Care Sheet For Milk Snakes
Milk Snakes contain some of the most beautiful subspecies of any genus but they're also easy to keep in captivity which explains why they are incredibly popular with reptile hobbyists. The genus of Milk Snakes contains an incredible variety snakes that have a large range of sizes and habitats. Milk Snakes come from grasslands, farmlands, pine and deciduous forests and generally reach adult sizes all the way from 2 to 5 feet. For these reasons, it is difficult to provide a single care sheet for all species & subspecies of Milk Snakes but below is a basic outline of how to keep your Milk Snake happy and healthy. At Big Apple Pet Supply, we carry 9 different types of Milk Snakes and all of our Milk Snakes are bred in house as we maintain a strict quality control.
Baby and Juvenile Milk Snakes can be set up in an enclosure as small as a 10 gallon (20" x 10" x 12"H) but adults should be housed in a larger enclosure of 20 to 70 gallons (36" x 18" x 25"H) depending on their full adult size as this would allow for additional room and a better design. There is no such thing as a cage too big for a Milk Snake so larger is always much better than smaller. For example, a subspecies that becomes a 4 foot adult should be housed in an enclosure at least 40 gallons in size. Since like most snakes, Milk Snakes are escape artists, a secure screen top is absolutely critical to keep your snake from escaping the enclosure. A Big Apple Acrylic Cage would make an ideal enclosure... we'll be happy to set you up with the correct cage, heating, lighting and accessories for your new pet.
You should NEVER house more than one Milk Snake together as Milk Snakes sometimes are cannibalistic.
Aspen is usually the best choice substrate for Milk Snakes. However, You can use Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding, Repti-Bark, Forest Floor or Eco Earth (all located in our bedding section) but be careful of some commercial aspen brands as they may contain a high amount of dust or other contaminants that that can be harmful. It is preferred to stick to well known sources that are designed for use with reptiles. Again, our choice substrate would be Aspen for snakes but some people find they like to use some of the other bedding items we listed above. Baby Milk Snakes can also be kept on paper towels or similar product until they become juveniles.
As with all reptiles, Milk Snakes need a thermal gradient consisting of a warm side (86 Deg. F) and a cool side (78 Deg. F). The best way to heat your Milk Snake's enclosure is with a combination of a heat mat and ceramic heat emitter. We recommend the Intellitemp Heat Mat and Black Heat Ceramic Infrared Heat Emitter to accomplish the heating of your Milk Snake's cage. The heat mat and ceramic heat emitter should be located on one side while the other side should not have any heat source. It is a good idea to control the ceramic emitter with a thermostat but make sure to purchase a quality thermometer to keep track of your warm and cool sides. Thermometers and thermostats are available in our heating supply section.
Milk Snakes, like all snakes do no require a light or UV bulb. If you choose to add a basking bulb to add more light to your cage make sure that you maintain proper heat levels but not go over 88 deg. F as this could be detrimental to your snake's health.
Milk Snakes MUST have hiding places in their enclosure as it is essential to their well being. The shelter can be anything from a cardboard box to an attractive repti-shelter, hiding hut or cave. Please note that we have a large selection of shelters in our habitat Furnishings section. It is always a good idea to have a shelter on the warm side and on the cool side. There are a lot of commercial choices available but if you choose to make one yourself please make sure that it is sturdy enough that there is no potential for collapsing and crushing your snake.
Like all reptiles and amphibians, Milk Snakes shed their entire skin all at once. Babies shed more often than adults because as babies they outgrow their skin faster. Snakes can normally shed off their skin easily but sometimes they have issues if they do not have the proper humidity while shedding. You need to check your snake after it has shed to make sure it was able to peel all the skin off, especially around their eyes. If not removed promptly serious issues can form if not taken care of properly. For this reason it is important to maintain a decent amount of humidity in the cage by misting a couple times a day. This is especially true around shedding time. You'll note shedding time when your snake's eyes turn a shade of blue and become cloudy.
Providing a moist shelter is another way to have your Milk Snake get the humidity necessary when it is shedding. Using moistened sphagnum moss or Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding works well and both of these items are available in our bedding section. If your Milk Snake has retained skin after shedding you can place the snake in a plastic container lined with warm, wet paper towels with the container lid on or soak the snake in warm water. Let the snake stay in the container or warm water for approximately 30 minutes. The high humidity in the container or using the soaking method should loosen the skin enough to allow you to remove it easily with a pair of tweezers. If the skin has not loosened enough reheat the paper towels with warm water and provide another 30 minute session. NEVER use hot water as this can burn your Milk Snake.
It is essential that you provide your Milk Snake with a large water bowl. The bowl should be large enough that the Milk Snake can soak its entire body in but not so big that it might have a difficult time getting in or out of the bowl. Place the water dish on the cool side of the cage so that it does not evaporate quickly.
Milk Snakes eat mice and rats so the size of the prey is dependent upon the girth of the snake. You should not feed your Milk Snake anything bigger than the thickest part of its body. The prey item should leave a readily noticeable lump in the snake. This is fairly standard for all species of snakes. Hatchling snakes are typically fed every 5 days while adults should be typically fed every 10 days. However, it should be noted that some hobbyists feed adult snakes once a week.
Feeding live or pre-killed has been a question we are often asked. Everyone has their own opinion on this subject but we are emphatic that thawed frozen rodents is a much better option. First, feeding thawed rodents is easier and secondly it's substantially less expensive because you can purchase rats or mice in bulk and then store them in the freezer. However, more importantly, it is significantly safer for the snake. The bottom line is that a thawed mouse will never bite or chew on your snake in defense. We have seen nasty rodent bites inflicted on snakes when fed live rodents... we suggest you play it smart and go with feeding thawed prey items. We have a huge selection of frozen feeders that we deliver right to your door in our Frozen Feeders section of our website.
It is important to feed high quality rodents to your snake but it is always a good idea to coat the rodent with a bit of vitamin and calcium powders before feeding them. We carry a full line of quality insect food and reptile vitamins and calcium in our Food section.
Milk Snakes require minimal maintenance as they usually excrete small amounts of semi-solid fluid. Aspen and similar substrates allow for quick cleaning of feces and using one of our scoopers (for sale in our cleaning section) you can perform this task when defecation occurs. The bedding should be completely thrown out and the entire cage (including all accessories) should be washed with Quat Plus (available in our cleaning section) or a mild detergent at least once every four to five months. If using paper towels, change all paper towels at least once a week.
Hibernation while being natural for Milk Snakes in the wild is not necessary for pet Milk Snakes. We believe you should heat your Milk Snakes throughout the winter so that they continue to eat, drink and be active. A general reduction in feeding behavior is normal during winter months due to temperature fluctuations in your house. As long as they keep fairly consistent weight it is generally not an issue and normal feeding typically resume in the spring.