Reptiles need a clean and comfortable place to call home, just like the rest of us! You wouldn’t want to live a life trying to wiggle around your own feces, shed skin, and soaked floors, would you? Well, snakes don’t want to either!
It is essential to keep your pet snake’s enclosure clean to avoid bacterial and skin infections and give your buddy the best chance at a happy life! But this may leave you wondering, how often should I clean my snake tank?
A snake enclosure should be spot-cleaned daily to take out any soiled bedding, feces, or dead skin. The bedding should be fully replaced ideally once per month and the tank walls, dishes, and hides wiped down. If you prolong cleaning the tank, you put your snake at risk of various illnesses developing.
We will get into timelines for cleaning your snake’s enclosure, specifically in regard to the bedding, and we will also discuss what could happen if you slack on cleaning and what to look out for!
How Often Should I Clean My Snake Tank?
Once you get the hang of it, cleaning your reptile enclosures can be a breeze. But if you are newer to the hobby or are wanting a second opinion on your husbandry habits, then you may be looking into exactly how often your snake’s tank should be cleaned.
Snakes are lower-maintenance reptiles, which makes them a perfect pet for anybody that loves herpetoculture! They won’t need the amount of attention you would normally have to give your bearded dragon or monitor lizard.
With this said, these fascinating noodle pets still deserve a sanitary place to rest!
It is a good habit to check on your reptiles daily, even if you have automatic lighting and heat already. Your snake might’ve had a soak overnight and left his bedding soiled. Maybe you just fed him and he left you a big, fecal present alongside some blood from his last, furry meal! Or, he possibly just went through shed and left some skin lying around.
You should spot-clean your snake’s enclosure every day, scooping out any soiled bedding, feces, urate, and dead skin. During this time, empty out the water bowl and replace it with fresh, clean water. You wouldn’t want to be left bathing in and drinking dirty water, right?
Don’t be concerned if you check and there is nothing that needs to be cleaned- lucky for you! Snakes don’t produce waste every single day, so spot-cleaning every 24 hours isn’t required. Rather, this gives you the upper hand when your buddy does leave a mess. You don’t allow the filth to remain in his home for very long, which in turn promotes a hygienic environment.
My favorite reptile to care for was snakes, mostly due to these quick daily checks, water changes, and misting. Any waste I found on the bedding was one swift scoop out of the tank and into the trash.
And if your snake is on a regular feeding schedule, then luckily its bathroom schedule will be regular as well! You will learn when to expect feces to be removed, making the urates and dead skin feel like a walk in the park.
The best part is that it only takes a few minutes to add to your routine!
Set one day aside each week to clean the tank more thoroughly. You will do a fuller clean on this day, wiping down hides, logs, plants, and the walls. Of course, don’t forget to clean the water dish and any soiled bedding on this day too!
If you stick to a fuller clean once per week, then you are providing your snake with an optimal habitat to reside in!
How Often Should I Change My Snake’s Bedding?
Though we talked about frequently cleaning out portions of the bedding that gets spoiled, you will eventually have to replace the substrate completely! But when?
This should be done once per month, but some reptile keepers switch the bedding for brand new every other month (once every two months). Depending on the bedding that you use, the full bottom may have to be replaced more or less frequently.
If you use paper towels, these are easier to change but will also require replacing more often than once per month. Paper towels are harder to spot-clean since they do absorb more than other substrate options would.
On the other hand, if you use substrates such as aspen fibers, cypress, or the like, they are easier to spot-clean and can go longer before being entirely dumped out and exchanged for new.
Check out this video that explains different types of substrates to determine which will work best for your cleaning schedule and your snake at the same time!
It really depends on how clumsy your snake is, slithering through his own bodily waste and utilizing the water dish to its full ability. Some snakes might be more mindful of their home and tend to leave less for you to pick up after!
When tossing out the old bedding, ensure that you put your snake into an closed container while sterilizing the permanent tank to minimize stress on your scaly friend! There are snake species that are easier to hold, but considering you need your hands to scrub those corners, it will be best to let your buddy hang out in his own temporary bin.
Before putting the fresh bedding in, wipe down all of the walls with a safe disinfectant and let it air out. After placing the decor and your snake back into his home, you should be set on a deep clean for another month or two!
It is important to not go any longer than this time, however, as it can compromise your snake’s immune system and allow for various bacteria and parasites to establish and wreak havoc! We will talk about this further below.
What If My Enclosure Is Bioactive?
Bioactive terrariums are some of my favorite ways to give your reptile an enriching home that resembles a natural environment given life in captivity. My crested gecko, Dave, can speak on this, as he loves hanging out on his live plants!
But how often do you have to clean this kind of setup?
The cleaning factor may be better than the naturalistic look a bioactive tank will give you, because, well, cleaning is virtually nonexistent! You will only have to spot-clean a living terrarium and deep-clean it once per year.
If your snake uses the bathroom on the plants, in the water dish, or spreads it on the walls, then this should be cleaned as soon as you see it. Still refresh the water dish every day or a few days to avoid that icky slime buildup. Make sure the humidity and temperature remain optimal and you’re all set!
This is the easiest way to maintain a snake’s enclosure because it really maintains itself! Once you put in the work to research what kind of setup will be safe for your reptile, obtain all of the materials that you need, and physically create the tank to be enriching, then the rest will be a breeze.
What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your Snake Tank?
If you miss cleaning your snake’s home and bedding for a week but you catch up and disinfect everything, it is likely that nothing bad will happen. However, if you continuously leave the tank unattended, then problems will start to arise that will be detrimental to your snake’s health.
Most of these ailments are skin and bacterial infections as your snake is in a state of constant and close contact with his excrements (of all sorts). A good rule of thumb is that if anything seems abnormal on the exterior of your pet, then this indicates that something is likely wrong on the inside too!
The first concern to look out for is mouth rot (stomatitis), which presents itself as red, inflamed mouth tissue that will progress to dead mouth tissues. There may also be white pus coming from the mouth or nose. You may also notice that his mouth will stay open to breathe, which gives you a clearer view of the rot that is occurring. Your snake will lack an appetite and can be unusually lethargic.
If the enclosure is unsanitary, this gives bacteria an opportunity to flourish. Alongside this, incorrect temperature and humidity parameters will lead to an unbalanced microbiome in your pet’s mouth. Even a small cut in the mouth can end up in a case of mouth rot, so regular check-ins are important to make sure nothing negative has happened!
Next, there is a risk of scale rot on your snake. Though there are a few different diseases that are considered scale rot, they all stem from the same reason: lack of cleanliness in the enclosure!
Digging through and resting in soiled bedding is a significant cause, though improper temperature and humidity regulations as well as vitamin A and C deficiencies progress the condition further.
Scale rot is also easy to notice on your snake as it manifests as red, swollen, crusty, or raised scales. A lack of appetite and energy may also be present, so if you log feeding days, then you will notice this change quickly. Usually, this health problem starts in a localized spot on the reptile’s body and spreads outwards as it worsens.
A dirty enclosure can eventually lead your snake to develop a respiratory infection. This is because several viruses, fungi, and bacteria have an opportunity to establish themselves from excrement into the bedding of the tank if not disposed of timely.
There are more than just respiratory problems too, as recent studies revealed that these infections often spread into other organs of the snake’s body and create a variety of complications that ultimately lead to fatality.
If you are suspicious of your snake advancing with respiratory issues, then it is imperative to make a veterinary appointment as soon as possible!
Some common symptoms are nasal or mouth discharge, lethargy, appetite loss, and wheezing. Your snake will even leave his mouth open to breathe! Oftentimes, mouth rot will end up as a respiratory infection, so naturally, these symptoms will begin to overlap.
Though none of this information is meant to scare you away from the reptile hobby, it should give you an idea of what could happen if you disregard the sanitation of your snake tank. Any type of animal can develop a number of diseases from an unhygienic home, even us humans!
While we wish for our reptiles (and us, frankly) to be invincible, this isn’t the case. Instead, keep up with regular cleaning so you don’t have to pay the rather pricey bill for your exotic veterinarian and ensure that your slithering snake lives to see happy, healthy, and comfortable days!
Reptiles are a fantastic option to keep as a pet if you are interested in a world full of more than just fluffy dogs and cats!
As interesting as it is watching your snake do seemingly nothing but lay there snoozing, their activity levels at night can be even more intriguing. With this said, snakes will leave you a mess in their enclosure, which is perfectly natural!
Create an effective cleaning schedule for your reptile tank(s) to have a more in-depth cleaning once weekly. On this schedule, you can add when full bedding changes will occur each month so you don’t forget!
Be sure to still spot-clean daily to remove any waste that was left from the snake throughout those last 24 hours.
Keeping a sanitary enclosure is one of the keys to preventing a few common illnesses that can take over your snake’s body. With this proper husbandry, your snake is sure to live his healthiest slithering, noodle-y life ever!
Remember, we want to give our snakes a home that we would want to live in too!