Many people are fond of keeping small and even large snakes as pets. These are often of the constrictor type, such as boas and pythons. But what about rattlesnakes? Keeping a rattlesnake as a pet brings some unique challenges, but there are solutions.
Keeping Rattlesnakes as Pets
Rattlesnakes can be kept as pets but this is rare because they are so dangerous. Even if you can get a rattlesnake to keep as a pet, you may need to pay for a permit that has strict requirements.
Rattlesnakes need feeding, cleaning, and housing, like other pets do. You also need to make sure they are locked in an enclosure at all times away from your children and other pets. If they manage to escape, they might be difficult to find and are very dangerous.
In fact, if you have children or elderly parents living with you, keeping a rattlesnake as a pet is not a good idea. If they are ever bitten, the venom will be more toxic and cause more complications than for a healthy adult. A rattlesnake’s rattle can also be mistaken by a child or dog as an invitation to play or get close.
Reasons to get a rattlesnake as a pet:
- Rattlesnakes can bond with their owners.
- Rattlesnakes are attractive and exotic pets.
- Rattlesnakes are low-maintenance pets.
Reasons NOT to get a rattlesnake as a pet:
- Rattlesnakes are very good at escaping enclosures.
- Rattlesnakes are very venomous.
- Rattlesnakes are born defensive predators and will bite when frightened.
- Rattlesnakes are difficult to transport.
- Rattlesnakes can be costly to purchase and keep.
If you decide to get a rattlesnake as a pet, it must be vaccinated, and you will need to buy a good-sized terrarium to keep it in. It is also a good idea to buy some antivenin (rattlesnake antivenom) vials which can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars each. And one vial will not be enough to cure you if you get a dose of venom from your rattlesnake, so you will need to purchase many of them.
Rattlesnakes respond to sudden movements and can become agitated quite easily. So, even in a terrarium, they should be kept in a quiet room off to the side away from foot traffic. Other areas good for keeping snake terrariums include garages, sheds, or basements. A terrarium also needs to be inspected regularly for cracks a rattlesnake could escape through.
If you need to transport your rattlesnake or keep it outside its terrarium while you clean it, you will need to purchase a shift box. This locks from the outside and keeps the snake from slithering away. Shift boxes cost between $75 and $200 U.S. dollars
Rattlesnake diets are pretty strict and need to be adhered to. These include:
- Large Insects
An adult rattlesnake needs to eat two times per month, and younger and smaller ones will need to be fed each week. You can buy mice and rabbits for your snake to eat at your local pet store. Rattlesnakes also like to ‘sun’ in the light, cool down, and even swim (or just get wet), so you need a terrarium that can allow for these. Rattlesnakes also grow to large sizes so you will need a terrarium that is big enough.
Wild Caught vs. Domestic Bred Rattlesnakes
Most pet rattlesnakes start off as wild snakes and are caught by their owners. If you manage to come across a baby rattlesnake on your property you can attempt to tame it and keep it as a pet. However, you may still need to acquire a permit and vaccinate the snake if you plan on keeping it for the long term. It is also likely illegal and very dangerous to go searching for a pet rattlesnake in the wild, so it is probably best to look for a reputable breeder. Domestic bread rattlesnakes, unlike wild ones, will have had their entire lives to get accustomed to an artificial, human-run existence.
Rattlesnakes cannot be entirely tamed and are not able to be trained. However, they can lose some of their defensive posture around their owners over time and not see them as a threat. But, even a friendly rattlesnake can bite in self-defense and cause serious harm to its owner.
If you decide to buy a rattlesnake, make sure to learn all you can about their behavior patterns and how best to handle them.
Safety Precautions for Keeping Rattlesnakes
Like other animals, rattlesnakes can be dangerous. Never walk around your house with bare feet at night when rattlesnakes like to feed because if it escapes from its terrarium it will be roaming your house.
What about removing a rattlesnake’s fangs or venom glands?
There is a name for snakes that have their venom glands removed. They are called ‘venomoids’ and are permanently de-venomed. Removing just the rattlesnake’s fangs will not be a good long-term solution to bites because fangs grow back. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to find a veterinarian who will do this procedure, so you will likely have to purchase a rattlesnake from a breeder that does. This surgery is also very painful for the snake and comes with possible complications. And even a rattlesnake without venom can cause a nasty bite with its long fangs.
Permits and Licensing
There are U.S. states that allow for keeping rattlesnakes as pets but require permits to do so. For example, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers permits for captive wildlife species which include venomous snakes.
There may or may not be a fee associated with a captive snake permit, and this depends on the state.
Can You Breed Rattlesnakes Safely in Captivity?
It is difficult, but possible to breed rattlesnakes and there are not many breeders out there. Rattlesnakes are born live (no eggs) and do not like to be separated from their mother. They also need veterinary care, and not many vets know how to treat rattlesnakes, wild or domestic. Also, rattlesnakes kept for breeding will require feeding and good-sized terrariums that need cleaning and maintenence.
Snake keepers will also need to have a collection of snake hooks to handle different-sized rattlers. These range in size and those that are between 12-16 inches are the most popular. These are used to handle a snake outside of its striking range and allows a handler to show them to people without being bitten.
Snake tongs are another tool that breeders and handlers use. They allow for grasping the snake and lifting them or restraining them. These are often longer than snake hooks, mostly being between 20 – 60 inches in length. They have a grip with a pistol-type trigger and a grasper connected to a long metal shaft.
Where is it Illegal to Keep a Rattlesnake as a Pet?
The laws for owning rattlesnakes as pets in the U.S. differ from state to state. There are also separate laws for rattlesnake breeding, importing, and exporting.
The following states allow individuals to own a rattlesnake, with no permit required:
The following states require a permit to own a rattlesnake as a pet:
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- Rhode Island
The following states DO NOT allow owning a rattlesnake as a pet:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
The following states have some exceptions regarding owning rattlesnakes as pets:
If you choose to search for a pet rattlesnake in the wild, think twice because they are extremely dangerous. It is also possibly illegal, so consider purchasing one from a breeder and get the necessary permit and vaccinations. If you follow all the legal procedures and safety precautions, a rattlesnake can make quite an interesting pet.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.