Tipping the scales: Pet snakes pile on the pounds due to diet and lack of space, say vets


Pets suffering with too much weight is a problem that stretches beyond the four-legged kind as a leading vet reveals that obesity in snakes is a big issue and suggests that over feeding and lack of exercise are to blame.

President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the UK’s leading veterinary body, Daniella Dos Santos said that she saw a large number of pet snakes with obesity issues whilst working as a small animal and exotics vet and that this can be caused by a lack of space to exercise coupled with overfeeding.

Her concerns chime with a recent BVA survey of the profession which showed that vets estimated that half (47%) of exotic pets brought into their practice were not having their five animal welfare needs met. The need for a suitable environment was the most common with 89% saying that this was the most common need that was lacking.

Daniella said: “Obesity in pet snakes can have a serious impact on their health and welfare, including leading to issues such as liver problems. The ‘perfect’ size of a snake enclosure will depend on the species but all pet snakes should have enough space to roam as well as a place to hide. They also really benefit from enclosures with appropriate enrichment.”

Accepted research and husbandry practice says that snakes should have enough room for physical activity. An inability to maintain an appropriate body temperature means that snake enclosures should also be large enough to provide an appropriate environmental heat level. Other research talks about the necessity for snakes to be able to stretch. One such study, published in Vet Record followed some 2018 guidance issued by Defra on selling pet animals and the care of snakes. A draft version contained an acknowledgement that all snakes should ideally be allowed enough space to stretch out in full. However, this passage was later removed before final publication and remains controversial for some veterinary professionals.

Snakes are carnivorous, and their perfect diet will depend on the size and species of the snake.

Daniella added: “Getting the diet right for a pet snake is essential in making sure that they are healthy, as well as ensuring an appropriate environment is provided. It's worth bearing in mind that most types of common captive snakes can live to a minimum of 15 years. The royal python can live up to 30 years and the corn snake, 20 years, so keeping them as pets is a long-term commitment. I would urge anyone considering getting an exotic pet of any kind to really do their research around the animal's needs and think carefully about whether they can realistically provide for these. Your vet will be happy to help if you have any questions.”

BVA recently published an action plan for vets to support them in tackling obesity in companion animals and says that obesity and overfeeding of pets was among their most pressing animal welfare concerns.