Most snakes have a keen sense of smell and are able to detect a remnant of prey species on a handler’s hands. Wash your hands thoroughly before handling snakes, especially if you were previously working with small mammals.
Wearing gloves can also help mask mammal smells that may cause a snake to strike. Although it is common practice to immediately restrain a snake’s head, this may not be necessary in mild-mannered animals; for example, ball pythons and corn snakes can usually be restrained by simply supporting their bodies with both hands. Therefore, it is important to know the species as well as the individual patient.
Constrictor species may be more likely to strike, followed by an attempt to constrict around the handler’s arms or neck. These species are best handled by controlling the head first, followed by supporting the body.
Two techniques can be used to restrain the head. One is to place the thumb on the ventral mandible while the fingers are placed on top of the head, using the pinky finger to support the neck. This technique may be better suited to larger, more active snakes.
The second, which is useful for smaller or more docile snakes, is to simply hold the head or neck from the sides without exerting pressure on the dorsal or ventral aspects (Figure 1). In larger constrictors, a firmer grip may be required.
Figure 1. It is possible to restrain a snake by holding the neck from the lateral aspect with the thumb and forefinger. This technique applies little to no pressure to the trachea. This snake had obvious stomatitis, which would require debridement of the area and lead to direct exposure to bacterial and/or fungal organisms; hence gloves are worn.