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Home > Snakes > How to Tell If a Snake is Happy: 6 Vet-Reviewed Signs To Look For

How to Tell If a Snake is Happy: 6 Vet-Reviewed Signs To Look For

Andean milk snake

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Snakes can make great pets. They’re unusual and interesting, although they do take quite a lot of care and need proper housing and feeding to ensure they remain healthy. If a snake does not get appropriate care, they may become stressed and unwell. But how can you tell whether a snake is feeling comfortable in their environment, or conversely, feeling stressed?

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Can Snakes Feel Happy?

It is common for us to assume that other animals feel the same emotions as we do. However, snakes do not have the intellectual capacity to feel emotions like happiness. However, they can be unthreatened and relaxed in their living environment.

Just because a snake can’t demonstrate happiness doesn’t mean they can’t still make an amazing pet. Below, we have listed some of the signs that show a snake feels comfortable in your presence, as well as some signs that a snake is not comfortable in their environment. Above all, any sudden changes in your snake’s demeanor should be closely observed to ensure that they’re not stressed or unwell.

Divider-snake The 5 Signs Your Snake is Happy

Important

Please note that many states and jurisdictions may have legislation that prohibits owning, breeding, purchasing, or selling snakes or certain snake species. Always make sure you have permission to legally own an exotic pet before deciding to adopt one. If you are in the US, please refer to state laws before deciding to adopt an exotic pet. Elsewhere, please refer to the relevant laws where you reside.

Capturing wild animals to keep as pets is not advised, as this disrupts local ecosystems. Likewise, releasing exotic wild pets back to the wild is also not advised, as this too can disrupt the balance of local ecosystems.

Snakes are a long-term commitment and are generally not considered safe around children. They are also not compatible with other pets, including cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, and other exotic pets. They are opportunistic hunters who may attempt to strike or constrict anything they perceive as a potential meal, including their handlers.

It takes a lot for a snake to get accustomed to their human handler. After all, humans are big, noisy, and prone to sudden movements. If your snake is relaxed and comfortable, they may show some of the following signs.

1. Casual Tongue Flicking

When snakes flick their tongue in the air, they are tasting the air and ingesting chemical samples. Snakes use this chemical sampling as their sense of smell. Your snake may flick their tongue when stressed, but they will do so in a more hurried and urgent movement. A relaxed tongue flick suggests that the snake is causally “sampling” the air and is otherwise not stressed.

Your snake may also flick their tongue onto nearby objects. This is especially common when presented with something new—an object they don’t recognize. As long as the motion is unhurried and does not put the snake in danger, it is a positive sign.

Scaleless Corn Snake
Image Credit: Eric Isselee, Shutterstock

2. Casual Movement

A relaxed snake may appear lazy as it ambles and slowly slides around their enclosure. A pet snake doesn’t have any reason to be hurrying around and if they are unbothered.

Draping itself over branches and rocks while basking under their light is another sign that your snake feels at home within the enclosure.


3. Curiosity

Snakes should always be alert to their surroundings and respond to them. If yours does not respond to something new being placed inside their terrarium, then it could be a sign that something is wrong. With that said, alert does not necessarily mean panicked or stressed, and a contented snake will show casual alertness to new items or new surroundings.

Please note that if your skin is shedding, they are instinctively less curious about their surroundings and tend to remain concealed until the process is over.

western hognose snake
Image Credit: Charles Brutlag, Shutterstock

4. Casual Grip

A comfortable snake will enjoy exploring your hands, arms, and shoulders. Your snake will do so by slowly wrapping and slithering around you. They will need to grip on to you to ensure that they don’t fall, but a comfortable snake will not grip so tightly that it causes you any pain. It will grip but not squeeze.


5. Casual Behavior

Unless the snake is new to you, you should have a reasonable idea of how they behave as an individual. You should have a decent idea of what it will do if you introduce a new branch to the enclosure, or if you reach in the tank to handle them. The most obvious sign that your snake is content is that they act as you’d expect them to. Any changes in behavior could indicate stress, anxiety, fear, or even illness, and you should keep an eye on your scaled friend and consult a veterinarian if needed.

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Top 6 Signs Your Snake is Stressed

As you can see, a content snake acts casually. They will take things slowly, and act gently, but be somewhat inquisitive about their surroundings. For various reasons, though, snakes can become stressed. When snakes are stressed, it can put them, and even you, at risk. Let’s look at some of the signs of stress in snakes.

1. Sudden Movements

Rather than the slow, almost lethargic, movements of a content snake, a worried one will make sudden movements and may not rest for long periods. If your snake seems hyperactive, this is likely because there is some cause for concern. For example, external parasites can irritate the skin of a snake, causing them to move restlessly and rub on ornaments excessively.

Garter Snake
Image Credit: Pixabay

2. Submissive Posture

A threatened snake may flatten itself down to the ground. This is a defensive posture and can appear submissive.

However, this sign isn’t obvious in all snake species. Some species will display other signs when threatened, such as hissing or moving their tail like a pendulum. The rattlesnake is best known for its rapid flick of the tail when threatened.


3. Looking for Escape

At times, new snakes attempt to escape their enclosures. If you have a secure and good quality enclosure, your snake will likely give up looking after initially trying to find a way out of the tank. However, if a snake is stressed or uncomfortable, they may continue with the search. They may always be on the lookout for a way to get out and to reach new pastures.

If your snake is constantly checking out corners and investigating potential holes in the wall, it is a sign that it may really want to leave their current home.

ghost corn snake
Image Credit: skifbook, Shutterstock

4. Hissing Noises

Content snakes rarely hiss or make any kind of noise, although they may do so occasionally. An unhappy snake will make noise more often. Hissing is a defensive noise that is used to discourage predators and other threats to stay out of the snake’s way.


5. Refusing To Eat

Refusing to eat is a reasonable sign that something is wrong with your snake. Most snakes will have ebbs and flows in their eating schedule, so it is not uncommon for a snake to put off eating for a day or two. However, if yours refuses to take food from you, it could be a sign something is off.

Mexican Milk snake
Image Credit: slowmotiongli, Shutterstock

6. Striking

Signs of aggression are the most obvious and overt signs that a snake is not comfortable or happy around you. The most common sign of aggression is that of striking out. A mock strike means that your snake looks like they may strike. This can be used as a warning.

A real strike means that your snake will bite and it is a sure sign that your snake views you as a genuine threat.

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Conclusion

There are lots of reasons why a snake might be uncomfortable. The conditions might not be right. Your snake may be ill or experiencing some kind of uncomfortable physical reaction. Finally, even having a new handler or being placed in a new enclosure can stress a snake out until your snake becomes accustomed to its new surroundings.

If you are ever in any doubt about whether a snake is comfortable or not, you should assume that they feel threatened and are at risk of striking. Take things slowly, get professional help if required, and learn to read your snake’s reactions so that you know how to react.


Featured Image Credit: Jacobo Quero, Shutterstock

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