October 21st is Reptile Awareness Day, a day to celebrate all things reptile and to promote a greater understanding of their behaviour and needs. Reptiles are an increasingly popular choice of pet in the UK, so we’ve invited AWF trustee and exotics vet Daniella Dos Santos to talk about reptile husbandry and how to make sure your pet reptile is both healthy and happy.
Reptiles are increasingly common as pets, but sadly most of the illnesses vets see in exotic pets are caused by incorrect husbandry and diet. They are often seen as “cheap” pets, but the correct equipment, ongoing electricity costs as well as vet treatment can end up being costly.
This article will provide information on 5 main areas to consider
It is important to provide your pet reptile with a large, interesting enclosure to live in. Exact requirements will depend on the species, but it should be large enough, provide adequate enrichment, and enable required heat and humidity to be reached. Examples include:
- Mediterranean tortoises are best suited to tortoise tables to avoid excessive humidity and provide appropriate ventilation. Tropical tortoises need greater humidity and so are better suited to a vivarium
- Snakes should be able to stretch out
- Climbing species would benefit from taller enclosures rather than wider enclosures
- Water quality for aquatic and semi-aquatic species needs to be maintained
- The use of hides, logs and plants to provide and interesting enclosure
Reptiles are unable to produce their own heat, relying on external sources. Correct temperatures are vital for a good immune function and digestion of food and many other functions. Exact temperature requirements will depend on the natural environment of the reptile, and as owners we should be trying to achieve these optimum temperatures in captivity. All species need a steady background temperature, and many also need a hotter basking spot. Digital thermometers should always be used to monitor the temperature within the enclosure and all heat sources should be in safe locations to prevent your reptile being burnt.
There are various (and often confusing) heat sources available and you should seek advice from your local reptile vet to help choose the best bulbs for your pet and enclosure.
All reptiles benefit from UVB lighting, and for all but strict carnivores, a lack of UVB will lead to serious, potentially fatal, health problems. UVB light is essential for calcium metabolism, which ensures healthy bones and immune function. These bulbs require regular replacement, some as often as 6 monthly, because they may continue to shine but not be producing UVB. Avoid bulbs labelled as “natural light” as they often do not produce UVB. The strength of UVB and hours of exposure required in a 24-hour period depends on the species: equatorial species need 12 hours exposure; temperate species requirements will vary throughout the seasons.
There is a huge range of strength and type of UVB bulbs on the market, so speak to reptile vet for advice on the best lamps for your pet.
It is very important to provide the correct diet according to the individual species: reptiles vary from herbivores, omnivores to carnivores. They have a much slower metabolism than mammals, taking longer to digest food and as such do not need feeding as often. It is important to offer a varied diet, and well as appropriate vitamin/mineral supplements to avoid nutritional deficiencies that can lead to serious health problems. Speak to your reptile vet to help ensure you have your reptile on a healthy diet.
An often overlooked but important factor for reptiles in captivity is humidity. It is vital to ensure correct shedding (ecdysis) and avoid skin problems. Requirements depend on natural habit and can be achieved in various ways such as shallow water baths, humid chamber or even a mister. Humidity can be measured with hygrometer.
Owning a reptile is not something to be taken lightly, and there are many factors that need to be considered when caring for them. If you have any questions or concerns about their care, please seek advice from your local reptile vet.