, Salem, MA


May 31, 2013

Vet Connection: What to know about keeping reptiles as pets

That cute 6-inch green lizard or spotted leopard gecko or snake in the big box pet store catches your eye. Its tail wiggles and eyes gaze calmly at you. It seems easy to pack it up, pay the cashier and waltz home with your newfound friend. You just did the easy part. Now the work begins.

Ideally before you purchase a reptile, you do your homework. That means you have researched with your veterinarian and the Internet how to house feed and clean up your pet. ( is a great website to start your research on the particular reptile you want.) Ideally you have found a reputable reptile dealer that may breed its own reptiles and has in-depth knowledge and ability to answer your questions accurately. (I would recommend New England Reptile Distributors in Plaistow, N.H.). Big box stores buy lots of young mass-produced reptiles, keep them in overcrowded conditions and sell them without much education on how to keep them healthy and alive.

At our practice we have seen many half-dead, blind baby leopard geckos that were purchased at a big box store, that are not kept in proper humidity, don’t shed the eye caps properly, are blind and therefore can no longer chase their prey and feed themselves. This makes my blood boil because the happy acquisition of the cute lizard has turned into a very sad episode for the entire family. No one at the store took the time to explain to the family the many details of proper care that the pet should receive, including its first healthy trip to the vet.

Remember when you acquire a reptile that you may be its caretaker for 30 to 50 years. We see a number of turtles and tortoises that are 40-something years old. When our 13-year-old daughter investigated getting a ball python, she asked us if we would care for her when she went to college. At the time college seemed like it was so distant on the horizon. Now Rebecca is a college sophomore in California and we have Aida safely ensconced in her bedroom in Salem.

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