This National Reptile Awareness Day (October 21st), the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging all owners to ensure they are meeting the welfare needs of their scaly pets and for anyone considering buying a reptile to #ThinkTwice and speak to a vet for advice.
Reptiles make fascinating pets and are increasingly popular, but have unique and varied welfare needs which many new owners are unaware of. As well as needing a varied diet which provides the proper nutrition, some species are social and will require housing with others of their species, while others are solitary and will need to be kept alone.
Having an enclosure which suits their individual requirements is also vital for keeping reptiles happy and healthy. It not only needs to be the right size – with this differing for every species – but also needs to be a stimulating environment which gives them the ability to choose where to go in the enclosure, for them to seek a different temperature gradient and express natural behaviours such as climbing, basking, burrowing and bathing.
The temperature and humidity of their enclosure also needs to be carefully controlled and monitored to ensure adequate warmth and correct conditions for skin health, including the right conditions for shedding their skin (ecdysis). Some species will need to brumate (the reptile equivalent of hibernation), so you may need to provide them with different environments and diets depending on the time of year or season.
Another important aspect of reptile care is ensuring their enclosures are fitted with the correct lighting, including UVA, UVB and visible light, to ensure they stay healthy. The type of lighting will depend on the reptile’s wild environment, and it’s vital to remember to change UV bulbs regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions and generally at least once a year.
BVA President and top zoo veterinary surgeon Justine Shotton said: “When considering buying a reptile as a pet, it is so important to #ThinkTwice, to do your research and to make sure you can meet all of their welfare needs before making a decision. Proper environments for reptiles can be expensive, and will need regular maintenance, such as monitoring temperatures and regularly replacing UV bulbs.
“Without the proper care in captive environments reptiles may suffer serious health issues – which can be fatal. It’s also important to remember that while reptiles can start off life very small, they can often grow significantly, so you need to ensure you will be able to look after your pet throughout its entire life, which for some reptiles can be many years.
“If you are uncertain or have any questions about how to care for your reptile, do speak to an exotics vet.”