9 Questions to Ask Yourself if You Are Considering a Pet Reptile
Pet reptiles are part of 4.5 million households in the U.S. As those numbers indicate, these cool creatures can make great companions, but they do require special care from their pet parents. Before you add a pet reptile to your family, make sure you’re ready for the responsibility by first asking yourself these care, cost and compatibility questions.
9 questions to ask if you are considering a pet reptile:
Is a reptile right for me and my family?
Reptiles have some advantages over more traditional pets. Without fur, they're attractive to animal lovers whose allergic reactions to animal hair and dander may disqualify them from dog or cat parenthood.
While many reptiles tolerate human interaction well and may even enjoy it, all require ongoing care and attention to their habitat and needs. Very few require the more intensive daily attention—like outdoor potty breaks—a dog requires.
Reptiles are also relatively quiet creatures, which can be a real advantage for anyone living in an apartment or condo where walls are shared with neighbors.
Setting up and maintaining an ideal reptile habitat can take time, money and patience to ensure your pet can live a long and healthy life. Additionally, the size some reptiles can grow to, along with the diet needs of some reptiles, can make certain species less desirable to certain people, which is why detailed research is essential.
What kind of reptile would I like as a pet?
While snakes and certain lizards tend to come to mind first when we think about reptiles, there are actually more than 8,700 species of reptiles! Of course, not all are suitable pets, so you’ll need to do some research.
Alan Brandenburg, Petco regional animal care and education leader, offers a few recommendations for a first pet reptile.
Species recommendations for first time reptile parents
|Crested Gecko||Corn Snake||Russian Tortoise||Savannah|
|Leopard Gecko||Ball Python||Hermans Tortoise|
|Bearded Dragon||King/Milk Snake||Greek Tortoise|
Do I have the time to care for a pet reptile?
Reptiles are lower maintenance than many other pets, but they're certainly not maintenance-free. Most reptiles have specific light, heat and humidity requirements that must be closely monitored to avoid illness. Their enclosures must be kept clean. The more exotic the species, the more work you'll need to do to keep your pet healthy and happy.
Is my family ready for the responsibility?
If you live alone or know you will be the primary caregiver for your reptile, be sure you’re comfortable taking on full care responsibilities. If your pet will be your family’s pet, however, remember that just because your 7-year-old swears he'll take care of the new lizard doesn't mean he really will (or can). Reptiles make fascinating, educational pets for children, but as a parent, you may end up doing the majority of the work. And remember, bringing a reptile into the household is a bad idea if someone in the family is afraid of them.
Do I have enough room for the reptile I want?
While young reptiles often start small, they don’t all stay that way! Research the habitat size requirements for an adult reptile of the species you’re considering to ensure you have adequate room in your home. While you may get a baby corn snake when they're only about a foot long, for example, at 2 to 3 years old they can be 4 to 6 feet long.
While you can move your reptile from a smaller habitat to a larger one as they grow, starting them out in the habitat they’ll need as an adult means you won’t need to rearrange your own living space later to make room for their larger home. A baby bearded dragon requires at least a 20-gallon habitat, but an adult will need at least double - a 40-gallon habitat.
How often do I want to handle my pet?
Many reptiles dislike frequent handling. Additionally, young children who play too long and too hard can inadvertently harm them. Think carefully about the ages and personalities of the children already in your household. Will they respect the needs of your arriving reptile? Based on these answers, you can narrow down your research to reptiles who are known for being more docile and amenable to more regular handling (like bearded dragons) or those who prefer to be left alone (like chameleons).
Is anyone in my family young, elderly, pregnant or immune-impaired? In some cases, handling reptiles is not advised for those who are more susceptible to infection or disease.
Practicing good hygiene is extremely important. Without proper precautions, reptiles can transmit bacteria that is harmful to humans such as salmonella. Always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile. And never clean their habitat or accessories in areas where food is being prepared.
Am I ready to feed a reptile?
Some reptiles need to be fed only once a week or a couple of times per week.
While a bag of food could last a while, keep in mind that many reptiles are omnivores or carnivores and require a diet that consists of fruits/vegetables, waxworms, crickets or frozen rodents. Are you comfortable feeding your pet the well-rounded diet their species requires.
Can I afford a pet reptile and their needs?
The costs of a long-lived reptile with specific needs must be considered, too. The cost of the pet themselves is usually modest, but accessories such as hiding and climbing places, substrate, water conditioners and calcium supplements can add up:
- Habitats or enclosures vary from around $50 to several hundred dollars or more, depending on size, complexity and materials.
- Food and water containers can be relatively inexpensive, however, annual food budgets can reach upwards of $850* depending on the age, species and dietary requirements of the reptile you decide to bring home.
- The cost of lighting and heating is harder to measure. Lighting and heating costs will vary by reptile species; some need UVA and UVB lights, others do not. Some need warmer habitats that require higher wattage bulbs. The bulbs themselves can range from $15 to $80 each depending on the bulb, and that’s not including the fixture (which can range anywhere from $10-over one hundred depending on the habitat and species you have). Plus, UV bulbs should be replaced every 6 months.
- Veterinary services can run from $50 per year for a general health check to hundreds or even thousands of dollars if your pet becomes ill.
Can I make the long-term commitment?
Depending on their species, reptiles can live 10 to 20 years or even longer. Are you ready for that commitment? If your lifestyle involves frequent changes or you’re on the precipice of a big change (like moving away for college) that might make such a pet a burden, you may want to reconsider or at least ensure you have a solid plan for your pet’s long-term care.
By answering these questions, you've taken your first step toward reptile parenthood and demonstrated your interest and willingness to learn. These attributes will serve you well.
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 amphibian, lizard, snake or turtle is critical. Even narrowing it down to “snakes,” for example, doesn't complete the job of selection. Your additional homework will include researching the different kinds of snakes, their temperament, care requirements and their suitability for first-time reptile pet parents.
Visit your local library, bookstore or browse reputable reptile websites for more information. Find other reptile pet parents who can offer you hands-on advice, possibly through your local herpetological society. And when you’re ready to meet a particular reptile species, visit your local Petco to talk with a reptile specialist and get more details about the pet you are considering. The more you know, the better your chances are of successfully welcoming a reptile into your family.
*Calculated as fifty (50) crickets and one (1) frozen rat per week for 52 weeks). Does not take into account additional supplements, commercially produced food or fruits and vegetables your pet may require.