How to Care for Your Elderly Reptile

south american horned frog (ceratophrys) sitting on small rocks under a log

Life Span

While some reptiles have a relatively short lifestyle, others can live for a very long time. Some large lizards can live for 20 to 40 years, and some tortoises can live over 100 years. For the most part, reptiles often live longer in captivity provided all their needs continue to be met. What many people don’t realize is that as your pet gets older some of their needs can change.

These tips will help you care for your aging reptile by helping you notice signs of age and addressing any shortcomings your pet may have.

Signs of Age in Reptiles

Most reptiles have evolved to effectively hide signs of age due to the fact in the wild their age would mark them as easy prey. Once you learn how to spot the signs you can start taking action to accommodate for any troubles you pet may be having.

Physical signs to look for:

- Claws and beaks may grow out as your reptile becomes less active and stops naturally wearing them down on items in the terrarium.
- The pigmentation of your pet may appear worn as the years go on, this is common for many different types of animals.
- Bone and muscle mass can weaken in older reptiles, if your pet seems bonier than usual it’s time to start paying closer attention to their diet.

Changes in Behavior:

- Slower reflexes, general sluggish behavior.
- You may notice a decrease in breeding, they will produce fewer young and the young that are produced will have a low viability.
- As reptiles age, they have a tendency to bask more often.

Caring for Your Aging Reptile

Caring for an older reptile isn’t that different than caring for a young one. For the most part things will be the same, you just need to give them a little extra help. A few simple adjustments in their diet or in their terrariums will help them stay healthy and relaxed.

Feeding Habits

Your pet’s eating habits may change with age. A common issue with many animals is that their appetite will lessen resulting in them losing weight, if they lose too much weight then it’s time for a change. For older snakes, it is recommended that you feed them smaller meals than normal but feed them more often. For turtles and tortoises try chopping up their food into smaller, more manageable mouthfuls. One of the most important dietary needs for reptiles in this situation is extra calcium and vitamin D3. If your pet still won’t eat, it’s time to try using supplements. Zilla’s Jump-Start is a caloric supplement and appetite stimulant. Not only is it made to help get their eating pattern back on track, it also helps with the sluggishness many elderly reptiles display. You can find an instructional video about how to use reptile supplements here.

Combating a Reptiles Weak Immune System

As with most creatures, a reptile’s immune system can weaken with age. This opens them up to being more likely to get sick and not fighting it off as well. For older reptiles UVB lighting is even more important than normal. UVB is good for reptile immune systems and keeps them feeling their best. Reptiles are aware of how much they need UVB hence the increased amount of basking. Due to their weakened immune system, they can be more vulnerable to dehydration and low humidity levels. You can combat this by misting their terrarium more often or allowing them to soak. Not only will this keep them feeling comfortable but it will help them shed as well.

Reptiles’ weakened immune system along with the fact that they may be getting less calcium in their diet means their bones and muscles will be weaker and your pet will be more susceptible to injury. To lower the risk of injury, be sure your pet’s terrarium is arranged so that they have easy access to everything. For example, adding wider, more gradual inclines to different levels in the terrarium make it harder for your pet to fall.

A change in eating habits, weakened immune systems, and other varying degrees of physical problems are all potential issues with older reptiles, but they are not guaranteed. Reptiles and amphibians are known for their resilience and are just as likely to stay strong and healthy until the day they pass from natural causes. As a pet owner, it’s good to be prepared and aware of the possibilities that come with owning your reptile of choice.

Zilla is committed to helping you build the best life for your reptiles. From creating the perfect habitat to providing resources for animal happiness and well-being. We want to be sure you have all the tools you need. Join the conversation and stay in the loop by liking us on Facebook or signing up for our monthly newsletter, the Zilla ZooLetter.