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READY FOR A REPTILE?

Is a pet reptile right for you? Ask yourself these care, cost and compatibility questions before making the big decision.

Should I Get A Reptile?

As reptiles outgrow their scary, scaly image, interest and demand for them as pets are growing steadily.

Reptiles have several advantages over more mainstream pets. Without fur, they're attractive to animal lovers whose allergic reactions to animal hair and dander may disqualify more conventional pets. While some reptiles seem to enjoy attention, very few need the intensive interactions their mammal counterparts crave. Reptiles are also quiet, which can be a real advantage for anyone living in an apartment or condo. And, they don't require outdoor excursions.

Some reptiles need to be fed only once a week or once every other week. There's little need to worry about throwing out your back hauling 40-pound bags of pet food from the store to the car to the house. What's more, contrary to conventional wisdom, reptiles can be socialized. They may even show subtle signs of affection!

Is It Right For Me?

Just as dogs, cats and fish are not for everyone, reptiles are not everyone's cup of tea. Reptiles are different pets altogether whose unusual care requirements merit careful consideration. People may become entranced by reptiles' exoticism and rush out to buy one, but keeping a reptile as a pet requires commitment and preparation. Reptiles bought on an impulse may end up abandoned, sick or dead. Let's take a look at what's involved. Before you go to your local adoption agency or pet store to look for a pet reptile, take some time to seriously consider these important questions.

Do I have The Time?

Yes, reptiles are definitely lower-maintenance than most other pets, but they're certainly not maintenance-free. Most reptiles have specific light, heat and humidity requirements. These must be closely monitored to avoid illness. Their enclosures must be kept clean. The more exotic the species, the more homework you'll need to do to keep your pet healthy and happy.

Is My Family Willing to Adjust?

Just because your seven-year-old swears he'll take care of the new lizard doesn't mean he'll be able to handle it. Reptiles make fascinating, educational pets for children, but you may end up doing the majority of the work. And remember, bringing a reptile into the household is not a good idea if someone in the family is genuinely frightened of them, as some people are. If Grandma doesn't like reptiles and she's a regular guest, reconsider your choice. 

What About Handling Them? 

Most reptiles dislike frequent handling. Unafraid of reptiles, young children may play with them too long and too hard, inadvertently harming them. Think carefully about the ages and personalities of the children already in your household. Will they respect the needs of an arriving reptile?

Is anyone in my family young, elderly, pregnant or immune-impaired? In some cases, handling reptiles is not advised for people who are more susceptible to infection or disease.

Keeping your reptile clean and healthy is extremely important. Without proper precautions, reptiles can transmit bacteria harmful to humans including salmonella, which is potentially harmful to vulnerable persons.

Can I Make A Commitment?

Reptiles, established on Earth long before mammals, have survived eons of harsh climates and hostile conditions. Acquiring a reptile is not like buying a goldfish. Reptiles can live 10 to 20 years, or even longer. Are you ready to have a cold-blooded family member living with you that long? If your lifestyle involves frequent changes that might make such a pet a burden, you may want to reconsider.

Can I Afford It?

The costs of a long-lived pet with special needs must be considered too. The cost of the pet himself is usually modest, but a reptile's accessories can quickly drain your pocketbook.

Cages or enclosures vary from less than $50 to several hundred dollars or more, depending on size, complexity and materials.

Food and water containers are inexpensive. However, the annual food budget is about $44 for a turtle, $66 for a lizard, $88 for an iguana and $127 for a snake.

The cost of lighting and heating is harder to measure. Apart from the cost of special equipment, ongoing electrical costs need to be considered.

And, veterinary services can run from $10 per year to hundreds or even thousands of dollars if your pet becomes ill.

The First Steps

By reading through these questions, you've taken your first step towards acquiring a pet reptile and demonstrated your strong interest and willingness to learn. These attributes will serve you well on the path to reptile ownership.

Don't rush out to adopt or buy your new pet just yet. Caring for a reptile is a big responsibility, one that will have a strong impact on every member of your household.

Choosing the right reptile, lizard, snake or turtle is critical. Even narrowing it down to 'snakes' doesn't complete the job of selection. You'll have even more homework including researching the different kinds of snakes, their temperament, requirements and their suitability for first-time reptile owners.

Visit your local library or bookstore, or browse reptile Web sites on the Internet. Find other reptile owners who can offer you hands-on advice, possibly through your local herpetological society. The more you know, the better your chances are of successfully adopting a reptile into your family.