When a dog is pet, its tail may wag, it may lean against you, or it may lick you and nudge you for more attention. Pet snakes, on the other hand, do not typically have the same desire for physical attention as a dog; but every snake is different. Knowing if your snake enjoys being pet, how to safely pet it, and when to avoid touching it can help prevent you from getting bitten and stressing out your pet.
Do Snakes Like Being Pet?
Snakes do not typically like being pet, but some that become accustomed to being handled don't mind the human interaction. Snakes can definitely feel when you pet them but the sensation is not as desirable as it is for many domesticated animals. If your snake isn't trying to squirm away or bite you when you pet it, it's possible that it doesn't mind the physical attention, but it is difficult to know whether it truly likes it.
Snakes may rub onto other snakes during mating rituals or to remove dead skin during a shed, so when their body is rubbed or pet it usually has a specific purpose. But snakes also enjoy squirming around in new bedding, so they can enjoy tactile sensations and will seek out surfaces and substrates that feel good. Some snake owners, particularly of ball pythons, claim their snakes even rub their faces against their arms or hands, but it is usually thought they do this after eating to clean their face or to realign their jaw if it has shifted after feeding.
How Do You Pet a Snake?
If your snake doesn't seem to mind being pet, gentle and occasional handling is fine. Some snakes seem to enjoy a light massage down the length of their body, a head stroke, belly rub, or even a chin scratch, while others do not. Every snake has a different personality and may enjoy something different but being gentle and respecting your snake's boundaries are important. If your snake begins to hiss, squirm away, attempt to bite, strike, or puff up, stop petting it. These are obvious signs that your snake is unhappy and does not appreciate your affection.
Regardless of where you are petting your snake, it's important to remember that snakes should always be pet in the direction going from their head to their tail. You should never pet your snake against the direction the scales naturally sit as this can be uncomfortable for them.
When Not to Pet a Snake
There are a variety of times when attempting to pet a snake is not advisable. You should leave your snake alone when it is shedding as its skin may be more sensitive or it may have difficulty seeing. It may also be stressed and you could prematurely remove old skin and cause accidental damage to your snake's new skin layer.
Meal time is another time that you should avoid petting your snake. If your snake is in the mood for a meal, putting your hands into its enclosure, much less attempting to pet it, is not a wise move. Your snake may mistake your hands or fingers for food and bite you instead of its food.
Finally, if your snake is sick, has parasites, or is injured, avoid handling and petting it. Allow it to rest, stay warm, and avoid the unnecessary stress or pain that petting may cause.
How to Bond With Your Snake
You can still bond with a snake that doesn't like to be pet. Since every snake will react differently to being handled, forming a bond with snakes may vary from pet to pet so you'll need to find out what you and your snake enjoy most. Some snakes will enjoy meal time more than others, thrive when they seek out new smells and enrichment opportunities, or even sit and enjoy a chin rub from you. You may like watching your snake eat, enjoy providing it with a clean enclosure, or love getting creative by making various enrichment toys. Create opportunities for your snake to explore and be stimulated and just spend time with your pet. A bond will form as your care for your snake, even if petting is not part of the routine.