Although delayed at the turn of the 2020s, the pet tech market is back on track to reach a market size of $20 billion by 2028, according to Global Market Insights. Tech solutions and accommodations for pets are springing up in areas where most people didn’t expect, such as dedicated restaurant menus for cats and dogs and wearable pet cameras. This may be due to the fact that pet ownership for all species is on the rise, with more and more people warming up to the idea of owning pets that were previously considered to be exotic, such as snakes and other reptiles. If you’re one of these people and are planning to get a pet reptile soon, brush up on these need-to-know tips to ensure that your new scaly friend settles in comfortably and smoothly.
Do Thorough Research on Your Preferred Reptile
Taking care of any pet always demands due diligence from the owner, especially if it’s an exotic one. Remember that vital information on reptile care can vary from species to species. Hone in on the particular species you’re interested in. Get to know anything and everything that’s essential to maintain their health and well-being. For the most part, reptiles need the same bare necessities, such as heat lamps, UV lights, and substrates. But lizards, snakes, and turtles all have their own best practices in terms of care, and a few species have very precise guidelines you need to follow to successfully raise them. They also have varying needs in terms of space, humidity, warmth, and other accommodations.
This is also the phase when you find out about the temperament and unique characteristics of the reptile you’re interested in. For some, a reptile being recluse or hyperactive may be a deal-breaker. If you want a reptile that’s both friendly and chilled out without being low-energy, you should consider a leopard gecko, or better yet, the ever-popular bearded dragon.
Ensure Your Home is Prepared for a Reptile Pet
Reptiles can be troublesome when left alone in the house, especially if you intend to let them roam free every once in a while. Even if you don’t, they can still escape their enclosure and run amok that way. Either way, you need to make sure that the chances of them damaging anything or hurting themselves when they’re exploring are at a minimum. Remember to secure anything that they might knock over or might fall on them, and cover any exposed wiring or any holes they might squeeze into. You should also ensure that there’s sufficient space for their enclosure, adequate ventilation, and shady places where they can take shelter.
The occupants of a home should be part of your consideration as well. Reptiles are known carriers of salmonella. For this reason, it can be risky to have them around anyone under the age of 5, because to avoid infection you will have to be responsible enough to wash your hands diligently after handling a reptile. At even higher risk are immunocompromised individuals, such as those with AIDS or HIV, as they are at risk of salmonella which can develop into something much deadlier.
Find the Best Substrate
Substrate or bedding refers to the material that lines the bottom of your reptile’s enclosure. There are a number of different types of substrate, and many of them are applicable in multiple situations. But the optimal kind of substrate for specific pet reptiles depends on unique species traits and the environmental conditions that they’re used to, as well as the conditions in your home. For example, species that like to burrow may prefer clay or aspen, while reptiles that thrive in dry climates will appreciate wood chips or sand. You can even use carpet or newspaper if there’s nothing else on hand.
It must be noted, however, that many reptile experts advise against using sand as a substrate. It’s a common mistake to fill the vivarium with the most common substrate that can be found in a certain reptile’s natural habitat. Some reptiles, like bearded dragons, call deserts home, but it would still be unwise to simply throw in a layer of sand in their enclosure and call it a day. That can result in something called impaction, wherein the reptile’s digestive tract gets blocked. Instead, invest in reptile-safe sand or washed play sand to avoid digestive problems if they accidentally ingest it.
Create Ideal Enclosure Conditions
Once you’ve chosen a substrate, it would then be time to put the vivarium together and make sure everything is in good working order. The first thing you should ensure is that your pet would have enough space to be comfortable. Then, you create ideal environmental conditions close to what you can find in your pet’s natural habitat. Humidity, ventilation, access to heat and shade, and UV lighting are all important. If you don’t have a reptile fogger, you can raise the humidity by misting the tank with mineral water so the reptile can absorb the nutrients. Conversely, you can leave socks filled with rice in the tank to dehumidify them.
Make sure it’s easy enough to access the enclosure for cleaning and maintenance, while still keeping it secure and escape-proof. The usual culprits are the ventilation meshes and tank fixings, which can come off easily and open up avenues of escape. Other causes could be unsecured sliding doors, which could be due to clogged-up or too-loose runners. Installing sliding door locks would be a good investment, especially if there are people who might accidentally open the enclosure somehow.
Set Up Enrichment and Recreation
Enrichment and recreation are essential parts of continued well-being. If your pet gets too bored, they might grow restless, leading to strange or aggressive behavior such as attempting to escape or eating substrate. One simple thing you can do is to add plants for reptiles that like to forage for food. Just make sure that the plants are commonly found in your pet’s natural habitat and won’t throw off the humidity levels. Plant-based obstacles such as branches are also good for reptiles who like to climb.
You should also set aside some time for the reptile to roam around outside of its enclosure. Aside from letting them stretch their legs, this also affords you more space to conduct more complex enrichment activities, such as playing with balls and other toys, going on scavenger hunts for treats and live prey, and target training.
Plan Out Your Continued Long-Term Care Strategy
The first part of continued care is planning out your pet’s diet. Remember that most pet reptiles are omnivores, so they’re going to need to eat a diverse array of foods in order to maintain their health. Even more carnivorous reptiles like snakes tend to need a more varied diet. Look up the preferred food items of your particular species and try your best to give them most, if not all, of those.
You should also arrange visits to the vet. Even seasoned reptile keepers need a professional opinion every once in a while. Chances are you’re going to run into a problem that you can’t fix on your own, especially as a beginner. In addition to this, you must set up opportunities for your pet to socialize, especially for particularly sociable animals like leopard geckos. Leopards tend to need an hour of handling per day, but remember that too much handling may stress out your pet, which would cause them to shed their tails or other adverse effects. Cleaning is also something whose frequency you need to get just right. Both too much or too little cleaning can do harm to your reptile’s immune system.
Reptile husbandry is much trickier than tending to conventional pets like cats and dogs, but it can also be much more rewarding. Reptiles are a completely different experience to take care of, and this is arguably their greatest edge for people looking for something a little more exotic.