One of the most common misconceptions about exotic pets is that they don’t need veterinary care. Nothing could be further from the truth. Responsible owners of reptiles understand they are not low-maintenance pets. Reptiles require expert care throughout their lifetime, which depending on the species, could be more than 20 years! They also cannot regulate their body heat, so they will require strictly controlled environments with thermometers, heaters, humidifiers and special day and night light sources.
Snakes need frequent veterinary checkups. Most are carnivorous, and prone to contracting any number of parasites as well as blister disease, respiratory and digestive disorders and mouth rot. Many types of snakes can live for decades and grow to more than 5-feet long. Snakes need at least a 30-gallon tank, fresh water and strictly controlled daytime and nighttime temperatures. Their habitats must be regularly cleaned.
Turtles & Tortoises
Turtles are water-lovers, while tortoises live on land. Domestic aquatic turtles need at least 30-gallon habitat with strictly controlled temperatures, water to swim in, an area to bask in. They eat a varied diet that includes vegetables, turtle food for extra nutrients, and in some cases, insects. The average lifespan of an aquatic turtle is 25 years.
Tortoises can live to a ripe old age, so they’re definitely a long-term commitment – especially when you realize they could outlive you. Tortoises are land dwelling herbivores who love vegetables, fruits and tortoise food. Keeping them as pets require a large environment – at least a 40-gallon tank or terrarium – with a shallow bowl of water. The temperature should be warm and humid. Be sure to check with your vet for specific requirements.
Green iguanas can live for more than 20 years and grow to more than 6 feet long! They’re strict vegans. Their diet is limited to a very specific range of greens and fruits. Enclosures for a full-grown iguana should be at least 18 feet long, humidified, and maintained at a particular temperature with specific timetables for periods of darkness and ultraviolet light. Iguanas are some of the most frequently abandoned pets – simply because the proper care requirements are so extensive.
Responsible Pet Care for Reptiles
Reptiles cannot regulate their own body heat, so they need temperature and brightness-regulating devices like:
- Humidifier to keep air warm and moist
- Daytime lights and heat sources. Reptile tanks need a “hot side” and a “cool side” so they can regulate their body temperature.
- Nighttime lights and heat sources. The cool side of the tan needs infrared heat lamps for nighttime use. Some reptiles – like iguanas – also require ultraviolet light.
- Thermometers. Get two thermometers: one for the hot side and one for the cooler side.
Reptiles Also Require These Accessories
- Hides where they can retreat from the heat and rest
- Food and water bowls, some need deeper water for swimming
- Tile, newspaper, or reptile carpet bedding
- Rocks, logs, plants, and other accessories
Human Health Risks of Reptiles
Each year approximately 70,000 people in the US contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death.
Click here for a list of AZPetVet hospitals that treat exotics and reptiles.