Some people find reptiles, especially snakes, terrifying. Many others find them fascinating! All too often, curiosity leads people to purchase or assume ownership of a reptile without fully understanding how complex adequate care and husbandry can be. I could easily fill this entire magazine with information but here are a few essential points to consider if you or your family members are contemplating reptile ownership:
Temperament- Reptiles are not domesticated pets! It is important to consider individual species temperament and how much handling you want when choosing a pet. Some species are quite docile by nature but others can be dangerous and require an experienced reptile owner to become more tame. There are also some reptiles, such as chameleons, who experience extreme stress when handled and should not be purchased when looking for a pet who can tolerate frequent handling.
Housing- Each reptile needs a very specific type of housing with enough space to mimic its natural habitat as much as possible. Many reptiles, such as tortoises or pythons, start out quite small but will become very large over time. There are many other key factors to balance, including appropriate humidity levels and an array of different temperature zones to help regulate body temperature. It is imperative to research the exact requirements of your species of interest and prepare accordingly.
Diet- Some reptiles eat entire prey animals! Can you feed an animal to another animal? If not, a reptile may not be a good pet for you. Others are herbivorous or eat insects but even those species require a great deal of variety in the diet to ensure an adequate supply of vitamins and nutrients. Nourishing reptiles will never be as simple as feeding a cat or dog the same food daily.
Zoonotic disease risk- All reptiles carry salmonella! This organism can make people very sick but is part of a reptile’s normal flora, so hand washing and careful hygiene practices are essential when handling a reptile and cleaning its habitat. Reptiles, particularly aquatic turtles, are therefore not appropriate pets for small children.
Finally, reptile medicine is complicated and requires extensive training. Many veterinarians are therefore not comfortable treating reptiles as patients. Before bringing a reptile into your home, it is important to identify a local reptile veterinarian. Specific husbandry requirements can be discussed in detail at the first wellness visit to ensure that your pet lives a long, healthy, happy life! - Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Chosa