Reptile Husbandry pt. 2
By Arbutus West, on Monday, September 25th, 2017
Not everyone likes reptiles, but people who do like them, like them A LOT.
Most reptile keepers probably started out marveling at reptile houses during trips to the zoo as kids or being introduced to these beautiful, diverse and quixotic creatures by friends and family who already were herpetologists.
Unlike caring for mammalian pets, reptile keeping is all about creating a healthy environment for your pet. This starts with researching your pet’s natural environment, an exciting adventure into the biology and ecology of your future pet. Are they a tropical animal?
What’s the humidity in their natural environment? Temperatures? Seasons? Do they hibernate? Do they spend their time on leaf litter, or buried in sand? Crawling over rocks or tree branches? We always try to recreate a reptile’s natural environment as closely as possible to create a healthy living space for them, and while there are practical limitations to this, a huge part fo the joy and challenge of reptile keeping is creating these environments. You can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to be, but you must get certain parameters right or your pet will not do well.
There are a lot of resources available, from online discussion boards to books, and even local herpetology clubs in some cities. One thing I would suggest to avoid though, is taking advice from the 16 year old check-out clerk at the pet store. Please, please, please, don’t take advice from the check-out clerk at the pet store… Do your research! It is both fun and useful!
Of course, a knowledgeable reptile veterinarian is an invaluable resource when it comes to husbandry. We typically do not see reptiles until things have gone dramatically, horribly (but hopefully not irreversibly) wrong. It is a rare owner who brings their reptile in for an annual health check, and yet so many problems could be prevented in reptiles, as in other pets, with an annual health exam and “check-in” with your best, and most knowledgeable pet health source. Your Vet! Every pet deserves an annual health check, and reptiles are not excluded.
Speaking of which, it is also important to bring any newly acquired pet, whether it is your first bearded dragon, or your seventh python hatchling for a health check, since pets fresh from pet stores and breeders are very commonly infested with worms and protozoal parasites, and review your husbandry and feeding protocols at that time (especially if your pet is a juvenile).
Another important thing to research is how your pet eats in the wild. Reptile eating habits can change depending on the season, daylight, as well as their life stage (juvenile, adult, breeding etc.). Sometimes it is impossible to replicate their wild diet precisely but we do our best, and there are ample resources out there on feeding for almost every species of reptile.
So to summarize: research, research, research, don’t be afraid to get creative with housing, do not get creative with diet, and don’t forget that a veterinarian is your best resource (once you find a competent reptile vet at least).