There are over 9000 species of reptiles. At The Veterinary Health Centre Ltd we see a huge range of reptiles from tiny chameleons weighing 5g up to huge Sulcata tortoises that can weigh anything up to 50kg! The challenges are many and as more and more species become popular, the veterinary surgeon has to expand their knowledge accordingly. Reptile medicine is one of the fastest expanding disciplines in the country.
Before you buy a reptile, ensure that you have found out as much as possible about the breed before you bring it home! Most pets live in our homes, with or without a cage to restrain movement, but they eat and live at our temperature, humidity and light levels. Reptiles are very different. You are trying to create a tiny piece of a world that they would normally live in. We greatly over simplify the needs of these creatures. There are many groups who feel that certain species do not need UV light. In the natural world, unless you are a burrowing creature or live in a deep cave, all reptiles are exposed to varying levels of UV light. Often the equipment needed is expensive and you need to think carefully about the costs of feeding and caring for these pets. The Internet has an abundance of information regarding temperature, lighting and humidity for each specific species.
The cage that you buy for your reptile has to have several functions. It needs to be easily cleaned, and be safe and secure, to prevent any unwanted escapes. Plastic or glass tanks are ideal for most species except chameleons who should never be kept in a tank due to the high humidity levels. Tortoises are generally much happier in a tortoise table. Wood, although cheap, tends to harbour bugs and bacteria and is much harder to clean. Make sure that the lid fits securely and that is heavy enough to prevent muscle bound snakes from pushing the lid off the tank! It is also worth mentioning that arboreal snakes, or tree living snakes like height and so a vertical tank is preferable. The tank will need furniture, sand, soil, bark to rest on, stones to hide under and bask on. Make sure that the products you use are safe and the correct size to avoid accidental ingestion. Some reptiles are not particularly fussy when eating! Size matters too. It is vital to learn about the growth and size of your adult pet.
This is very important. Our light bulbs are measured in a unit called lux. The sun provides light at the equivalent of 120000 candles on a bright sunny day. A 100 watt bulb only provides around 190lux at 1m. It is important to make sure that the bulb is bright but the reptile has a place to hide and seek shade.
This is probably one of the most important elements for a reptile and where mammals and reptiles differ the most. Mammals eat food to repair their bodies but also to provide heat. This is set at a predetermined temperature for the species. Reptiles gain no heat through food. All the heat is directly gained from the environment. This can be gained in a number of ways. Basking in the sun or lying on a hot rock in the wild. In the reptile tank, this is provided mainly by a light bulb giving heat as a bi product. There are other ways to boost the heat. Under floor mats, ceramic heaters that give off no light and also heated objects such as rocks. For lizards and chameleons this is acceptable. For some peculiar reason snakes appear to have no burn receptors in the skin, or if they do have them, they function in a different fashion. It is very common for snakes to seriously burn their skin by wrapping themselves around an unguarded bulb or heat mat. Remember to learn the perfect temperature your reptile would live in and then make sure that part of the tank is at this temperature. It is also important to make sure there is a gradient, meaning that there is part of the tank that it is cooler where the reptile can move to it if he or she becomes too hot. Just as reptiles cannot shiver they can also not sweat so they are equally likely to over heat. Although a reptile may appear ‘happy’ running around the house, remember the average house temperature is 18 to 20 degrees centigrade. Most reptiles work best between 25 and 35 degrees centigrade. If your reptile is exposed to long periods of low temperatures, his digestive system slows down, he is more prone to constipation, he will have difficulty shedding his skin and his kidneys will struggle to work. The correct temperature is vital.
Food and Water
Water is vital for all reptiles and fresh water should be provided daily. Some snakes like to bathe in water, others are specialist drinkers, like chameleons and will only drink from water dripping from the trees. Tortoises can also absorb water through the tail vent! Although it may appear that tortoises do not need water as they gain most of it from the vegetation they eat, it is still important to have it available. There are many examples of different food groups. Again, it is important to know what your pet eats before you get him or her and you need to make sure that the desired food is easy to come by. Snakes are mainly carniverous, feeding weekly and eating rodents and chicks. Care has to be taken when defrosting these foods as many minerals and vitamins are destroyed. This is particularly true for fish eating snakes like the garter snake. Most good pet shops will stock a wide variety of live insect food and most vegetables are easily bought or home grown. The number of insects kept or farmed is limited. In the wild the reptile would eat what was available and what he could catch. It is good to supplement with insects from the garden as long as they are pesticide free. Remember not to over feed, particularly with insects as it can be distressing to have lunch sitting on your head! It is also illegal to feed living mammals or birds to your reptile.
Reptiles are specialised pets and you may not find your neighbour or relative quite so keen to look after them when you go on holiday. Make sure you find suitable accommodation before you go. Avoid using pet shops where your reptile may be housed in cages already holding another reptile, or one where a reptile has recently vacated. The risk of disease spread is high.
Fleas and Parasites
The number and type of parasites found on and in your reptile depends on where your pet has come from. Wild caught are more exposed and more likely to have signs of disease, due to stress and exposure to other animals. Home bred, the best to buy, often have low parasite burdens. A variety can be seen such as round worm, tapeworm and mites. All of these can be treated. Should you see any parasites or be worried about them please visit the surgery with your reptile so we can accurately diagnose and treat your pet. Panacur, Drontal and Frontline are some of the products used. Be aware that there are very few products licensed for specific use in reptiles and you may be asked to sign a consent form granting permission for the use of these drugs.
Reptiles and Children
Many reptiles carry bacteria such as salmonella. Although these bacteria do not affect the reptile, they can make humans very ill, particularly children, the elderly or any person with immune system problems. Very small children should be supervised at all times, never be encouraged to kiss their pet and to thoroughly wash their hands after handling. If these simple steps are followed, children can enjoy their pet safely.
Microchips are easily inserted into your reptile. The site depends on the reptile. A microchip is one legal way to prove that your reptile is yours and for some species protected by CITES it is a legal requirement.
Find out more at www.reptilesarecool.co.uk