I Want a Pet Reptile, What Do I Do?

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Reptiles make amazing pets!  Not only are they easy to care for and hypoallergenic, they are also unique and fun creatures to learn about and interact with.  It can be intimidating getting started and many people find themselves confused and looking for help.  This article will provide you with some help as you begin your journey into keeping reptiles and amphibians.


1.  Research! Research! Research!


When it comes to keeping reptiles and amphibians, the care for every species is different.  It is important to make sure that you’ve researched as much as you can to find out the best ways to care for your new pet.  You’ll want to know the answers to some important questions like:


  • What is the Basking Temperature needed for this species?
  • Does this species need UVB lighting? (All reptiles benefit from UVB/UVA lighting, but many need it in order to be healthy and to live their lives full-term)
  • What humidity range should the cage stay in?
  • What does this species eat, and do I have access to food?
  • How long does this species live, and can I care for it for its entire life?
  • How large does it get as an adult, and will I have the room to give it the space it needs?
  • Is this species known for being something that I can handle?
  • What type of bedding should the cage have?
  • What size cage do I need and what things are best for decorating it?


Many times we go to the internet to answer these questions, but make sure to look in more places than just online.  There are numerous books available that are written by experienced keepers and can be as good of a resource as any.  Also look to reptile and amphibian magazines and other periodicals pertaining to care of these animals.  Another great resource is your local herpetological society.  These are organizations dedicated to educating the general public about reptiles and amphibians and are generally made up of hobbyists and experts willing to share with anyone who is interested in learning more.


2.  Get Everything You Need First


While you may want to buy that new gecko right now, you’ll want to make sure and wait.  It is important to get all of the equipment you need in order to care for your new pet before you get the animal.  Setting up the terrarium and checking basking temperatures and humidity are important things to do first.  This way if you need to make any adjustments, you can do so before the animal is in the terrarium.  Many times injuries, such as burns from lights, happen when the reptile basking spot is too hot and wasn’t checked before introducing the animal to its new home.  Being that reptiles and amphibians are cold blooded, it is also important to make sure you have a warm habitat ready for them.  The longer they stay at room temperature or cooler, the more possible it is that they can get sick.


3. Everything Needs the Sun


It’s not 100% possible to perfectly mimic nature made sunlight in a reptile’s habitat, we can provide them with proper heating and lighting that they need for survival and health.  UVA/UVB bulbs are extremely important in the natural behaviors and health of our cold blooded friends.  UVA is directly related to the natural instincts, eating and breeding habits, immune system strength, and day/night cycles of these animals.  UVB is critical in helping with the synthesis of vitamin D3 and the metabolizing of calcium.  Without UVB, most animals are unable to metabolize and use the calcium they receive in their diets.


4. Don’t Forget the Vitamins


Reptiles and amphibians in the wild will eat a variety of plants and prey items which give them a wide variety of nutrients.  In captivity their choices are limited to what we have access to.  Because of this, it’s important to supplement their food with calcium and vitamin supplements.  Calcium is a critical part of a reptile and amphibian’s diet, as it is important in the growth of bones and in the health of their neurological system.  Without calcium they become hypocalcaemic and eventually develop Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism.  This results in deformities, paralysis, and eventually death.


5.  Find a Local Reptile Veterinarian


We never want to think of our new pet as getting sick, but just like any living thing, they have the possibility of becoming ill.  If and when that happens, you’ll want to have a veterinarian lined up that specializes in exotic pets.  The best way to find one is by visiting the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians website under “Contact” and clicking on Find a Vet.  This will help you find a knowledgeable reptile and amphibian veterinarian in your area.  Once you’ve purchased your new pet, set up an appointment within 7 days for an evaluation and fecal analysis for identifying common parasites and other potential health issues.  These professionals are also a very good resource for asking questions about care and husbandry of your new reptile or amphibian.


When you are just getting started, you’ll have a lot of questions.  To reiterate, a quick internet search can often help you get an answer, but other times it may cause more confusion.  Never be afraid to ask questions.  Join as many groups as you can online and in person in order to have a platform for getting help.  Check out books from libraries, search scientific articles online, and never stop learning.  The more you learn about your new pet, where it comes from, and how to mimic that environment in captivity, the more successful you’ll be at keeping these incredible creatures.


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