Keeping Reptiles

Reptiles are cold-blooded creatures that have scales rather than fur or feathers.  Snakes, lizards and tortoises fall into this category.  There are many different and unusual types of reptile that can be kept as exotic pets.  Before you buy any reptile, it’s essential you find out about how to care for it and make sure you have the right supplies and equipment.  You will need to try to replicate your pet’s natural environment within the confines of it tank and feed it a balanced diet to keep it well and stress-free.  Here is some general information about keeping reptiles as pets.

Habitat

Unless you buy a fully-grown reptile, your pet is going to grow larger and you must bear this in mind when choosing its enclosure.  You should leave at least one third of the floor clear to give your pet space to move around.  You may need to upgrade to a larger tank as your pet grows.

In the wild, reptiles use external temperatures to regulate their body temperature and metabolism, which is key for healthy bodily functions such as digesting food.  For instance, snakes can be seen basking in the sun to warm themselves.  When reptiles are kept as pets, they will need thermal gradients in their tanks to offer them a range of temperatures.  This can be achieved by placing a heat source in part of the tank, using heating pads or overhead lamps.  You can create a hot spot for your pet to bask by hanging an incandescent lamp at one end of the enclosure, over a suitable area such as a pile of rocks.

It’s also essential to provide the right lighting in your pet’s tank, with a cycle of light and dark to simulate night and day.  Certain reptiles, including most lizards, tortoises and turtles, require an artificial source of UV light in order to stay healthy.  This is needed to stimulate the production of vitamin D3, which would be acquired from sunlight in a natural environment and is essential for the proper absorption of calcium.  Supplements can be given, but are not as effective as a UV light, which can be purchased from exotic pet shops or online.

You will need to maintain the right level of humidity for your pet, but spraying the tank regularly with water.  Another way to manage humidity is to place a plastic container with a hole cut out for access in the tank and put some sphagnum moss inside.  Another advantage of doing this is you will provide somewhere for your pet when they are shedding their skin.

You will need to find out before you buy your pet what type of substrate you should use in the enclosure.  Astroturf or reptile bark are commonly used and can be found in exotic pet stores.  It is possible to add pieces of bark or leaves from the garden, but it is essential to make sure they are clean and sterilised first.  You should also offer your pet some hiding places, which you can create yourself with bits of wood or card, or you can buy a purpose built reptile cave.  To give your pet an interesting environment, you can add things like stones and branches to climb on, just make sure they are sterile and secure and won’t fall on your pet.  Some pet owners like to put plants in the tank, mainly because they look nice.  Artificial plants can be used and are an easier option than live plants.  Real plants are likely to be damaged by reptiles and it’s important they aren’t toxic as your pet may eat them.

Feeding

Like other exotic pets, in order to thrive, reptiles need to eat food similar to the prey they would naturally live on in the wild, rather than commercial pet food.  In their natural habitat, reptiles will eat a variety of mammals, birds, insects or fish.  You will need to find out what is the best food for feeding your particular type of reptile.  You need to make sure you don’t feed your pet something that is to large, which could cause them serious injury or even kill them.  As a general guide, you shouldn’t feed a snake anything wide than the widest part of it body and with a lizard, its prey should be smaller than two thirds of its head.

The colour of the food may be an issue with certain species too.  For instance, some reptiles prefer rodents that are the same colour as those they would eat in the wild and some will eat green insects out of preference.

You will need to research the natural feeding habits of your pet in the wild, such as what time of day or night they would eat and how often.  The frequency of feeing will depend on different factors, including age, size and diet.

Feeding an exotic pet live foods in captivity can be an issue.  Some prey such as rodents  will put up a fight and could scratch or bite your pet when it’s killing them.  If your pet isn’t hungry, if live prey is left in their tank, the prey could cause problems.  For example, rats might try to eat a snake’s skin.

Generally it’s easier for most reptile owners to use frozen, pre-killed prey, which can be stored in a freezer and defrosted when needed.  Many people have a special freezer just for keeping their pet’s food, such as dead mice, rats and day old chicks.