If you’ve ever been to your local pet store then no doubt you’ve seen a snake or two for sale. Usually they are unhealthy, overly expensive, and not well cared for. Which would make most of us walk away without a second glance, but kids are different. They see a snake and they want the snake. I speak from experience having at one time been “that” kid. Since then I’ve learned a great deal about snakes in general, especially relating to keeping them as pets.
One common denominator of children and snakes is that they rarely do well together. At least not if you leave the snake in the care of the child. Snakes (and most other reptiles) are entirely unlike any other animal. Their care requirements are exacting, and there’s very little margin of error when dealing with them. This isn’t to say that children can’t have snakes as pets. In fact I highly encourage it, but there are some realities you should consider.
1) You as the parent or guardian will likely become the primary caretaker of the snake. Which isn’t at all bad, but let’s face it. Kids are impulsive and the snake they just have to have or “I’ll die!!!” probably will be yesterdays news before today is done. Not literally, but you get the idea. Just be aware that when most kids promise to always take care of it… well consider that just like when they promise to eat their vegetables, or do their homework. Their intentions are great but then the reality sets in.
2) Snakes are expensive. The initial purchase for something like a Ball Python will be relatively cheap (around $40-$100) but then you have everything else.
a) Tank – These can easily run over $150.00 but if you’re willing to spend some time learning you can build your own from a plastic Tub for about $8.00
b) Essentials – These are the things you must have for the snake to prosper:
– Heating Pads: Under the tank heater will cost about $20-$35.00 depending on size and where you get it. There is also FlexWatt heat tape which is a little less expensive, but more labor intensive.
– Hides: Just a place for the snake to “hide” from everything. You can buy them at the pet store for a few dollars each or take an old butter tub, cut a hole in the side the snake can fit through and use that. Not a huge expense but the little things add up.
– Thermometer/Hygrometer combo: You want a digital one of these with probes. Those will run you around $12 to $15 for an Accu-rite from Wal-Mart. The cheap stick on the side of the tank types do NOT work. Remember I said before their husbandry requirements are exact? This is an example. To low heat can lead to respiratory infection, poor eating, and stress. To low humidty can lead to poor and incomplete sheds. So you will need to invest in a good thermometer/hygrometer setup.
– Water bowl: Needs to be large enough the snake won’t tip it over. If you buy at the pet store it’ll cost you more than it is worth. Around $15.00 (give or take)
– Substrate: A bag of cypress mulch will cost about $10 to $20. A better option is to use old newspapers for the substrate. I never pay for it because I get old newspapers from restaurants. Avoid glossy and colored prints as these can be toxic to the snake.
– Thermostat: Here we come back to the reality of how exacting conditions must be for snakes. The temperatures need to be maintained at very precise levels. That is where a thermostat comes in. To be clear these aren’t the $20.00 wall mount units you get from Wal-Mart. These are specially made for reptiles and they allow you to control your under the tank heaters. Expect to pay upwards of $100.00 for one of these.
– Electricity: Obviously keeping a heating pad running 24/7 which you will have to do will increase your electric bill to some extent.
– Food: They need to eat. Expect to spend about $8 to $25 per month on food per snake. A lot will depend on how large the snake is as to what it should be eating. Don’t forget to calculate travel into the food expense.
So now that snake that cost $40.00 is costing signficantly more. Before you even get out the door you’re looking at another $200.00 in supplies alone. Not to mention the ongoing cost of upkeep on a daily basis. We didn’t even consider what would happen if trip to the vet became necessary. Vets that specialize in reptiles have one thing in common with doctors who specialize in heart issues. They both charge significantly more than “regular” vets because of their specialization.
3) Kids are rough. You can’t leave a child and a snake alone. Some people will tell you it is to protect the kid, but in 99.999999% of all cases the reason is to protect the snake from the kid.
4) Kids are quick. Snakes don’t like quick. They feel threatened by it. They’ll try to get away and barring that lash out at things they feel threatened by. Having experienced my share of snake bites over the years I can tell you that getting bit by a snake is something most adults will never forget. Imagine a kid getting bit because the snake felt like it had to defend itself.
All of this is not to discourage you from getting a snake for your kid. In fact I highly encourage you doing just that as they make wonderful pets. You as the parent/guardian just need to be aware that snakes are unlike any common pet most people have and they take dedication and responsibility that MOST children simply do not have.
By Brook Durant
You can learn more about snakes at my blog, http://www.pet-snakes.com