Reptiles are unique and require specialized caging, heating, humidity, maintenance, diets and more. It is best to research the species and general care requirements before bringing home one of these cold-blooded animals.
They do not require the same level of human interaction as furry pets, but some do require some form of behavioral training. Most importantly, they need annual wellness examinations.
Choosing a Reptile
The world of reptiles is vast, and each species has its own unique care needs. You’ll want to do some research about the animal you are considering to determine how it will fit into your lifestyle. You’ll also need to learn about its diet, caging requirements, expected lifespan and more.
Many pet reptiles are easy to care for, but it’s important to choose one that’s appropriate for your level of experience. Beginner-friendly reptiles include milk snakes, corn snakes and rosy boas. For lizards, try the bearded dragon or leopard gecko.
Some reptiles are carnivores, while others are insectivores or omnivores. If you are choosing a carnivore, be sure to use only commercially-sourced critters that are pre-killed and treated to eliminate the risk of parasites and disease. Insectivores are a bit more complicated as they are typically fed a diet of crickets, beetles, flies, worms or other insects that must be “gut loaded” with healthy additives for maximum nutrition.
All reptiles need to be examined by a veterinarian at least once per year for early detection of diseases and other health issues. Be sure to choose a vet with knowledge and experience of reptiles. During exams, chemical restraint (sedation or anesthesia) may be necessary to prevent the reptile from injuring itself or the veterinary staff. The sedation and anesthesia must be administered by a veterinarian who is certified to perform these procedures.
Choosing a Cage or Enclosure
Reptiles are prone to certain health problems, like internal parasites, that can be difficult to treat without the help of a veterinarian. This is why having a clean cage or enclosure is so important. A buildup of feces, mud and rotting debris can lead to infections and even death for your pet reptile.
Cages can be purchased at most pet stores, but it is best to choose one that is the same size as your reptile’s natural habitat. This will give it a sense of security and comfort. Some reptiles require a lot of room for their habitat, while others are more content to live in a smaller enclosure.
Once you have a cage, the next step is to deck it out with all of the nontoxic supplies that will make your pet feel at home. Reptiles love to explore and hide, so providing them with a variety of places to do both is important. This could include logs, rocks and other types of climbing surfaces for arboreal species, or leaf litter and other hiding spots for terrestrial or terrarium pets.
It is also a good idea to supply your pet with an artificial or natural source of heat to simulate the environment of its native climate. Most pet stores will have ceramic infrared emitters, or you can use a hot bulb with a reflector hood to create the perfect amount of indirect light and warmth for your reptile.
Choosing a Diet
Reptiles have unique dietary needs that must be addressed to maintain their health. Depending on the species, these can be met with prepared foods or a combination of fresh and specific insects (like hornworms) and pellets. Choosing the right diet will help keep your pet healthy and ensure that they remain active and interesting.
Carnivorous reptiles need a high protein and low oxalate diet of whole prey. The best options are crickets, worms, and grubs that have been “gut loaded” with high nutritive ingredients. In addition, you can also feed them whole meats like fish and chicken thighs.
Herbivorous reptiles need a balanced diet of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits. In addition, they can be fed some commercial kibble or grass hay that is supplemented with calcium and vitamins. A small amount of fresh, chopped herbs can also be served.
A well-cared for reptile can live up to 30 years or more in captivity. Choosing the right enclosure, food, and veterinarian can help your reptile stay happy and healthy for as long as possible. Only handle your reptile when necessary, and be sure to wash your hands before and after handling them. This will reduce the risk of transferring germs to the animal that could cause illness or infection. You should also avoid handling them when they are shedding. This can lead to improper or irregular shedding patterns and cause your reptile to become itchy or uncomfortable.
Choosing a Veterinarian
It’s important to choose a veterinarian who has experience treating reptiles. Although a regular veterinarian may be competent enough to give a routine exam or to treat a few common reptile ailments, the day will likely come when your pet requires the care of someone well-versed in the unique conditions and illnesses of the specific species. Choosing a veterinarian who is qualified to treat your reptile can make the difference between life and death for your pet.
Just like dogs and cats, reptiles need routine veterinary examinations to maintain their health. A vet can help educate owners, recommend at-home care changes, and perform preventative testing to detect problems before they worsen. Because reptiles hide symptoms of illness, it is especially important to have a detailed record-keeping system. Regular veterinary visits can also help you spot your pet’s behavioral or dietary changes before they become serious health concerns.
Reptiles tend to have fewer health problems than other pets, but they are not self-sufficient creatures. They require food, water, a clean cage, and a veterinary doctor who understands their needs. A good place to start is by visiting your local reptile specialty center or asking for a referral from a current client. The internet may also reveal a list of qualified veterinarians who treat reptiles in your area. It’s also possible to find a vet locator tool on the websites of several search engines.