General Reptile Care - Read First

 

snake on display at MGM GrandIt's a bit long but I highly recommend reading this general care page first. Then clicking on the specific animal you are interested in on the right.

 

Snakes as Pets

 

I didn’t always feel this way but I wish snakes were not allowed as pets. I support any law that makes ownership of these amazing animals illegal. This is not hypocritical. Let me explain. I start with the belief that if you love animals you won’t kill animals for your pleasure. Therefore, if you love animals why would you get a pet that requires the death of hundreds of other animals to keep that one single animal alive? I consider that hypocritical. As for my snakes, every snake I have is a rescue. I am dealing with a bad situation; I am not breeding them, buying them or creating a market for more of them. I am only caring for the snakes that exist and that are in need. 


Most arrive at my facility in terrible health due to improper caging, diets or just general lack of basics because most people do not research. They get a pet and rarely read up on the requirements of their care. Then they dump them when they get bored or can’t afford the medical treatments or a host of other selfish reasons. This leaves a living, breathing sentient life in jeopardy. The snake was bred into being for human pleasure and is now unwanted and in need. I can’t help them all but I can help a few. Should I euthanize it? I wish I knew what was best. It’s not the snake’s fault that it is a carnivore. It is also not the snakes fault it even exists. So in dealing with a bad situation I made a decision to help snakes in need but I will not add more to the problem by breeding or promoting them as pets. I do entertain but my goal is to educate people about how much pain and death there is in owning a snake. It’s just not a compassionate pet to have. Every one of these snakes bred is a death sentence to hundreds and thousands of other animals. I know it is natural for snakes toeat animals. In the wild this happens everyday and if that’s what God wants who am I to disagree but really, is a glass, temperature controlled cage in your house the “Wild”? If you have a pet snake it is obviously for your personal pleasure and that pleasure sadly requires the death of many animals that only want to live. I love snakes, I am passionate about their wellbeing but I put the needs of ALL animals before my pleasure. Please think about it before you buy a death sentence to a thousand rabbits, rats and mice. Let nature be nature but in your home let compassion be your goal. Thanks.

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Caring for your Reptile

 

The following is ONLY a general review on the way I care for my pets but remember, I am not an expert. I will say that again, I am not an expert so the following is only MY OPINION. I base it on years of working with snakes in shows, talking with other snakeowners, reading book after book and my veterinarians. Even after two decades of working with exotic animals the most important thing I have learned is I still have a lot to learn! I still would like to encourage you to read others peoples experiences as well.

 

somwhere in TN when Maria was a kidAs far as I can remember, snakes have always fascinated me. I enjoy every minute with them and if you don't feel the same then maybe snakes and reptiles are not the pets for you. These animals can be an expensive 25-year commitment. If I seem harsh in the pages that follow please understand that it is an attitude based on my somewhere in Mexico when Maria a kidexperiences. I find that most snake owners are the result of the impulse purchase and know very little about reptile husbandry. So BEFORE YOU BUY, I ask, are you really prepared to be a responsible snake owner? If you are already a Snake Mom or Dad I hope to giveyou some helpful information in the needs of these incredible creatures.

 

 

albino burmese pythonShow-Biz and Public Displays

 

I do want to touch briefly on my situation in that I perform with animals. In my stage show or public displays I never overwork my animals. With dozens of reptiles to choose from, each snake seldom works. The same goes for my birds and other kids. I'm always adjusting to shed schedules and feed times. It breaks my heart when I see performers working on a regular basis with one snake.

In any public display I never scare anyone. They can approach me at their own timing. I want people to enjoy reptiles, not get freaked out because some nut scared them with a snake in the past. One of my favorite things about my live animal displays is seeing some one touch a snake for the first time. For me it is an everyday thing but for many grown adults it is an exciting new experience and I love being part of that for them. It is amazing how many adults over 30 have never touched a snake.

DO NOT attend public meetings with your reptiles where there are other reptiles. This is how your pet can pick up fatal diseases. If you don't know the source of these animals there is no way to be positive on a disease free experience. One careless or inexperienced pet owner can infect and kill your pet. Don't risk it.

 

Collecting and Breeding Reptiles

 

I have a serious concern about breeding and owning reptiles. There are just way too many animals being put to sleep every year due to lack of quality homes so I say please, please don’t go into breeding reptiles. I did it twice with my first snake and I know it is a thrilling and fun adventure but all the excitement for us is not worth the pain and suffering that will result for reptiles. For example, pythons can lay dozens of eggs and there are not enough qualified places for all the babies to go. We get offers every month for free snakes to a “good home”. There simply are not enough “good homes” to handle the snakes that are alive right now. These giant snakes end up living terrible lives in small, sub-standard conditions since most owners are not prepared for the size they grow to. A quality cage for an adult Burmese python is expensive and takes up space, lots and lots of space. Don’t even let me get started on the pitiful treatment of Iguanas, it is heartbreaking. This is my opinion and you can do as you choose but please rethink what you are starting. Breeding only perpetuates the problem. I know you did not create the problem and it is not your responsibility but unfortunately it is not just money or your rights at stake here, these are living, breathing animals that feel pain. Can any breeder reading this guarantee that all his babies are still in their original homes? Still alive and healthy? Properly cared for? I have e-mails from breeders who say they only let their pets go to good homes. How can anyone prove that? Be honest if you hatched 100 baby snakes every year what are the chances they are alive now? Sadly, every snake person knows the chances are poor but breeding continues and so does the suffering. Then there are the “Collectors”. People who get the newest reptile on the market or something unusual, then trade it off like kids trade baseball cards or comic books. Some defend this as a hobby or a learning experience but I see it as lack of dedication and love to a pet. Should a pet be a hobby or a commitment? Since reptiles do not bond to their owners like a dog, cat or bird does they are easy to dump off on someone else. As the excitement of a new lizard or new snake wears off, the owner finds it easy to trade since there is little or no emotional attachment. This is could be wonderful if only every home the reptile went to was qualified. I have been to many homes as I perform at children’s birthday parties and I have not seen one single reptile in over a decade of performing that has a proper cage. Sadly, not one. (Update: May 2005, I picked up a Bearded Dragon that need a home and his caging was perfect...happy day!) A hot rock, piece of green carpet and a small water bowl (usually empty) are commonly what I see for everything from iguanas to boas. Once I inform the parents of sub-standard caging they have I get replies like, “the child is going to give it to a good home when it gets big or trade it for something easier.” This pain never stops. Do you see why I have this point of view? I just don’t know how anyone can justify trading or breeding. Is there no commitment anymore? Let’s give the animals in need a forever home first before we create more. Thanks.

 

Albinos and Morphsalbino burmese python

For those who don’t know there is a trend to create snakes that really were never meant to exist. The affordable albino in vogue now is the Albino Burmese python. They are really attractive in that they lack color pigment in there skin. What should be green is yellow or white. This is attractive to us humans but be honest, would you want to be an alibino? Of course not, it is a genetic defect that is also connected to many other health issues. This animal would not last in the wild very long.

The market to buy these has increased tremendously due to people like Steve Irwin and Britney Spears that perform with them on television. Add this kind of massive exposure and the unique look of these pythons they become pet shop gold $$$. This results in albino pythons being bred and even worse, inbred over and over to create income for pet shops.

 

I too share that responsibility when I do my shows. In my educational shows I inform my audience that this beautiful albino snake will most likely not live it’s full lifespan. I too think they are beautiful but when I learned more about albinism I have never purchased one from a breeder since. I also know their uncommon appearance does draw attention and I use that unique look to share a message, that whether it is white tigers or snakes it is wrong to breed albinos. My two first albinos that I purchased from breeders 12 years ago have passed away and from now on any albinos I have will be rescues. Most times I get stuck with a dying snake and big veterinary bills but at least I know I did my best to help.


 

Just do a search of albinism on “Google” and see how negative albinism is. They tend to get sick easy, usually are half blind and so on. This does not happen as often to my normal Burmese pythons. I try to share how albinism is a bad thing and people are shocked. But now that you know it is your responsibility to make the right decision.



Venomoids

 

Not a word that exists much outside the reptile insiders but there are people out there that are removing glands from venomous snakes so you can handle them without fear of being in-venomated if bitten. Handling of venomous snakes is getting more and more popular thanks to the irresponsible performances of Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, and others handling venomous snakes on cable TV shows. I wouldn’t doubt that many of these snakes are venomoids. Do you really think they just happen to find one crawling in the grass? That could cost thousands of dollars in production (camera crews, film etc…) if they kept taping him searching for a snake. Again many times snakes are planted there before taping begins. I have even been called in the past to supply animals to one such show taping here in the Nevada desert. Are they handling Venomoids? I don’t know but I think their shows have created a market for snake handler shows at fairs and such who have been busted with them. I know of an animal supplier here in town that even sewed the mouths shut on rattlesnakes for a movie shoot.

 

As for creating a venomoid, I see it as wrong. If you have to surgically alter an animal to make it a pet then it should not be a pet, how simple is that to understand.

 

burmese pythonBig or Not Too Big

 

The bigger it is the harder to handle. Give careful thought to what you are getting yourself into. Some reptiles grow huge making them incredibly difficult to clean up after. Not that you should but just try to handle a 100-pound python alone. You will find like many python owners you leave them alone because it is not possible to lift. Now you end up with a big snake that has not been handled and they get nippy when left alone a lot. If you still choose to get a snake adopt a small breed like a royal python or better yet a corn snake.

 

Your Pets Caging

 

Reptiles don't like to run and play like dogs and cats. But they DO need lots of room to move around and climb. This allows for good muscle tone to develop. This is important. I went to this one guy's house and he had his snake in an aquarium long enough but no height. Trust me on this, if you give them tree limbs and room to climb they will. You will be depriving them if you don't. I have gone out to my snake barn in the middle of the night and seen them up, down and on all levels of their cages. Don't be cheap in this area. A costly cage is part of reptile ownership. If you don't have the money for quality cages then don't get the pet. If you just bought a hatchling Burmese Python that may get to be 15- 20 feet long, I believe that snake should have at least a 15 foot long cage when it gets that big. I even have a hard time with that. The cage should grow with the snake or you are depriving it of a happy life. Now I know they don't have emotions but I can't help feeling sorry for all these little snakes out there in tiny cages. It would be like me or you being stuck in jail cell. A little cubicle for the rest of your life.

 

A major problem in making or buying cages is that for your pet's safety and your own, make double sure it is escape proof. Most cages in pet shops are not 100% secure. The screen lid with a rock on top is not secure. Also screen or mesh cages and tops are problematic since snakes rub their noses raw on the wire in their efforts to escape. Of course this will not likely happen when you give your snake a larger habitat otherwise the reptile has nothing better to do with his time than to search for a way out. There is food and things that move out there and he wants to check it out. Wouldn't you? So he will try to escape. It is your duty to protect them and your neighbor’s pets (if you like your neighbors). Some people believe you can stop a reptile from growing if you keep it in a small cage. This is cruelty and not true.

 

Now some kooks think it's cool to have their iguanas and snakes roam their house freely. They can hurt themselves badly by knocking over televisions on themselves, getting caught in air or heating ducts, having their tails stepped on and broken by house guests or having your house guest get bit on the ankle when he is sitting on your couch is no fun. Ok that is funny, but I don’t approve of it. Plus, where is the humidity? Regular heat and basking source? I don't know anyone that keeps his or her house at 85+ degrees with 70% humidity. Do you want your house to smell like a cage? Stinky yuck. These guys could have salmonella. Have I said enough? Let's look at a few factors of proper caging…

 

Housing

 

Never house different species together. If possible keep all reptiles in cages alone. Reptiles are not social and do not like to snuggle like dogs. They have a much better temperament when housed alone. They can sleep when they want without disruption, they do not worry about competing for food, and so on. It is best for the reptiles unless you are breeding. Which I wish you would not do since there are so many unwanted snakes out there anyway. Don't even get me on that subject again. Housing each reptile alone also prevents cross contamination between breeds and even tame snakes or lizards can bite each other for no apparent reason. Too often people come home to a bearded dragon with eye damage from a cage mate's toenails or missing a chunk of flesh from a bite. Don’t risk it.

 

Sheltersshelter in snake cage

 

I believe all reptile cages should have one if not two. They need a place they can retreat to and feel safe. A dark, cave like spot, not too big, where the reptile can feel the walls while they sleep. Being able to touch all sides give them a feeling that nothing can sneak up on them while they rest. Be sure it is placed in a part of the cage that is within the temperature limits of the reptile. This helps keep them calm especially during the time they are digesting. For small reptiles there are small logs split in half available at torture chambers….er…I mean pet shops. For my biggest snakes I use plastic doghouses or half of a kennel carrier. Easy to clean and disinfect. That's important.

 

dri-deck substrate in snake cageSubstrate

 

Substrates are the stuff you use on the floor of your cages. For all my snakes I have found that Dri-dek (www.dri-dek.com} works great. Dri-dek is the rubber mats used in shower stalls at health clubs and such and I have even seen it recommended on some veterinary supply websites. It comes in many colors. They come in rolls or tile form. The rubber material is made of something they call oxy-B1 vinyl. This is a bacteria fighting material created to inhibits a microorganism's ability to absorb oxygen. This manufacturing process and will prevent mold, and bacteria. I love it.

 

The tiles are raised off the ground by hundreds of pegs so the pee runs under and your pets are not dri-dek substrate bottom in snake cagealways slithering through it and it hoses off easily for disinfecting. I layer newspaper underneath the mats. I have used mine for over a decade now. Not a single one has torn or broken. When it is possible, this is my substrate of choice. It may cost a bit up front, but you will save in the long run not having to keep buying replacement substrate.

 

I avoid wood chips and products like “Repti-bark” from companies like Zoo-Med. This stuff kills countless reptiles every year yet they continue to sell it with a picture of an Iguana on the package. Let me paint a picture here for you. Your cage bottom is covered in beautiful “repti-bark” or some wood chip product. Your bearded dragon is ready for its dinner. You drop in a few crickets and he chases them down grabs a cricket along with a mouth full of this wood chip. It gets into his little tummy. It then lodges in his tiny intestines. It then slowly kills your pet. Same goes for your herbivores. Should a leaf or veggie fall out of his bowl he goes for it and get a mouthful. Some folks say they don’t feed their pets in the bark filled cage. This helps but many lizards just walk around all day tasting things and it sticks to their tongues. Got the picture? After soaking/freezing it for a month first to kill any mites I have used it for my Tarantulas but that’s about it.Do note this is not the best for iguanas, their toes snag on the holes. You can find mats with larger holes available such as used in the backs of bars or shower stalls. I got mine at a Costco.

 

Cedar Shavings are toxic to many reptiles and animals. People like it because it covers oders so well. It is those fumes from the oils in cedar that cause irritation in the nasal linings of rodents and reptiles. By the way, if it smells bad clean it! Don’t mask the stink. I only use pine shavings on “Tribble” my chinchilla and “Mr. Whiskers” my hedgehog, never on reptiles. Although I do not have experience with it, the only wood chips I have heard are OK for reptiles are Aspen shavings and Cypress mulch. It does allow snakes to burrow if that is a natural behavior for your snake of choice but even these have their downside in that the tiny shavings can get in between belly scales and cause irritation. Of course, never feed your snake in shavings.

 

If you are on a tight budget newspaper is still an affordable and safe substrate. Not too attractive but easy to replace when in a hurry and clean is important to your reptile. There are other products like butcher paper that come in rolls, some even have a waffle like texture for better absorbency. This is great too. Easy to replace, wipe down the floor with disinfectant and lay down new paper. I like this stuff. I used to use it but it does get expensive. If you only have a couple of snakes this may be the way to go for you.

 

Some people like to use fake grass or “Astro-Turf”. This is OK. There are two health or safety issues I have with it. The edges can fray and get ingested by your pet. Lizard claws tend to shred it and they end up eating it. This may lead to potential health problems. If you only have a couple of small snakes it may be worth the extra effort in cleaning to have a cage with what looks like a grass floor but when you get into the big guys it gets to be a bit much.

 

Calci-Sand”, gravel and other sand like products are not as good as they may seem. Snakes get it lodged in their nostrils, heat pits and between belly scales. This leads to irritation, infection and even death. The packaging on “Calci-Sand”, states that reptiles can safely ingest it and it is supposed to break down in their systems but my vets and many posts on reptile message boards tell of dragons getting impacted from ingesting it. Just like wood chips it tends to clog up their digestive system especially on desert lizards that don’t require lots of liquid to drink. Now, I have heard that plain old silica free natural play sand and decomposed granite does not seem to cause as much damage. But if it’s not 100% safe I say skip it.

 

Heatingheating panel in snake cage

 

Reptiles are Ectothermic or commonly called “Cold Blooded’. They don’t create body heat the way humans or warm-blooded creatures do. They need an outside heat source to stimulate the enzymes that digest their food and keep their organs from shutting down. If kept too cold their immune system drops and leaves them victim to respiratory infections and more. This is serious stuff here. Proper heat can mean life or death to your reptile so do your research.

 

In the wild they are from areas that naturally supply the heat or humidity they need to digest and live healthy lives. When you bring your reptile home you need to give it a similar warm/hot or possibly humid cage. If you don’t you will slowly kill your pet. So, before you purchase your reptile you will need to find a heater that will supply the proper heat for the species of reptile you buy or preferably adopt. Not all reptiles are the same and not all heaters are either.

 

Once your cage is set up and you have your heat source, place at least two thermometers on opposite sides of the cage. One a few inches off the ground level for your snake and top and bottom for climbing animals. Heat gradient is very important. This means a large cage that allows one side to start at for example, 80 degrees and go up to 95 in the basking spot on the other side. This will allow your little reptile to regulate his own temps. Very important.

 

My heat source of choice is Radiant heat panels. I get mine from www.pro-products.com. I have used them for years and years and not a problem yet. You most likely will need a thermostat. It is like an on/off switch you plug your heater into that operates according to the temperatures you preset it to.
Example: You set the thermostat for 84 degrees. When the heater raises the temperature in your cage to 84 it automatically turns the heater off . When the temp drops down to 83 it automatically turns the heater on until the thermostat reaches 84 degrees again and then it goes off.



Hot Rocks

 

They cook your reptile, they torture your reptile, and they kill your reptile. I hope I have made myself clear on that. A hot rock is a fake rock that has hearting coils in it. You plug it in and it is supposed to create a place for your reptile to go to warm up. The idea is that in nature, a lizard or snake goes to a rock that has been heated up in the sun to warm them.

 

A hot rock is designed to copy that premise. This is terrible in that most people think this is efficient cage heater. Think of it like this; how warm would you be if you were naked in a snowstorm with a hot water bottle. You press it to your tummy and curl around it in a losing effort to keep warm. Although your tummy feels warm you’re freezing your butt off.

 

Reptiles benefit from ambient heat not belly warmth alone. Another problem is that they are usually so hot they harm the reptile. I have seen so many Iguanas with burns on their tummy’s from hot rocks. Iguanas or snakes hold on to these rocks for life since it is the only heat source in their cage causing thermal burns. You try keeping warm with just a heating pad in a house with the thermostat set at 40, then you will understand what it feels like to them.

 

If you have a hot rock please remove it from the cage bring it to the pet shop that said you needed it, swing it really hard and use it to knock some sense into them. Or if you do not want to do that cut the cord and you have a nice decorative rock.

 

Under Tank Heaters and Heat Tape

 

Just like they sound. A product that is placed or sticks to the outside bottom of your tank. It heats up when plugged in; the heat rises and heats your cage. I have heard good things about under tank heaters but I do not use them on my reptiles for the same reasons I don’t like hot rocks. Reptiles prefer the ambient heat created by overhead sources such as the sun does to keep warm. I have touched the glass that under tank heat pads or tapes were applied to and it was like touching a frying pan. Ouch! What if my snake crawls on it? It was worse than a hot rock to me. I would think you could attach a rheostat (rheostats are like dimmer switches for heat control) to it but how efficient is it if the heat is on the animals bottom only? They are inexpensive to use but still a bit of a waste. I have seen some totally closed cages in when only an air vent on each side is available and it heated the cages fairly well but the burn thing still would keep me from using them.

 

CHE (ceramic heating elements or emitters)

 

They look like light bulbs in the way the screw into the sockets.

It does not emit light as other heat bulbs do so it can remain on all night supplying heat for your pet and allowing a night cycle (darkness) for sleep.

 

Some are flat, the superior ones like from Pearlco are dome shaped but they scare me. It gets hotter then a frying pan and if your animal can come in contact with it, it will eventually get burned. Very badly burned. I don’t recommend these unless they are kept out side the cage. One common mistake is that people lay them on the cage top. It can heat a screen top to the point of burning your reptile. Even a short distance or with a cover it still gets freaking hot!!! Also, if it should fall it can become a fire hazard in your home. Not worth the risk when better, safer products are on the market.

 

humidity bin in snake cageHumidity

 

Have you ever taken a hot shower and the steam fogs up the mirror in your bathroom so you can write your name on it? That’s humidity. Many of the reptiles available in the pet trade are from the jungle. These are the ones that need humidity. You will need to get a “Hygrometer”. A hygrometer looks a lot like a thermometer but it measures moisture in the air. Next, find out what you own? Iguana? They should be kept around 60-70 % Red tail boa? At 50-60%. But not all boas are the same. Keep Brazilian rainbow boas at 70-80%.

 

There are way to many to mention here but just keep in mind as you shop for a pet that this could be an important part of its care. Your pet’s health and comfort may require a misting system. One great source for humidity is giving your iguana, snake or whatever humidity-loving reptile you have a tub to soak in. this can allow the animal to hydrate itself. I like to spray the snakes once a day with water in a misting bottle. But you need to watch this if you decide to do it. The inside of my cages are not wood and I use the dri-dek as a substrate, which inhibits bacteria growth. A second or third water bowl is a way to increase humidity. The more surface of water you have the higher the humidity will be. Some people may make the mistake of placing the sole water source directly under or over the heat source. This does create more humidity but snakes don’t like to drink warm water. Your pet will dehydrate. If this is your method, be sure and have a second water source on the cool side of the cage. Also, be sure to change and clean all water sources daily. Bacteria will grow in stagnant water and you do not want your snakes to soak in that.

 

Another way that has worked out great for me is to get a plastic shoe or sweater box at K-mart or such. I buy the T-Rex Expandable Forest Bedding blocks. When water is added it expands and I fill the bottom of the shoebox with a few inches of this bedding. Then cut a hole in the lid big enough for your snake to climb through and he will hopefully go in there for his humidity. Check often and add water as needed. Also I change the bedding if they poop, pee, or shed in it or approximately every 3-4 weeks, whichever comes first. This system is not too good for big snakes but sufficient for the little guys like ball pythons and especially rainbow boas. It also acts as a great shelter for the smaller snakes too.

 

Lighting

 

Just like you have day and night so do your reptiles. Some are nocturnal in that they sleep all day and are active at night. Other reptiles can be diurnal in that they sleep at night like the average person. Regardless of what they are a day and night cycle are very helpful. Daytime in the cage should have access to proper heat and light. Usually a bit warmer during the day since the sun is out and then darkness for the night cycle. Temperatures can drop a bit but be sure to keep them as needed. All my snakes and lizards get 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness each day.

 

Sunlightiguana sunning

 

Not so much for snakes but many lizards need access to natural, unfiltered sunlight. I will try to put this simply; the sun has ultraviolet radiation in it that is essential for calcium to be absorbed for proper bone development. If you are an Iguana keeper (and many other reptiles) this is sooooo important to your pet’s health. It can mean life or death to your reptile so you must learn about it.

 

So be 100 % sure if your pet needs this. Now, how to administer it is the concern. Well, the sun is free so no problem right? During the hot days of summer I can just sit outside with my Iguana and drink an Ice tea and let my lizard soak up the rays. Now I have the ice tea to cool down with but what about my little Godzilla? I supply a shaded area to let him cool down and regulate his temps too. I have several cages in my yard that are large enough for me to walk in. Half the cages are shaded the other has several spaces for the lizard to bask in the sun. On a day when it is 75-85 that’s a good thing but when temperature exceed 85 you can cook your iguana even in the shade! Watch over them! A similar problem comes wintertime when it is too cold outside for your tropical or desert reptile. So what to do? Indoors in front of your window? Nope, window glass will filter out much of the needed radiation. Is your pet in a glass tank? More problems since aquarium tanks can turn into an oven in sunlight even in the dead of winter! What you need is a light bulb that copies the sun called “FULL SPECTRUM LIGHTING” Read on…

 

Full Spectrum Lighting

 

Full spectrum light bulbs must be placed in close proximity (usually 8-10 inches) to the reptile, combined with proper heat and diet even supplemented with Vitamins. Together they will make for a strong healthy reptile. It is really not too complicated, generally speaking, full spectrum light bulbs imitate a little bit of sunlight. Some reptiles need sunlight for their bones to develop properly.

A reptile living outdoors has access to it from the perfect source, the Sun. A reptile kept indoors does not have access to direct sunlight so you must supply it through artificial sources.

There are expensive light bulbs available in the pet trade that supplies the needed Ultra Violet radiation (UVB) but not all sources are created equal. Some bulbs are better than others while most are total lies! I will offer my choices and suggest you do your own research as well.

 

Fluorescent Tubes

 

These have been the standard light source to supply full spectrum light for many years now for birds and reptiles and even humans should they want it. They are the long tube light bulbs similar to what you would see in a garage or workshop. Sometimes referred to as “shop lights”. The two best full spectrum fluorescent bulbs for reptile use in my opinion (and that’s what this site is about, my opinion…OK, my opinion and my boobs) I would recommend Vita-Lite brand by Duro-test (www.naturallighting.com)and Repti-sun 5.0 by ZooMed even though I hate ZooMed for its production of other reptile products that kill reptiles.

 

These bulbs should be used in high quality light fixtures with good reflectors. Not the energy saver kind. Those do save on energy but it cuts out what you got the bulb for. A good reflector on the hood of the light fixture can increase your lights power. This is one of those you get what you pay for deals. Don’t be cheap. My fixtures from Home Depot cost over 40 bucks each, not the $7.99 shop light fixtures they have. Add to that the price of a ZooMed 5.0 Reptisun at around $35 dollars, two per fixture and your not done yet. The bulbs lose their UV potency after a while. I change mine every ten months if not more often. UV is expensive.

 

Fluorescent bulbs have been used for many years and proven to safely work. They have a history of success so that is why I still use them. I am, however, investigating Mercury Vapor bulbs at this time.

 

Mercury Vapor Bulbs

 

These are screw in bulbs that emit light and look like flood lights. From my research they have the highest amount of UV output and get great reviews from users.

 

I still don’t feel comfortable about the high output of UV from mercury vapor bulbs. These things kick fluorescent bulbs butt in UVB production but is it more than needed? The labels warn of eye damage just like the sun can damage your eyes if you look directly into it. Do I want to subject my lizards to that? I know the animal can damage its eyes looking into the sun if outdoors so what’s the worry right? But I do worry, so I still lean toward not taking a chance when Repti-sun or Vita lights supply the UVB needed. Many people use Mercury vapor bulbs with no problems to report but it just scares me a bit. My other thought on it is do we really need such high output of UV? For decades reptile owners used Vita-lites and the animals lived full healthy lives. As I wait for more info on these bulbs to come around I will continue to use my vita-lites during the cold months and come summer, allow my lizards 10-20 hours a week outside in natural sunlight. For more information on these bulbs visit www.reptileuv.com/

 

snake bitten by live ratFeeding Your Reptile

 

It is amazing to me that so many people think snakes only need to eat once a month or once a year. This myth is totally wrong. Some snakes eat 3 or 4 times a month. Other reptiles can eat every day while others eat every other day and some once a week. Each animal has its own unique needs and if you are getting one it is your responsibility to learn them PRIOR to purchase. One last note, over feeding is a problem too. Please feed regularly but not more then needed to stay healthy. An obese animal is likely to bite or even die as a result of not having enough time to digest. Remember, they are digesting bones and teeth and stuff that takes a while. Don’t rush them. To much food can block them up and stick inside their intestines. I’ve lost several savannah monitors I tried rehabilitating due to the prior owners overfeeding them. Too little food is bad too. Some believe they can keep their reptile small by underfeeding; this is animal cruelty and will not stop their growth.

 

Pre-Killed Frozen/ Thawed Food

 

Another myth is that snakes only eat live food and nothing is further from the truth. Smart people never feed live food to their snakes.

 

But wait! did you say never feed live?” Yes I did! Every snake I have rescued that was fed live food is now eating frozen/thawed mice, rats or rabbits.

 

I am a big believer that pre-killed is better all around. Most people that disagree with me just think it is cool to watch an animal suffer, then die. In the wild it is natural to kill and eat but in my home I am humane enough to step in and eliminate needless suffering. So I do. I strongly encourage you to do so also. Ask you local reptile Veterinarian about how snakes end up in his surgery room from a rat fighting for its life and chewing the eyes out of a pet snake. Also, there are some pet shops that for a fee will allow you to watch their snakes feed on live prey. Please please please do not buy from those shops.

 

For those of you who never heard of the Pre-killed food situation it is simple as this. There are painless ways to kill rats or rabbits in which to feed your snakes. Rodents are placed in a chamber and gassed by CO2. In only a few minutes they pass out. This brings a painless death but one more step should follow. Place the now dead rodent in a sub-zero freezer for at least 30 days. This process kills many of the bacteria and parasites that the food item may harbor. Come time to feed you defrost the food item in the fridge or the way you would any meat. I also recommend injecting the now warm dead food with a liquid vitamin and giving the snakes the healthiest meal they can get. Most rescued snakes at our facility have eated live food all their lives but they all eat pre-killed food by the time I’m done with them. For some the transition is not that easy. It may require you to do some wiggling to make the snake think its alive but they do go for it after a while. You may have to try different sizes and although snakes see in shades of gray I have had some respond better to a different color rat. Sometimes your snake may not take it unless you feed at night, perhaps the rats needs to be warmer or maybe given to him in his hide spot. You will figure out your snake’s preference after a while. You may have to throw away a few rats at first until your snakes catch on to the process; this is not a problem, only a minor expense and some of your time. Once acclimated to the process they may strike and try to strangle the dead animal. This is normal but dangerous for you. Be careful. Never hold the food in your hands. I use snake tongs that are 3 feet long and keep me way out of reach. Their strike is lightning fast and totally cool to watch but painful to be a part of. You have been warned.

 

Aside from the humane aspect of pre-killed food it is much safer for your snakes. A dead rat will not fight for its life and chew the eyes out of our snake in a last ditch effort to live! With a pre-killed rat you can leave it in the cage overnight with no worries of it attacking your snake. I have several pythons and boas that have been conditioned or maybe even tamed to the point that they don’t strike at the food. They are so mellow (not safe mind you, just mellow about it) that they almost seem to gently open their mouths and start to swallow. However, if they have not eaten the food item in 12 hours please throw it away.

 

As for the most humane way to kill your rat, rabbit or mouse I only suggest it be done by CO2. You may prefer to do it yourself but it is much easier to order them from places like http://www.gourmetrodent.com/ and www.rodentpro.com. And, if you have an extra freezer like I do you can order in larger quantities which is even cheaper than buying a live rat or rabbit from a pet shop which is terribly cruel. Also, for smaller quantities, Petco now carries mousicles and ratsicles, a thumbs up for Petco on that decision.

 

Some will try and kill or stun the rat prior to feeding it to their snake. Some place the rat in a pillowcase and whack it against a wall or use a stick or hammer to break its neck. This is a horrible way for a rat to die and illegal in many states. It is considerd an inhumane way for an animal to die.



Water

 

Just because your water bowl is full you can have a dehydrated or very thirsty snake. Snakes often refuse to drink stagnant or old water.

 

Clean your water bowls at least every other day. And don’t just change the water, you need to empty the water and scrub out the bowl with cleaner/ sanitizer. Don't just re-fill it. If you are not dedicated to cleaning don't get a reptile. Don’t delay and let bacteria grow. This is harmful to your pet. Now advance this cleaning process to the 5th or 6th year you own your python and its 10 feet long. You need a bathtub sized water bin to soak in.

 

How do you take that out of your cage, bring it in your yard and hose it down? You cant! How does an average person living in a home carry gallons and gallons of water filled with poop to a toilet to dispose of it? Then you have to sanitize the tub in its cage before you refill. It is almost impossible so many reptiles end up with just a small dish to drink from and depriving the tropical reptile to behave as it would in nature and soak. Not being able to soak is not life threatening but I do try to provide that activity.

 

Vitamins

 

I take vitamins, don’t you? I used to have Flintstone vitamins and loved to bite the heads off Barney and Fred but I am an adult and those childish pleasures have slowly been replaced by boring grown up vitamins. As for your reptile I will offer two of my vitamin choices. The first and favorite of most every reptile owner I know is “Miner-All. Please check them out at www.miner-all.net”

 

It looks like baby powder. Its easy to sprinkle it on the dark green leafy vegetables you feed your lizards (cause you would never be stupid enough to feed lettuce right? Right? Come on say it…) and let them gobble it down. Another that works well is “Rep-Cal but my babies don’t seem to find it as tasty. Perhaps its too tasty or possibly gritty in comparison to the somewhat fluffy light feel of miner-al. but if they eat it then you’re on your way.

 

Insectivores

 

Got a reptile that eats bugs? That is an insectivore.

 

Well, you are what your eat so be sure the bugs your pet eats are healthy and well fed. Gut loading is a term we use for feeding your crickets or roaches (yes cockroaches are great for your lizards) a good diet prior to feeding it to your pet. The crickets you get at your pet shop may not have eaten for days. Most pet shops rarely have water for the crickets. So by the time you get them to your pet they are starved and dehydrated and have little nutritional value. So fatten 'em up for a few days! Mixed veggies are great. Green beans, carrots, corn, and such work great. It is natural and cheaper than the commercial mix for crickets. A good quality pulverized rodent chow is good also. Please do not forget the clean water and even fresh orange slices.

 

One more thing, never ever catch a bug from your yard to feed a pet. Insects from the outdoors can have pesticides, fertilizers and who knows what on them and you could poison your pet. So remember, farm raised cockroaches and crickets.

 

Hey, I told you reptile care when done right is serious work.

 

Herbivores

 

Got a reptile that eats plant life? That is an herbivore.

 

I would think this would be easy but all I see are people feeding their iguanas and tortoises is lettuce. Lettuce is not needed for any reptile, ever. Just forget about it. Don’t even give it a thought. They can eat it but its like zero in the nutrients needed for a healthy pet. If you have an herbivore check on its particular diet. Most likely you will see dark green leafy veggies only, Collard greens, Mustard greens and Dandelion greens are usually very good. Now spinach is good for humans and Popeye but has a negative effect on a reptile’s ability to absorb calcium so it should be avoided. Please research your particular animal and get the right diet for him. I get all my organic grown greens from www.reptigreens.com. They ship to me once a week and provide a different variety of greens each mailing.

 

Sheddingsnake just shed

 

Snakes and lizards shed a thin layer of skin off their bodies. This is normal. Most lizards shed in sections but snakes do it all at one time. Do not handle snakes during the shedding time. Their eyes will cover up and look cloudy and touching or moving may scare them, which can lead to getting bit. Be sure there is plenty of clean water to soak in. This will help. Humidity should be up to aid shedding, or sloughing, of skin. If the humidity is right the snake may shed in one piece. If not, then many dry pieces may be what you get. If so, check the snake shed head area for the eye caps to be off. Eye scales or Eye caps are the clear cap like scales over the snake’s eyes that function in place of eyelids. Eye caps that do not come off could result in infection or blindness. I also do not recommend trying to get an eye cap off yourself unless you really know what your doing. I have known people to damage their snake’s eyes permanently. Take him to a vet.

 

Do not rush the shedding process. Let them do it in their own timing. If you're dating some loser, for fun save a long piece and hide it in his closet. Never let him know you own snakes. He won't ever know where it came from. Play it like your some scared little girl. Good for a laugh.

 

snake fecesCleaning the Cage

 

Reptiles eat so needless to say they poop. And they Poop and they POOP!

 

Usually it is brown in color mixed with some white stuff, that’s the pee. Now it may happen one at a time or both at the same time, this is no problem. When it does you do have to clean it up as soon as you can. Preferably immediately. Once it leaves the animals butt it can become a health hazard for them and you!

 

Reptile poop can contain salmonella but relax so can dog poop and you don’t freak out on that do ya? Either way, Salmonella is not to be treated carelessly so be sure to wear gloves while cleaning, avoid skin contact and wash up after.

 

I have dozens of reptiles so when it comes time to clean I have a bucket with a sticker with the animals name on it. Thank goodness for the .99 Cent Store! Each animal has its own sponge and towels for each individual cage. I don’t want to spread germs from one snake to another. This contains it.

 

As for cleaning products I use a veterinary cleaner called Triple Two. There are many others on the market such as Quatricide and Nolvasan. These are popular and work fine just be sure to rinse well using any. Many people use bleach but I have heard that it can cause cancer in lizards so I just use what the vets use. I used to use bleach at 10% strength with water but I did rinse very very well and never had a problem. But these veterinary cleaners are not that expensive and from what my biology major assistant tells me it does a great job so I leave it at that for your to decide.

 

Veterinary Carecorn snake

 

I have a USDA license to exhibit my mammals and I am required to keep detailed charts and have regular check-ups. My reptiles benefit from this too. I keep a chart showing dates they shed, what and how much they eat, poop, (reptiles poop can harden in them and kill them without you ever knowing if you don't.) and if the food has been treated with vitamins or not. Most vet visits are fairly priced around 25-50 dollars. Many reptiles are selling for less than that. This has made them the disposable pet to heartless pet shops that sell many animals like the Sulcata tortoise that will need a cage as big as a 2 car garage when its full grown. They are expensive animals to care for. Don't get them if you are not prepared to take them to the vet. I hope you have luck finding a Veterinarian in your area that knows reptiles. Many say they do but my past experience is not. I have been lucky to have a great exotic pet vet in my area.

 

Before you get a reptile look for some people in your area who have them. Maybe a local reptile club. Ask what Veterinarian they use. So many veterinarians will take your money, look at your pet but few really are able to treat exotics like your reptile. Call and talk to the vet. Ask questions, I have found many veterinarians who can treat reptiles usually own one themselves. If you are local to Las Vegas check out the Facebook page for local reptiles that need homes.

Pet Care Tips