Having a reptile for a pet is a great way of learning about a whole subgroup of species. However, owning a pet reptile also means that you need to familiarize yourself with their needs and the proper way of taking care of them. If you’re new to reptiles in general, this guide will show you the most essential basics of caring for one of these creatures the right way. Let’s get right to it!
The Challenges of Owning Pet Reptiles
It goes without saying that owning a pet reptile is different from owning a cat, or a dog. These creatures come from a whole different family of species and hence have different needs. That being said, reptiles are often more sensitive to their environment, meaning that you have to take extra care when setting up a habitat for your pet.
For starters, not all pet reptiles have the same needs. Caring for a snake won’t be the same as caring for a pet lizard. Each type of reptile has its own unique set of requirements, like any other animal. That being said, most of the species of reptiles will require the following.
- Adequate food
- Species-specific habitat
- Temperature control
- Light Sources
All living things need food to survive, but also to grow and develop. The same applies to your pet reptile. Feeding a small lizard means that you’ll need to provide it with a rich omnivore or insectivore diet, depending on the type of lizard you own. It’s also a good idea to give your lizard vitamin supplements if it can’t get everything it needs from its diet.
On the other hand, feeding a snake is different. A ball python won’t eat small insects, nor should you try feeding it such food. Pythons, much like many other snakes, are predators and their diet consists of various types of prey. If you’re trying to get your ball python to grow strong and develop unique ball python morphs, you’ll need to feed it in various stages of mice or rats. In other words, you can’t go to your local pet store, grab a bag of whatever pet food you come across first, and call it a day. It doesn’t work like that with pet reptiles.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re sitting at home. Your home is your habitat, and you’ve made it so that it fits your specific taste. Your pet reptiles also have their own taste as far as shelter goes. Some lizards such as Chameleons require a large habitat that is packed with living plants and is occasionally misted with water.
Snakes, on the other hand, need a large enclosure but aren’t too keen on having too many plants inside. They like some type of vegetation but are generally content with simple plants in most cases. Of course, you should do research into what your specific species of snake prefers and more importantly, what it needs.
Building a habitat or enclosure for your pet reptile is arguably one of the most expensive parts of owning these creatures. Can it be done for cheap? Sure, but there’s a defined minimum that you really shouldn’t cross.
Next, we arrive at one of the most important aspects of owning a pet reptile — temperature control. Reptiles are extremely sensitive to temperature and require a constant heat source. Of course, the type of heat source, its position, and nature will depend on the species of reptile you’re looking to get.
Overall, most types of reptiles will need a heat source in one part of the enclosure. Depending on the type of reptile in question, you can get away with an incandescent lightbulb, while some species could require you to install a heated mat. Either way, it’s important that your heat source is out of reach, so your little buddy can’t touch it. Furthermore, you’ll want to have the heating element connected to a thermometer.
Most reptiles require a specific, consistent temperature in order to thrive. There are special thermometers out there built for reptile enclosures that will allow you to properly regulate internal temperature.
Lighting is a big deal when it comes to reptiles. Different species are active at different times of the day, or night for that matter. If your reptile is nocturnal, you’ll probably have to look into UVB lights.
Figuring out what type of light source your reptile needs is something you need to do long before you adopt or buy your new friend. Any reptile pet should arrive at an already built habitat that is specifically set up to meet its needs.
If you’re worried about the UVB light completely messing with your room, don’t be. In most cases, the UVB output you’re looking for won’t exceed 10% to 12%. That being said, most species will do just fine with a low UVB output of approximately 2%. That way, you can observe your pet while they get their fill of vitamin D3, which is essential for some species of reptiles.
Much like most things enclosure-related, UVB lights require periodic maintenance. More specifically, you’ll need to change them every 7 months or so. Once they hit 7 months of use, most UVB lights will suffer a significant drop in UV output, thus no longer satisfying the needs of your enclosure.
Water, just like food, is essential for any pet reptile. You’re probably thinking that giving water to your pets is a given, but it has to be iterated. Reptiles require a constant presence of water in one shape or another. Some will require you to mist the enclosure with water in addition to providing a suitable source of drinking water. Make sure to check your pet’s water requirements prior to building an enclosure.
Time-Consuming but Rewarding
Owning pet reptiles can be time-consuming, and require more effort than many are aware of. Yet, owning a pet reptile can also be extremely rewarding. Reptiles are easy to live with, offer quality companionship, and will make for great friendships should you give them a chance.
Photo by Achim Pock on Unsplash