Choosing A Pet Reptile

Reptiles are among the most beautiful and fascinating creatures on the planet. There are over 10,000 species of reptiles, from the minuscule dwarf chameleon to the massive Nile crocodile. Among these 10,000, however, only a handful are truly suitable for life as a pet. If you are considering getting a reptile for the first time, it is vital to research the animal’s needs thoroughly prior to purchasing one of these demanding pets.

Considerations

Size: Consider both the adult size of your chosen pet and the required habitat space. For instance, green iguanas average 5-6 feet from snout to tail, and require an enclosure that is at least 9’x9’ (or their own room!). Sulcata tortoises can top 100lbs and require both indoor and outdoor enclosures. Many snake species can reach over 10 feet in length and are powerful enough to kill other animals in the home or their human owners.

Lifespan: Compared to other species, reptiles are very long-lived if cared for properly. It may seem like a longer lifespan would be a good thing, however some turtle and tortoise species can live upwards of 50 years. It is important to consider if you will be able to care for a pet for several decades.

Feeding requirements: Most reptile species require insects, worms, or other whole prey diets (i.e. mice and rats) as part of their diet. Consider if you are comfortable housing not only your pet, but also its food! Crickets and worms are generally fed live, however mice and rats can be bought pre-killed and frozen. There are a few vegetarian species, however these tend to be among the most difficult to care for. Most reptiles also require both vitamin and calcium supplements to fully meet their nutritional needs.

Temperature and lighting requirements: Reptiles are often from desert or tropical regions. They like it hot. This means rigging up a series of lights and heaters to ensure that your reptile stays warm and happy. Many species require a UVB light as well that must be changed every 6 months.

Cost: The cost of purchasing a reptile is just the beginning. Most of the cost comes with the care. Many species require large aquariums, light fixtures, and under tank heating. Some, such as chameleons, require misters to maintain adequate humidity. Aquatic turtle species require a filtration system. Make sure you budget for these items accordingly before making your purchase.

 

Suggested reptiles for new owners:

LEOPARD GECKO: The leopard gecko’s small size (8-9 inches) and moderate lifespan (6-10 years) make this species an ideal starter. They are comfortable in a 20 gallon aquarium. They thrive on a cricket-based diet.

LEOPARD GECKO: The leopard gecko’s small size (8-9 inches) and moderate lifespan (6-10 years) make this species an ideal starter. They are comfortable in a 20 gallon aquarium. They thrive on a cricket-based diet.

BEARDED DRAGON: This species is slightly larger than the leopard gecko (15-20 inches) with a similar lifespan (7-10 years). Bearded dragons require a large aquarium (50-100 gallons) and require UVB light. They eat both vegetables and insects and require calcium and vitamin supplements.

BEARDED DRAGON: This species is slightly larger than the leopard gecko (15-20 inches) with a similar lifespan (7-10 years). Bearded dragons require a large aquarium (50-100 gallons) and require UVB light. They eat both vegetables and insects and require calcium and vitamin supplements.

CORN SNAKE: These small snakes grow to roughly 5 feet in length and live an average of 10 years in captivity (up to 20 years). A 20-40 gallon aquarium with a secure top is sufficient for housing. Mice are the staple of a corn snake’s diet. They require supplemental heat, but no special lighting.

CORN SNAKE: These small snakes grow to roughly 5 feet in length and live an average of 10 years in captivity (up to 20 years). A 20-40 gallon aquarium with a secure top is sufficient for housing. Mice are the staple of a corn snake’s diet. They require supplemental heat, but no special lighting.

Other acceptable starters include: Collared lizards, blue-tongued skinks, ball pythons, and king snakes. When purchasing a reptile, always ensure that the reptiles has been CAPTIVE BRED and not wild caught.

The following pets are NOT recommended for the novice reptile keeper:

Chameleons: All chameleon species have difficult temperature and humidity requirements. They frequently die within the first year of ownership due to inadequate care.

Green iguanas: Large and long-lived, these are the most commonly surrendered lizards to reptile rescues.

Large snakes: Boa constrictors and Burmese pythons are generally well-tempered, however their size and potential for owner injury makes them a poor choice for novices.

Turtles and tortoises: All species are long-lived (30 years or longer) and require fastidious care. Many die young due to improper care. While many turtles and tortoises adapt well to life as a pet, they are a poor choice for beginners or children.

 

Be sure to check out our website allcreaturesvet.net for detailed care sheets on several of our most popular pet species.

So Your Child Wants to be a Vet

A young Dr. Alexander auscults a Manatee while young Dr. Zechar restrains the creature.

A young Dr. Alexander auscults a Manatee while young Dr. Zechar restrains the creature.

Almost every week, friends and clients tell me that their child wants to be a vet. Though many kids will move on to other aspirations, a surprising number will stick to it. When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a “professional mountain climber," but I know many veterinarians who knew that this is what they wanted to do since they were young. (I still haven’t figured out how I was planning to support myself by climbing mountains).

For kids who are interested, there are lots of ways to prepare, starting at a young age. Reading books on animals can help to build knowledge and interest; I loved “Quick as a Cricket”. I also love the TV show “Life of Mammals,” which is full of awesome footage and well-researched facts. Taking kids to visit a veterinary clinic can be a great experience, and many vets are happy to oblige. Michigan State University hosts an event called Vet-A-Visit that is worth checking out. Above all, exposing children to animals is probably the best way to support their interest. This can be accomplished by giving them specific responsibilities with family pets, involving them in 4-H or taking them to zoos, sanctuaries and interactive farms.

Starting in high school, kids who want to be veterinarians should begin to consider what it takes academically and experience-wise to get into vet school. Ways to get animal experience are to volunteer at kennels, shelters and other animal operations or to work as a veterinary assistant. Not only does it booster the application later on, but it also allows teenagers to get a better picture of the profession and decide if it is right for them. 

In fact, most schools require several hundred hours of experience shadowing a vet or working at a vet hospital before an applicant will even be considered. Strong grades in math and science provide a good foundation and help ensure acceptance into a four-year college.

In college, some of the most popular undergraduate majors are biology, zoology and animal science (though I do know one vet who was an art history major). The reason is that there are a large number of prerequisites for veterinary school that vary from college to college, and these majors are most likely to fulfill a good amount of the requirements. So it’s also a good idea to start looking at the lists of those requirements during the first year of undergrad when choosing classes. 

Getting into vet school is very difficult these days because of the popularity and limited number of schools. The average GPA of undergraduate students admitted to veterinary school changes from year to year, but it’s safe to assume that aiming for 3.5 or higher is ideal.

When considering a career in veterinary medicine, it is also important to know what training is involved. Most veterinarians complete a four-year undergraduate education prior to entering veterinary school. Veterinary school itself is also generally a four-year program. 

After vet school, you are able to practice medicine, though several doctors go on to a yearlong internship to prepare for residencies or gain extra experience. Those who wish to specialize in a specific field of medicine (dermatology, oncology, zoo medicine, etc.) often go on to another three years of residency. 

There are some downsides to being a vet that need to be considered. In addition to performing euthanasia, there can be a lot of anxiety over making the right medical decisions and helping pet owners decide what’s right for their families. The cost of school is also a huge burden. Though being a veterinarian offers decent pay and job availability, most new veterinarians graduate with $100,000-$250,000 of debt. And lastly, you have to be comfortable with poop… I deal with a lot of poop.

In the end, it’s a great profession. The job allows us to connect with a community, keep intellectually stimulated, try exciting new things and play with lots of puppies (I don’t think I’ll every get sick of the puppies). Even if your child decides they want to do something else, learning to apply themselves to their studies and get experience working with animals will serve them well in whatever path they take.


2015 Creature Feature

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The Annual "Creature Feature" fundraiser for the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum was a hit with a record 800 museum guests. The staff of All Creatures Animal Clinic, including Dr. Lyssa Alexander, prepared a fun-filled area for the children in attendance, with areas to check slides for parasites under microscope, bandage a wounded Teddy Bear, and listen to the Heart and Lungs of a large stuffed animal. We'll see you again next year!