Though cats and dogs are by far the most common pets we see at our veterinary hospital, we still see plenty of patients with scales instead of fur. Responsible reptile owners know that our cold-blooded friends are far from low maintenance pets. Reptiles may not need daily walks, but they still require thorough, knowledgeable care throughout their lifetime. And depending on the species, your reptile could grow quite large or live for more than 20 years!
Whenever you get a new pet, it’s important to know exactly what to expect so you can prepare to give them the best life possible. Here are some of the basics of pet care for reptiles that you should know.
Common Pet Reptiles
Depending on the variety, snakes can live for decades and grow more than 5-feet long. They require at least a 30-gallon tank and frequent checkups from your local veterinarian, plus fresh water and a spotless environment with strictly controlled daytime and nighttime temperatures. Most snakes are carnivorous, and they are susceptible to a variety of parasites as well as blister disease, respiratory and digestive disorders, and mouth rot.
Green iguanas are some of the most frequently abandoned pets, most likely because people find out too late what is required to care for them. A properly cared-for and socialized iguana can live for more than 20 years and grow to be more than 6 feet long. The enclosure for a full-grown iguana should be at least 18 feet long, humidified, and maintained at a particular temperature with specific timetables for darkness and ultraviolet light. They are also strict vegans and their diets are limited to a very specific range of greens and fruits.
People who cannot take on the commitment of a 6-foot iguana might be interested in geckos. These small lizards can often live up to 30 years and require a very particular environment without the slightest variance in temperature. They usually feed on insects and baby mice.
Just like any other reptile, a turtle’s needs are very specific: thermostatically controlled temperatures, enough water to swim in, a large housing area, and a varied diet. The average lifespan of an aquatic turtle is 25 years, while a land tortoise could even outlive you.
Caution is Key
There is a health risk associated with owning any reptile. 70,000 people in the US contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy-looking reptiles may be carrying disease.
Pet Care for Reptiles
Before you take your pet home, make sure you have its habitat fully set up. As we mentioned earlier, most reptiles require much larger habitats than you might expect, and even small reptiles require relatively big tanks. You always want to look for a glass terrarium with a mesh or wire lid.
And since reptiles cannot regulate their own body heat, they will need temperature and brightness-regulating supplies such as:
- A humidifier
- Daytime lights and heat sources. Your reptile’s tank will need a “hot side” and a “cool side” so they can better regulate their body temperature. On the hot side, you’ll need regular lights and a good heating lamp for them to bask under.
- Nighttime lights and heat sources. On the cool side of the tank, you’ll need infrared heat lamps for nighttime use. Some reptiles also require ultraviolet light.
- Thermometers. You will need to get two thermometers, one for the hot side of the tank and one for the cooler side, to make sure your reptile can always find the right temperature.
Other things your reptile will require in their habitat:
- Hides, aka little shelters where your reptile can rest and hide from the heat
- Food and water bowls
- Bedding such as tile, newspaper, or reptile carpet
- Plants, rocks and logs, and other accessories
- Anything else your veterinarian recommends for your specific pet
As you can see, welcoming a reptile into your home is a big commitment—just like getting a cat or dog. You’ll need to carefully monitor things like temperature, humidity, and light/dark cycles. Most reptiles are also carnivores, which means you will have to feed them insects or small animals. If you have never owned a reptile before, consider making an appointment with a veterinarian or specialist to make sure you understand appropriate pet care for reptiles.
If your reptile requires medical assistance—or you just want to schedule a checkup—then give us a call at Noah’s Ark. Our veterinarians are trained in pet care for reptiles and are always happy to help.
Contact us today to schedule your pet’s next checkup and learn more about raising a happy, healthy reptile.