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Are You Ready For a Pet Reptile?

Are You Ready for a Pet 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 is 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 a couple of times per 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 a Reptile Right For Me?

Just as dogs, cats and fish are not for everyone, reptiles are not everyone's cup of tea. Reptiles have unusual care requirements that merit careful consideration and their care requires commitment and preparation. Reptiles bought on an impulse may end up abandoned, sick or worse. Before you consider adoption or purchase, answer these questions:

Do I have the Time?

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. On the plus side, reptiles, unlike dogs or cats that roam the house, are usually housed in reptile habitats that can be placed in a room where visitors do not go.

What About Handling Them?

Many reptiles dislike frequent handling. Additionally, 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 your 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.

Practicing good hygiene is extremely important. Without proper precautions, reptiles can transmit bacteria harmful to humans including salmonella, which is potentially harmful to vulnerable persons. Be sure to always wash your hands after handling your reptile. And also never clean their habitat where food is being prepared.

Am I Committed?

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 a Reptile?

The costs of a long-lived pet with special needs must be considered, too. The cost of the pet itself is usually modest, but a reptile's accessories, such as hiding and climbing places, substrate, water conditioners and calcium supplements can add up:

  • Habitats or enclosures vary from $50 to several hundred dollars or more, depending on size, complexity and materials.
  • Food and water containers can be relatively 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. 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 depending on the bulb, and that’s not including the fixture. Plus, UV bulbs should be replaced annually.
  • Veterinary services can run from $50 per year to hundreds or even thousands of dollars if your pet becomes ill.

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 amphibian, 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 pet parents.

Visit your local library or bookstore, or browse reputable reptile Web sites on the Internet. Find other reptile pet parents 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.