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The relationship between man and snake has almost always been encouraged by fear. Unexpected encounters with snakes have led to many a horror story and the furthering of a fear that isn't always rooted in truth.

More and more, people are acquiring snakes as pets and learning that, despite their seedy reputation, the snake is and will always be a mysterious, fascinating creature.

Though there are a wide variety of snakes that have been domesticated, the safest and easiest snakes to keep as pets are pythons, corn and rat snakes. For those interested in observing nature up close, a snake can make a great companion. There are several factors to consider, however, before purchasing a snake:

1. Fear: If you or a member of your family has a fear of snakes, don't assume that owning a snake will cure your phobia. It won't. Make certain that you and every member of your household is comfortable around snakes.

2. Eating habits: Snakes eat rodents, frogs, insects and other snakes. If you're not comfortable handling these items, it's best to consider another pet.

3. Size: Many snakes in the boa family grow up to 15 feet in length. You may bring home a cute 12 inch pet, but remember, this snake will mature and grow rapidly. You will need to provide a fairly large cage for your snake to grow in to.


SNAKE CARE

TEMPERATURE
Because snakes are reptiles, they have no internal thermometer to regulate body temperature. This will be your job. You will need to provide special lighting, which your snake will bask in when it's cold. Alternatively, you'll also need to provide a hiding area that your pet can crawl into when it's warm. The use of infra red basking lamps work well to warm snakes and simple flower pots (turned upside down) can provide enough shelter for your pet to cool off.

FOOD AND WATER
Snakes need fresh water. You may not ever see your pet drink, but regardless, it's a necessary staple. Many pet snakes will soak themselves in the water, so be sure to use a shallow bowl and one that cannot be tipped over. Water that you provide your snake with should be room temperature.

Snakes survive on a diet of mice and rodents. Frozen rodents are sold in pet food stores and are disease and parasite free. While you can feed your snake live rodents, you will run the risk of infecting your pet with an unknown disease.


DISEASE
Snakes can and do get sick, just like any other animal. The most common ailment in snakes is the infestation of parasites. Mites and bugs are visible and appear as tiny black beads on the outside of your pet and the lining of his cage. Both mites and parasites can be treated with the help of medication. Don't underestimate mites! If allowed to breed and grow, a large number of mites can suck almost all of your snake's blood, leaving him defenseless and in a life and death struggle.

More serious conditions can hamper your snake's overall health, as well. Symptoms such as weight loss, runny stools, sudden refusal to eat, or staring upwards constantly are all signs that your pet needs veterinarian care immediately.


THE DANGERS
Unlike owning a different sort of pet, there are certain things that you absolutely cannot do. Take special precautions to:

1. Never place your unprotected hand inside your pet's cage during feeding time. Understand that your snake only sees food when you reach your hand inside it's cage with a mouse. It is very difficult for your pet to differentiate between your hand and it's food supply. Always feed your pet using a glove or "black box." A "black box" is a small box that contains a rodent or other food supply. By tipping the box and dropping your pet's food, you will protect yourself from an unintentional bite.

2. Never put your snake around your neck. Yes, every pet owner tries it and though it may look and feel completely safe, it's not. Snakes naturally constrict during times of stress. A snake can choke its owner in under ten minutes.


WHAT YOU'LL NEED
Like all pets, snakes need special care and supplies. Make sure you at least have the following:

Terrarium: This will be your snake's home. Make it as comfortable as possible, filling the floor with newspaper and bedding, several rocks and something for your pet to crawl under. A ten gallon sized terrarium is great for small snakes, but you'll need to provide more room for your pet as it grows. Be certain your terrarium has a sliding door somewhere (for easy feeding) and a lock to prevent accidental escapes.

High Range Thermometer: You'll need a thermometer to keep your pet's body temperature elevated. Each snake requires a different amount of heat, so study up on the breed you'll be bringing home.

Heat Pad/Heat Lamp: Many snake owners have both a heating pad and a heating lamp. While the pad isn't entirely necessary, it is an easy way to keep your pet at the proper temperature. A range of 82-90-degrees is recommended for most breeds.

Water Pan: Don't forget the water. Your snake will need fresh water every day.

Shedding Help: Your pet will shed approximately once every three months. You'll know when your snake is shedding by his "off appearance." Your snake's eyes will become cloudy and small pieces of skin will line the bottom of his cage. You can help your pet through this phase by soaking him in pre-shedding lotions. If you choose not to do this, be certain to remove shedded skin from your pet's living area often.

Snakes can make a nice, educational experience for any family. It's good to know what you're getting into before purchasing a snake, however. Talk with others (including pet store personal) to learn more about snakes and the breed you're interested in.