Reptiles - Choosing

General Introduction

reptiles_-_choosing-1Reptiles are popular pets. Some people like to have a unique pet (never a good reason for owning any pet). Some believe that the cost of veterinary care is lower as compared to dogs and cats (this is often, but not always true). Many people who don't have the time to devote to a dog or cat enjoy the relatively or comparatively "maintenance-free" appeal of a snake, lizard, or turtle. They are, of course, not maintenance free. You MUST thoroughly research all aspects of reptile ownership. This includes not only the appropriate type of reptile for your lifestyle, but also how to provide this animal with the proper diet, suitable housing and a healthy, stimulating environment.

"They are, of course, not maintenance free."

Educate yourself before welcoming a reptile into your family!

Before purchasing a reptile, it would be wise to ask yourself the following questions:

Do I want a pet just to look, at or do I want to handle and socialize it?

While many reptiles, especially those purchased as captive-born infants, will allow humans to handle them, others do not. Many of the more exotic species such as chameleons may neither allow nor like handling, and will react aggressively or become severely stressed. As a rule, if you want a pet to snuggle with, a reptile is not for you! If, on the other hand, you want an animal you can display in a well designed, natural, healthy cage environment, marvel in its natural behaviors, enjoy learning about, feed properly or perhaps promote a breeding situation, a reptile deserves your consideration.

"As a rule, if you want a pet to snuggle with, a reptile is not for you."

As a rule, if you want a pet to snuggle with, a reptile is not for you! If, on the other hand, you want an animal you can display in a well designed, natural, healthy cage environment, marvel in its natural behaviors, enjoy learning about, feed properly or perhaps promote a breeding situation, a reptile deserves your consideration.

How much time can I devote to my pet?

"Owners who fails to pay at least this much attention to their pet will not detect early signs of disease and are really neglecting their responsibility as a pet owner."

All pets require AT LEAST 15-30 minutes of attention and observation by the owner morning and night. Owners who fails to pay at least this much attention to their pet will not detect early signs of disease and are really neglecting their responsibility as a pet owner. You must feed and water most reptiles daily (some larger lizards and snakes may only eat every few weeks) and often the cages need to be cleaned daily as well. Owners who intend to put a reptile in a cage and observe it only occasionally should seriously consider the decision to adopt this type of pet.

Can I afford proper medical care?

ALL reptiles need to be examined immediately after purchase (within 48 hours), and then at least annually by a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about reptiles! A thorough examination will include diagnostic testing, and may involve blood work, fecal testing, bacterial cultures, and radiographs. Routine wellness examinations for your reptile will enable early detection of disease. With very rare exception, exotic pets usually do not act sick (or show any indication of illness) until they are VERY SICK and need immediate veterinary attention! Regular veterinary care, plus an informed, knowledgeable pet owner will greatly reduce illness and death in these pets (as well as the overall cost of medical care). Speak to a veterinarian familiar with reptiles to discuss cost and suggested health schedules.

Can I afford to make or buy the correct habitat (home) for my reptile?

For most reptiles, you can initially start with in a 10-gallon glass aquarium, two pieces of Astroturf or other indoor-outdoor carpet to line the bottom of the aquarium, a source of heat, and a source of UV-B light.

"An improper environment is the second most common source of diseases or health problems encountered in captive reptiles."

The required size and contents of the cage may vary, depending on the current size of the animal, and its anticipated mature size. While not expensive or difficult to assemble an appropriate habitat, an improper environment is the second most common source of diseases or health problems encountered in captive reptiles (an improper diet is the most common cause).

Why should I take my pet reptile to a veterinarian for an examination when there is nothing wrong with it?

reptiles_-_choosing-2Reptiles do get sick and preventing illness is definitely preferred to treatment. It is important that you, as a reptile owner, understand that reptiles hide signs of illness quite well. This is called the "preservation response" or "survival of the fittest." In the wild, if an animal showed signs of illness every time it felt badly, it would easily be attacked by predators or even members of its own group. Therefore, these animals do not appear ill until the illness is actually quite advanced and they cannot hide it any more. Pet reptiles retain this "wild" characteristic. To repeat, "A Sick Reptile May Be A Dying Reptile"! It is very important to take your pet to the veterinarian at the FIRST sign of illness. Waiting to see if things get better, or treating with over-the-counter medications (not recommended), especially those sold at pet stores, only delays proper assessment, accurate diagnosis, and timely implementation of treatment. This often results in expensive veterinary bills and perhaps the needless death of a pet reptile! Veterinarians can do many things for sick reptiles, but early intervention is critical!

While the principles of diagnosis and treatment of disease are the same regardless of the species of pet, there are important differences between reptiles, birds, small mammals, dogs and cats. Only a veterinarian with the expertise in treating reptiles should be consulted for medical or surgical advice.

What is involved in the first veterinary visit?

Within 48 hours of your purchase, your pet should be examined by a reptile veterinarian. During the visit, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination, including a weight assessment, looking for abnormalities. The pet is examined for signs of dehydration or malnutrition. The oral cavity will be examined, looking for signs of infectious stomatitis (mouth rot). A fecal test will be done to check for internal parasites. Unlike most other pets, reptiles do not always defecate regularly, and it is impossible to get a pet reptile to defecate on command (although many will give you an unwelcome sample if angered!). Unless the sample is fresh, analyzing it will give little useful information. A colonic wash, similar to an enema, will allow your veterinarian to obtain a diagnostic sample and accurately check for internal parasites. Most of the visit will probably be a question and answer session, as your veterinarian will want to ensure that your new reptile's diet and care are thoroughly discussed. No vaccines are required for reptiles.

Just like dogs and cats, pet reptiles should be examined at least annually, if not semi-annually, and should have their stool tested for parasites on a regular basis.

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