How to Care for Texas Rat Snakes in Captivity

Texas rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) are beautiful and interesting animals that make great pets. Texas rat snakes don't present any special challenges in captivity, and even beginning reptile keepers can succeed with this species. As long as the keeper provides the animal with a clean, high-quality habitat and diet, this species will usually thrive, and become a treasured pet.

Housing

While aquariums are the most common choice for snake cages, a variety of commercial options are available, many of which provide better accommodations for the snake, and are easier to for the keeper to maintain. No matter what type of enclosure you use, it must be large enough to permit the animal to engage in natural behaviors. While juveniles may be successfully maintained in a cage with only 1 square foot of space, a 6-foot adult Texas rat snake requires a cage with between 4 and 8 square feet of space.

Heating

Texas rat snakes should be provided with a cage that has a thermal gradient; this way the snake can access any preferred temperature by moving along the gradient. You can place a heat lamp or under-tank heater at one end of the enclosure. The basking spot should be approximately 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cool side of the habitat should be approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature differential is easier to accomplish in a large cage. The heat can be reduced or turned off at night, provided temperatures don't drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Furnishings

Your snake's cage should have a substrate, a bowl full of clean water, a climbing branch and at least one hiding spot at all times. If you are keen to keep cage cleaning to a minimum, newspaper can be used for the substrate, and the hiding spots can be made by simply creasing a few of the top pages of newspaper. For a more natural look, cypress mulch and orchid bark are good choices. Natural-looking hiding spots can be made from bark or flat rocks, but should be sterilized prior to use. Texas rat snakes like to climb, and climbing branches should be included in the cage. Try to provide long, broad horizontal sections for the snake's maximum comfort.

Feeding

Texas rat snakes thrive on a diet of one appropriately sized rodent per week. Strive to feed your pet a food item that is approximately equal to, or slightly larger than, the snake's mid-body diameter. Some keepers prefer to feed young snakes as frequently as two to three times per week, and slow the feeding rate down as the snake grows. This is an acceptable practice, but not necessary for the snake's health.

Maintenance

Compared to animals like dogs and cats, rat snakes are very low-maintenance pets, It is important to check every day that your pet has clean water, that the temperatures are correct and that the cage hasn't been soiled. Additionally, it is important to conduct periodic deep cleanings, during which the water bowl, cage props and enclosure are sterilized. Use a 10 percent bleach solution on impervious materials like glass and plastic, and be sure to rinse them well. For wooden items, baking in an oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes is the best option.