By Dr. Becker
Only 2 percent of Americans own a reptile as a pet, but those who do tend to be a very enthusiastic and devoted group.1 You have to be, to some extent, because owning a reptile requires doing your own research and making sure you’re tending to the unique needs of your chosen reptile species.
Such information, especially reliable information, can be hard to come by, unlike the information necessary to care for the far more popular dog or cat. Many skip over reptiles as a pet because they don’t show affection the way furry pets do.
But, any reptile owner will tell you that owning one can be equally rewarding to owning a more demonstrative pet; they just show their “affection” in different ways. If you’re considering a reptile for a pet, chances are you’re already drawn to a particular type of creature.
However, it’s important that you don’t select one on a whim or based on looks alone. A hatchling-size iguana may look adorable, for instance, but are you ready to share your home with the six-foot lizard it will eventually grow into?
Doing your research first will ensure you pick the right reptile for you and your lifestyle, so there are no surprises, and in turn unwanted reptiles, later.
How to Choose the Right Reptile
Pet Place recently featured eight considerations that pet owners should consider before adding a reptile to their family.2
Price is one consideration and you may want to “shop around” to compare costs, however equally important is ensuring your reptile comes from a responsible breeder or pet retailer or, even better, a rescue organization (yes, there are rescue groups for reptiles, just like there are for dogs and cats).
You should also consider the following:
1. Dietary Needs
Some reptiles are vegetarians. Some eat live insects or rodents. Are you willing to feed live prey to your pet (and do you have a constant source available to you), or do you prefer a reptile that will eat frozen mice or other more readily available foods?
2. Appropriate Habitat
Look into the proper environment needed to house your reptile. You’ll need an escape-proof cage that’s big enough to fit your adult pet, so be sure you’re aware of your reptile’s expected adult size.
Your reptile will also require a heating device, water receptacle (to drink from and/or soak/swim in), a thermometer to monitor temperature, a hydrometer to monitor humidity, accessories for hiding/hanging, and more. Most reptiles require special UV lighting for 8 to 12 hours a day, as well.
You’ll need to look into your particular reptile’s specific needs carefully. Some lizards prefer hot and dry desert-like conditions while others need a humid, tropical-like environment, for instance.
Other reptiles may need a place to swim while some will need a place to bask under a heat light that mimics the sun. Many reptiles require under-tank heaters to provide a source of warmth throughout the night, as well. . Maintaining the proper habitat for your reptile is essential to his or her health and well being.
How long is your reptile expected to live? A tortoise, for instance, may live into its 70s. Are you prepared to care for it that long? All pets, including reptiles, deserve care for their entire lifespan.
Some reptiles enjoy being handled while others are stressed by it. Some, such as tortoises and iguanas, may even enjoy human companionship and take food from your hand. Other reptiles, like chameleons, prefer to stay hidden from view and need ample foliage to feel safe and secure. If you plan to handle and interact with your reptile often, be sure you choose one that has a temperament to match.
5. Children in Your Home
Reptiles can carry disease-causing bacteria and parasites that can be harmful for small children. For instance, small turtles, bearded dragons, and African dwarf frogs have all been linked to salmonella outbreaks in recent years.
You may want to wait to get a reptile until your children are older, restrict them from handling the pet, or at the very least ensure children wash their hands after handling a reptile.
Consider how much you’re willing to spend on having a reptile as a pet. Aside from the initial costs to purchase the reptile and its habitat, ongoing expenses include food and veterinary care.
You should also look into whether there is an experienced veterinarian in your area that cares for exotic pets like reptiles.
7. One Reptile or Two?
If you only want one reptile for a pet, be sure you choose one that prefers to live in solitude (such as chameleons). Many reptiles should be housed alone (or may fight or even eat each other if housed together).
However, if you want to have more than one reptile, there are certain species that can co-exist peacefully.
8. Hatchling or Adult?
Another consideration is the age of your reptile. Do you want a hatchling (baby) or an adult? Hatchlings may require a special diet during their first year of life and may grow to be larger than you expected.
Older reptiles, on the other hand, may be available for free from a rescue organization and can make great pets. Never buy reptiles that were wild caught, or taken from their native environment.
Reptiles for Beginners
If you’re new to owning a reptile and want a species that’s relatively easy to care for and docile, here are some options to consider.3
Corn snake Leopard gecko Red-footed tortoise Captive-bred ball python Bearded dragon Asian box turtle California kingsnake Chinese water dragon Spur-thighed tortoise Boa constrictor Savannah monitor Leopard tortoise Rosy boa