REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS AS PETS
As a little girl I thought my first pet would be a beagle puppy. He’d romp with me, cuddle with me, and listen to me when I complained about my sisters. I wouldn’t have to share him, and could take him everywhere I went. My parents had other ideas. My first pet was named Tommy, and he was a box turtle.
Most think of pet ownership as having dogs or cats. But many people are just as enthusiastic about their reptilian or amphibious friends. I’ve been fortunate enough to own amphibians and reptiles, and can say that they are fun pets. They can be great for kids and adults with feather or animal-dander allergies. And small reptiles and amphibians can be ideal for people with space limitations. But they aren’t for everybody. Here is a list of things you should consider before getting one.
1) Reptiles aren’t just lizards, and amphibians aren’t just frogs or toads.
If a reptile or amphibian is the way you want to go pet-wise, be sure to do a lot of research. Lizards are the most obvious examples of pet reptiles, but there are other reptiles that make good pets. Turtles—both land and aquatic—make excellent pets. Snakes can be good, too, but be sure you pick the size and breed that will work for your lifestyle. Newts and salamanders are good amphibious choices if frogs or toads aren’t for you.
2) Some stay small, but others get big. Really big.
Most of the reptiles or amphibians you see in pet stores are on the small side. Either they are smaller breeds, or they’re young. Not all of those will stay that way forever. Anoles are small, fast-moving lizards. You’ll often see a dozen or more in each pet store tank. Those little guys don’t get very big. Iguanas are sometimes kept in the same tank or next to those small lizards. As babies, iguanas are a few inches long. Full-grown iguanas, which you will almost NEVER see in pet stores, can be 3 to 5 feet long. (Yes, FEET.) That’s one reason you don’t see them in pet stores. Iguanas are not the easiest lizards to keep, and their size and requirements can be cost prohibitive for the average pet owner. Some people realize this and happily commit to years of owning an iguana. But be sure that’s what you want before you shell out the money for those awesome-looking baby lizards.
Small snakes are the same way. Some stay small and can be handled easily. Others, such as most pythons and boas, grow to be very long, very heavy, and, in some cases, aggressive and hard or impossible to hold.
3) Most don’t eat dry kibble or grocery store pet food.
Some amphibians and reptiles can be fed special pellets or freeze-dried food. Others require live food. These may vary from crickets and worms to small rodents, such as baby mice, rats, and rabbits. (Yes, BUNNIES!) You may also have to supplement their diet with fresh fruits and vegetables. Before picking out a pet, figure out what it will need to eat and if the diet fits into your budget.
4) Terrariums, tanks, and supplies.
Most reptiles and amphibians can be kept in aquariums or special terrariums. If you’re getting a small pet, this is a big plus if you have space limitations. Most pet reptiles and amphibians aren’t or can’t be free roaming, so these pets can be humanely confined to a part of your home. Keep in mind, though, many will require substrates (sand, moss, plants) that will need to be replaced regularly. Heat lamps, water filtration systems, and special lights may also be needed. Be sure to budget for these items. Speaking from experience, however, the cost of these supplies—in the long run—can be less than the expenses required for keeping a pet dog.
5) Where to get your pet?
Most pet reptiles and amphibians are purchased from pet stores. This is often because it’s the most obvious and convenient source for the average pet owner. However, this may not always be the best source. Some pet stores sell exotic pets that were imported from other countries, captured from the wild, or bred in mill-like facilities.
Another source may be the many registered reptile and amphibian breeders who specialize in breeding and raising these animals.
Reptile and amphibian shows/conventions are an ideal place to do research, buy supplies, and find a pet. I recommend these shows to anybody who is considering a reptilian or amphibious pet. Breeders attend the show to sell their livestock or supplies. You’ll have a larger and, in many cases, healthier selection of pets from which to choose.
However, the best parts of the shows—and the parts that should be mandatory—are the booths and tables occupied by reptile rescue groups. They often bring full-sized iguanas, snakes, and tortoises that have been surrendered or abandoned by their owners. It’s good for people to see—right at the start—how big these guys can get. At one show I attended, I was happy to see a family inquire about adopting one of those rescued iguanas. Perhaps you’ll find that adopting one of these rescued pets is the right choice for you!
WARNING: Some reptiles and amphibians are illegal in certain states. Always do your research before committing to a pet.
I’m hoping the five points above haven’t scared you off! Careful thinking and thorough research is important for ANY pet, whether it’s a fish, a newt, or a dog.
And I still think that certain reptiles and amphibians are good options for many pet owners. I have a frog and toad. I’ve cared for lizards. In college, I kept fire-bellied newts. They were small, inexpensive, and the cost of their supplies and the time it took to clean their tank were manageable. One of my sisters had a tiger salamander in college. Her pet, “Pudgerigar,” was a cute thing with a perpetual ‘smile.’ She had no problems maintaining his terrarium. And back when you were still allowed to do it, he even flew home with her for breaks. (Apparently, the security people who X-rayed his little carrying box got a kick out of him.)
Who says the perfect pet has to be soft and fluffy? Not me.
P.S. Nearly twenty years later, I did eventually get a beagle. And to be honest, he’s a lot more work than any of my reptiles and amphibians ever were!
Karen Ang is a freelance writer, editor, and pet lover. She has worked on many books and projects dealing with pets and responsible petkeeping. Since childhood, she has owned or cared for nearly every type of domestic household pet, from tiny hermit crabs to large dogs, and often advises people on choosing and caring for the right pet. She’s also pleased to say that her pet-naming skills have improved in the decades since she first owned Tommy the turtle.