Before you bring a reptile into your home, you need to know everything about the animal's care requirements. What kind of food does it eat, and how often must you feed it? How much space does it require? What about heat, humidity and lighting requirements? These are just a few of the things you need to research before you put a reptile into an enclosure.
First, do an internet search for care sheets. Use the animals scientific name as it will direct you to more acurate information. You can do this by entering the name of your reptile species, followed by the phrase "care sheet". For example, if I want to keep a ball python as a pet, I would do a Google search for (Ball python, royal, python, python regius care sheet) to begin my research.
It is important to read as many care sheets as possible. Remember, there is no editorial-review process on the internet. Anybody can publish anything they want, regardless of accuracy. So you can't just assume people know what they are talking about. By reading a variety of care sheets for the species you want to keep, you will get a well-rounded and more accurate education in pet reptile care.
The best way to keep a reptile healthy is to start with a healthy specimen. This is why research is the first topic of the guide. You won't know what a healthy specimen looks or acts like until you have researced the topic.
The best place to purchase a pet reptile is from a professional breeder. When I say "professional", I'm talking about people who breed and sell reptiles for a living. These people have a reputation to maintain, so they work hard to produce healthy animals. A reputable breeder would never sell a sick reptile. Most breeders can ship the reptiles to your door or to the nearest airport so you can pick it up. You can also purchase an animal from them in person, by attending a reptile expo in your area.
I strongly recommend that you purchase a captive-born reptile, as opposed to one illegally captured from the wild. Captive-bred animals are generally healthier than wild-caught specimens. A reptile taken from he wild might have any number of diseases or parasites, none of which you want to deal with. Taking animals from the wild can also stress their populations, which is why so many reptiles species are endangered these days. These are all good reasons to purchase a captive-born specimen.
Reptiles are incredibly diverse. Some live in desert environments, while others exist in rainforests and other tropical regions. Some are active during the day (diurnal) while others are nocturnal. Some need a basking area well over 38°C degrees, while others do well at room temperature. You get the idea? So, before bringing a reptile home as a pet, you need to set up a proper habitat according to its needs.
Pop Quiz: What's the difference between a cage and a habitat? A cage is basically a box of some kind) made of plastic, glass or screen) that holds the reptile. On the other hand, a habitat includes everything the animal needs to survive. The habitat includes a substrate of some kind, heating devices, lighting, hiding area for your reptile, climbing furniture and more. The "ingredients" of the habitat will vary, depending on the type of pet reptile you are keeping. So I refer you back to step number one above. You must research the care requirements for your species, and then you must build a habitat around those requiremnts.
What do reptiles eat? As with everything else we've talked about thus far, it depends on the species you keep. In captivity, most snakes will do well on a diet of mice or rats. Chameleons will eat a wide variety of insects. Green iguanas are strictly herbivores, eating fruits and vegetables. Turtles & tortoises may be omnivores or herbivores, depending on the species. Different reptiels have different dietary needs.
Before you bring a reptile home, you need to know
A - What it eats and
B - Where to find those food items.
Herbivores are easy - you can feed them fruits and veggies from the grocery store. But what about lizards that eat insects only, or snakes that eat rodents? You need to have a food supply on hand from day one. It all starts with research.
Knowing what to feed your pet is important, but you also need to know how often to feed it. An overfed reptile can suffer from all kinds of health problems, just like an overfed human. The same goes for underfeeding.
There is only one way to get it right - research.
Pet reptiles require on-going maintenance and monitoring. They don't need as much maintenance as a dog or cat, but you do need to keep an eye on certain things. Here are four things you need to monitor.
The first three items on the list are fairly simple. The last item (health) is harder to observe. In many cases, a reptile can be ill without showing any outward signs or symptoms, and by the time they do manifest some kind of symptom, the illness could be in the more advanced stages. Why is this true? Because reptiles do not show any outward expressions. If your dog or cat become sick, you would know it right away. Dogs and cats have very expressive faces, and they can frown and whine and whimper when they are not feeling well. But reptiles can do none of those things. So if you don't provide the proper habitat for your pet snake, lizard or turtle, it could suffer in silence for a long time.
What does this mean to you as a reptile keeper? It means you must be proactive and diligent about providing the right care. You must check the cage daily to make sure the temperatures and humidity are correct. Your have to ensure that they have fresh drinking water at all times. You must keep the cage clean to prevent bacteria build-up. You must learn the normal behaviour of your pet, so you can tell when something is out of the ordinary, and if necessary, you must take your pet to a qualified reptile vet when something goes wrong.
If you get the key components of pet reptile care right, your pet will be more likely to have a long and healthy life. Every pet deserves the best care it's owner can provide, and that includes reptiles. Now that you know what to do, there's nothing left but to go and do it.