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Pet Wise: Can reptiles and amphibians make good pets?

As animal lovers we have our preferences for the types of animals we choose. Some of us are attracted to the more conventional pets like cats, dogs, pocket pets, etc., while other people may prefer something more exotic like reptiles and amphibians. These animals can be quite challenging to maintain and live with. Therefore, potential owners need to be aware of what these animals need to thrive when living with humans.

“Before acquiring any reptiles or amphibians, potential owners must take the time to conduct thorough research regarding the animals that interest them,” said Karen Baker, executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County.

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This involves information regarding the animal’s dietary and housing requirements (like the need for a heater), life expectancy (some turtles can live over 40 years and outlive the owner so advanced planning will need to be made to rehome that pet). Baker also wants readers to be aware that most reptiles and amphibians require a diet consisting of live food like crickets and other insects and the owner will need to find sources to purchase the appropriate food for the pet. Other animals (like snakes) will require a diet consisting of live or frozen mice, rats, rabbits. If this makes readers queasy, perhaps a snake won’t be chosen as a pet.

Dave Ledford, the Humane Society’s assistant director of animal care, has had a special interest in reptiles and amphibians since childhood. He concurs with Baker regarding the need to thoroughly learn what is needed to appropriately feed, house, handle and understand what makes this unique group of animals tick. He recommends that when people encounter a snake to leave it alone and never take an animal out of the wild to be a pet.

Another serious mistake some people make if to release a pet reptile or amphibian into the wild because that animal won’t survive in a different environment (too cool or hot) and it may not have access to appropriate food sources, so it will likely die a cruel death. If a person can no longer keep a pet snake or other reptile, it can be surrendered to an animal shelter or a reptile rescue organization.

According to petplace.com, reptiles and amphibians do not like being handled. Over time they may get used to being held but most will not. These animals are skittish because they have poor eyesight and are accustomed to spending time in the dark in burrows or undergrowth where they find prey. Most snakes cannot focus by changing the shape of the eye lens and must move its eye lens back and forth, which limits them from focusing on still objects and makes them extremely sensitive to movement. Snakes are also extremely sensitive to vibrations. When you approach a snake it senses your heat, movement and odor which may warn them of approaching danger. Therefore a “new” pet snake will need time to adjust to its surroundings.” Owners are advised to wait a couple of weeks before handling the animal.

Snakes and turtles will snap at hands that come near them if they are frightened or will bite and hold on if they think the hand is food. Most lizards will bite and do not like to be handled, Pet.md.com advises owners to wash their hands before handling these animals to remove the smell of any other animal that might be in the home. The website recommends that snakes be picked up around the middle and the head at the same time if possible, and hold them securely and gently.

When handling frogs they should be cupped around the body by one hand and supported beneath by the other. Turtles should be held securely around the back shell and supported by the under shell.

Amphibians are much more sensitive to touch because their skin is permeable and has a thin membrane that absorbs oxygen and anything that comes into contact with it, like perfume, hand lotion, insecticide or soap residue, could kill the animal. Another thing to consider is the temperature differential because human hands are hot so the heat from clean hands along with the stress of being handled can kill a tiny frog or toad. Petplace.com suggests that when picking up amphibians (like a salamander) to moisten your hands and scoop the animal up in your hands and gently restrain it or use a dip net.

Children must be closely supervised when handling any animal and children tend to put their fingers in their mouths. Reptiles and amphibians can carry Salmonella so it is important for every person who handles these animals to wash their hands thoroughly.

Always purchase captive-bred reptiles and amphibians.

Go to https://www.petmd.com/centers/reptile for their recommendations and descriptions on the five best reptiles and amphibians for kids. Their list includes: Bearded dragon lizards, leopard geckos, corn snakes, Russian tortoises and Pacman frogs.

While reptiles and amphibians may not be pets for everyone, these fascinating animals can be kept as pets if the owner is properly informed and prepared.

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