Hey all, I’ve had two rat snakes (one black, one everglades) for almost a year now and when I first took them to the vet for a checkup several months ago I was advised against aspen and other wood-based bedding due to possible molding and bacteria issues. She recommended I keep them on paper towels and use old t-shirts for them to burrow in. Right now I have them on reusable bamboo paper towels since I wanted to cut down on the waste. Only the black rat really likes to burrow and seems to prefer hiding over t-shirts draped over the branches in his enclosure when he’s not in one of his hides, though when I initially had him on aspen he seemed to enjoy digging around in it. The everglades is a diva who I think hasn’t noticed the change at all since his main hobby is sitting in his favorite cave and never really burrowed.
The bedding doesn’t particularly matter to me, I liked the look of the aspen much better but since the snakes don’t seem to mind it’s not a big issue. The vet said that even new unopened bags of aspen bedding have been found to have mold spores in them, but I’ve seen quite a few professional breeders/keepers use aspen or something similar. Is the risk just not that high? I haven’t read anything anywhere else that says wooden bedding is particularly dangerous.
It’s always interesting to hear when a vet says something that goes against commonly accepted knowledge in this hobby. I don’t doubt that there are probably mold spores in a lot of commonly available wood bedding. Whether they are inherently dangerous I think speaks for itself with how popular aspen is as a bedding choice and the fact that it does not generally lead to illness with its use.
I think it is important to evaluate or entertain such statements than immediately dismiss them, but I really doubt aspen is bad for snakes.
I personally don’t use aspen for a few reasons with my rat snake and probably never will. For one, she has an RI (had it before I got her) so newspaper is better to make sure everything is clean. The second is that they don’t burrow in the wild (they do hide in burrows already dug by things like groundhogs and gophers). The most they will do is go under leaf litter/plants to stay hidden and therefore don’t have the nostrils designed to keep smaller particles out (unlike sand boas and hognose).
I also don’t use aspen for my other snakes for personal health reasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if spores of some sort existed on aspen at times since it causes me issues with my asthma. Every time I would clean/change/open a bag of aspen of any kind, it would start making me not only want to sneeze, but also just not be able to breathe well in general. They say it is low dust but it is at least dusty enough to bother me, so I don’t really want to risk it with my snakes that don’t need it. Most snakes with a strong immune system would be fine with mold/fungal spores in small amounts, but if their immune system is down then it could cause an RI in rare cases.
Both the Everglades rat snake and the black rat snake are variants of the Eastern rat snake, so neither really need to burrow, but will under loose stuff if they feel they need cover. They are semi-arboreal and enjoying climbing as well. If you want to give them the ability to “burrow” without risk, use newspaper and have multiple layers, with some of the layers being raised up by making creases in them. You said your Everglades rat hides most of the time? Eastern rats are usually extremely active, so constant hiding is odd.
Any bedding has the potential to mold and develop bacteria if given the opportunity, that is where spot cleaning and throughout cleaning come into play, some bedding will require more frequent cleaning than others.
I have been using aspen for 14 years never had a bag being moldy to start with, your vet saying not to use aspen because some people have found moldy aspen in new bad if like saying don’t feed kibbles to your dogs because moldy kibbles have been found in new bags.
Can it happen? Sure if a bag in improperly stored.
With species that require lower humidity molding is a lot less likely to happen as well, in the end finding the right substrate is finding the one that for your animal and yourself based on YOUR situation.
I haven’t had a problem with aspen yet and I have to continually mist their enclosure to retain normal levels of humidity I like the look of the aspen too. Just don’t use coconut fiber.
Been using a aspen chip bedding of a specific kind for all my colubrids. It is indeed tiny tiny chips that hold shape well for burrowing and doesn’t mold easy from what I can tell so far (we all know how often colubrids poo after all). Now maybe some fibrous aspen might act differently, but somehow doubt it.
The only known issue I know of with non chipped aspen is that it’s extremely pokey and if ingested has the chance to pierce the inner workings of the snake. Had a breeder friend lose one of her snakes for this exact cause.
Old T shirts in the cage and we’re worried about aspen harboring bacteria? Regulate your humidity properly, especially for a colubrid and you’re good to go. If you see mold growing you need less misting/ more ventilation. That vet needs a check up! (Not criticizing you at all btw, I’m sure you were better off without their advice haha)
With Eastern rat snakes you should never have to mist, so they wouldn’t really have to worry about mold from moisture.
Right haha … sort of what I was getting at there. I don’t think mold should be a serious concern in a proper colubrid setup where they generally prefer things a bit more dry.
I will add though, that the vet they talked to said mold spores had been found in bags of aspen. Keyword is spores. Spores are not visible to the naked eye, though I would think there would be a chance of fungal spores too. Given we have no idea what conditions the aspen is in where it comes from, or if things could potentially get in it. But as stated, a healthy snake in most cases won’t be affected if it is in small amounts. Just like the bacteria that causes RIs is almost always present in the snake already, but only affects them if they are under stress and have a weakened immune system.
Thank you everyone for the responses! I’m sorry for radio silence, we lost power for a while and things got a little hectic. I really appreciate all the feedback, I was thinking that the risk probably wasn’t too high, but like I said it doesn’t bother me or the snakes that much so it’s not a pressing concern.
@ashleyraeanne Basically any dust makes me sneeze, I had the same with aspen As for the everglades rat, he’s always been shy. His old owner kept him in a rack system and I think he just prefers to be hidden. He has four hides in his tank but really only uses two of them. I do see him come out of his hide to crawl around sometimes, but only when I’m not moving around and I suspect he thinks he’s alone. He does come out and lay across his tank dramatically when he’s pooped in his favorite cave and wants me to clean it.
@ballpythons9 Don’t worry, “old” tshirts just means ones that aren’t worn anymore. I wash them once a week and take them out earlier than that if they’ve gotten messy.
I just meant that it seems like fabric would be a good place to harbor mold/bacteria in a reptile enclosure. But if it works and isn’t too much work for you then sure thing, to each their own.