There are a number of misconceptions about reptiles, but perhaps the top one is that they don’t make good pets.
“We have many owners of reptiles in this area, and they are well liked by the families that have them,” said Dr. Tracey Ritzman, a veterinarian who provides care for exotic pets, has been treating reptiles at Cascade Hospital for Animals for over 6 years. During that time, she has seen quite a menagerie of bearded dragons, boa constrictors, pythons, water and land turtles, tortoises and geckos.
After a reptile owner embraces the fact that they are cold blooded animals that depend on a warm environment and special lighting and diet to keep healthy, reptiles have some similarities with more traditional pets such as dogs and cats.
“Reptile owners say their pets have unique and wonderful characteristics -- personalities if you will,” Dr. Ritzman says. “The pets have likes and dislikes, and they enjoy direct interaction with their owners. Snakes and bearded dragons in particular seem to like the interaction. Most reptiles have recognition of their owners as well.”
Still, there are differences. “A pet owner should not treat reptiles as if they are domesticated -- certainly not the way we think of domesticated cats and dogs,” she says. For example, it would be unwise for an owner of a large boa constrictor to wrap the animal around himself or herself because the snake may not recognize the person as a companion -- and may confuse him or her as prey.
Reptiles need to be kept in a Preferred Optimal Temperature Zone (POTZ) that provides the proper amounts of warmth, ultraviolet light, and humidity. Good caging, proper diet, and environmental enrichment to provide mental stimulation are also essential for maintaining healthy reptiles.
Owners themselves should practice good hygiene after handling their pets by washing their hands. “All reptiles should be considered potential as carriers of salmonella bacteria, but the risk is minimal if people just wash their hands,” Dr. Ritzman says.
Like all pets, reptiles should get a yearly checkup by a veterinarian to monitor for potential health issues -- not just when they get sick. This kind of preventative care will help extend the pet’s life to its fullest.