So you’ve decided you want a snake.
Good for you! Now just go to the pet store an pick one out, right?
Not so fast!
I’m sure you’re aware governments like to regulate. And exotic pet ownership is just ripe for regulation.
And in the United States, it goes without saying that snake laws differ from state to state. In many cases, even from county to county and municipality to municipality.
Then you have another huge legal issue to deal with: liability.
You absolutely must have liability insurance of you plan to own a snake.
Does all of this sound complicated? It should, because it IS complicated. Incredibly so.
But we’ll help you make sense of it all.
By the time you get to the end of this page, you will have a much better idea what hurdles you can expect in terms of snake laws in your state and what you need to be aware of in terms of liability.
You need to know the laws in your state regarding pet snakes. While most pet snake owners have non-venomous varieties, there are some owners who prefer venomous snakes. Each breed could have its own regulations depending on the state you live in.
For example, in Alaska, no one can possess, sell, import or export live game animals (birds, mammal, or reptiles) that are found or in the state. In Iowa, the state exotic pet laws are pretty straightforward. You are not allowed to breed, sell, or own any non-domestic animals.
And then there are states like Massachusetts where you simply cannot own an exotic animal of any kind.
Beyond federal, state, and local laws, there is the matter of liability. How much insurance do you need and what are you liable for if your snake escapes?
All responsible snake owners need to consider every contingency when building the housing for the snake, consider possible damage the snake could do, and consider what might happen if the snake attacks someone.
Let’s start with an overview of the community and then look at the laws and the matter of liability when it comes to owning both non-venomous and venomous snakes.
The Reptile Community
The domestic reptile community consists of groups and organizations including breeders, universities, importers, retailers, hobbyists, and pet owners. People keep reptiles as pets mostly because they are fun to watch, and they don’t make noise.
There are no statistics on the exact number of reptiles owned as pets, but ownership of snakes is rising. Researchers estimate that 1.5 to 2.5 million US households owned one or more reptiles in 1996. Most of these snakes come from pet stores and owners also get their pets’ food supply and habitat supplies from pet stores.
There are vendors of reptiles in every state in America, but you find the majority in the southern portion of the United States in places like Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas. There are also a lot in the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and Illinois.
If you must go to another state to purchase a snake, make certain you understand the federal regulations regarding the sale and transport of exotic animals across state lines (see The Lacey Act below).
Snake owners can usually find a local organization or association to belong to. There, they can meet with other owners, keep up to date on current laws or regulations, and share ideas for caring for their snakes.
This extensive network of specialists in pet snakes must first and foremost be acquainted with exotic animal laws – and for good reason.
Why Are There Exotic Animal Laws?
In a free society like the US, you might wonder why laws even exist regulating the ownership of pets. Don’t we have the right to own pets, regardless of the species or breed?
You might think so, but in 2011, there was a terrible incident in Zanesville, Ohio, involving more than 50 exotic animals whose owner had committed suicide after releasing the animals into the public sphere.
According to ABC news, the massacre of the exotic animals began at a disreputable wild animal sanctuary in Zanesville, Ohio, where Bengal tigers, bears, lions, and other vicious animals wandered away. Afraid that the animals would run free and terrify the residents in town, officers started killing the animals with their guns.
By the time the situation was over, 49 animals died: 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, two grizzlies, three mountain lions, two wolves, and a baboon. ABC News’ wildlife expert Jack Hanna said the actions by the police stopped a catastrophe.
The remaining living animals—a grizzly bear, three leopards, and two monkeys—went to the Columbus Zoo.
If the owner of these animals had followed the law and kept the animals safely, there would not have been a need to kill 49 of them. This would have also kept the public safe. This incident proved the very real possibility that exotic animal ownership can have consequences—not just for the owners, but for everyone in the community.
While laws regarding the keeping of exotic pets have been around far longer than 2011, this incident is one example why states and localities have regulations regarding the procurement and housing of wild animals—including snakes.
The Lacey Act – Acquisition Of Venomous Snakes
The Lacey Act specifically addresses the transportation of wildlife across state lines. If you can keep venomous reptiles in your state, locality, and city, you must consider how to legally acquire them. Any purchase of animals, either from a reputable breeder or vendor, is subject to The Lacey Act.
The Lacey Act prevents someone from importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing any fish or wildlife captured, owned, moved or retailed in violation of any state law, regulation, foreign statute, or tribal Indian law.
Any wildlife transported across state lines must be in containers that properly list the sender and receiver on the outside of the container with a readily accessible list of contents ,by species and number and classifying which species are venomous.
If you acquire reptiles unlawfully and take them to different states, it is a violation of federal law. At the same time, if you acquire venomous snakes that “you know, or reasonably should have known, were taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of state law,” you are in violation of the Lacey Act.
Violating the Lacey Act could mean civil and criminal penalties. A violation of the Lacey Act usually constitutes a felony violation, which means you lose the right to vote, hold office, own a gun, and you could spend up to five years in prison.
Once you have found a breeder or provider of snakes, and you are certain you’re not in violation of federal transportation laws, it is time to check out the laws in your state regarding the possession of snakes.
State By State Pet Snake Laws
The laws in each state are unique. Some require permits, some have no regulations, and others do not allow you to own snakes at all. Thanks to various states’ Departments of Natural Resources and, we have a comprehensive list of the requirements for each state.
|California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming
|Venomous Snakes Illegal
|Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Florida, New Hampshire
|Venomous Snakes Legal With Permit
|Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah
|Non-Venomous Snakes Legal With Permit
|Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah
|Non-Venomous Snakes Legal Without Permit
|Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, New Hampshire
|No Regulations Or Restrictions
|Alabama, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin
|Counties Or Municipalities Decide
Each state that allows people to keep venomous and non-venomous snakes as pets has its own eccentricities. In states such as Colorado, Florida, and West Virginia, you can capture and keep species native to the state.
But in states like Illinois, Kansas, and Vermont, you can only keep venomous or non-venomous reptiles for educational or display purposes, such as at a zoo.
What is important is that you are thorough in checking the regulations and requirements not only for your state, but for your city and county. What might be legal in your state may not be allowed in your county or city. And above all, find out what the liability requirements are for keeping snakes of any variety.
Even if your state seems to have no regulation according to info you see online, like Wisconsin, things change rapidly, so always check with a lawyer or do your own research in person.
In addition to the laws of each state, county, and municipality, there are concerns over liability in case your snake escapes, causes damage, or hurts someone. For example, if you own a venomous snake, chances are your state law will require you to keep a stock of anti-venom.
Snake owners can also have a difficult time finding housing. Many rental companies don’t want what they deem to be dangerous animals in their units. There is a legitimate fear of those animals escaping or hurting other residents nearby.
In the past ten to fifteen years, there has been an upsurge in exotic pet ownership in America. As exotic pet ownership increases, an increase in attack or escape incidents will naturally occur. Since 1990, there have been over 1,000 reported incidents involving exotic pets.
If this should happen with your snake, will you be able to defend yourself? Injured victims can seek restitution for both physical and emotional damages.
Most pet owners can’t afford to pay medical bills and punitive damages should a victim take them to court. You should always consider liability insurance coverage for your pet snake as a requirement.
You will need to buy a supplemental policy that specifically covers your pet. Most homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies will not cover exotic pets. Go through your coverage with your agent and clarify your coverage. Then review the supplemental insurance policies for exotic pets currently on the market.
Make sure you are getting liability insurance, not pet health insurance. When you are searching the internet, most results will be for pet health insurance. You need liability coverage for your specific exotic pet. This type of insurance covers any gaps your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may not cover.
Homeowner’s Or Renter’s Insurance When You Own A Snake
When you are ready to purchase a pet snake, consider the conversation you will be having with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance agent. Whether you own a snake or are planning to get one, make sure you pay attention to these three points.
When you are shopping for homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, agents will ask whether you have any “exotic” or “dangerous” animals. With snakes, this is a judgment call.
Is a venomous snake dangerous? Yes, definitely. Is a boa constrictor? It certainly can be. Rat snakes and garter snakes? They can bite you, but the most you’ll get is a scratch.
Snakes can be classified as “aquarium pets” since, technically, they are. But you must consider what type of snake you have, how dangerous—or not—it can be, and whether or not you are comfortable classifying it as an “aquarium pet”.
Keep in mind, all the insurance in the world won’t help if you classify your cobra as an “aquarium pet” and it kills someone.
Consider The Snake’s Habitat
Most insurance companies aren’t as concerned with you having a pet snake as they are with its habitat. Underwriters will ask if the snake is living in a secure container and how often the snake might be taken from its habitat.
If a prospective policyholder plans to take the snake from its enclosure, insurance carriers will rightly be concerned from a liability perspective and may not write a policy for the pet.
Be Aware Of The Big Picture
Safety is priority number one. Don’t put yourself or others at risk just to get home or renter’s insurance.
But what happens if your snake does bite?
Non-Venemous Snake Bites
So, what should you do if a bite occurs?
Like any other animal taken out of its natural environment, they can be scared or startled by sounds or lights that we would ignore. It is this propensity that drives the laws regarding snake ownership.
The majority of non-venomous snakes kept as pets are gentle and do not typically bite their owners unless provoked. But any species can bite without warning when startled or overly hungry. Snakes can also be more short-tempered and inclined to bite when they are shedding or don’t feel well.
Should your pet snake bite you or someone else, first treat whomever your snake has bitten. Clean the wound thoroughly with antiseptic soap and warm water. Flush out areas of broken skin with lots of water for several minutes and apply pressure if the wound is bleeding.
Call a doctor to get advice about specific medical treatment. Even non-venomous snakes carry various bacteria, including Salmonella. You must take steps to prevent infection.
After treating the wounds, make sure your snake is contained safely within its habitat and ensure it is not sick or hurt. Some snakes are naturally aggressive and more apt to bite. Take extra precautions with such breeds.
Always be aware of your pet’s mood before you try to handle it, and never let your guard down. Even happy, satisfied snakes can be surprised and bite. Don’t allow others who may be nervous or scared handle your snake.
If you are careful and take the proper precautions, snake bites are not usually common.
Venomous Snake Bites
Venomous snake bites look no different initially than non-venomous bites. But the severe consequences that sometimes follow can be dire. Treatment for a venomous snakebite is cost prohibitive, extremely painful, and can cause permanent injury or even death.
After initial treatment, it is often necessary to remain in the hospital for up to 24 hours for close monitoring. If blood pressure falls, IV fluids can be necessary. If there was massive blood loss, a transfusion may be necessary.
24 hours of monitoring is necessary because some people can have a severe allergic reaction to antivenom. Recovery time will completely depend on the type of snake bite. Recovery generally takes one to two weeks, but a severe reaction to the venom could prolong recovery to as long as nine months.
This is why liability is the most important legal concern for those who keep venomous reptiles as pets. By their nature, venomous snakes always have the potential to harm people, including their owners.
It is absolutely foolish to keep venomous reptiles without liability insurance. But, if you cannot afford the insurance, you most certainly should not keep venomous snakes.
The cost of treating venomous snake bites runs into the thousands. And that number goes up exponentially if the victim should go into respiratory or cardiac arrest due to the venom.
If you are the owner, your health insurance should cover the treatment. But if your snake bites someone else, you will be on the hook for their treatment.
That is why owners of venomous snakes must carry liability insurance. When you get a liability policy, the coverage will vary. But you should make sure it covers all medical expenses and court costs should your snake bite another person.
Legal Steps To Take If A Bite Or Other Injury Happens
There are multiple considerations when it comes to liability for a snakebite.
If you own a pet snake and it bites a visitor to your home, your first responsibility is to ensure the victim receives medical treatment, up to and including calling an ambulance. Even if your pet is non-venomous, it is still a good idea to take the victim to a doctor right away. If your pet is venomous, provide immediate medical care.
Venomous snake owners should always be prepared with anti-venom and know how to properly administer it. If you have people who help you care for the snake, they should also know how to administer doses of anti-venom and the steps to take after administering the dose.
Once your bite victim is in the hands of medical professionals, contact your liability insurance agent to see what steps to take next. It is in your best interest to not speak to anyone about the incident. Simply provide a statement and medical documentation for the purposes of a claim.
In most states, snakebite victims can sue you for cost of medical treatment and any costs related to long-term care or permanent damage to their health.
If you own a venomous snake and a bite victim dies, you will be liable not only for the medical costs, but the family could sue you for punitive damages. And those could spiral into the millions.
Your liability agent will guide you in each step of the process. He or she will meet with you, go over paperwork, let you know what you need to provide, and offer advice regarding potential legal actions.
These are all things to keep in mind when you are first considering owning a venomous snake as a pet.
United States Snake Laws: Final Thoughts
While snakes can be terrific pets for any number of reasons, all responsible pet snake owners must be aware of the laws and regulations that govern snake ownership.
Obviously, non-venomous snake owners have fewer laws and regulations to follow, and fewer liability issues to consider. A bite from a non-venomous snake is usually little more than a minor nuisance that any snake owner can handle themselves.
Owning venomous snakes is another matter entirely.
If you own a venomous snake, or are considering it, you must abide by far stricter standards, be aware of the need to get a permit, and stock antivenom in your home. The fact is, most venomous snake owners have their snakes for educational purposes or as breeders. Of course, there are also those who simply love snakes.
A comprehensive review of local, state, and federal laws is essential before you buy a snake. You can not rely on this article or other sites you find on the internet. Laws are complicated and always changing.
You MUST research all applicable laws in your area on your own, or with the help of a lawyer. You must also find adequate liability insurance to protect yourself in case your snake escapes or bites someone.
A snake can certainly be a great pet, but make sure you stay within the boundaries of the law and have the insurance needed to protect yourself and others.
Of course, if you are underage and you want a snake, local laws are just the first hurdle. The bigger challenge will be to convince your parents to get you a snake. That article will help with that hurdle.