At Crow Hill Veterinary Hospital, we love reptiles and want to help keep yours healthy. Below is some basic helpful information about keeping reptiles as pets.
Providing your reptilian pet with the proper environment can be complicated. To keep your animal healthy, it’s imperative to know the environment from which they originated, so you can mimic it as closely as possible. Without proper lighting, heat, humidity, diet and other environmental considerations, reptiles can develop diseases such as metabolic bone disease and skin infections. Other environmental considerations include:
- Properly sized enclosures: Too small and your pet will be stressed, leading to inappropriate behavior such as pacing the glass, which can cause injury. Juveniles can have stunted growth when the size of their enclosure is not adequate.
- Housing too many or the wrong species together can lead to stress, injury or death.
- Live terrariums can help mimic a natural environment as well as maintain humidity more appropriately. It is important to research plants that are safe to use in your reptile’s environment, as well as plants that are suitable for the same environment.
Maintaining the correct surroundings will result in a happy, healthy reptile!
The most common failure when setting up a home for a reptile is inadequate lighting. Reptile “starter kits” typically lack the complete set up when providing adequately for your reptile. Most species require a UVB light spectrum that mimics the sun for proper digestion of calcium into vitamin D3. Even if they’re still producing visible light, most bulbs have lost their UVB output after 6 months of use. Failure to replace these bulbs frequently enough may lead to inadequate exposure to this spectrum and result in life threatening metabolic bone disease.
Every species has specific requirements for its environment, based on where the animal originates. Desert, tropical, or nocturnal species all have dramatically different needs, and it’s important to research these requirements prior to purchase to ensure a healthy reptile.
Low temperatures can lead to poor digestion; inappropriate humidity can result in skin infections, shedding problems, and respiratory infections. Providing a temperature gradient with basking lamps so your pet can select a preferred area is essential.
Living in the dry climate that we do, it can be challenging to achieve adequate humidity to meet your reptile’s needs. Tropical species require 60-80% humidity, which can be attained by automated misters or regular misting. Many reptiles acquire drinking water from the droplets created by misting or running water. Iguanas use baths to help digestion.
As with environments, every reptile species has unique dietary requirements. Some species are carnivorous, eating insects or smaller animals, while others are strict vegetarians. Understanding a reptile’s nutritional needs is important to providing them with a complete and healthy diet. A few tips:
- Live prey should be “gut loaded,” meaning they are well fed with additional calcium rather than a starving shell of an insect.
- Overfeeding can lead to wounds by the reptile’s prey if live foods are not immediately consumed.
- Proper supplementation with a daily mineral supplement as well as specific (pure high quality such as a human grade) calcium twice weekly is required by most reptile species.
- Understanding the calcium phosphorus content of vegetables is key to providing variety but not overdoing toxins. Kale, tomatoes, strawberries are high in oxalates, and if used as a main source of veggie, can lead to kidney disease. Plants that are high in goitrogens, such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, peaches and cabbage can lead to problems with the thyroid if fed in excess.
- Staple fruits and veggies with ideal calcium phosphorus ratios include yucca root, snap peas, green beans, parsnips, alfalfa, turnip greens, okra, collard greens, escarole, endive and dandelion greens, prickly pear cactus leaves, papaya, mango, mustard greens and acorn, kabocha and butternut squashes.