Prospective pet owners commonly underestimate how much care their new charges will require. This is especially true of reptiles and amphibians. Here are 10 questions you should ask yourself before buying one:
Have I done the proper research and reading? Research involves more than merely asking a few questions at the pet store. Pet store personnel may not be up-to-date on the latest information about the animals they sell, and you are going to need much more information than they can provide in a brief conversation. You’ll need to consult books, Internet sites and local reptile or herpetological societies for the most detailed knowledge.
Do I have enough time to care for my pet? The relative inactivity of reptiles does not translate into less work for their keepers. Attention to detail is critical. Large African bullfrogs, for instance, eat only once a week and hardly move at all. But their waste products are quite toxic, and the frogs may perish if confined to a small unclean cage. Care for reptiles and amphibians is rarely routine, and the time spent observing your pet and providing for its needs can add up.
Can I make a long-term commitment to my pet? Many species of reptiles and amphibians – turtles, lizards, snakes, and salamanders – live as long as 50 years in captivity. Even small creatures can have surprising life spans. Newts can live more than 10 years and African clawed frogs nearly 20. Zoos will rarely accept an unwanted pet, and adoption networks are always overburdened.
Can I provide for my pet’s care while I am away? Finding someone to take care of a reptile when you go away is more difficult than finding someone to feed and walk your dog. Boarding institutions that care for these animals are rare, and you’re taking a risk leaving your animal in inexperienced hands.
Can I afford the cost of caring for my pet? Care of a reptile can be costly. The specialized equipment – tank, lights and heaters – can be expensive, as can providing feeder animals such as mice or insects. Veterinary costs to care for a sick reptile are comparable, and often greater, than those for dogs and cats because reptile care is a specialized field.
Is it safe and legal to keep my pet? The fact that an animal is offered for sale is no guarantee that it’s safe or legal to keep. Federal, state and local authorities are often called in to confiscate illegal animals sold in stores. Large constrictor snakes are capable of killing their owners, iguanas roaming free in the home have often knocked down electrical appliances and caused fires, and several reptile-borne microorganisms can cause serious illness, and in some cases, death in humans. Even non-lethal bites from a reptile, such as a green iguana, can be serious and can quickly become infected.
Does the pet I’m considering fit my interest level? Although reptiles and amphibians may be fascinating to those with real interest in the animals, the less inspired or novice owner may be disappointed by their pet’s level of inactivity. Unless you know how to appreciate these animals for being themselves, while understanding that they don’t “do much” fascinating besides eat and shed their skin, you may quickly tire of them. They do not provide the “closeness” provided by more traditional pets.
Can I provide the proper environmental conditions for my pet? Reptiles and amphibians are usually quite demanding in their requirements for light, heat, humidity and space. Many require lighting of specific wavelength, humid yet fresh air, places for hibernation, and different heat regimens for day and night. These require careful and continual maintenance.
Can I provide a proper diet for my pet? Many reptiles and amphibians require diets that are difficult or costly to provide. Those that feed on insects may consume a standard diet of crickets but may languish without nutritional supplements. For instance, horned lizards need to feed on ants, and poison dart frogs need fruit flies or wild-caught insects. You must consider the effort it takes to procure animals and how you are going to keep them alive.
Will my pet reproduce in captivity? With populations of many reptiles and amphibians declining dramatically, potential pet owners should consider that breeding captive animals can add to the number available for the pet trade and keep wild populations from being taken into captivity. But breeding compounds all the concerns of caring for a reptile or amphibian. If you don’t intend to breed or devote the time to breeding, you may want to choose a common species.