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Top Reptile Health & Safety Issues

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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The popularity of reptiles as pets continues to rise. As more and more people bring reptiles into their homes, various health and safety issues come into play. Once you have adopted a reptile, you are responsible for providing an appropriate and healthy environment. Thoroughly research the species you select before bringing him home to make sure you have what it takes to live with a reptile.

To help you provide the best home, here are some of the top health and safety issues regarding reptiles.

  • Too Cold. For new reptile owners, temperature requirements may not be fully understood. Most reptiles are unable to regulate their body temperatures without external help. Proper heat must be provided to keep your reptile healthy and safe. Without adequate heat, your pet is very susceptible to pneumonia and other illnesses. Their appetite suffers and many do not survive.

  • Too Hot. Reptiles rely on external heat to maintain their body temperature. There are a variety of methods used to provide this heat but care must be used. Electrically heated rocks are popular since they are easy to use, but they can often malfunction and are not recommended by experienced herpers. Severe burns have been reported associated with these rocks. Light bulbs, red lights, heating lights and ceramic heaters are better choices to provide heat but make sure your reptile enclosure provides areas that are not heated. Your reptile needs to be able to escape the heat. A temperature gradient should be your goal.

  • Too Dry. Shedding is an important part of your reptile's life. Proper shedding requires adequate moisture and humidity. When a reptile is kept in a very dry environment, especially without access to water, abnormal shedding will likely occur. To keep him healthy, make sure your reptile has continuous access to fresh clean water. Some species even require daily misting.

  • Too Wet. Providing water to your reptile is an important part of proper care but too much water can be a problem. Excessive moisture leads to bacterial growth, which can quickly cause problems. In addition, an excessively moist environment can also lead to blister disease and other skin problems. Finding the proper humidity level is not easy, but it is very important in keeping your reptile healthy.

  • Sanitation. Most reptiles are kept in a cage. This cage is their whole world. Keeping it clean is crucial to maintaining your pet's health. Uneaten food and feces, need to be removed on a regular basis. A periodic and thorough scrubbing and cleaning are also strongly recommended.

  • Children. Reptiles may not be the best choice for kids. If your child is determined to have a reptile pet, be aware that you are the one who is ultimately responsible to keep the reptile safe and healthy. Children may not keep the reptile's environment clean and may neglect to feed him properly once the child's interest in the pet begins to wane. Children also may not understand that many reptiles are quite fragile and do not enjoy being handled. Falls and escapes are common when adults are not there to supervise.

  • Handling. Some people will handle their reptiles without considering the potential risks. Reptiles are well known for carrying the bacteria Salmonella. This bacteria can cause significant illness in people and reptiles. Reptiles can also absorb substances from the handler. Reptiles can absorb erfumes, lotions, insecticides, soap and even makeup on someone's hands, resulting in significant illness or even death. To keep you and your reptile safe, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling the pet. Or even better, don't handle him unless you must.

  • Chemicals. Exposure to chemicals can have devastating effects on your reptile. Cleaning agents, as well as chemicals that may be on your hands, should be used with caution around your reptile. After cleaning the cage, make sure you thoroughly rinse all the chemicals out. You may even want to consider letting the cage dry in the sun before replacing your reptile. And, always wash and rinse your hands before handling your herp.

  • Cages and furnishings. Most reptiles are confined to cages. Keeping these cages a safe haven takes a little bit of effort. Make sure any cage furniture is adequately secured and cannot topple onto and injure your pet. Check for any broken glass or sharp edges. Look for any cracks or holes that determined reptiles may find and use to escape. Make sure your reptile is not able to come in contact with light bulbs or heating lights. Severe burns can occur. Keep a tightly secured lid on the cage to prevent escape or burns.

  • Family Pets. Few homes are limited to just reptiles. Many times, reptiles also share their homes with dog, cats and other pets. Without adequate precautions, this can result in severe injury and even death. Dogs and cats often find reptiles to be irresistible playthings. They do not understand that the reptile is not interested in playing and just want to be left alone. Bites, scratches and injuries from shaking are life threatening. Make sure your reptile is safely kept away from the family pets.

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