7 things beginners need to know about keeping reptiles as pets


  • Animals
  • Friday, 10 Jul 2020

A leopard gecko is great for beginners. Photo: Filepic

Although they are not the traditional household animals – like dogs or cats – that most people imagine when they think about pets, reptiles make fantastic animal companions.

However, depending on the type of reptile you want to keep as a pet, a licence may be required.

Since reptiles are generally not loud, smelly or messy, they can make a great alternative pet if owning a dog is difficult in your area.

However, reptiles’ needs and requirements will be vastly different from those of their mammalian counterparts, so new owners need to be prepared to learn how to care for them.

Think you are ready to welcome a scaly companion into your home?

1. Research, research, research

This should always be your first step, and is perhaps the most important.

Not all reptile species are the same, and not all species make good pets for first-time owners.

Dig around on the Internet and ask your local pet store what sort of reptile is a good fit for you.

How much space, time, experience, and money (upfront and long-term) you have available for your reptile are all necessary things to consider when researching and choosing a species.

Always go through proper channels when purchasing a reptile. Buy only from pet shops licensed by the Department of Wildlife.

Many websites and even pet stores will sell reptiles that have been captured from the wild.

You should always avoid these sellers and source a reptile that has been bred in captivity.

In addition to harming the animal and its natural environment, owning a formerly wild animal can be the source of all sorts of behaviour and temperament issues.

Doing your research will prevent you from making the mistake of impulse-buying a reptile online or in person at a pet store or expo.

Unfortunately, too many reptiles that were bought impulsively either die or need to be rehomed, because owners (especially beginners) are under-prepared and under-informed about the commitment they are making.

2. Start off slow

Once you have done your research, you should pick a species that is known for being easy to take care of.

Many kinds of lizards are great for beginners, including bearded dragons and leopard geckos.

If you are more interested in a species that slithers, a corn snake would be a good choice.

A corn snake would be a good choice if you prefer slithery reptiles. — 123rf.comA corn snake would be a good choice if you prefer slithery reptiles. — 123rf.com

A licence is required if you opt for the above-mentioned reptiles.

If your heart is set on a terrapin, be prepared for a long-term commitment. Depending on how old you are, your turtle might outlive you! A box turtle would be a good option for a first-time owner.

As you gain experience and knowledge in herpetology, you will be able to take on more difficult and rare species. But please, save the large constrictors and vipers for later on in your reptile-keeping journey!

Depending on how old you are, your terrapin or turtle might outlive you as these creatures can live very long!Depending on how old you are, your terrapin or turtle might outlive you as these creatures can live very long!

3. Prepare your supplies

It is important to have the reptile tank, as well as all food, water and cleaning supplies in order before bringing your new reptile home.

If your reptile needs artificial heat or light in order to thrive, make sure that these are also purchased and set up in advance of introducing the reptile to the enclosure.

Different species will have different needs when it comes to the nature of the enclosure and the habitat you create within it; it’s not one size fits all.

Provide hiding spots, vegetation and a water source based on your species’ needs.

4. Provide appropriate care

In addition to what they require out of their enclosures, proper husbandry also includes appropriate amounts and kinds of food.

Be aware of your reptile’s individual needs when it comes to feeding. Some will thrive on a diet of mealworms, while others require much larger prey.

All animals should have access to fresh, clean water daily.

5. Always be safe and responsible

Keeping a (non-venomous) reptile is no more dangerous than keeping any other kind of pet. But you do need to be aware of the best ways to keep yourself, your family, and your new reptile safe.

Safety protocols fall into two main categories: disease prevention and proper handling.

Always wash your hands before and after handling the reptile, and clean their enclosure on a regular basis to prevent the spread of Salmonella-causing bacteria.

So long as your reptile was not captured from the wild, you should not have any problems with aggressive or dangerous behaviour.

However, they may scratch, claw, or bite you if they are mishandled.

Never, ever pick up a reptile by its tail.

If you have children in your house who will be handling the reptile, make sure that they also understand handling techniques, and have the dexterity to safely hold the animal.

6. Schedule regular vet visits

Your reptile should visit a vet within a week of coming home with you, and should have annual checkups thereafter.

Don’t subscribe to the belief that because the animal is a reptile or they seem healthy, they don’t need to visit a veterinarian.

7. Don’t forget to have fun!

Keeping a reptile can be just as fun as owning a dog, only without all of the barking, messes, and time spent training.

Reptiles can make fantastic and fun alternative pets!

Reptile-keeping is just like herpetology in the rest of the world. Start off by doing thorough research, and don’t take on too much at the beginning. Prepare a species-specific enclosure and food, and practise good animal husbandry. Don’t neglect vet visits, and importantly, don’t forget to have fun!

Are you an amateur reptile keeper? Let us know which of these tips was most helpful for you!


Johnathan David is the editor at Everything Reptiles, a fourth generation reptile-keeper and wildlife biologist.

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Reptiles , leopard gecko , terrapin , corn snake

   

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