How to Verify if a Snake is Dead (How Veterinarians Check)

A cold, unmoving snake can be a scary sight for a pet owner. However, snakes sometimes go through hibernation, and a lack of movement is not always bad. Telling the difference between a hibernating snake and a dead snake can be difficult.

A snake is dead when it no longer responds to touch. While its eyes may be open and its colors still bright, the snake has passed away if touching it gets no response. Pick up the snake to see if it is limp. Before burying a snake, check with a veterinarian to be sure the snake is dead.

This article will dive into more information on snake hibernation and if your snake may have passed away. carefully read this information to find out if your snake has died or is simply hibernating.

Knowing the Difference

A dead snake will still have its eyes open. Snakes don’t have eyelids, and won’t look any different when dead. Their colors and patterns will still be bright and vibrant. A dead snake may not smell at all, unless it has been dead for a while.

A healthy snake, even when sleeping or hibernating, will respond to touch. If you pick up a healthy snake, it will hold itself up and move its head. A constrictor snake will try to wrap around your hand for balance.

This video from Snakes for Pets gives good tips on figuring out if your snake is dead or hibernating. Questions about hibernation, including fatigue and changes in appetite, are answered throughout the video. It emphasizes that the best indicator of death is the age of the snake.


Not all snakes hibernate. Snakes from colder climates are prone to hibernation, while snakes from warmer climates are not. When a snake hibernates, it lies still for days at a time. Much of this time is spent sleeping, though the snake has its eyes open.

Some snakes go through a period similar to hibernation called brumation. A snake moves around in brumation but is sluggish and slow.

During both hibernation and brumation, a snake may seem to be dead. It will stop eating. Snakes stop eating during hibernation because their bodies don’t need food. The change in appetite is completely normal.

This video from SnakeBytesTV can help you make sure your snake is in a healthy hibernation. While your snake is hibernating, you may need to feed it less and lower the temperature of its environment. Depending on the species of your snake, hibernation can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Healthy Snakes

Unlike a dead snake, a healthy snake is easy to spot. Healthy snakes are relatively active and have good appetites. They may be cold or still, but will move again within a few hours to a few days.

Your snake’s poop can also be a good indicator of your snake’s health. Healthy snakes not in hibernation will defecate every 3-7 days. An increase or decrease in poop can be a sign of an unhealthy snake. However, keep in mind your snake may be in hibernation if they stop defecating. A veterinarian can confirm whether or not your snake is hibernating.

A healthy snake will always respond to your touch. If the snake was asleep, it may be startled and confused when touched. Still, a healthy snake will always respond to your touch or your approach. It will lift its head or move around, observing its surroundings.

Signs of a Sick Snake

A sick snake will show signs of sickness before it dies. Many snake diseases are curable and a trip to a vet will extend their life by years. Go to a veterinarian if you suspect your snake is ill.

  • Breathing problems: If your snake is breathing through its mouth instead of its nose, it likely has an infection. The infection could be in the respiratory system or could be mouth rot. Consult a veterinarian for treatment.
  • Abnormal posture: Snakes choose their own posture, sitting however they are comfortable. If you put your snake in an uncomfortable position and the snake can’t change the position, there is something wrong. When snakes have difficulty moving, it can be a sign of Inclusion Body Disease, or IBD. This condition is mostly fatal.
  • Discharge: Snakes rarely have any discharge normally. Besides defecation, your snake shouldn’t have discharge. Mucus or goop streaming from the eyes, ears, mouth, or nose can be a sign of infection.
  • Increased or decreased defection: If your snake starts pooping more often, or stops pooping at all (and isn’t hibernating), the snake is likely sick. Check that the snake hasn’t started hibernation. If the snake is not in hibernation, consult a veterinarian.
  • Stargazing for long periods of time: Often, snakes look up to the sky, lifting their upper body in the air. This is known as stargazing. Stargazing every so often is fine for snakes, but long periods of stargazing can indicate the snake is in pain. Pictured below is a snake stargazing. If your snake does this for long periods of time, something is wrong.

Signs of Old Age

The best indicator of whether or not a snake is dead is its age. Some snakes live up to 40 years while others live only 10 years. The lifespan of the snake depends on the species. Do research to determine how long your snake is expected to live.

You can tell if your snake is reaching death from old age in a few ways. First, if your snake is large and has a lot of growth scars, the snake is getting old. Snakes never stop growing, even in old age, so a large snake is an old snake.

Second, the snake’s colors will begin to fade. The colors don’t fade after death, but old snakes will turn a grayish color before death. Their pattern may become less pronounced. The colors might fade into each other at spots, turning those spots into a muddy gray color.

Watch for signs that your snake is getting older. Knowing a snake is reaching the end of its life can help you with the grieving process. Remember that a snake dying of old age is rare in the wild. If your snake is dying of old age after being your pet, its life has been good.

Carolina Pieters

I'm Carolina and created this blog, to provide practical advice and emotional comfort for those dealing with pet loss.

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