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Changes in the outdoor temperature at every season will require you to make seasonal adjustments to the temperature and humidity controls for your reptile or amphibian. Because the tolerance ranges for herptiles are small, you'll need to keep track of the temperatures in your enclosure and make adjustments each season to make sure your animal remains comfortable year round.
Herptiles are also light sensitive. Depending on their natural activity cycle (diurnal, crepuscular or nocturnal), you may need to adjust their cycles for daylight savings time. Simply reset the timers on your lamps to match daylight hours with your pet's daylight activity schedule. Herptiles will adjust to the one-hour change without much difficulty.
Given the extreme sensitivity that most reptiles and amphibians have to temperature and lighting, owning one of these animals as a pet demands that you be prepared with power back-up systems in case of power failure. A power outage of one day could be enough to cause hypothermia (excessively cold body temperature) or hyperthermia (excessively hot body temperature) for some herptiles. You may want to build an insulation layer around your enclosure to help maintain heat in case of power failure. For smaller animals, the heat packs commonly used for camping trips can supplement environmental conditions to keep your pet warm during a power failure. However, most pet owners are prepared with either a propane heater or back-up generator to ensure their pet's safety. Surge protectors are also recommended as standard equipment for use with regular heating and lighting elements.
Some reptiles are too large or anxious for travel. Other, smaller creatures may be included in your travel plans, but that should only occur if necessary. Changes in environment, activity cycles, temperature and lighting are particularly stressful for reptiles and amphibians. If you have to travel with your pet, you will need to recreate its natural environment as closely as possible. That means you must be able to control the temperature, light, and humidity in whatever traveling cage you use. For many people, this makes traveling with a herptile impractical – and pet sitters invaluable! If a move is mandatory, be sure to talk to your veterinarian, and read up on techniques that can make the travel as stress-free as possible for your pet.
Whenever you bring home a new pet, whether they are old or young, from a known breeder or the street, always take your pet for an initial veterinary visit. The veterinarian can make sure your pet is healthy and identify any potential health problems. During the initial vet visit, your doctor will conduct some more in-depth tests to get a baseline for your pet's health. For example, with reptiles, a veterinarian may do tests to examine calcium, phosphorous, and other indicators of bone health since this is one of the most common health issues they face. Your veterinarian can also help you with periodic grooming activities, like trimming claws on lizards.
Most animals must also be vaccinated, both to maintain their own health and to prevent spreading diseases to people. Your veterinarian can explain which vaccinations are required for your pet.
Most pet owners don't breed captive reptiles and amphibians. However, spaying or neutering could have a negative effect on these animals' endocrine systems. Generally, unless an animal is experiencing a health-related problem associated with reproductive organs, spaying and neutering are not necessary procedures. However, if you do expect to breed your pet, be sure to read about the specific courting behaviors, reproductive processes and infant care for your species.
Animals are susceptible to many of the same kind of diseases humans face, such as cancers, gastrointestinal diseases and kidney failure. Among herptiles, metabolic bone disease can be a common problem, which is why it is important to supplement their diets with the vitamins and minerals needed to strengthen bone development and balance calcium and phosphorous intake.
Each species has its own health idiosyncrasies. For example, some iguana species can lose their tails and regrow them. In some herptiles, changes in skin color can be normal, while for others it may indicate an illness. It is important for you to learn about the conditions that apply to your chosen pet, however, if you observe any bleeding, paralysis or bone penetrating the skin, take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.
A zoonotic disease is one that originates with an animal but can spread to humans. Most animals have the potential of spreading zoonotic diseases. Some of your pet's required vaccinations are designed to prevent zoonotic diseases. That said,there are never any guarantees. Among reptiles and amphibians, salmonella is the zoonotic disease to watch for. Regular veterinary visits and testing will help ensure your pet's continuing health related to zoonotic diseases.
Most importantly, always wash your hands before and after handling a reptile or amphibian. In addition, after handling food, be sure to wash your hands before you touch your pet.
It is important to know whether your pet is diurnal, crepuscular, or nocturnal so you can be prepared for the time of day when s/he is most active. Careful handling of herptiles is also important; for example, when snakes are familiar with you, you can reach your hand into the terrarium slowly and grasp the snake behind its head, supporting the rest of the body with your other hand. But if you are new to a snake and need to handle it, you will need to grasp it behind the head quickly to prevent a bite.
As pets get accustomed to their new surroundings, they recognize and respond to routine. It's activities outside the routine that create added stress. Many herptiles are sensitive to light during their nighttime and are frightened by loud sounds. Your pet is likely to be uncomfortable when handled by a new person. It also takes time for reptiles and amphibians to feel safe outside of their homes, whether indoors or outdoors. To help your pet overcome these stresses, provide opportunities to expose the animal to other environments and people from the beginning. Make sure their alternate surroundings are safe, and speak calmly to your pets when you want to help them settle down.
Many herptiles are naturally curious. With claws and sometimes sharp teeth, they'll continue working at areas of their terrariums to create openings for escape. Once out of their cages, these animals will run and hide. Be sure that all doors and windows are securely closed before taking your pet out of his home, and be prepared to conduct searches until you learn its favorite hiding places.
Some herptiles, like lizards, may hiss or vocalize when they feel threatened. This is normal behavior. It is also normal for reptiles with claws and teeth to bite and scratch when they feel stressed or challenged. In their native environments, this is completely appropriate. Routine is the best way to counteract these behaviors. In some cases, familiarity can even lead to positive actions; some reptiles have been known to nudge their owners when they want petting.
Male reptiles can become more aggressive during reproductive and mating cycles, while some females may become less active. If you plan on breeding your pet, be sure to learn about the particular mating behaviors, reproduction processes, and health issues specific to your species. If you do not plan on breeding your pet and experience problems with sexually-induced behaviors, talk to your veterinarian to determine if anything can be done to change the animal's hormone levels.
The most important negative behavior to watch for is lethargy. Assuming temperature, lighting and diet are correct, a lack of activity over a few days may indicate a health problem. Be sure to contact your veterinarian and schedule an appointment for your pet if the symptom persists.
Please note: Never leave a baby or young child alone with one of these pets. They may act in ways that stress the reptile or amphibian and cause aggressive or unmanageable behavior.
Each species of reptile and amphibian has its own personality characteristics. Some, like snakes, can be left alone for days without causing any stress or discomfort. Others, like iguanas, need some daily socialization. In these cases, give your pet time to adjust to human contact in its new environment. Then begin introducing the animal to different people to acclimate your pet to a stranger's touch.
Most herptiles can live comfortably with other animals, but it is important to understand the relationship between the two or more animals in question. As a general rule, only unite two herptiles in a single environment if they naturally live in the same environment. Otherwise, one may eat the other. Other domestic animals, such as dogs, cats, or birds, may be able to live in the same home as a reptile or amphibian, but it depends on how they might socialize together. For example, a bird is likely prey for most reptiles. A docile dog may be easily companionable with a lizard, but a hissing cat could push the reptile's stress level up.
Learn about your chosen herptile's personality and tendencies before introducing it to another animal.
Just as with humans, herptiles need daily activity to remain healthy. For amphibians and some reptiles, this means swimming. For terrestrial animals, physical activity includes climbing and hunting. Your pet’s enclosure should allow it enough space to move around comfortably. Including branches, perches, shelves and/or caves allow herptiles to do what comes naturally to them. Depending on the species, your pet may be more or less active immediately after eating. Learn more about your specific choice to understand the level of activity that is normal.
Lethargy in any animal can be sign of illness or stress. If you observe lethargy, contact your veterinarian. In some cases, reptiles may become a little more lethargic right before they shed their skins.
Different animals in the reptile family have varying needs for socializing and contact. But nearly every animal benefits from daily mental stimulation. This can be accomplished through contact with other animals or humans. It can also be created by providing the space for your pet to climb, burrow or swim. Herptiles like watching the world around them. With a glassed enclosed area at about chest height, your pet can watch activities in the room. Many owners place their cages or enclosures with a view out a window to provide visual stimulation when their pets are home alone. Plan on spending some time engaging with your pet every day for its physical and mental well-being, as well as to keep tabs on its health.
Keeping a pet reptile healthy requires integrating regular cleaning habits into your life. On a daily basis, you should plan on cleaning your pet's water bowl, any food serving containers or utensils, and remove any debris from the enclosure, including feces. Generally herptiles defecate on a substrate or in water. By getting rid of organic matter like this daily, you can reduce or prevent the growth of bacteria and diseases. Hot soapy water is all that is needed to clean these items, but be sure to rinse soap away completely. Pay attention to cleanliness on walls and other surfaces. You may also need to remove some of the substrates on a day-to-day basis because of exposure to feces, moisture or other matter. Simply replace what you remove with more of the same material.
Disinfecting and sterilizing is a weekly activity for your pet's enclosure. These processes ensure that any organisms are killed to prevent the growth of bacteria, viral microorganisms and diseases. Often, disinfection and sterilization use the same products and processes; the difference is the length of time the products are left to do their job.
You'll need a set of supplies that are used solely for the purpose of cleaning, disinfecting and sterilizing your pet's home.
The animal will need to be placed elsewhere during the cleaning process. Be thorough in your cleaning and disinfecting. If needed, scrape off any debris that resists removal. When you are through, any utensils or products that you plan on reusing, such as buckets, gloves and sponges, must be disinfected after the cleaning before using them again.
Two household products can be used to disinfect reptile tanks: chlorine bleach and ammonia. However, both these products are toxic to the animals, so it is important that you use the correct dilution strength — four ounces per gallon of water for chlorine bleach and three-and-a-half ounces per gallon of water for ammonia — and rinse surfaces completely. Other commercial disinfectants are available through pet supply stores and catalogs.
Grooming for reptiles and amphibians is generally done by the animal in its environment. Some herptiles defecate in water, which makes it easy to remove and clean. Others defecate in the substrate, which can be replaced on a daily basis as needed. Some reptiles require no special grooming activities at all, such as snakes. Others, such as lizards, need to have their claws trimmed periodically. You can learn to trim claws yourself or simply have your vet do it for you at regular check-ups.
Many reptiles shed some or all of their skins over a period of a number of weeks. This requires no action on your part until the shedding is completed and the remaining debris needs to be removed from the enclosure.
Despite old assumptions to the contrary, reptiles do need water to drink. You'll need to place a bowl of clean, fresh water into their enclosure every day. It is helpful to keep the water bowl in a designated place so that your pet knows where to go when it wants something to drink. Also be sure that your reptile can access the bowl by placing it on or next to a secure perch or land for a solid foothold when drinking.
To prevent scum from building up, remove and clean the water bowl with soap and water daily. Once a week, the water bowl should be disinfected and sterilized as well.
Depending on the species and where it originated, your reptile could be an herbivore (plant eater), carnivore (meat or protein eater) or omnivore (plant and protein eater).
Herbivores need large amounts of food in order to maintain the nutrients and energy they need to survive. They eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, particularly those high in fiber. Generally, alfalfa, parsley, dandelion leaves, cress, romaine lettuce, escarole, squashes, berries, figs and bananas are edible. However, you will need to understand the specific needs for your pet reptile. For example, tomatoes are good for tortoises, but not for iguanas. The key to herbivore diets is variety so your pet won't get bored with its food. Herbivores also need mineral and vitamin supplements to ensure a balanced diet.
Please note: Do not feed herbivores insects, cat food or dog food.
Carnivores eat a wide array of proteins, ranging from rodents (such as mice and rabbits) to insects and invertebrates (such as crickets and mealworms), small fish (such as guppies and goldfish), eggs and even other reptiles. Rodents are frequently fed to carnivorous snakes and lizards. You can feed them live or purchase them frozen and defrost them before serving. Many insects are also packaged frozen for feeding insectivores. Carnivorous reptiles also need vitamin and mineral supplements. When carnivores or omnivores are fed a relatively large protein, such as a rodent, they frequently won't need more food for a number of days.
All reptiles and amphibians benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements. Specific products for reptiles are commercially available on the Internet or from pet supply stores. B-vitamins are particularly important to help with digestion and boost energy. The right balance of calcium and phosphorous is also important for each species, particularly in early skeletal growth and to prevent bone diseases, a common health problem for reptiles and amphibians.
Herbivores and amphibians need to be fed daily. Some experts suggest limiting the amount of time food is left in the enclosure, while others recommend allowing these pets to graze when they want since they need the energy. Carnivores can be fed small items, such as insects or fish, daily. Larger protein, such as rodents, can be sustained without further feeding for a few days to up to one week. Feeding times should be regularized and a specific area in the enclosure should be designated for food so that your pet knows where to go at feeding times. If you use a bowl or plate for the food, be sure to place it where it is accessible to the reptile, such as on a rock or perch, particularly for aquatic and semi-aquatic pets.
Feeding schedules will depend upon whether your pet is diurnal (active during the day), nocturnal (active during the night) or crepuscular (active at dawn, dusk or twilight). Some reptiles eat once a day; others eat more than once a day. Babies tend to need more frequent feedings.
Learn about the specific diet, nutritional and feeding habits for your preferred reptile or amphibian before choosing your pet to be sure you can provide for your pet's daily needs.
It's worth committing a lot of attention to creating the perfect home for your amphibian or reptile to ensure its safety and because they are great hiders when they escape! Key determinants for how to house your species are its adult size, activity level and natural environment.
To ensure the pet has enough room, you need to create a space that can accommodate its adult size and activity level. For example, many snakes grow 6 to 8 feet long and while they can curl up, it is important for them to be able to stretch their lung(s). Yet some large snakes, such as pythons and boas (which can grow to 20 feet long), tend to be lazy and won't need space to stretch to their full length. Meanwhile, other smaller snakes, such as garter snakes, are active and fast, demanding plenty of room for their mischief-making. A typical iguana has a snout-tail length of about 6 to 9 inches as a hatchling, but can grow to 45 to 60 inches in five years and may need areas in the enclosure for sunning, swimming, sleeping, hiding and climbing. That means you'll need a large tank and enclosure from the start.
Each reptile needs to have its enclosure mirror its natural environment. That may mean aquatic space for reptiles to swim and cool down; arboreal space with branches and roosts that imitate a woodland environment; fossorial space for reptiles that burrow into the ground for cooling or sleeping; scansorial space for reptiles accustomed to basking, eating and hunting on rocks; riparian space for reptiles that swim in water but feed, sleep and bask on dry land; and terrestrial space for non-aquatic reptiles that need different types of land areas, such as rocks, branches and caves.
Different enclosures work for different individual or combined types of environments:
Some other rules of thumb for reptile enclosures are:
Many reptiles are ectothermic, which means they can't regulate their own body temperature. To keep them in captivity, you'll need to control the surrounding temperature and humidity to reflect their natural environment. Each species has its own temperature tolerances, which need to be in sync with their sleep and activity cycles. For some reptiles, that may mean a temperature range of up to 10 degrees difference at different times of the day or night.
In nature, many animals regulate body temperature by moving in and out of sunny areas, shady areas, cooling water or burrowing into the ground. Your enclosure will need to accommodate these needs for your animal. For most reptiles, your enclosure will need a thermal gradient — a built in temperature range across the space from warm in one location to cool in another. There are a variety of heating devices and alternatives you can use, ranging from submersible heaters for aquatic animals to basking lamps, ceramic heating elements, ambient heating and space heaters. It is important to keep the heating elements out of your pet's reach to prevent accidents and burns.
Effectively heating the enclosure requires the use of thermometers. Plan on using at least two thermometers; place one at each end of the enclosure in order to measure temperatures at each end of the gradient. Although temperature charts offer a benchmark for each species, your pet might respond better to particular temperatures at different times of the day and in different seasons. Keep a chart and track temperatures at both ends of your pet's enclosure at various times throughout the day and night. Watch how your pet responds at these times so that you can determine ideal temperatures for it. You'll also have to make sure your humidity levels are relatively consistent. So when you use central heating in your home during the winter, you'll need to provide added humidity to the enclosure. This may be as simple as spray misting the environment daily.
Basking lamps are a good solution for reptiles that need sunning. They can be mounted on top of the cage or enclosure. Be sure that the animal cannot come into contact with the lamp to prevent burns and other accidents. One of the advantages of basking lamps is that they can provide full spectrum lighting during the day and be used as a blacklight (a red, frosted bulb) to simulate and ensure adequate darkness.
Ceramic heating elements need special sockets, but otherwise screw in like any other light bulb. They provide heat, but no light. They can be mounted on top of the enclosure as well. Another technique used to create an overall heating element, particularly for water environments, is under tank heating pads or tapes. Your gravel substrate responds to the heat below it and warms the water.
Please note: It is not advisable to use hot rocks as they can overheat and cause burns and other injuries to your pet.
Most reptiles need full-spectrum lighting, which imitates the sun, in order to maintain their health. There are two common lighting solutions used for reptile enclosures:
Please note: Some animals, such as lizards, must have exposure to natural sunlight, which requires the use of fluorescent bulbs. Be sure to learn about specific heating and lighting needs for your chosen pet.
Reptiles and amphibians can make fascinating pets. Some look as ancient as dragons. Others turn all kinds of colors. They are relatively quiet and odorless compared to other animals, and they offer a variety of choices related to their size. With some of these species, like carnivorous snakes, you can even miss an occasional feeding without doing any harm. Cleaning is only required about once a week. Many reptiles also respond to people, so you can make a real connection with your pet.
Choosing a reptile or amphibian does require some initial effort and expense to create a suitable environment. Because they can't regulate their body temperature, most reptiles need enclosures that accommodate more than one environment, such as both water and land. This means they may need a relatively larger container to live in. To survive in captivity, reptiles must have precise temperature and lighting controls. Before selecting a specific species, it is important to research the ecosystem of the animal's native environment. You will need to reproduce this environment on a smaller scale to create a livable enclosure.
Understanding the nature of a prospective reptile pet is an important part of the research you need to undertake before making a selection. Reptiles vary in terms of how much they can be handled or trained. Some are easy to handle; while others require protective gear and some are mostly just for viewing. Some reptiles and amphibians can be trained to have some predictable behaviors — such as non-fussy eating habits, staying in defined areas when outside their enclosures, or responding to human touch — while others simply won't change their basic natures.
Generally, smaller reptiles are more manageable choices for novice pet owners. Corn snakes, king snakes or ball pythons are good snakes for beginners because of their gentle natures and manageable diets and environments. Leopard geckos make a good beginner lizard because they are smaller in size, insectivores, relatively calm and do not require special lighting. But be prepared — healthy reptiles and amphibians have life spans that can last 10 to 20 years. A serious commitment is required if choosing a reptile for a pet.
Reptiles and amphibians together are known as herptiles. These animals are grouped together because they are ectothermic, which means that they cannot regulate their body temperature internally, but must use their environments to control temperature. Common temperature-regulating activities include basking in the sun, burrowing or hibernating. The difference between reptiles and amphibians relates to the way they breath. Reptiles generally have only one lung. Amphibians may have lungs, but they also breath through their skin. Both reptiles and amphibians live on land (terrestrial), in the water (aquatic) or both (semi-aquatic).
There is a wide range of animals that fall into the category of reptiles that come from every land area around the world. The most recognized of these are:
Not all reptiles are allowed to be kept as pets, particularly those that are dangerous to humans, such as most venomous snakes and crocodilians.