Reptile Husbandry

Most disease seen in reptiles is due to poor husbandry. Therefore, if a reptile is presented to a veterinarian, healthy or sick, enquiries should be made into the environment in which the animal lives.

The Seven H’s of Reptile Husbandry:

Heat (and light)

Reptiles should be kept at a temperature similar to that of their natural environment. There should also be temperature variation within their enclosure so that they can move about to thermoregulate. This can be achieved through appropriate placement of heating devices such as radiative lamps or ceramic globes, or conductive heat pads. A good thermostat is highly recommended. “Hot rocks” are not recommended as they can cause burns.

UV light is essential for the production of vitamin D3 and calcium metabolism. When kept indoors, water dragons, bearded dragons and possibly diamond pythons need ultraviolet supplementation.

Requirements vary with species (40-80%), depending on natural environment. Tropical species will require higher humidity than desert species. All snakes need a large water bowl for bathing and drinking. By altering the size of the bowl, you can alter the humidity of the environment. The bowl should be placed in a cooler part of the tank. Good ventilation is a must in all circumstances.
Healthy appetite
Once again, this varies with species, and also with stage of growth. Blue tongues are insectivores and molluscivores when young, and then become more omnivorous when mature.

Bearded dragons are also insectivores when young, and also become more omnivorous when mature.

All Australian snakes are carnivorous. Python foodstuffs should grow as they do, starting off on pinkie mice, then progressing upwards in size (pinkie à fuzzy à weaner mice à adult mice à rats), and feeding interval should also increase in size. Juveniles should be fed every 4-5 days, and adults every 1-2 weeks.

Lizards should be fed every 1-2 days when young, then every 2-3 days when mature.It is good practice to freeze all mammalian prey for a period of at least 4 weeks before feeding to reduce the risk of parasitism.

Live feeding is strongly discouraged, as it is illegal for animal welfare reasons on the prey’s part, and also as it can result in the reptile being bitten by the prey!

Reptiles, particularly snakes and small lizards should not be over-handled. Snakes should not be handled for at least 3 days after eating, as regurgitation could occur. Hands should be washed before and after handling reptiles to avoid the spread of disease to and from the animal.

Lizards should never be picked up by their tails, as many can voluntarily detach them. This probably won’t impress the client! Small lizards should be cupped in the hand with the index finger under the neck and the thumb on the head or back of the neck. Bigger lizards can be held behind the head, while holding the base of the tail with the other hand. The hind legs should be held against the tail with the same hand. Pythons should never be grasped, especially by the head, as this will make them struggle. Simply supporting the weight of the body generally causes them to relax. Venomous snakes should only be handled by those experienced with such species.

A place to hide is a necessity for all pet reptiles. Easy to clean items such as purpose built porcelain hides or upturned flowerpots are suitable, as are easily replaced items such as toilet rolls or shoeboxes. Hides should be placed in different locations to aid in thermoregulation.
Requires appropriate substrate and a high standard of cleaning and disinfection. The best substrate to use will depend on the species. For tree dwelling species such as diamond and carpet pythons, butchers paper or newspaper is a good option. For ground dwelling species such as Children’s pythons and lizards, pelleted newspaper kitty litter is good. Some lizard species such as bearded dragons prefer fine sand substrates. Unsuitable substrates that provide a good environment for the growth of bacteria and fungi include artificial turf, bark chips and dirt.
Habitat size, construction and furniture
Snakes should be able to stretch to full length in their habitat, however putting a small snake or a hatchling in a large vivarium is a common mistake.

Large areas make it very difficult for the animal to thermoregulate. Therefore, it is important to match the size of the environment with the reptile species concerned without compromising temperature control.

One of the most important features of a reptile enclosure is that it is escape proof.

The most popular reptile enclosures are of a wooden construction with a glass or Perspex front. Fish aquaria can also be used but tend to make temperature control more difficult as glass dissipates heat more easily than wood.

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