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 the care it requires, it can become stressed and anxious. But how can you tell whether a snake is content and comfortable, or when one is worried and anxious?
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 it 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 worried or concerned. However, you should know your snake better than anybody else, and be able to recognize when it is acting differently from normal.
Signs a Snake Is Comfortable
It takes a lot for a snake to trust a human. After all, humans are big, noisy, and prone to sudden movements. If your snake is relaxed and comfortable, it may show some of the following signs.
1. Casual Tongue Flicking
When a snake flicks its tongue in the air, it is tasting the air and ingesting chemical samples. A snake has no sense of smell, and it uses this chemical sampling as an effective means of replacing smell. Your snake may flick its tongue when stressed, but it will do so in a more hurried and urgent movement. A relaxed tongue flick suggests that the snake has nothing to worry about and does not feel any stress or anxiety.
Your snake may also flick its tongue onto nearby objects. This is especially common when presented with something new—an object it doesn’t recognize. As long as the motion is unhurried and does not put the snake in danger, it is a positive sign.
2. Casual Movement
A happy snake can appear lazy as it ambles and slowly slides around its enclosure. A pet snake doesn’t have any reason to be hurrying around and if it is unbothered in its life, it is more likely to laze around than rush.
Draping itself over branches and rocks is another sign that your snake feels at home in its enclosure.
3. Casual Alertness
Snakes should always be alert. If yours does not respond to something new being placed in its terrarium, then it could be a sign that something is wrong, most likely you need to address the temperature level. With that said, alert does not necessarily mean panicked or worried, and a contented snake will show casual alertness to new items or new surroundings.
If you place something new in the terrarium, your snake should investigate. It will probably want to taste the new item, slither around and over it, and determine what it is for. It shouldn’t back away or avoid the object.
4. Casual Grip
A comfortable snake will enjoy exploring your hands, arms, and shoulders. It will do so by slowly wrapping and slithering around you. It will need to grip on to you to ensure that it is stable and not in any danger, but a comfortable snake will not grip so tightly that it causes you any pain. It will grip but not squeeze.
5. Casual Behaviour
Unless the snake is new to you, you should have a reasonable idea of how it acts and how it reacts. 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 it. The most obvious sign that your snake is content is that it acts in a typical way. Any changes in behavior could indicate stress, anxiety, fear, or even illness, and you should keep an eye on your scaled friend to make sure it seems at ease.
Signs Your Snake Is Worried
As you can see, a content snake acts casually. It will take things slowly, act gently, and it will be surprisingly respectful. For various reasons, though, snakes can become worried. They can suffer stress and anxiety, and this can put them, and even you, at risk. Look for the following signs of anxiety in your snake, identify what is causing it to stress, and take action to remedy the situation.
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. Essentially, the snake does not feel safe enough to sit still, so is moving around quickly to prevent being caught.
2. Submissive Posture
A scared snake may flatten itself down to the ground. This is a defensive posture and can appear submissive.
Effectively, by making itself as small as possible, the snake is making itself hard to detect. This may be a sign that it sees something as being a potential threat. It could be that the tank is overcrowded, or that the snake is anxious about pets or people leering into their tank. Loud noises are another potential cause of this type of movement.
3. Looking for Escape
If you have a secure and good quality enclosure, your snake will give up looking after initially trying to find a way out of the tank. However, if a snake is unhappy, it will continue with the search. It will always be looking 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 its current home.
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 encourage predators and other threats to stay out of the snake’s way.
If your snake is hissing regularly, it means that it perceives some kind of threat. Other snakes in the enclosure, other pets that get too close to the tank, and sudden and loud noises, are possible causes for concern.
5. Eating Disorders
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 that it does not trust you to feed it. If a snake does not eat for several weeks, this is obviously a health concern.
Snakes also regurgitate food as a means of scaring off predators, so if yours is bringing its food back when you approach, it views you as a threat.
6. Tight Grip
If it wraps itself tightly around your hand or arm, your snake feels insecure in some way. It could be that it does not trust you to support it, but it could also mean that the snake is attempting to find somewhere quiet to hideaway.
If this tight grip is a one-off, and your snake is usually calm and relaxed in your hands, it shouldn’t be anything worth worrying about, but if it starts to happen regularly, you need to take action.
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 it is striking but it does not make contact with either its tail or its teeth. This can be used as a warning.
A real strike means that your snake will bite and it is a sure sign that it views you as a genuine threat.
Is Your Snake Happy?
There are lots of reasons why a snake might be uncomfortable. Its tank might be overcrowded if you have too many snakes in a single enclosure. The conditions might not be right, so the tank might be too hot, cold, or humid. It 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 it becomes accustomed to its new surroundings.
If you are ever in any doubt whether a snake is comfortable or not, you should assume that it feels threatened and is a 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.
You may also like: How to Take Care of a Pet Snake (Care Sheet & Guide 2021)
Featured Image Credit: Jacobo Quero, Shutterstock
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.