While milk snakes would typically live in woodlands, grasslands, farmlands, and forests, they adjust quite well when living in captivity.
They are incredibly charming with striking visual characteristics, relatively easy to care for, and usually pretty docile. But, how straightforward are their care needs?
It’s well-known that milk snakes, formally known as Lampropeltis Triangulum, are relatively easy to care for. However, there are still plenty of crucial factors to consider to ensure optimal health and happiness.
Stick around to find out everything you need to know when caring for a milk snake in your home.
- Setting up your milk snake enclosure
- Feeding Milk Snakes
- Milk Snake Shedding Habits
- Milk Snake Hibernation
- Handling Milk Snakes
- Common Milk Snake Issues
Setting up your milk snake enclosure
Milk snakes have specific requirements concerning their living space, and they need to be comfortable to remain healthy and happy as they age.
While an picking the right enclosure will give you a great head start, there will also be particular necessities when setting up the conditions within its enclosure.
The first step is to make sure your new slithering confidante is happy and comfortable with its enclosure. The suitability of the enclosure will predominantly concern the milk snake’s size, influenced by its age and subspecies.
Milk snakes need enough space to uncurl and explore
Enclosure for Baby & Juvenile Milk Snakes
Most baby or juvenile milk snake subspecies will be content in an enclosure around 20 x 10 x 12 inches.
While some differences in size exist between some subspecies, most hatchlings and juvenile milk snakes typically measure around the same size.
The Exo Terra Short All Glass Terrarium is well-sized for baby and juvenile milk snakes and still affords comfortable space as they mature towards adulthood.
The internal space measures 18 x 18 x 12 inches, suitable for most milk snake subspecies.
This all glass terrarium is well-designed and offers quite a few benefits for yourself and your milk snake.
Front access is far less stressful, especially when they are young and still anxious about their surroundings. Snakes will react a lot more to anything coming from the top, this is due to their instinct as predators in the wild usually attack from above.
It is also equipped with special inlets for heating pads, without any visible wires.
Enclosure For Adult Milk Snakes
Maturing milk snakes will need more space as they reach their full size, especially if you care for a milk snake subspecies that grows to be larger than others.
Most adult milk snakes need an enclosure measuring approximately 36 x 18 x 25 inches.
However, one can set up a larger enclosure if it’s applicable since milk snakes will always appreciate more than enough space.
The Reptizoo 50 gallon tank measures 36 x 18 x 17.75 inches, offering more than enough lounging space for your mature milk snake.
It affords plenty of benefits, designed with side meshes, side glasses, and double hinged doors. It has fantastic ventilation thanks to screens and tempered glass for construction and window ventilation on both sides.
This enclosure is durable and exceptionally versatile, as its design can be adjusted to suit the individual needs of your milk snake subspecies.
The waterproof bottom allows it to imitate rainforest and desert-like habitats, and its raised bottom frame suits all substrate heaters. It also features front doors for feeding for more enjoyable mealtimes and is super easy for users to install.
About Subspecies and Enclosure Sizes
While the size may only become a considerable factor as they near maturity, it’s important for you to be aware of their maximum size to plan ahead. Some milk snake subspecies grow much larger than others, and these subspecies will need larger enclosures once they reach full maturity.
Assessing the space requirements of your milk snake can become tricky with so many variations in subspecies’ size. Additionally, not every milk snake grows to see these average sizes.
A great rule of thumb is to make sure the enclosure is always at least one and a half times larger than the length of your milk snake, irrespective of age or subspecies.
For some context, we’ve assembled the most common milk snake subspecies housed as pets to compare their average full sizes with theorized enclosure space requirements.
These figures are generous, deduced from the maximum mature size a subspecies may reach. The amount of space would vary between the length and width, and the height of the enclosure provides additional space.
|Average Adult Milk Snake Sizes
|Examples of Milk Snake Subspecies
|Average Total Space in the Enclosure
|14 – 18 inches
|New Mexico Milk Snake
|18 – 24 inches
|Pale Milk Snake
|20 – 30 inches
|Mexican Milk Snake
|1 – 2 feet
|Central Plains Milk SnakeLouisiana Milk Snake
|2 – 4 feet
|Eastern Milk SnakePueblan Milk SnakeRed Milk Snake
|3 – 4 feet
|Nelson’s Milk Snake Stuart’s Milk Snake
|4 – 6 feet (some milk snakes can reach 7 feet in length)
|Black Milk Snake, Honduran Milk Snake, Sinaloan Milk Snake
Milk snakes love to burrow and hide and need deep bedding. Substrate allows them to partake in such behavior comfortably, mimicking their natural habitat.
Milk snakes generally need a substrate layer at least 2 inches in depth, which should be replaced weekly or monthly depending on enclosure conditions.
ZooMed Aspen Snake Bedding is an excellent choice for milk snakes of various subspecies. It is cost-effective, made from renewable sources, is easy to clean, and is 99.9% dust-free.
Some reptile caregivers prefer a DIY approach for various convenience reasons. Popular alternatives include paper towels, wood shavings, soil, sand, vermiculite rocks, and even newspaper.
There are still some disadvantages to using other items as substrate, as your milk snake can be exposed to harmful contaminants or dust in the process.
Natural oils contained in some items, such as cedar, can cause liver and respiratory problems, so these should be avoided.
The heat conditioning in their enclosures needs to be appropriate to ensure they remain comfortable and healthy as they age.
Milk snakes need a thermal gradient ranging from 86° F for warmer conditions and 78° F for cooler conditions.
This is so they can regulate their own body temperature, by moving from one side of the tank to the other when they need to warm up or cool down.
We will use a heat source, and a thermostat to control the amount of heating and avoid over heating the enclosure.
The Zoo Med ReptiTemp RT-600 Digital Thermostat allows temperature control between 50° F to 122° F. It controls up to 600 watts of heat devices and 400 watts of cooling devices, with built-in memory in preparation for any power outages.
This thermostat allows a heat mode or a cooling mode thanks to a fan and can be adjusted by remote control for easy use.
Additionally, built-in alarms indicate when temperatures are reaching extremely high or low levels, helping you ensure your milk snake is consistently happy and comfortable all year round.
I recommend using reptile heating pads in your enclosure to provide a warm zone for your snake.
Heating pads are easier to setup, spend a lot less electricity than other solutions, and won’t dry up the tank or risk burning your snake if used improperly.
The Tikaton Reptile Heat Pad is equipped with a temperature adjuster underneath and is suitable for a range of enclosures, including 10 – 40 gallon tanks. It’s created with a nichrome heating element for a high-efficiency and energy-saving design.
This heat pad supports metabolisms, appetites, and sleep patterns for comfortable daily activities. It’s easy to use, long-lasting and can be used to imitate a range of natural habitats.
The most common alternative to using such heat products is using ceramic bulbs.
Some will say that this heat source is more natural, as the heat will come from the top, just like in their natural habitat.
However, I don’t recommend them, as this approach does come with some downfalls.
Ceramic bulbs can cause the enclosure to dry up very quickly, which does not support healthy shedding. It may be suitable if the overall environment is quite cold, but you may need to be more attentive to maintaining humidity levels in the enclosure.
More importantly, if placed directly in the tank without any protection, pet milk snakes can actually burn themselves on them by getting too close.
They also waste a lot more energy than simple heat pads.
Milk snakes would be content in a range of natural habitats out in the wild, and they do not need particular lighting conditions when living in captivity.
You don’t have to use specific artificial lights in their enclosures, and they may be comfortable with neon LED strips or basking bulbs.
These lights provide luminosity while adding an aesthetic touch to their environment.
Although, just be wary of the heat generated by light sources. They should never exceed 88° F or add unnecessary heat to your milk snake’s living space, as this can be harmful to them.
In the wild, milk snakes would use various natural objects as shelter, whether to hide from predators, hunt for food, or shield themselves from unfavorable weather conditions.
Although these conditions won’t be present in their enclosure, they will still need some shelter to feel at ease in their new home.
Pet Milk snakes are not fussy, and they will be happy with any stable area that serves their intended purposes.
Additionally, they like to have some privacy from time to time. You can use natural elements such as branches and artificial plants, but your milk snake may need something more customized for its needs.
The Zoo Med Reptile Shelter 3 in 1 Cave is an excellent shelter option for milk snakes of various ages. Interior dimensions range depending on the size variant, with the largest version measuring up to 12 x 8 x 8 inches.
This makes it suitable for most small to medium milk snakes, allowing them to curl up and relax in peace.
Milk snakes need access to fresh, clean water around the clock. You will need to make sure their water bowl is large and generous.
Lampropeltis snakes like to soak their bodies in the water as well, as it helps their digestion, skin health, and helps them stay clean over time.
But, the water bowl should not be too large either, as your milk snake may struggle to get in and out of its bowl.
Be sure to place their water supply in cooler areas within the enclosure, as positioning them in warmer places may lead to rapid evaporation.
The REPTIZOO Reptile Terrarium Water Bowl is reasonably sized at 6.8 x 5 x 1.3 inches and well-suited for most milk snakes.
The design and color flaunt a natural aesthetic that blends well amongst organic décor and habitat imitations, topped with a smooth inner surface for easy cleaning.
It has been constructed with high-quality resin material, making it safe for your milk snakes, environmentally friendly, and durable. This water reptile bowl is weighted nicely, so it will not topple over easily within your milk snake’s enclosure.
Milk snakes need a fair amount of humidity within their enclosure to remain comfortable. You should invest in a hygrometer to ensure the air moisture levels are appropriate for your milk snake at any given time.
The specific milk snake subspecies will play a large role here, as their humidity requirements will concern their natural habitats.
Most milk snakes are content and healthy, with humidity levels ranging between 40% – 70%.
But, milk snake subspecies from southern areas usually need more humidity than those originating from northern areas.
Their skin may become dry and tight without necessary moisture in the air, and they require higher humidity when they shed their skin.
The enclosure should be misted a couple of times per day, and moss will be fantastic in a hiding spot, for maintaining healthy humidity levels and to help them when shedding.
Sphagnum moss is long-lasting with high absorbency, helping control humidity levels that imitate tropical or wetland habitats. This moss’s harvest is ecologically regulated for sustainable production.
It is also washed and sieved before it is packaged, making it a fantastic choice for milk snake enclosures.
Maintaining your milk snake’s enclosure will be fairly straightforward, as milk snakes excrete small quantities of semi-solid fluid. You can use scoopers to remove feces and use Aspen or similar products for easy cleaning.
The enclosure, decorations, shelters, and bedding should be cleaned at least every 4 – 5 months.
Washing your milk snake’s enclosure will involve the use of mild detergent, and each item should be washed and dried before reassembling the enclosure. I
f you are using DIY approaches such as paper towels for bedding, it will need far more frequent maintenance. Depending on the items being used, they will need to be replaced once or twice a week.
Feeding Milk Snakes
Food supply and nutritional intake will play the biggest role in how healthy your milk snake is as it ages and will influence how large it grows.
Thankfully, milk snakes are generally not fussy eaters, and there are plenty of food options.
What matters most is that your milk snake receives the vitamins, minerals, and nutrition needed to be healthy and strong.
Food or Prey Types
Milk snakes feed on small rodents such as mice, rats, gerbils, and much more. But, they may also feed on chick, birds, or small amphibians such as frogs. There is a ton of variety concerning what food or prey you give to your milk snake, and they are likely to enjoy any of them.
Food or Prey Size & Frequency
Apart from the nutritional content, the size of the food needs close attention. The food should never be larger than the widest part of your milk snake’s mid-section as this can cause various problems.
Even if the food is reasonably sized, it will still leave a distinguishable bump in your milk snake. This is completely normal, and the lump should diminish as the food is digested.
The prey you offer to your snake will depend on its age and size.
This list assumes you are only feeding mice.
If you have given your snake an appropriately sized rat, you should wait at least 5 days longer between feedings. Wait until your snake is showing signs of hunting behavior before offering more food. Here is a simple chart from Wellsboro Veterinary Hospital to help give you an idea of what to feed and how often.
- Snake Weight: 4-15 grams Prey: Single Pinky Mouse Frequency: 4-5 days
- Snake Weight: 16-23 grams Prey: 2 Pinkies Frequency: 4-5 days
- Snake Weight: 24-30 grams Prey: Small Fuzzy Frequency: 5-6 days
- Snake Weight: 30-50 grams Prey: Regular Fuzzy Frequency: 5-6 days
- Snake Weight: 51-90 grams Prey: Hoppers Frequency: 5-6 days
- Snake Weight: 91-170 grams Size: Weaned Frequency: 7 days
- Snake Size: 171-400 grams Prey: Adult Frequency: 7-10+ days
- Snake Size: 400+ grams Prey: Jumbo Adults Frequency: 7-10+ days
You should make sure the prey is no more than 1.5x the width of your snake at its widest point. Sticking to close to the same width as your snake will reduce the risk of regurgitation.
This chart uses mice, but you could use rats for larger snakes. Make sure you weigh your snake regularly to monitor that they are growing well.
You want steady weight gain for hatchling or juvenile. Adults that are over 2 years old should maintain their weight.
Frozen vs. Live Prey
It’s understandable that milk snakes inherently prefer live prey, as this is close to their natural behavior in the wild. However, live prey can become problematic when caring for milk snakes living in captivity.
Either way, your milk snake isn’t likely to complain if it receives nourishment, dead or alive. Both options can work well for various reasons, and it is purely a matter of whether frozen or live prey is most practical in your case.
|It is straightforward and easy to feed to milk snakes
|It is quite challenging to provide live prey to milk snakes
|Usually has lower prices
|Generally more expensive
|It is easy to store since they can be housed in the freezer and thawed when needed. You can stock up on food in bulk without additional costs.
|You can’t stock up on live prey in bulk and probably need to buy them in small amounts or per meal. Storage of live prey would require an entirely new habitat with food and bedding.
|It is safe since prey cannot defend itself and harm your milk snake. Freezing kills most parasites.
|There is the risk of rodents biting your milk snake while trying to escape. There is the risk of parasites.
|You can leave the food in your milk snake’s enclosure overnight for slow eaters. You can slit the prey’s skull to increase scent and hide it in the enclosure, imitating a ‘hunt and find’ scenario for the milk snake’s enjoyment.
|You have no control over the situation once the live prey has entered the enclosure and will have to trust that your milk snake will kill it or eat it soon. You will need to observe the situation until the milk snake has eaten the prey.
|Milk Snake Preference
|Milk snakes will still eat thawed prey without complaints.
|Milk snakes naturally prefer live prey, as this is similar to behavior when living in the wild.
|The process of freezing and thawing can diminish some of the nutritional content.
|Live prey usually has a higher nutritional content.
|Prey does not suffer; they do not experience the brutality of being eaten alive.
|Some people disagree with live prey since it does involve unnecessary violence toward the live prey being eaten.
The bottom line is that frozen prey is safer for your milk snake while being cheaper and more practical for caregivers. Live prey has higher nutritional content for higher costs over time but poses various health and safety risks for your milk snake.
Some places supply live prey checked for parasites, which afford lower risks for higher prices. But, the choice between practicality and natural milk snake instincts will depend on your preferences.
Where to Buy Prey Items
When it comes to buying prey, there are a few things to keep in mind. You can use online sources for frozen prey, but having a few local sources is good in case of an emergency.
You need to find prey that is the proper size. The prey should have been fed properly and kept in good conditions during its life. This helps make sure the prey animal didn’t have malnutrition or illnesses that could make your snake ill. Your local pet store may sell pre-killed food items. Reptile shops will normally carry prey as well. For online sources, there are a few options.
South Florida Rodents offers a good amount of frozen mice. The pack sizes do mean that you may need to feed larger prey before you run out of mice. You have a few more options with Layne Labs and Perfect Prey.
You have more options for the amount of prey, which is good if you only have one snake. Large chains like Petsmart and Petco also sell frozen prey.
How to Feed Your Milk Snake Frozen Prey
Frozen prey items are very convenient. You can keep a stock of food for your snake, so you don’t need to go out and buy fresh prey for every feeding.
The biggest risk with frozen prey is thawing it improperly and making your snake ill. This is caused by the same factors that make meat for human consumption spoil.
Follow proper thawing procedure and your snake should be happy to feed on what is offered. Here is how to thaw a whole mouse or rat.
First, place the prey in the fridge a day before you intend to feed. The day you want to feed your snake, put your prey into a BPA-free plastic bag and put it in warm water. You want to get the prey to body temperature.
This can make for a stronger feeding response. Once it is warm, you can offer it to your snake. Using feeding tongs to move the mouse around can make your snake more willing to strike and eat the prey.
How to Help with a Reluctant Eater
If your snake doesn’t want to eat, there are a few things you can do. First, make sure your snake is hungry. A hungry snake will be hunting around their enclosure for food. If your snake is about to shed or lay eggs, it will likely not want to eat. Snakes that are ill will also not feed. If you notice your snake is interested in food, but not the prey you are offering, there are a few steps you can take.
The first is to make sure you properly thawed the prey and offered it while it was warm. Moving it around with feeding tongs can help make your snake think it is still alive and they will be more likely to strike and eat it.
If your snake is still reluctant, slicing the skin of the thawed prey can give a stronger scent that will make your snake more likely to feed.
Some snakes also don’t like light-colored prey, so they might take a prey item that looks more like a wild mouse. Your snake may also take a freshly killed mouse. Live prey should be a last resort since there is a risk the mouse will fight back and hurt your snake or even kill it. You can also try offering bird chicks or eggs to adult snakes.
Many corn snakes love birds and will happily take a thawed bird even if they won’t take a mouse. Just make sure it is meant to be fed to snakes.
Snakes need whole prey to be healthy. You also should switch back to rodents as soon as possible. You can also look into frozen lizards or frogs as prey. They can be more expensive though and harder to locate.
Milk Snake Shedding Habits
Milk snakes shed their skin in one go, and baby milk snakes shed more frequently since they outgrow their skin more quickly. They shed their skin best when living in enclosures with proper humidity and moisture levels, and daily hydration also assists the process. You will notice when your milk snake is due to shed, and their eyes become grey or blue and cloudy.
Your milk snake should have a moist shelter during shedding, as this will help the process. If you notice that all the skin has not peeled off, place your milk snake in a plastic container with warm water, lined with wet paper towels, for about half an hour until the remaining skin loosens.
Tweezers can be used if needed, or the process can be repeated until your milk snake has shed all its skin.
It’s important to make sure all the skin has come off, as it can lead to further issues. Especially around the face and eyes, remaining unshed skin can occasionally lead to infections and numerous health problems.
Milk Snake Hibernation
Brumation is a dormant period for reptiles, where the milk snake’s bodily functions will slow for weeks or months to conserve energy. While brumation is natural, it poses health risks that may have long-lasting effects on their health.
To evade brumation, lighting conditions, temperatures, and nourishment should be consistent. Ensure they are heated properly during winter to encourage eating and activity.
Handling Milk Snakes
Milk snakes are quite docile and peaceful, and they enjoy being handled by caregivers. But, they can become frightened or confused.
Before handling your milk snake, wash your hands properly. Milk snakes have strong smelling senses, and they may be disturbed by lingering smells on your hands or may even mistake you for food.
Never approach your milk snake from above, as they may mistake you for a predator. Make it aware of your presence and gently lift its body from a front/side angle.
Be gentle with handling, and make sure you are supporting the milk snake’s body properly, so they are comfortable.
Common Milk Snake Issues
Even the most loving reptile caregivers can experience some issues with milk snakes. Most cases can be easily remedied by making sure their environment and feeding routines are appropriate.
Why Is My Milk Snake Not Eating?
Temperature and Lighting
The temperature and lighting conditions should be checked if your milk snake is not eating. Milk snakes should experience light and dark in equal amounts, and temperature gradients can be checked using a thermometer.
Shy, Afraid, or Stressed
Your milk snake may be fearful, anxious, or may shy of its new home. In these cases, it is common for them to become stressed and refuse to eat, and they should begin eating once they are comfortable.
Milk snakes may also stop eating during shedding and brumation. In some cases, they may require a vet visit. But, this is usually coupled with additional symptoms, including depression, weight loss, abdominal oddities and discharge, sores, vomiting, diarrhea, and much more.
Why Is My Milk Snake Regurgitating Food?
Low Environmental Temperatures
If you keep your pet milk snake warm while it’s eating and allow the temperature to drop rapidly, the snake will not be able to digest the food properly. Their food may begin to rot inside their digestive tract, causing bacteria and issues, and your milk snake may regurgitate it to protect itself from harm.
Handling After Eating
Food takes a long time to digest within a milk snake’s body, and handling them too soon after eating may disturb the process. As a result, they may regurgitate their food.
Milk Snake Respiratory Infections
Inconsistent humidity and temperatures, cold habitats, and overcrowding can lead to URIs (upper respiratory tract infections), which can progress to pneumonia. Milk snakes suffering from such issues will wheeze, breathe open-mouthed, and secrete crusty or fluid substances from their nostrils.
A vet visit and antibiotics are necessary for treatment.
Milk snakes are undoubtedly one of the most popular pet snake species, flaunting many favorable traits and offering caregivers plenty of precious memories.
With some attention to detail, a suitable environment, a great diet, and plenty of tender love and care, your milk snake will be happy and healthy as it finds comfort in its new home.