You check on your snake’s enclosure after spending the morning cleaning it only to find that your snake decided to use their clean water dish as a public toilet.
What’s going on here and why do some snakes poop in their water?
The answer will vary between individual snakes, the most likely answer is that soaking in the water (especially if it’s a little warm) can stimulate defecation. Snakes may also poop in their water if it’s located in a well-hidden spot or simply out of habit. It can be frustrating to clean but it’s normal behavior.
That’s the quick answer but we’ll take a much closer look so you can understand which explanation makes the most sense for your snake.
Reason 1: Soaking May Stimulate The Urge To “Go”
The most likely reason that snakes tend to do their duty in their water dish can be said of all reptiles: soaking in warm water may encourage defecation.
Warm water relaxes the muscles, and because snakes are ectotherms, they rely on environmental temperature for their normal body processes. Given that the general temperature of your reptile’s enclosure is much warmer than the temperature in your home, it makes sense that the water temperature would also be relatively warm.
We aren’t sure if wild snakes do this, but any snake owner can tell you that it’s not at all unusual to find a rather… “stinky” surprise in the water dish, particularly after you’ve just done a beautiful job of cleaning their enclosure!
Reason 2: The Water Bowl Is In A Corner
Many snakes in captivity have the tendency to pick one corner as their “litter box”. Naturally very clean animals, snakes do not want to lay in their own waste! Who would?
This means it’s common for them to select a single area as their preferred toilet. If the water bowl just so happens to be there, then as far as your snake is concerned, that’s just where it’s going to happen! You can try moving the water bowl to the middle or back of the enclosure or perhaps to the opposite corner, and see what happens.
Your scaly friend may simply prefer to be in its chosen corner.
Reason 3: The Water Bowl Is In A Warm Spot
If your snake’s water bowl is on the warm side of the enclosure, it might simply prefer to poo on that side because it’s warm. As we mentioned, snakes are ectotherms, relying on temperatures in the environment to regulate their metabolism. If a snake has recently eaten, it’s going to need warmth and heat from its environment to digest its food properly.
If you want to learn more about thermal gradients and how they relate to ectothermic animals and their metabolism (i.e. reptiles), you can read a report on it here. You may notice your snake spending a lot more time on the warm side of their enclosure after a meal, and subsequently, during the poop that follows.
Reason 4: It’s Nice and Private
Many species of snake are rather shy, and don’t like to be exposed for very long. This is especially true when they’re doing their “business”. A snake that needs to defecate is going to be staying relatively still for a short period of time, which in the wild means they would be vulnerable to larger predators.
For this reason, it’s not unusual for your snake to find a dark, cozy spot to use as its toilet. If the water dish is well hidden behind decor or hiding spots, your snake might see it as the perfect spot to do a #2. I think we can all agree that a bit of privacy is appreciated when nature calls!
Can I Stop My Snake From Pooping in Its Water Bowl?
You might be able to deter your snake from fouling up his water dish, particularly if the dish is currently in a corner. Be warned though, some persistent snakes will find the new location and resume their poo preferences in spite of your best efforts!
Here are a few suggestions you can try:
Change The Location Of The Water Bowl
Sometimes simply changing which corner the bowl is in will be enough to deter your pet from making a mess of his water. Snakes often have a lot more opinions and preferences about their enclosure than you might expect.
It may be that your snake simply prefers the corner (or the temperature of the area) that you’ve put the dish in, and not necessarily the water dish itself. Try moving it to another spot in the cage and see what happens. Don’t be surprised, however, if your clever pet simply sniffs out the missing water bowl and resumes his pesky pooping!
Provide An Alternative “Safe” Spot
Snakes, like all animals, want to feel safe when they have to engage in activities that may make them feel vulnerable. For a snake, an activity that may make them feel vulnerable is defecating, which we mentioned earlier.
As strange as that may sound to humans, try to think about it from the snake’s perspective: they have to stay relatively still for a period of time, which means they can’t escape potential danger. If this is the case, you might be able to provide a simple hide box or cave that will make your pet feel a sense of privacy and safety, while eliminating the need to “eliminate” in his dish.
Offer A Humid Hide
If your snake is a species that benefits from a humid hide (or humidity in general), you probably already have one in the enclosure. A humid hide is simply any hiding place or cave that is maintained at a higher humidity microclimate than the rest of the enclosure. This is a great place for many snakes to shed, and may also prove to be an attractive toilet for your snake.
It should always be kept clean and made of an easily washable material, such as a plastic food storage container or a commercially-available cave from a pet store. This may provide enough atmospheric moisture and added privacy that your snake feels comfortable “going” in this new spot. You can encourage your snake to use this new bathroom spot by placing it in the area where the water bowl used to be.
Here’s a video on how to make a humid hide using sphagnum moss:
Is It a Problem That My Snake Poops In Its Water Bowl?
As gross and unpleasant as it may be for us humans, it is entirely normal and very common for snakes in captivity to poop in their water bowl. Some snakes may never exhibit this behavior (if you’re the lucky owner of one of those snakes, you’re probably not reading this article!).
While this behavior can definitely be a bit frustrating for the person responsible for cleaning up the mess, it isn’t necessarily a problem for the snake.
Of course, this does not mean you should ignore it – proper hygiene, of course, is vital for good health! It’s important to empty and sanitize the dish as soon as you notice it’s been soiled. Wash the water bowl with soap and hot water at least weekly, while spot-checking, cleaning, and filling daily.
Replace and refresh with clean water as necessary. Good husbandry practices are vital for the overall health of your snake, and will minimize the risk of any health problems. Your scaly friend will thank you!