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Reptiles Need Exercise, Too

By: Dr. Margaret Wissman

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Take your snake for a swim. Take your lizard for a walk. Let that tortoise stretch its legs. It does a cold-blooded body good.

Perhaps your pet green iguana won't catch a Frisbee and you can't go jogging with your pet turtle, but exercise is very important for some pet reptiles. While the average pet snake, lizard, tortoise, turtle or frog gets enough exercise just walking around its cage, some reptiles benefit greatly from additional exercise.

How to Exercise a Snake

Large boas and pythons often spend their whole lives in fairly small cages. The result is an out-of-shape snake with limited muscle tone. This can be problematic, especially for a breeding female or a large, sedentary adult. As you might expect, a female must use her muscles to squeeze out her eggs or babies. If she has spent all her time in a small cage, she might not be able to perform the blessed event.

Swimming can keep your snake in shape. A molded plastic kiddie pool will do just fine. Just fill it with enough warm water so your snake can keep its head above water and slither off the pounds. A 15 to 20 minute session several times a week should be sufficient. Here are some tips:

  • Allow only one snake at a time to swim.

  • Make sure your snake is supervised to prevent escape.

  • Change the water and disinfect the pool after each snake swims. Use one cup of bleach per gallon of water.

  • Make sure the water doesn't get too cold.

  • It's best not to swim your snake in the family bathtub. If you must, make sure you thoroughly disinfect the tub before you let the humans use it again. Again, use one cup of bleach per gallon of water.

    How to Exercise an Iguana

    Green iguanas also benefit from exercise. Larger iguanas often spend their days lounging around like couch potatoes. While obesity isn't a common problem for an iguana that's fed a proper diet, lack of muscle tone often is. And regular exercise is especially important for female green iguanas, who need to be in good shape to lay eggs.

    Swimming is great for iguanas, too. In fact, they are good swimmers and crave the water. Most get almost all of their moisture from the foods they eat, since they often won't drink out of a bowl. They also prefer to defecate in the water, which means that their cages stay cleaner longer. So allowing a green iguana to swim a few times a week is a great idea to ensure that your pet is well-hydrated and in good shape. Follow the same procedures as outlined above for snakes.

    Also, some iguanas can be trained to walk on a leash and they benefit from the sunshine. There are several types of harnesses available for them. Just keep in mind that if you take your pet iguana outside for a walk in the sun, he might try to bolt and run away if he's startled or alarmed. To prevent losing your pet, make sure that the harness fits securely and snugly and that your iguana cannot slip out of it easily.

    How to Exercise a Turtle

    Tortoises, box turtles and some land turtles aren't good swimmers, so forget the pool. But they do appreciate a good soaking from time to time. Land tortoises also like to walk. So place them in a secure, outdoor pen and let them roam.

    To make a pen safe and escape-proof, it's best to dig wire down into the ground about 18 inches, rake the pen well and make sure there aren't any pesticides or toxic plants in the area.

    Water turtles, as expected, are good swimmers and should be housed in the largest tank possible to allow adequate exercise.

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