Is a Reptile Right for You?
Too often reptiles are purchased by unprepared owners with only a superficial interest in them and unfortunately it's the reptile that has to suffer the consequences. Many reptiles die prematurely (an estimated 50-90%) due to the owners ignorance on correct care or the animal is lumbered on to rescues which are currently over-saturated with unwanted reptiles. Before you purchase a reptile you must first consider why you want one. Many purchase on the basis of how "cool" or unusual they look with no real interest in learning about the animal or how to care for it appropriately, or prospective owners may simply buy the animal on a whim or as a novelty pet but quickly lose interest when the novelty wears off. Many new owners soon realise that a reptile is not as simple to care for as they may have first thought and end up having to give the animal away. This article will attempt to provide you with a basis on making the decision on whether or not a pet reptile is right for you.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Can you afford the long-term costs?
You must be prepared to buy a variety of vegetables, greens, and fruits and/or insects or other foods and prepare them in such a way as to enable the reptile to maximize its intake, digestion and nutritional gain. The initial cost can be quite expensive: heating and lighting equipment, an enclosure, decor (leaves and rocks), water dish and feeding dish, hides, climbing apparatus, and anything else appropriate to the species. Long-term costs include the cost of running the heating and lighting equipment, new bulbs when the old one blows or in the case of UV-emitting bulbs; requires replacement every six months, food and accessories, nutritional supplements, substrate, disinfectants, vet treatments and so on. The expenses could be more than you bargained for, so don't just think about the initial cost of the animal, do consider the long-term costs as well.
- Can you feed the animal live insects or pre-killed mice?
Many reptiles are insectivorous or carnivorous, in fact few are exclusively herbivorous, and those which are, usually require a higher level of care than most. There is the further consideration of whether or not there are suppliers of appropriate feeders in your area and if online suppliers will deliver to your area. If you can't gain access to the right foods than you won't be able to care for the reptile appropriately. You may also be required to store dead animals in your freezer or keep live insects in your home, which may escape. Commercial foods and dried insects are sold in pet shops but are not appropriate replacements for fresh, whole prey, and in many cases the reptiles will outright refuse to eat them.
- Is there a reptile-qualified veterinarian in the area?
Your area may sell reptiles but is there anyone qualified to treat them in your area too? It's important to note that not all vets are knowledgeable about reptile treatments. If you cannot find a reptile vet in your area, you will have to widen your search and be prepared to travel long distances to see one. If you are not prepared to travel out as far as required than a pet reptile may not currently be appropriate for you. Unfortunately, there are no laws mandating that pet shops sell only those species for whom there are competent vets in the area who can examine and treat them. Pet shop workers themselves don't necessarily need to know anything about the animals they sell and often their advice is poor and no replacement for a professional diagnosis.
- Can you commit the time and effort to the care of the animal for its entire life?
Consider the life-span of the reptile, many species can live for decades when kept in optimal conditions so are a long-term commitment. For the entirety of its life (often 20 years or more) you will be required to dedicate your time to your reptile, changing the water each day, spot checking for faeces, tweaking the heating equipment to maintain correct temperatures (especially making alterations for seasonal variations), food preparation and feeding, cleaning and disinfecting the enclosure, making sure the animal is shedding properly and keeping an eye out for any health issues, taming and handling for exercise. Many animals are unfortunately left to languish in their enclosures with the fact that they are living feeling creatures forgotten about. Do not purchase the animal if you think you will be unable to commit the necessary time to its care.
- Do you have the space for a growing reptile?
Some reptiles can grow quite large and many people buy enclosures that are far too small. While the enclosure may fit the animal at the time of purchase, reptiles grow, often reaching adult size within a year or two. It is cruel and inhumane to house an animal in an enclosure that is too small. It not only causes severe stress which leads to illness and behavioral problems - it also makes taming and working with territorial species that much more difficult. Such animals spend most of their time trying to break out of their enclosure, often injuring themselves severely enough to require veterinary care. For some reptiles, such as iguanas and large pythons and boas, there are no commercially made enclosures big enough for these animals, and much of what is available is not the right shape for them. This means that you must build, or have built, an enclosure that may ultimately take up a good portion of your living space.
After considering these questions and still deciding a reptile is an appropriate pet for you, the next stage is to consider what type of reptile is most suitable. You will be required to investigate how the animal lives and how it has adapted to its environment so you may set up an appropriate environment which reflects the one it has evolved to survive in, as not all reptiles are alike. It can never be ignored that keeping any animal is a major responsibility and reptile keeping should be approached with the utmost seriousness.