Hognose Snake Care Page
Prepared by ReptiFiles
North American hognose snakes are a diurnal, burrowing species native to southern Canada, northern Mexico, and a large portion of the United States. They can grow to be anywhere between 14-46” long, depending on subspecies, and generally live 10-15 years. Their most unique feature is their upturned, ”pig-like” snouts, which is how they got their name!
Hognose snakes are rear-fanged venomous, but their venom is not considered medically significant in humans.
This Care Guide been curated by ReptiFiles.
ReptiFiles is an online database of comprehensive, science-based reptile care guides created by reptile husbandry specialist Mariah Healey. ReptiFiles’ primary goal is to promote a higher standard of animal welfare within the reptile industry.Read Full Care Guide
Hognose Snakes at a Glance
Here are some core facts about hognose snake care:
14-36” (Western) / 20-46” (Eastern)
90-95°F (Western) / 86-88°F (Eastern)
Grassland and Forest
Hognose snakes are native to the United States, southern Canada, northern Mexico.
4 out of 5: Good Handleability
One of the reasons hognose snakes are popular beginner pets is that they are generally very handleable. However, some extra caution is required due to the fact that they possess a mild venom in their back fangs.
Expected Weekly Dedication: 1 hour minimum
With a pet hognose snake, regular chores include preparing food, replacing water, and spot-cleaning. The water bowl should be kept fresh and clean at all times and disinfected at least once a week.
The amount and frequency of spot-cleaning required will depend on whether your enclosure is bioactive or not. We'll cover these respective chores in the Enclosure Enrichment section.
- Tolerant of common beginner errors
- Simple care requirements
- Smaller enclosure size
Things to be aware of:
- Can be picky eaters
- Brumation recommended
- Mildly venomous
- UVB strongly recommended
The average hognose snake requires a 20 to 40 gallon ″long,″ preferably larger. Enclosure size depends on the snake's length.
Reptiles aren’t like dogs and cats that can simply roam around your house. They are very sensitive to their environment, and need their own enclosure set up according to their specific needs. This guide covers everything you will need to care for your pet hognose snake properly.
Enclosure Size Requirements
Here is a formula for calculating a hognose snake’s bare minimum space needs:
Enclosure Width ≥ snake length
Enclosure Length ≥ ½ snake length
Enclosure Height ≥ ½ snake length
However, if you can provide an enclosure with more height or floor space, do it! Housing your snake in a larger enclosure will encourage it to be more active and demonstrate more natural behaviors.
Can multiple hognose snakes be housed in the same enclosure?
No - cohabiting two or more hognoses is not recommended or necessary. While hognoses are not considered a particularly territorial species, they do live solitary lives in the wild. Cohabitation will most likely cause unnecessary stress for the snakes if attempted.
Hognose Snake Enclosure Examples
”Bioactive Arid Vivarium” by Connor Long, CC BY-SA 4.0
Substrate is the material that you use to cover the floor of the enclosure. This aspect of the enclosure is important for hognose snakes because it encourages natural behaviors and contributes to overall humidity levels. Hognoses are burrowing snakes, so they require at least 3-5” of loose substrate to dig around in.
One of the best substrates for hognoses is a DIY mix of roughly 70% untreated topsoil + 30% play sand. Mix well, soak until muddy, then pack it firmly at the bottom of the enclosure. Make sure it is 100% dry before introducing the snake to the setup.
You can also use a pre-packaged substrate, though this can be more costly. Depending on the brand, you may still need to add some topsoil (if too dusty) or sand (if too moist/dense) to reach desired consistency. Here are some recommended commercial substrates appropriate for hognose snakes:
Another option is a bioactive setup. Bioactive enclosure setups are designed to mimic a reptile’s natural environment and stimulate natural behaviors. All above substrates can easily support bioactivity with the addition of a “cleanup crew” of isopods and springtails that clean up uneaten food, fallen leaves, and fecal remains, making bioactive substrates incredibly low maintenance.
Aspen is a very popular, cheap, and easy substrate for hognose snakes. While aspen doesn’t hold burrows or moisture as well as a naturalistic substrate, molds easily, and can be dusty, it is perfectly safe if properly sourced and maintained. We recommend using a good brand like Zilla or Zoo Med, wetting the aspen down, and baking it at a low temp to help reduce dust.
Unsafe Substrates for Hognose Snakes
These substrates are particularly bad for hognose snakes because they pose major health risks or restrict natural behaviors. Avoid the following substrates at all costs and stick to the list in the previous section.
- Pine/fir/cedar - irritates eyes/lungs & can cause neurological damage
- Coconut fiber - doesn't hold burrows, too humid when wet, dusty when dry
- Gravel - doesn't hold humidity, harbors bacteria, & very abrasive
- Reptile carpet - can't burrow, harbors bacteria, doesn't hold humidity
- Shelf liner - produces dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
- Paper/other solid substrates - don't allow the snake to burrow
When you first bring your new hognose snake home, you will need to quarantine for at least 1 month. This means keeping the enclosure as sterile as possible and closely monitoring the animal's health.
Paper towels are the best substrate for quarantine, as they can be frequently replaced and make it easier to observe feces and other potential health issues. Paper towels should be fully replaced at least once a week and any soiled areas must be replaced daily. Once your snake has shown a clean bill of health, you can introduce your long-term substrate to the enclosure.
If you already have other reptiles in your home, you should extend the quarantine period to 3 months, keep the enclosure in a separate room if possible, and make sure not to share any tools or decor between your new snake and other pets, unless fully sanitized between each use.
Hognose snakes should not be kept on paper towels for any longer than the quarantine period. They are a burrowing species and need loose substrate for both their physical and mental health.
Reptiles are much more intelligent than we humans tend to give them credit for, and that means they need things to entertain them. Otherwise they exist in a state of perpetual boredom, which makes them dull, inactive, and overall less interesting as pets. When reptiles have objects to interact with in their enclosure, they become less stressed and more engaged with their environment. This practice is called environmental enrichment.
It’s important to choose enrichment items (a.k.a. enclosure decor) that are appropriate to your pet’s natural behaviors. Here are some objects that serve a vital function in a hognose snake terrarium:
Heavy water dish
Your hognose’s water dish should be large enough to accommodate at least most of the snake’s body, and heavy enough that it can’t be tipped over.
A hide is a cave-like structure where your snake can hide and snooze in security. Hognoses should have at least 2 hides, one on the warm side and one on the cool side. You can also provide a humid hide lined with moist sphagnum moss to make shedding easier.
Excellent for varying the terrain and giving your snake things to climb. Should be thick and sturdy enough for the snake to climb on without shifting. Particularly tall/long branches may need to be anchored to the sides and/or floor of the enclosure. If you collect wood from outside, give it a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC &/or bake in the oven at 250°F for about an hour.
Hollow logs/Cork tubes
Hollow logs are like branches and hides in one package. They’re also very attractive, especially cork rounds. Cork also offers a third advantage by having a rough surface for snakes to rub against while shedding.
Rocks and stacked stones
Rocks add to the naturalistic appeal of an enclosure, and absorb heat when placed close to your heat source, creating additional basking spots. If you choose to use rocks in your enclosure, be sure to bury them into the substrate so your snake can’t burrow underneath them and get accidentally crushed. If you collect rocks from outside, give them a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC. NEVER bake rocks, as they may explode!
Artificial or live plants can provide more coverage and make the enclosure look nice. Live plants can be tricky with hognose snakes, as their water needs can drive humidity too high, and snakes like to crush and/or uproot the plants. However, some succulents (spineless cacti) are hardy enough to do well in hognose enclosures. Make sure to wash artificial plants before using. Any live plants should be nontoxic and suited to a dry environment. If you have live plants, consider installing a 6500K daylight lamp to help them grow and flourish.
Grass is another way to make your enclosure look more like the grasslands that wild hognoses call home. Wild hognoses are actually frequently found hiding in knots of dead grass. In your enclosure, live grasses can increase humidity and provide hiding space; dried grasses just look great!
Leaf litter provides additional cover for your hognose to hide and burrow in. Leaves can be collected from an untainted woodland near your home or purchased online. Make sure to bake gathered leaves in your oven at 200°F/100°C for 1 hour to kill microbes.
How do I keep my enclosure clean?
To control the growth of pathogens and keep your hognose snake’s enclosure hygienic and odor-free, it’s important to clean it regularly.
Spot-cleaning should be performed daily. This is the routine removal of feces, urates, uneaten food, and contaminated substrate. Soiled surfaces and water dishes should be scrubbed with reptile-safe disinfectant and rinsed at least weekly. Substrate should be completely removed and replaced every 4-6 months, depending on how diligent you are about spot-cleaning. This is also a good time to clean the enclosure with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC or chlorhexidine.
If you have a bioactive enclosure, “cleaning” will be more like periodic maintenance: watering the plants, adding biodegradables, and feeding the CUC as needed. Substrate does not need to be replaced. Some spot-cleaning will still be required for urates and soiled surfaces. Water dishes should be disinfected weekly.
Hognose snakes need 2 types of lamps in their enclosure: Cluster heat lamps (required) and a UVB lamp (strongly recommended)
UVB is important for healthy metabolism, specifically vitamin D synthesis and calcium metabolism, improving skin health, and strengthening the immune system. UVB can be replaced with an oral vitamin D3 supplement for hognose snakes, but this method is less effective and more difficult to regulate, so we strongly recommend using a proper UV lamp instead.
UVA is beneficial to eyesight and is sensed by their pineal gland to regulate a circadian rhythm. UVA is emitted by both UV lamps and halogen bulbs. UV lamps are especially likely to be beneficial to hognoses since they are naturally most active during the day.
Infrared radiation (i.e. heat) is important for reptiles' thermoregulation. As ectotherms, they rely on the heat of the sun to warm their bodies and stimulate their metabolism, digest their food, and stay alert and active. The shorter the wavelength, the deeper it can penetrate their muscle tissue. In captivity, we can provide this with specific heat bulbs that emit the most beneficial infrared wavelengths (IR-A and IR-B).
All light and heat should be kept on a regular schedule using outlet timers or done manually. This allows for a predictable day/night cycle which the snake can follow, allowing for natural hormonal rhythms and good mental health. We recommend the following schedule for hognose snakes, based on their natural environment:
Hognose snakes need UVB in order to stay healthy - they may be burrowers, but they are still diurnal reptiles. They are capable of surviving in captivity without UVB if they receive sufficient supplementary vitamin D3 in their diet, but simply surviving is not thriving. D3 supplement dosing is extremely imprecise and less efficiently absorbed by the body. Experts don't know much vitamin D3 hognose snakes actually need, but they do know how much UVB is needed for them to self-regulate their own D3 production, so providing a UV lamp is far more natural and beneficial to promote optimum health.
Hognose snakes should have a 5-7% UVB output T5 lamp or a 10% UVB output T8 lamp. We recommend Arcadia or Zoo Med brand linear fluorescent tubes, as these brands produce the best and most reliable UV lamps on the market. The lamp should be roughly ½ to ⅔ the width of the enclosure and placed on the same side as the heat lamp. So if you have a 36” long enclosure, you will need a 18-24” bulb.
Best UVB bulbs for hognose snakes:
Distance and Mesh
The strength of the UVB lamp’s output varies according to distance from the bulb - stronger when closer, and weaker when further away. If you are using a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure your UVB lamp’s output, the UVI (UV Index) reading should be between 2.0-3.0 on the basking platform and down to 0 on the cool side. Otherwise, here is a rough estimate of how far away your basking platform should be, based on whether the lamp is mounted above or below mesh:
- 10-12” (through mesh)
- 12-15” (without mesh obstruction)
To optimize your UVB bulb’s performance, you will need a high-quality reflective fixture. Some lamps come in kits that already include a fixture, such as the Arcadia ProT5 kit or Zoo Med 5.0 T5HO kit. Otherwise, Zoo Med and Vivarium Electronics make various fixtures for both T5 and T8 bulbs.
T5 bulbs last 12 months before requiring replacement, as their UVB output decays over time. Off-brand UVB bulbs are likely to have shorter lifespans and unreliable output. Avoid “compact” and coil UVB bulbs, as these cannot properly distribute a UV gradient across the enclosure.
Hognose snakes are reptiles, which means that they are ectothermic, or cold-blooded. Ectotherms need access to a variety of temperatures within a certain range in order to properly regulate their metabolism. Your temperature needs will vary based on the subspecies of hognose snake:
- Basking area surface: 90-95°F
- Warm side ambient: 85-90°F
- Cool side ambient: 70-75°F
- Nighttime: 65-75°F, but no colder than 60°F
Eastern and Southern hognose:
- Basking area surface: 86-88°F
- Warm side ambient: 80-85°F
- Cool side ambient: 70-75°F
- Nighttime: 65-75°F, but no colder than 60°F (65°F for Southern)
All basking heat and lights should be turned off at night and kept on a regular day/night cycle that matches the same schedule as the UVB and daylight lamps, allowing for a natural temperature drop and a healthy circadian rhythm.
The best way to create a nice hot basking area for your hognose snake is with a cluster of at least two low-wattage halogen flood heat bulbs, such as:
The exact wattage that will work best for you varies based on the distance between the bulb and the basking platform, as well as local room temperature. Using a dimming thermostat or an on/off thermostat with a plug-in dimmer allows you to adjust it to the right temperature and keep your snake safe. Keep in mind that all heat sources should be regulated by a thermostat, so for a cluster of lamps, you will either need separate thermostats for each fixture or a multi-outlet thermostat like the Herpstat2. Place the thermostat probe directly on the basking surface below the heat source.
You will also need a lamp to put your bulbs in. You can use several separate dome lamps, a combo dome, or internally mounted fixtures, as long as they have a ceramic socket to make sure that the bulb doesn’t get too hot for the lamp (risking electrical fire).
Unsafe Heat Sources
These heat sources are particularly dangerous to hognose snakes because they can pose major health risks and cause stress. Avoid the following heat sources at all costs and stick to the bulbs we recommend above.
❌ Heat mats
Many keepers still use heat mats for hognoses, but we strongly recommend against this. Nature doesn’t have heat mats, and for fossorial species, temperatures underground tend to be cooler than those on the surface, not warmer. Heat mats also have trouble penetrating the thick layer of substrate required for hognoses and do not affect air temperature.
❌ Colored bulbs
Red, blue, purple, and other colored light bulbs are inappropriate for almost all reptiles. They can wash out your snake’s vision and make it harder to hunt. In fact, blue lights are known to potentially damage reptiles’ eyes!
❌ “Nighttime” bulbs
The idea that reptiles can't see red, purple, or “black” light is a myth! They may not be able to see the color, but they can still see the light. Using any lights at night can interfere with your snake’s day/night cycle, causing stress and poor health.
❌ “Multipurpose” bulbs
Mercury vapor bulbs and other heat+UVB combination bulbs (Zoo Med PowerSun, Exo Terra Solar Glo) are overpowered and inappropriate for crepuscular snakes, who need a higher heat to UVB ratio than other diurnal species. These bulbs can't be used with thermostats and can easily burn your snake, so it's much safer to provide and control your heat and UVB separately.
❌ Heat rocks
Heat rocks (also known as hot rocks/rock heaters/etc.) are notoriously unreliable and many reptiles have lost their lives due to severe burns caused by these devices. They’re also not a good choice for heating your enclosure, as it only warms the rock’s surface, not the surrounding air.
To track the temperatures in your hognose snake's enclosure, you will need a good thermometer. Temp gun-style infrared thermometers are useful for measuring surface temperatures anywhere in the enclosure. However, digital probe thermometers are useful for being able to track local air temperatures at a glance. It's best to have at least 2 thermometers to measure temps on each end of the heat gradient. Here are some devices we recommend for measuring temperatures:
Western hognoses need relatively dry conditions (30-50% humidity), while Eastern and Southern hognoses prefer slightly higher humidity (50-60%), especially when they’re about to shed. A simple hand mister can be used to bump up humidity when it drops below the required range. Proper loose substrate, an adequately sized water bowl, good cross-ventilation, and overhead heating will all help to stabilize the enclosure's humidity levels.
These humidity ranges are probably similar to the levels in your own home, but it’s still important to keep track of the specific humidity in your snake's enclosure. You can measure humidity with a hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Combo Gauge linked in the Measuring Temperature section.
Hygrometers should be placed within 12” above the substrate towards the middle of the enclosure to give you an accurate idea of average humidity levels (or one on either side if using a thermo/hygro combo meter).
For best health, hognose snakes should be cooled and allowed to brumate for 2-3 months each winter.
Brumation is the reptile equivalent of mammalian hibernation in which reptiles over 1 year old experience a natural metabolic slowdown during the coldest months in their natural environment. This is a perfectly normal part of your snake's annual cycle, and some sources assert that providing a regular winter cooling period to captive reptiles results in healthier, longer-lived animals.
- Less active than usual
- Loss of appetite
- Hiding for weeks at a time
- Preferring the cool side of the enclosure
For more information on how to brumate your hognose safely and effectively, go here.
Hognose snakes are carnivores, which means that they require a diet of whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need.
Here is a basic feeding schedule for pet hognose snakes:
Prey items should be the same diameter as the snake’s head, no larger. As the snake grows, gradually increase the size of the prey.
Although mice are the most commonly available feeders, hognose snakes need to eat more than just rats and mice to truly thrive. Wild Western hognoses eat primarily toads and very rarely eat mammals or birds. The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet snake is variety. Here are some good feeder options for a varied diet:
Recommended Hognose Feeders:
- African clawed frogs
- Cane toads
- Cuban tree frogs
- Redback salamanders
- Gray treefrogs
- Quail eggs
- Green anoles
- Dropped gecko tails
- Young rats
We strongly recommend offering frozen-thawed prey, rather than live. This is much safer for the snake, as they can be seriously injured by live animals. Frozen prey should be slowly thawed in the fridge overnight, then about 15-30 minutes before offering, seal it in a BPA-free plastic bag like a Ziploc and submerge in warm, almost hot, water until the prey reaches about 100°F/38°C. Hognoses are more visually-dependent than some other snakes, so you may need to wiggle the feeder around to get them to strike. Use soft-tipped feeding tweezers to protect your snake's teeth.
All prey should be captive bred. Don’t feed your snake animals from the wild — this can make them sick! Here are some sites we recommend to buy safe, captive-bred, frozen feeders:
What if my hognose snake won't eat?
Hognoses are notoriously picky eaters. Even if a young snake starts out well, it may refuse food during breeding season, if your husbandry is off, or for seemingly no reason at all. If you have a picky hognose, here are some techniques recommended by our breeder Sunfish Exotics that can help with a hunger strike:
Scenting — Dipping the feeder into different “scents” in can incite a feeding response from the hognose. You can use one or mix several together, whatever your snake responds to! Some recommended scents are:
• ”Frog Juice” from Reptilinks
• Juice from canned tuna
• Juice from canned chicken
• Chicken broth (unsalted)
• Juice from canned vienna sausages
Braining — Piercing or slicing the head of the feeder to expose brain tissue, releasing a more intense prey odor.
Using a smaller container — Placing the hognose and the feeder in a deli cup or paper bag overnight can sometimes encourage them to eat. Do not remove the snake from their enclosure, just put the snake and prey into the container and place it inside the enclosure.
Variety — Changing feeder size, feeder type, or combining several of the above techniques can all help. Get to know your snake and get creative!
We do not recommend assist-feeding or force-feeding without the instruction of either a breeder or vet who can decide if it’s necessary and walk you through the process. It is rarely necessary to assist or force feed hognoses.
Calcium and Vitamin Supplements
While in theory, hognose snakes should get all the nutrition they need from whole prey, captive-bred feeder animals can be inferior to their wild counterparts when it comes to nutrition. You should lightly dust prey items occasionally with calcium or vitamin supplement to help fill in the gaps in your snake’s diet. Here is a basic supplement schedule:
Calcium: every feeding
Multivitamin: mixed 50/50 with calcium every other feeding
Calcium: every feeding
Multivitamin: mixed 50/50 with calcium every 4th feeding
Best Calcium for Hognose Snakes
The type of calcium you need will depend on whether or not you provide UVB. Without UVB, your snake cannot make its own vitamin D3, so it must be provided through a supplement. Choose only 1 of the following options, depending on your lighting:
Hognose snakes with UVB:
Hognose snakes without UVB:
Best Multivitamins for Hognose Snakes
Keeping Your Hognose Snake Hydrated
Keep a large, heavy bowl of water in the enclosure at all times, big enough to accommodate the snake's entire body for soaking as desired. Keep the water clean and fresh at all times. At least once a week, scrub the bowl with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC or chlorhexidine before refilling.
Do not use distilled or softened water! Tap, spring, and even filtered water (assuming that it’s safe for humans to drink) contains minerals vital to your snake's health. You can dechlorinate tap water with a conditioner like ReptiSafe.
Taming & Handling
Snakes do not require social interaction for their mental health, but handling helps the snake stay tame and can be a good opportunity for exercise and enrichment as well.
- Wait at least two weeks for the snake to settle in before handling
- Make sure it’s awake by gently tapping it with a paper towel roll or stroking its body with a snake hook
- Approach your snake from the side
- Hold as much of its body as you can
- Wash hands before and after handling
- Start handling your snake as soon as you bring it home
- Grab it from above
- Grab the tail or restrain the head
- Let children handle the snake unsupervised
- Handle the snake within 48 hours of feeding
- Handle the snake if it’s in shed
- Let it chew on you in the event of a bite
Start handling sessions at no more than 5 minutes every few days. After a couple weeks of this, gradually work your way up to longer periods of time more frequently. Once this has been accomplished, you can work up to 10 minutes, and then gradually longer from there.
Hognose snake handling can occur up to 1-2x weekly, but no more than once daily. Note that Easterns and Southerns may be more defensive/flighty than Westerns, so it’s better to restrict handling sessions to 1x/week for them.
Hognose snakes are rear-fanged venomous snakes, and while their venom isn't usually medically significant to humans, it should still be taken seriously. The venom can't kill, but it can cause pain and swelling if you're allergic to it. This is especially the case if you allow the snake to chew on you for a prolonged period, which produces more venom. If you are worried about getting bitten, wear a thick pair of leather gloves or similar during handling.
Hognose Snake Body Language
Hognose snakes have a variety of body language cues. When you learn to understand these cues, you can understand your pet’s mood and needs better, and react accordingly.
Tongue flicking in and out — Snake is “smelling” the air. This is how it knows when prey or a human is nearby. Also signals that the snake is awake.
No movement or tongue flicking — Snake is probably asleep (they don’t have eyelids to close). Approach with caution.
Puffing up, flattening the body behind the head, and loud hissing— Snake feels threatened and is preparing to defend itself if necessary. May also be preparing to strike at prey. Snake is telling you to “go away.”
Playing-dead —Defensive act.
Musking/defecating during handling — Snake perceives you as a predator, and uses poo or an unpleasant-smelling musk to try to get away.
Clouded/bluish eyes — Snake is preparing to shed. May be extra defensive because it can’t see well.
Here are some common health problems to look out for:
Hognose snakes can suffer from a variety of health problems including: abrasions dehydration, mites, obesity and respiratory infections. If your hognose snake is displaying potential symptoms of illness, it’s important to take them to an experienced reptile veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment. Do not try to treat them at home, as you could make the problem worse!
Signs of a healthy hognose snake:
- Clear eyes
- Eats regularly
- Moves freely and easily
Signs of an unhealthy hognose snake:
- Clouded eye(s)
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal shedding
- Excessive weight gain
- Rapid weight loss
- Bubbly/stringy saliva