Thinking about getting a pet reptile? A lizard, snake, or turtle can be just as rewarding to keep as any dog or cat, but there is a great deal to consider before making the actual purchase. The most important thing to do is to research the species you are interested in. Read as much as you can. In this digital age, the internet is an amazing resource. Compare care sheets and see where the information overlaps; if ten keepers all same the same thing, it is probably sound advice. Researching will let you know what to expect longterm.
One of the most common reasons reptiles get abandoned at shelters is because they were bought on impulse as juveniles and the owners were not prepared for what their pets grew into or what their exact husbandry detailed. Some reptiles are great for beginner or casual keepers, some take a lot of energy and resources and should only be worked with by those with proper experience. Not all reptiles are handleable, so it is important to consider whether you want a pet you can interact with or one that is kept solely for display. Many species do not display affection in the same way a dog or a cat would, so those looking for a deep, two-way emotional relationship should look into other types of pets.
Being cold-blooded, many reptilian pets will outlive their mammalian counterparts. This should be especially taken into account if buying pets for children, since their animals will inevitably grow up along with them. The advantage of this cold-blooded metabolism is that pet reptiles eat less, both in terms of frequency and quantity, than mammals or birds the same size; some of the biggest pet pythons only eat a couple times a year. Of course, the overwhelming majority of reptiles available in the pet trade are predatory—most lizards eat insects and there are no herbivorous snakes—and if feeding one animal to another turns your stomach, a reptile is not the pet for you.
Reptiles are considered “exotic” pets and with that moniker comes some “exotic” pet expenses, such as specialized caging and lighting. Some of this can be expensive, especially for larger species. Keeping reptiles also means that one’s electricity bill will be slightly higher due to keeping all the heating and lighting units going. The average veterinarian is not necessarily trained to treat reptiles, and as a result a checkup for an “exotic” may be a little more costly.
All of this being said, there are many advantages to keeping reptiles. As previously stated they tend to live longer on average than many warm-blooded pets so a properly kept reptile companion will be around for a long time. Reptiles do not produce dander so they make excellent pets for those with allergies, and since most lack vocal chords they can be ideal apartment pets. Even though exotic vet bills can be high, reptiles are generally very hardy animals and rarely need to see the vet; they certainly do not need the regular checkups dogs and cats do if given proper care. Reptiles are a different kind of pet for a different kind of pet owner and as long as you take the time to prepare yourself, you too can be an amazing keeper.
For info on reptile natural history and evolution, check out our Reptile Center!
For info on some of the negative effects of the pet trade, check out our Conservation Center!
For info on what amphibians make cool pets, check out our Amphibian Center!