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Reptiles as Pets for Children
Reptiles can be cute, but they are not cuddly! Lizards, snakes, tortoises, frogs etc. are similar to fish in that they need an environment which mimics how they live in the wild. They need a responsible owner who understands how best to care for them, and who is not squeamish when it comes to feeding time.
Best suited to the older child or teeager, reptile keeping is a fascinating hobby, and the reward is from observing and understanding these interesting creatures, rather than from being able to have an relationship with them in the same way as you can with a dog or cat.
The Life Span of Reptiles
One important factor when deciding to get a reptiile as a pet for a child or teenager is their life span. If looked after properly even the small gecko can live for 20 years, and the oldest recorded pet gecko lived for 30 years. Bearded dragons live on average 10 to 15 years, and many snakes live over 20 years. Even smaller amphibians such as tree frogs live 8 to 14 years, with some larger types living 20 years plus. And when we consider tortoises they can live 90 to 100 years plus if their husbandry is correct.
So an important factor is when you are thinking of succumbing to requests for a reptile is to consider what you are going to do when your child grows up, goes to University, or moves out of home? They may not have the room to keep the reptile (or be allowed to) in student accommodation or a small flat.
Will you, as the parent, be happy to take on the care? And this care may well include handling live food or feeding mice!
To enable reptiles to live to the ages they can achieve, it is necessary to provide them with the same conditions they live in in the wild. This means keeping them in a vivarium or terrarium, and maintaining this at the correct temparature and humidity depending on where they come from. Bearded Dragons, for example, come from a desert environment and need heat and low humidity. Tree frogs will need high humidity.
Understanding their native environment and mimicking it in captivity is an education in itself.
Tortoises prefer to be watched rather than handled!
Hygiene is important with reptiles and they can carry Salmonella. This need not be a major problem as long as hands are washed carefully after handling the animals, or anything inside the vivarium.
Reptile keeping is not a cheap hobby - you do need to make an upfront investment in equipment (vivarium, heat source, thermostat etc). You also need to investigate the cost of feeding. Snakes, for example, can actually cost quite little to feed - on the other hand, lizards can go through an amazing amount of live food!
Food for reptiles is not quite as easy to find as dog or cat food, and you may need to investigate local pet shops to make sure that you will be able to get a good supply. Live insect food can be delivered by mail order, so this may be the answer if you haven't got a local shop.
If you don't like handling locusts, meal worms or dead baby mice reptile keeping may not be for you!
Do your research!
If you don't keep reptiles correctly they will die. They cannot handle neglect. So make sure that you do your research before buying one as a pet. This site will give you some basic information, but once you have decided which reptile pet is for you, please read everything you can before you start looking for the right animal. Reptile keeping is a specialist hobby - there are plenty of books and magazines for you to read and lots of websites that you can visit - some just for information, but others will have forums where you can ask questions. Unfortunately local pet shops are not necessarily the best place to get information. There are many types of lizard, for example, and their requirements are all different. Some need water features in the vivarium to raise humidity levels, for others this will be fatal. Some need heat mats, some need heat lamps. It is, unfortunately, a fact that many people have been misled by getting the wrong information from generalist pet stores, so make sure you find out specialist information for the reptile you wish to keep. MyBeardedDragons.co.uk specialises in bearded dragons, and has an active forum. There are similar sites for most reptiles that you would be considering as a pet.
Reptiles are not cheap to buy - for both your sake and your new pet please make sure you know what you are taking on!
Our next page gives more information about keeping snakes.
When Reptiles get Ill
Reptiles can get ill - and like any animal can suffer and be in pain. They can get parasites or tumours, or suffer critcal vitamin deficiencies which means their bones don't develop properly, or simply injure themselves. If a dog, cat or rabbit becomes ill people don't seem to hesitate long before taking their animal to a vet - but with a cold blooded reptile people don't immediately think of getting proper treatment for their pets.
Some vets specialise in reptiles, but not all small animal practices have a reptile specialist. So you might need to look further afield than just your local surgery, or the one you take your dog or cat too. When you bring a reptile into your home it's useful to find out where your nearest reptile vet is. You may well find it useful to have that information in an emergency.