nervous, irritable, and will bite readily when handled. Among the active hunters are Whip snakes and American Racers. Ambush hunters hide and wait for their prey. They quiet easily and are better to handle. Garter snakes are examples of this type of hunter.

Physical limitations contribute to bites. Vision differs among snake species. Some are completely blind and others can only see light and dark. Most snakes have enough vision to track movement so they use their sense of smell to find out what’s in their environment. This makes it important for you to wash your hands after handling your pet’s food. If you smell like a mouse, your pet will think you’re a mouse. Some snake handlers wear gloves after handling their pet’s food, then remove them and wash their hands before handling their pet.

Your pet’s hearing is also limited. Snakes have one simple inner ear that allows them to detect ground vibrations or airborne vibrations at a low frequency. When approaching your pet, do so slowly. Let him know you’re there by waving your hand a safe distance from him. You’ll know he’s comfortable when he ignores you or starts moving around in his cage.

Snakes are creatures of habit. If you feed your pet in his habitat, he may become conditioned to think that feeding comes with human contact. This could happen if you’re opening your pet’s cage and dropping food in for him all of the time. He won’t be able to distinguish between feeding time and friendly contact so when you go to pick him up, he’s ready to strike. Good choices for feeding areas include another cage, a box, or your bathtub. Make sure you are consistent with this practice, giving your pet enough time to relax after feeding before putting him back in his home.

Your snake will become more irritable when he starts his shedding cycle. His skin will appear dull, becoming more opaque over a few days and his eyes will turn a whitish blue. He is more likely to bite at this time so handling should be kept to a minimum.

When handling your pet, keep a few things in mind. First, don’t handle him right after cleaning his cage. He needs time to adjust to the unfamiliar surroundings. Second, when he’s in your hands, don’t stand close to objects, such as furniture or anything he can climb on that would give him the opportunity to get away from you. Finally, if your pet tries to leave your hand after being handled for awhile, he could be tired. This would be the time to put him away.

Despite your best efforts, your pet may bite you. Wash the wound out and put hydrogen peroxide on it. Then call your doctor, he may put you on antibiotics to prevent infection. Remember, your pet is a wild animal even if he was purchased at a pet store. If he bites you, he’s doing what comes naturally.


Born and raised in Boulder, CO. USA, Roberta is a Certified Veterinary Technician, practising since 1999. Herp keeping has been a hobby since she was able to walk. Roberta owns and cares for two large Leopard geckos, one Blizzard gecko, one Garter snake, one California King snake, one Green iguana, and one Veiled chameleon.

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  1. Yikes! Snake Bites
  2. How to Clean Your Reptile Cage
  3. In the News
  4. Get Paid to write an article
  5. Tell Us What You Think
  6. Feedback and Updating

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Other Articles & Resources

How to Clean Your Reptile Cage

Over the years we have a published a number of articles on cage cleaning (See Jan 2005 - Cleaning your Reptile Cage) but it's alway good to refresh and reinforce this, particularly with the start of a new year.

I have often read a newspaper article or an internet article describing a herp owners neglect of their animals and the appalling and filthy conditions they have allowed their herp enclosures to deteriorate to. It is sometimes a pain in the a@%$ cleaning cages, but if done often enough it is a relatively easy regime to manage.

Although generally low maintenance, reptiles do need some amount of care to remain healthy and happy. One of the requirements for caring for reptiles is to keep their living areas clean. Any reptile like most other pets wants a nice, clean and odor-free place to call home.

Some of the tools needed for cleaning a reptile cage are:

  • Buckets
  • Soap
  • Disinfectant
  • Sponges
  • Brushes
  • Rubber / latex gloves
  • Paper
  • Paper towels
  • Special glass or terrarium cleaner
  • A sharp knife or bladed tool

Before you can even begin to clean the cage you need to have somewhere to keep your reptile. This can be challenging depending on the size. If it is not a large one such as an adult turtle, iguana, or even a snake, try to have a second cage handy.

How to Clean the Cage

The following steps must be followed when cleaning a reptile’s cage:

  • Put on gloves
  • If you have things such as rocks or twigs in the cage these need to be cleaned first and set aside in a clean area.
  • Throw out any partially eaten food that is still in the cage
  • Clean the food containers thoroughly
  • Remove and throw away old rags, feces and urine that is inside the cage
  • Make a soap solution and use this to wipe all the surfaces of the cage. You may also want to use a specially developed reptile cleaning solution that is safe for use around animals to ensure that the cage is properly disinfected.
  • You can substitute chlorine bleach for the disinfectant using one cup of bleach for every gallon of water
  • Use fresh water and fresh sponges to ensure that all residue of the cleaning solution is removed from the sides and floor of the cage.
  • Dry the cage with paper towels and ensure that everywhere is properly dried before returning containers, rocks and other objects to the cage.
  • Once everything is back in order you can return your pet to its now clean home.

The frequency of cleaning will depend on a number of factors, the main factor being what type of reptile you have as a pet. Keeping your pet’s living area clean is one way of ensuing that they live long and healthy lives.

Healthy, bright eyed Bearded Dragon in a clean cage

Bearded Dragon (Click to enlarge)

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In the News

Gator egg harvest

Gecko harvest

Out from the cold

Deadly croc 1

Deadly croc 2

Dead Legend

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