California Kingsnakes: Your New Reptile Companion

California kingsnake as a pet

I can attest that few pets are as fascinating and rewarding as a California kingsnake. These snakes are both beautiful and friendly, making them a great choice for anyone looking for an exotic companion.

Known for their distinctive pattern of black and white bands, California kingsnakes are a hardy species that can thrive in captivity when given the proper care and attention. While they may not be the best option for everyone, those who are willing to put in the time and effort to care for these reptiles will be rewarded with a unique and engaging pet.

Key Takeaways:

Choosing a California Kingsnake as a Pet

Before deciding to bring a California kingsnake into your home, it’s important to consider several factors to ensure that it’s the right fit for you and your lifestyle.


Adult California kingsnakes can reach lengths of up to six feet, so be prepared to provide ample space for your pet to move around comfortably. Make sure you have enough room in your home for a suitable enclosure and that you can devote the time needed to maintain a healthy and safe environment for your pet.


California kingsnakes are generally well-tempered and easy to handle, but they may become defensive if they feel threatened. It’s important to approach them calmly and gently to avoid stressing them out. If you have young children or other pets in your home, make sure to supervise interactions with your kingsnake to prevent any accidents and ensure it feels safe and comfortable.


California kingsnakes have a lifespan of around 20 years and require long-term commitment from their owners. Make sure you’re ready to provide ongoing care and attention, and that you’re prepared for the financial responsibility of owning a pet for the long haul.

Where to Acquire Your Snake

When choosing a California kingsnake, it’s important to purchase one from a reputable source to ensure that it’s healthy and has been properly cared for. Look for breeders or pet stores with a good reputation and avoid purchasing from shady or unethical sellers. Do your research and ask for references or recommendations from other snake owners before making a purchase.

California Kingsnake Habitat Requirements

Creating the perfect environment for your California kingsnake is essential for its long-term health and wellbeing. As a cold-blooded animal, your snake requires a carefully controlled temperature range to regulate its body heat and metabolism. You’ll need to ensure that the enclosure provides a warm spot for basking and a cooler area for the snake to retreat to.

One way to achieve this is by using a heat lamp or under-tank heater, which creates a temperature gradient in the cage. The basking spot should be kept around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cooler end should be between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to measure the temperature with a reliable thermometer and adjust the heating as needed to maintain the optimal range.

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In addition to the temperature, you’ll also need to monitor the humidity levels in the enclosure. Providing a water dish and a moist substrate, such as cypress mulch or coconut fiber, can help maintain the required humidity level of 40-60%. You can also mist the enclosure with water as needed to increase humidity.

The size of the enclosure is also crucial for your snake’s comfort and safety. A minimum size of 40 gallons is recommended for adult California kingsnakes, with enough space for them to move around, climb, and hide. You can add branches, rocks, and other accessories to provide enrichment and mimic their natural environment.

Remember to clean the enclosure regularly to prevent bacterial and fungal growth, which can lead to health issues. Remove any uneaten food, feces, and shed skin promptly and use a reptile-safe disinfectant to clean the surfaces.

Care Guide for California Kingsnake

As an owner of a California kingsnake, it’s crucial to ensure their health and well-being. Here are some essential care tips:

  1. Feeding: California kingsnakes are carnivores, and their diet should consist of appropriately sized prey items. Offer your snake prey that is roughly the same width as their body. Hatchlings should eat pinky mice once a week, while adults can eat adult mice or small rats every 7-10 days.
  2. Handling: Proper handling techniques are crucial to minimize stress and avoid injury. Always support your snake’s body and avoid grabbing or squeezing their head. Allow your snake to explore your hands and move at their own pace.
  3. Shedding: Snakes shed their skin regularly as they grow. Provide a humidity box filled with damp sphagnum moss to aid in shedding. Monitor your snake during this time and help remove any leftover skin from their body if necessary.
  4. Enclosure: Keep your snake in an enclosure that is at least 3 feet long, with plenty of hiding spots and climbing opportunities. Choose a substrate that is easy to clean and won’t retain excessive moisture.
  5. Temperature and Humidity: Kingsnakes require a temperature gradient between 75-85°F, with a basking spot of 90°F. Keep the enclosure humidity between 40-60%, and provide a water dish large enough for soaking.
  6. Health: Watch for signs of illness, such as lethargy, lack of appetite, or respiratory issues. Take your snake to a reptile veterinarian for regular check-ups and preventative care.

By following these care guidelines, you can ensure that your California kingsnake will thrive as a happy and healthy pet.

Feeding California Kingsnakes

As carnivores, California kingsnakes require a diet of prey that is appropriate for their size. Younger snakes can be fed smaller prey items, such as pinky mice, while adult snakes can consume larger prey like adult mice or rats. It is crucial to ensure that all prey items are properly thawed if they are frozen, and the temperature of the prey should be slightly above room temperature before feeding to prevent digestive issues.

Feeding frequency for California kingsnakes varies based on their age and size. Typically, younger snakes will require more frequent feedings, such as once every five to seven days, while adults can be fed once every ten to fourteen days. It is important to avoid overfeeding your snake, as this can lead to obesity and other health issues.

When feeding your California kingsnake, be sure to use tongs to offer the prey, as this helps reduce the risk of accidental bites. It is essential to monitor the feeding process, as sometimes snakes can have trouble swallowing larger items, which can lead to complications.

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It is also worth noting that some snakes may refuse to eat at times, which can be normal behavior. However, if your snake consistently refuses food or exhibits other signs of illness, such as lethargy or abnormal shedding, it is essential to seek veterinary care.

Handling California Kingsnakes

Handling a California kingsnake can be a rewarding experience for both you and your pet. However, it’s essential to be aware of their behavior and needs to ensure safe and stress-free handling.

Building Trust

The first step in handling your snake is building trust. It’s important to start slow and avoid forcing your snake to do anything they don’t want to do. Spend time near the enclosure and offer your hand for them to smell and explore. Gradually begin picking them up for short periods, increasing the duration as they become more comfortable.

Proper Techniques

When picking up your California kingsnake, it’s essential to support their entire body and avoid squeezing or putting pressure on their midsection. Gently slide your hand under their belly and support their weight with your other hand. Never grab or pull the snake by their tail, as this can cause injury and stress.

Maintaining a Calm Environment

Snakes are sensitive to their environment, and sudden movements or loud noises can cause stress and anxiety. It’s essential to handle your snake in a calm and quiet location, away from other pets and distractions. Avoid handling your snake after feeding or during shedding, as they may be more agitated or uncomfortable.

Minimizing Stress

While handling your snake can be enjoyable, it’s important to remember that they are still wild animals and can become stressed or defensive. If your snake becomes agitated or starts hissing or rattling their tail, it’s best to return them to their enclosure and try again another time.

By following these guidelines and respecting your snake’s needs and boundaries, you can build a trusting and rewarding relationship with your California kingsnake.

California Kingsnake Enclosure Setup

Creating a suitable habitat for your California kingsnake is crucial for their health and well-being. Here are some steps to follow when setting up their enclosure:

Size and Type of Enclosure

Aim for an enclosure that is at least three times the length of your snake. A glass tank or a plastic storage container are both suitable options, just make sure it has a secure lid.


Newspaper, paper towels, reptile carpet, or aspen shavings are all safe and easy to clean options for lining the bottom of the enclosure. Avoid using cedar or pine shavings, as they can be harmful to your snake’s respiratory system.

Heating and Lighting

California kingsnakes need a basking spot that is around 85-90°F, and the rest of the enclosure should be kept between 75-80°F during the day and 65-75°F at night. A heat lamp or an under-tank heating pad can be used to achieve this temperature range. Offering a UVB light source is not necessary but can be beneficial for providing a day/night cycle.

Hide Spots

Snakes love to hide, and it’s essential to offer them at least two hiding spots in their enclosure. Artificial caves, cardboard boxes, or pieces of PVC pipe all work well as hide spots.

Enrichment and Décor

Adding branches, plants, and other decorations to your snake’s enclosure can make it more visually appealing and stimulating. However, ensure that there are no sharp edges or materials that could harm your snake.

By following these simple steps, you can create a comfortable and safe environment for your California kingsnake to thrive in.

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Health Issues in California Kingsnakes

While California kingsnakes are generally hardy and low-maintenance pets, they can be prone to certain health issues if not properly cared for. It is important to know the signs of illness and to seek veterinary care promptly if you suspect your snake is unwell.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common issue in California kingsnakes, especially if their enclosure is too damp or cool. Symptoms may include wheezing, open-mouth breathing, and mucus around the nose and mouth. If left untreated, respiratory infections can lead to pneumonia and other serious complications.

To prevent respiratory infections, ensure that your snake’s enclosure is properly ventilated and maintained at the appropriate temperature and humidity levels. If you suspect your snake has a respiratory infection, consult with a reptile veterinarian as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.


California kingsnakes can also be susceptible to parasitic infections, such as mites or ticks. These pests can cause skin irritation, scabbing, and general discomfort for your snake. Additionally, internal parasites such as worms or protozoa can cause digestive issues and weight loss.

To prevent and treat parasite infections, be sure to keep your snake’s enclosure and bedding clean, and regularly inspect your snake for any signs of parasites. If you notice mites or ticks on your snake, you can use a reptile-safe pesticide to eliminate the pests. Your veterinarian can also recommend appropriate deworming medications if necessary.

Other Health Concerns

Other potential health issues in California kingsnakes include skin infections, mouth rot, and injuries from improper handling or enclosure setup. It is important to monitor your snake’s behavior and appearance on a regular basis, and to seek veterinary care if you notice any unusual symptoms.

Remember, prevention is key when it comes to keeping your California kingsnake healthy. Provide a clean and comfortable environment, offer a balanced diet, and handle your snake with care and respect. With proper care, your California kingsnake can live a long and happy life as your scaly companion.


Overall, a California kingsnake can make a wonderful and unique pet for those looking for a scaly companion. They are relatively easy to care for, have a docile temperament, and come in a variety of stunning colors and patterns.

When considering a California kingsnake as a pet, it is important to choose a reputable breeder or adopt from a rescue organization. Careful consideration should also be given to their habitat requirements, including temperature, humidity, and cage size. Proper feeding and handling techniques are also key components of caring for a healthy and happy snake.

By following the guidelines outlined in this article, owners can ensure their California kingsnake thrives and lives a long and healthy life. So why not consider adding one to your family and experiencing the joys of having a scaly, yet friendly companion?


Q: Can I have a California kingsnake as a pet?

A: Yes, California kingsnakes make great pets. Their unique characteristics and low maintenance requirements make them an interesting choice for reptile enthusiasts.

Q: What factors should I consider when choosing a California kingsnake as a pet?

A: When selecting a California kingsnake, consider factors such as size, temperament, and lifespan. It is important to acquire a healthy and reputable snake from a reliable source.

Q: What are the habitat requirements for a California kingsnake?

A: California kingsnakes require a specific environment and enclosure setup. This includes maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity levels, as well as providing a spacious cage.

Q: How do I care for a California kingsnake?

A: To care for a California kingsnake, you need to feed it properly, handle it correctly, and provide regular maintenance. This includes addressing shedding and being aware of common health issues.

Q: What should I feed my California kingsnake?

A: California kingsnakes have specific dietary requirements. It’s crucial to feed them a balanced diet consisting of appropriate prey items at the right frequency.

Q: How do I handle a California kingsnake?

A: Handling a California kingsnake requires gentle and respectful techniques. Building trust and minimizing stress during handling sessions is important for both you and the snake.

Q: How do I set up an enclosure for a California kingsnake?

A: Setting up an enclosure for a California kingsnake involves choosing the right substrate, providing hiding spots, and ensuring environmental enrichment. It is important to create a visually appealing and stimulating habitat.

Q: What are common health issues in California kingsnakes?

A: California kingsnakes may experience health issues such as respiratory infections and parasites. Regular veterinary check-ups and preventative measures are important for maintaining their health.

Featured image: Guillem, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

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