All Creatures Veterinary Hospital

All Creatures Veterinary Hospital
4549 HW 62 West
Mountain Home, AR 72653
(870) 425-5175


Reptiles as Pets

Keeping a reptile as a pet can be fun and rewarding, but it also comes with much responsibility. Reptiles may seem like cheap and easy pets to have, but this could not be further from truth. In order to ensure a happy and healthy life for a reptile, many requirements must be met, including certain environmental needs such as proper enclosure, proper substrate, appropriate temperature and humidity levels, specific water sources, correct lighting, vitamin and mineral supplements, and proper diet. All of these needs vary dramatically from one type of reptile to another. For instance, while an iguana needs a strictly vegetarian diet, large container of water needed for soaking, and high humidity, a leopard gecko eats only insects, needs running water to drink, and prefers dry heat (low humidity.)

Before purchasing any reptile, be sure to read up on their native habitat and specific needs in captivity. Knowing the proper requirements specific to the type of reptile you have will save your reptile a lot of stress and may even be a matter of life or death. Books, reptile magazines, and the internet are all good sources of information. Purchase your enclosure, lighting, heat sources, substrate and anything else you will need and set it up first. Then, your new reptile will undergo the least amount of stress when getting accustomed to its new home. A stressed out reptile does not thrive well. Stress on a reptile can be caused from improper diet, improper environment, or excessive handling, and can lead to illness and even death. When purchasing a reptile, follow these basic guidelines:

1. Buy a captive-bred reptile (one that has been born in captivity) when possible. Reptiles that have been caught in the wild (wild-caught) tend to be less healthy and do not fare as well in captivity. If you must buy a wild caught reptile, ask if it has been eating well and if it has been treated for parasites.
2. Buy a healthy reptile. The animal should be alert with clear eyes, nose and mouth. Ask to handle the reptile. It should be active, but not aggressive. You should not be able to see or feel the reptile's ribs or pelvic bones. Buying a thin or sick reptile is asking for problems.
3. Educate yourself before purchasing the animal on its specific requirements and have an enclosure set up complete with lights, heat, and substrate before actually acquiring the reptile.

Some basic needs apply. The following are necessary for most reptiles.

1. Heating. Because reptiles are all cold-blooded, meaning their body temperature is the same as their environment, they must be provided with proper heat sources to maintain a proper temperature. Read up to find out the correct temperature range (low and high) for your reptile. Reptiles like to have a temperature gradient in their enclosure (a warm area and a cooler area) so they can move around and choose the temperature they prefer. Get at least two reptile thermometers (fish thermometers don't read high enough) and place one in the warm side and one in the cooler side. Heat lamps make the best heat sources. There are many different types of heat lights and lamps including incandescent light bulbs, ceramic lights and others. Fluorescent lights alone do not usually put out enough heat to warm the enclosure. Usually about 50 watts per 10 gallons of enclosure is sufficient, but use the thermometers to monitor the temperature and adjust heat sources as needed. If using incandescent light bulbs, colored bulbs are generally better for the reptile because they do not interfere with day and night cycles. Heating pads or heat rocks alone do not provide enough heat to warm the air in the enclosure. Having only a heat rock or heat pad can cause the reptile to stay on the heat rock or pad all the time trying to stay warm. Even though the rock or pad may not feel that warm, it can cause severe burns on the reptile that may lead to infection and even death. If you use a heat rock or heat pad, BE SURE to also have a heating lamp that warms the air. Be sure the heat lamp is outside of the enclosure so the reptile cannot burn itself on it.
2. Lighting. This is most important with lizards. Lizards need full spectrum light. Failure to provide this to growing lizards often results in calcium deficiency, metabolic bone disease, and death. Direct sunlight is the best source of light, but this should not be filtered through glass or plastic. Direct sunlight may be difficult to provide in cooler seasons. Full spectrum light can be supplemented by a full-spectrum fluorescent light source that gives off UV-B rays (example: Vita-Lite). Plant lights DO NOT provide proper lighting. Fluorescent lights should be turned off at night and left on during the day. Most full-spectrum light bulbs need to be replaced at least once a year. They may still put out light, but the UV-B rays wear out after one year.
3. Diet and Supplements. Again, this is most important with lizards, especially vegetarians like iguanas. Calcium-rich, leafy greens are important in the diet of iguanas. Examples include; collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, turnip greens, escarole, endive, and spinach. Iceberg lettuce is NOT recommended. Add variety to the diet with other fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, corn, and apples. Calcium supplements are important in growing iguanas, and can be purchased as a powder that is sprinkled on the food. Incorrect diet is a common cause of sickness in reptiles, and diets are as varied as the reptiles, so again, read up on your type of reptile to find out its correct diet.

By following these guidelines and educating yourself about your reptile, we hope that you and your reptile have many happy and healthy years together. If you have questions concerning care of reptiles, contact our office at (870) 425-5175.