Choosing a Reptile as a Pet

pet snakeReptiles are popular pets. Some people want to own them to be different (never a good reason for owning any pet), some enjoy the lower cost of veterinary care as compared to dogs and cats (this is also not always true), and many people who don't have the time to devote to a dog or cat enjoy the relatively "maintenance-free" appeal of a snake, lizard, or turtle.

Before purchasing a reptile, it would be wise to ask yourself several questions:

1.  Do I want a pet just to look at or do I want to handle and socialise it?

While many reptiles, especially those purchased as captive-born infants, allow owners to handle them, others do not. Many species do not allow handling and react aggressively or become severely stressed. As a rule, if you want a pet to snuggle with, a reptile is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want an animal you can display, a reptile deserves your consideration.

2.  How much time can I devote to my pet?

All pets require as much observation as possible by the owner each day. The owner who fails to pay attention to his pet won't detect early signs of disease and is really neglecting his responsibility as a pet owner. Many reptiles need to be fed and watered daily, and often the cages need to be cleaned daily as well. The owner who intends to put his reptile in a cage and observe it only once in awhile should seriously consider his decision to care for this type of pet.

3. Can I afford proper medical care?

ALL reptiles need to be examined immediately after purchase (within 48 hours) and at least annually by a veterinarian with a specific interest in reptiles! Doing this allows early detection of disease. With very rare exception, reptiles usually don't act sick (or show any indication of illness) until they are VERY SICK! As a rule, A Sick Reptile Is A Dying Reptile! Regular veterinary care and an informed pet owner greatly reduce illness and death in these pets (as well as the overall cost of medical care).

4.  Can I make or buy the correct habitat (home) for my reptile?

At a minimum, most reptiles require a vivarium, some 'cage furniture', a source of heat, and a source of UV light. Incorrect husbandry is the most common cause of disease and it is a good general rule that you should spend far more on the environment than on the animal itself.

It is also important to remember the size to which your pet will grow – little snakes become very large snakes! Can you fit the size vivarium required into your house?

If you have several animals it is a good idea to have a separate small spare set-up so you can house sick or gravid reptiles on their own.

Reptiles do get sick, and preventing illness is definitely preferred to treatment. As an introduction to reptile diseases, owners must understand that reptiles hide signs of illness quite well. This is called the "preservation response". In the wild, if an animal showed signs of illness every time it felt bad, it would easily be attacked by predators or even members of its own group. Therefore, these animals don't appear ill until the illness is actually quite advanced. Our pet reptiles still retain this "wild" characteristic. To repeat, "A Sick Reptile Is A Dying Reptile"! It's very important to take your pet to the veterinarian at the FIRST sign of illness. Waiting to see if things get better, or treatment with over-the-counter medications, especially those sold at pet stores, only delays proper treatment and often results in expensive veterinary bills and a dead reptile! Veterinarians can do many things for sick reptiles, but early intervention is critical!

"In the wild, if an animal showed signs of illness every time it felt bad, it would easily be attacked by predators or even members of its own group. Therefore, these animals don't appear ill until the illness is actually quite advanced."

While the principles of diagnosis and treatment of diseases is the same regardless of the species of pet, there are important differences between reptiles and dogs and cats. Only a veterinarian with the expertise in treating reptiles should be consulted for medical or surgical advice. It is important to locate your nearest reptile-friendly vet before the pet is ill – it is never a good idea to be looking around in an emergency! It is also useful to establish that the vet has facilities for housing your reptile should it become ill – many conditions require periods of hospitalisation and specialised facilities are needed.

The first veterinary visit

Within 48 hours of your purchase, your reptile should be examined by a veterinarian with expertise in treating reptiles. The visit includes determining the animal's weight, as well as a clinical examination. The pet is examined for signs of dehydration and starvation. A faecal test is done to check for internal parasites. It can be difficult to obtain a fresh stool for this (dried, hard old stools are not useful). Bathing the reptile before the visit may stimulate defaecation and this can be collected and brought with the reptile. No vaccines are required for reptiles. Most of the visit will probably be a question and answer session. If all turns out well, your pet will be given a clean bill of health. Just like dogs and cats, pet reptiles should be examined annually and have their stool tested for parasites annually as well.

© Copyright 2015 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

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