Caring for Reptiles

Caring for Reptiles

Cold-Blooded Pets Need Specific Care

A dog or a cat as a pet? Nope, that’s too ordinary for you. You’ve chosen something more exotic…a slithering, crawling, cold-blooded creature. Before you visit a pet store to choose which four-legged — or legless — friend to bring home, there are a few important things you should know.

Reptiles (snakes, lizards and turtles) and amphibians (frogs, newts, salamanders and chameleons) are categorized as “herptiles.” And because they are different, snakes, lizards and other herps have different care requirements than other household pets. These creatures are so special there are different care guidelines for each species.

If you’re thinking of welcoming a reptile or amphibian into your home, or if you’re a first-time reptile owner, here are a few things to consider:

Reptile Regulations

Many states, counties and cities have specific rules for keeping certain kinds of reptiles. For example, regulations to own venomous, endangered or protected species vary from state to state. Check with your local Fish and Wildlife Department for more details.

Reptile Size


Size matters when you’re considering a reptile for a pet. Contrary to popular belief, housing your reptile in a small tank does not mean that your reptile’s growth will be stunted. His health, however, will be poorly affected. A Burmese python, for example, is common in reptile stores; however, a young two-foot Burmese can grow to up to 30 feet and weigh up to 200 pounds.

Make sure to know how big the animal will be when it reaches maturity so you’ll be prepared to properly care for it throughout its lifetime.

Accommodating Reptiles

Think carefully about what kind of cage or vivarium your reptile will need. Reptile homes need to provide enough space for mobility and must be escape-proof, both for your safety and his.

Reptile Nutrition


There are commercially available diets for some reptiles; however, most need fresh food. For example, some require food such as mealworms and mice while others may need fresh fruits and vegetables to make up the majority of their diet. Make sure you’re willing to fork out the money and effort as you may need to purchase fresh food two to three times a week.

Temperature Is Important  

Cold-blooded creatures cannot maintain their body temperature within the range necessary. Your pet will count on you to regulate his environment. Make sure you ask the pet store to advise you about appropriate heating devices and temperatures required for the reptile you choose.

Handling Reptiles with Care

If you want a pet to snuggle with, a reptile is not for you. There are varying levels of handling needed for specific species. Find out how much, or how little, yours needs. A good pet store, such as one which specializes in herptiles, will guide you to a safe choice if you want a pet reptile you can handle. Keep in mind, some reptiles should never be handled and your safety — and his — should always be safeguarded.

Humidity Concerns


One of the most important things in caring for a reptile is controlling the humidity in its environment. Reptiles are used to environs where they can create stable humidity. They control this by burrowing, or moving to a microclimate that meets their needs. When they are captive, they do not have this luxury. A snake or lizard living in an environment that is too dry can develop serious health problems and could even die. On the other hand, too much moisture can lead to problems with fungus and bacteria.

Depending on the reptile’s needs, you will need to provide a way to regulate humidity. This could include preparing a vivarium with an aquatic water filtration in part of the tan, and dry terrarium setup in another part. A humidity alert device is also a good idea, so that you can stay informed on the conditions your pet is living in.

Keep Reptile Cages Clean

Routine cage maintenance is key to your reptile’s health. Reptiles are susceptible to skin and bacterial infections. Their fecal matter can carry diseases such as salmonella that can be harmful to humans. The cage, furnishings and cleaning equipment itself should be regularly cleaned and periodically disinfected.

It’s Worth It

It may seem like a lot of work to take care of a reptile, but as so many pet owners have discovered, they can make terrific pets and live long, healthy lives in captivity.

Did you know ball python snakes make good pets for first-time reptile owners? Read more about adopting reptiles before you make a decision. Also, Nationwide pet insurance has an affordable exotic pet insurance plan that covers accidents and illnesses as well as examinations, lab fees, prescriptions, X-rays, hospitalization and more.