California Kingsnake Care Guide | California Kingsnakes As Pets

California Kingsnake Care Guide

California kingsnakes are among my most highly recommended pet snakes. This California kingsnake care guide will cover all the basic questions you need to know before making a purchase. They are great for snakes beginners and are readily available year-round.

However, there are a few things you are going to want to consider before you take one home. California kingsnakes are moderately sized and are typically docile in nature. In addition, these beautiful reptiles are low maintenance, hardy, and have a long lifespan.

In the wild, California kingsnakes inhabit a wide variety of habitats across the west coast of North America. They can be found across California, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, and northwest Mexico. These hardy snakes are able to survive in a multitude of terrains ranging from the mountain tops of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the deserts of Arizona. 

When frightened or intimidated wild California kingsnakes will coil up and rattle their tails similar to a rattlesnake. However, unlike rattlesnakes, the California kingsnake is non-venomous and typically rely on constricting their prey instead.

Their typical diet includes rodents, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. In fact, wild California kingsnakes are even known to eat rattlesnakes. Of course, we are talking about wild California kingsnakes here. This is not the diet I am recommending for your pet snake. We will cover that later on in this care guide.

Though they are still commonly found in the wild, it’s best to make sure your pet California kingsnake was bred in captivity. Captive-bred reptiles are typically much healthier and less prone to diseases. They are also much less likely to carry certain parasites that are more commonly found in wild-caught reptiles.

These parasites are not only harmful to your snake but could also spread to other reptiles in the home. So make sure you buy your kingsnake from a credible source. Most local pet stores should be able to tell you where they source their reptiles.

California Kingsnake Size And Appearance

These beautiful snakes are easy to identify by their amazing black/dark brown and white stripe pattern and long slender bodies. A large adult California kingsnake’s size can be as large as 6 feet long. However, 3 to 5 feet long is much more common.

So though they might not be the largest snakes in the world they are not necessarily small either. That said, these snakes are slender in nature and not as heavy as many other snakes similar in length. Most California kingsnakes will reach their full size within about 4 years’ time.

I would classify California kingsnakes as moderately sized pet snakes. Though they can reach up to 6 feet in length they are still relatively slender compared to many other snakes that reach similar lengths. A similar lengthed python or boa constrictor, for example, is going to be much thicker and heavier than a Califonia kingsnake.

California Kingsnake Lifespan

One reason California kingsnakes make great pets is that they have a relatively long lifespan. A well taken care of California kingsnake can have up to an impressive 20-year lifespan. However, about 12-15 years is a bit more likely. 

The lifespan of your California Kingsnake will depend on many contributing factors. Though some things can be out of your control, proper care is crucial for the health and wellbeing of your pets. Making sure you do all you can to keep your reptiles as healthy as possible.

Common Health Problems Of California Kingsnakes

Part of proper California kingsnake care is understanding their potential health issues. Some of the most common health problems would include respiratory infections, infectious diseases, and parasites.  Respiratory problems might include things like pneumonia or even certain colds. The number one way you can prevent this is by having the proper temperatures. Don’t worry we will cover temperatures later in this care guide.

Seek veterinary assistance if your snake makes a wheezing sound when breathing. Another sign that your California kingsnake might have a problem is if it holding its head up and while keeping its mouth open. If you noticed these signs call your veterinarian for further assistance.

Another common health issue is mouth rot and or Ulcerative Stomatitis which is typically caused by something getting stuck in your snake’s mouth. It can then become infected and you will notice yellow pus around the gums and teeth. You may also notice swelling of the mouth and gums. This can be life-threatening and should be dealt with immediately.

Last but not least is the possibility of parasites. Of course, the best thing to prevent this is by purchasing a healthy captive-bred California kingsnake. In addition, be sure not to bring anything from outside into the snake enclosure such as rocks or hiding logs.

That said, it is still possible for your snake to get parasites. Ticks and mites are the more common culprits. If you plan on keeping snakes you will probably deal with snake mites at some point in time.

If you see any type of bug or what looks like small little dots on your snake or in its cage you might have a mite problem. Mites can be very dangerous and even life-threatening to California kingsnakes. If you notice mites you need to handle the situation immediately.

There are plenty of great products available to help you get rid of snake mites.  Just make sure you get rid of mites not just on your snake but also within its enclosure. You will need to clean every inch of the enclosure with the proper products.

Feeding And Watering

Proper diet and watering is an essential part of California kingsnake care. The easiest and best source of food for a California kingsnake is rodents. Though you can feed them live prey, I highly recommend pre-killed rodents. This is because when you feed your snake live prey there is a chance the prey might inflict injury to your snake. 

Previously frozen-thawed mice or fresh-killed mice are a much safer choice for your kingsnake. The size of the prey will vary upon the size of your snake. Generally speaking, the prey should not be larger than the widest part of your California kingsnake.

California kingsnakes will eat more often than many other snakes such as pythons and boa constrictors. Juveniles should be twice or even three times a week for optimal growth. The only downside to feeding them three times a week is that it is not recommended that you handle your snake for 24 hours after feeding. So this does not leave a lot of room for handling.

However, you don’t have to think in terms of weeks. You could instead feed them say every three days instead. This will give you a day in between feeding to get your snake used to human handling. As they get older you can continue to feed them twice a week until they reach adulthood. When they are full-grown you can feed them once every 5-7 days.

Always provide your California kingsnake with a watering bowl large enough for it to soak in. Of course, you are going to want to make sure it is not so large that it might have a hard time getting in and out of. It’s also important that the water does not overspill into the cage as this can lead to improper humidity levels. Make sure to keep the watering bowl clean and refresh the water daily.

Setting Up Your California Kingsnakes Enclosure

Having the proper enclosure is essential for the long-term health and longevity of your California kingsnake. These snakes are master escape artists so a secure enclosure is a must. Make sure whatever cage you choose that it tightly locks is escape-proof. These snakes are good escape artists that you don’t want to underestimate. 

This is especially important if you plan on building its cage yourself. If there is a way for a California kingsnake to escape he will find it.  I would recommend that you have your cage already set up before bringing your snake home. One of the most important aspects of proper California kingsnake care is choosing the correct enclosure size for your snake. 

Enclosure Size

When caring for a California kingsnake you will need to make sure you pick a properly sized enclosure. Though baby and juvenile California kingsnakes can be housed in a 10-15 gallon tank, 20 gallons is the very minimum size recommended for an adult. That said, I think 40 gallons or larger is a much more appropriate size tank for an adult kingsnake.

California kingsnakes have been known to eat each other when housed together. So it is very important that your California kingsnake is housed alone. Two great examples that would make a great kingsnake enclosure are the Exo Terra Glass Terrarium, 36 by 18 by 18-Inch, and the Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium, Large Deep 36Lx24Dx18H.

Of course, there are plenty of other great options as well. I simply recommend that the tank is at least 40 gallons and is properly sealed. Some people will choose to make their own enclosures but I only recommend this if you already know what you are doing.

Best Substrate For California Kingsnakes 

As babies, California kingsnakes will do just fine with something as easy as paper towels. That said, as they approach the juvenile age it is best to look into a better option. Luckily there are many great substrate options available for your California kingsnakes. Probably the best and easily available substrate is zoo med’s aspen snake bedding. Other great options would include zoo med forest floor and Reptibark. 

Another option instead of a substrate would be Zoo Med eco carpet. This product is environmentally friendly, easy to clean, and safe for California kingsnakes. That said, if you choose this option, consider a few extra hiding places since your snake cannot burrow into its substrate.  Whatever you choose just make sure it is free of chemicals and is safe for reptiles. 

Proper Hiding Place And Decor

Another thing you are going to want for your California kingsnake is a proper hiding place. It does not need to be anything fancy. Just a place for your snake to hide if it wants to. Something like a Hubba Hut Hideaway log is a perfect example.

You can also get a reptile cave or really anything that is big enough for a kingsnake to hide in if needed. Having a few options is a good idea if your snake does not a substrate that it can burrow into. Like previously stated it is not a good idea to bring something into the enclosure from outside.

This is because it could be infested with parasites and should be avoided. That said, simply look up some reptile hiding options and choose the one you like best. Just make sure it is big enough for your snake to hide in.

Heating And Lighting For California Kingsnakes

Like with all reptiles you are going to want to have a warmer side and cooler side of the cage. Being cold-blooded wild California kingsnakes must self-regulate their temperature by choosing the right surroundings.

When they need to heat up their body they might choose to bask in the sun or they might find some shade to cool off. So when designing your enclosures you are going to want to try and create an environment where your snake can both heat up and cool down. 

On the warm side of the cage try and achieve a temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit and about 72-78 degrees on the cool side. To regulate and monitor temperatures I would recommend a few items. The first would be a high-quality under the tank heater such as a Zoo Med Reptitherm under tank heater of appropriate size. The proper size will depend on the size and type of enclosure that you purchase.

Next, you are going to want to invest in a good heat lamp as well. Note that most of the ceramic heat lamps do not come with a light dome. So be sure to purchase one of a fitting size.  Both of these are going to be placed on the warm side of the cage. Regulate and monitor these temperatures with the proper high-quality thermostat and thermometer. 

California kingsnakes do not require UV lighting. However, some people choose to use a basking light for heat or to light up the enclose. If you choose to go this route make sure to carefully monitor temperatures. Not everything sold at the pet stores is the best quality or suited for a kingsnake. The last thing you want is to overheat your new pet.

Cleaning And Maintenance

Cage maintenance for a California kingsnake is relatively simple. That said, it is a very important aspect of proper California kingsnake care. It is recommended that you change your snake’s water bowl on a daily basis. In addition, you will want to clean and sanitize its water bowl at least once per week but ideally even more often.

Make sure to replace the substrate when needed and as well as removing your pet’s waste. It is also recommended to do a deep clean at least once per month. Here is a great video made by the Snake Discovery youtube channel that goes over basic snake enclosure cleaning. 

Recommended California Kingsnake Enclosure Checklist

  • Cage: Exo Terra Glass Terrarium, 36 by 18 by 18-Inch Or The Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium, Large Deep 36Lx24Dx18H.
  • Substrate: Zoo Med’s Aspen Snake Bedding, Zoo Med’s Forest Floor, Reptibark, or Eco Carpet.
  • Heating: Zoo med Rptitherm under tank heater, Ceramic Heater bulb, Dome, thermostat, and thermometer.
  • Misc: Watering Bowl, Hiding places, Cage Decor

Handling Your California Kingsnake

It is important to handle your California kingsnake quite regularly. At first, they might see you as a threat. This is completely normal in the beginning. However, with frequent handling, they will likely warm up to you quickly. That said, there are things you want to avoid when handling. Though not all of them are mentioned here, these are a few common things to avoid when handling your kingsnake.

  • Gripping or squeezing your kingsnake. It is best to handle your snake with open hands. 
  • Handling before shedding. You will know your kingsnake is about to shed when its eyes start to get murky or hazy
  • Avoid handling 24 hours after feeding.

It is not uncommon for California kingsnakes to bite. These snakes do like to eat and might bite if you smell like prey. They are known to eat other snakes and might bite if you smell like a snake. Ironically they might even bite because you smell like them.

Their bites are not likely to cause serious damage although it could draw blood. These snakes have small teeth and it is usually not a big problem. However, I feel the need to mention it in case you have small children. No one wants their kid’s friends to go tell their parents that your kids pet snake bit them.

The more you handle your snake the easier it will become to handle. For the most part, California kingsnakes are well-tempered and easy to handle. However, they are known to be nippier than some snake breeds.

California Kingsnake Care FAQ

Though it would take a whole book to cover everything you will ever need to know about California kingsnakes, there are some common questions that come up more than others. My simple goal here is to briefly answer some of the more frequent questions.

Are California Kingsnakes Good For First-Time Snake Owners?

The simple answer is yes California kingsnakes are a good option for first-time snake owners. They are generally friendly snakes that do not get to a dangerous size. However, they are known to potentially bite. This is especially true if they are not properly handled or if you smell like prey.

Because of this, I would say that they are not at the very top of my list for first-time snake owners but they are still a great option. My number one pick over the California kingsnake would probably be the corn snake. They have many of the same qualities of the kingsnake but are less likely to bite.

That said, if you simply prefer the California kingsnake, I am not trying to sway you away from choosing it as your pet. They really do make great pets and are one of the better snakes for first-time owners. Just remember that they can grow up to 6 feet long and live up to 20 years. So you are making a commitment when purchasing a California kingsnake.

Where Can You Buy A California Kingsnake?

The best place to look would probably be at your local pet store. If you can find one in your area that specializes in reptiles that is usually the best option. Make sure they know exactly where they source their reptiles and that your kingsnake is captive-bred.

California kingsnakes or one of the most popular snake breed around. That said, depending on where you live you will probably not have too much trouble finding one.

In Conclusion 

When properly cared for California kingsnakes can make excellent pets for many years. They are a great option for a first-time snake owner. However, they can be a bit nippy and they do live long lives. Just make sure you are up for the commitment before choosing your next pet. 

They are relatively mild-mannered and do not require much space. This California kingsnake care guide is for informational purposes only. Make sure to do as much research as you can before purchasing a California kingsnake. 

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