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Natural Awakenings South Central Pennsylvania

Successfully Keeping Reptiles as Pets

Jan 29, 2021 07:03PM ● By Linda T. Stern
When considering a reptile as a pet one really needs to investigate their environmental and feeding requirements, as well as how large they will become. How long a reptile may live is also a vital consideration. Many reptiles start out very small and eventually become large. The African spurred, or sulcate, tortoise grows to 70 to100 pounds and can live 80 years. As a hatchling, they are only two inches in length and can become 25 to 30 inches long. They live in the desert and require hot arid environments, including proper lighting. They are strict vegetarians, eating grasses and hays with occasional fruits and blossoms. Dark, leafy greens are good choices, as well.


Some reptiles prefer a humid, tropical environment, but not all require special lighting and neither are all vegetarians. There are also omnivores, insectivores and carnivores. Some require ways to hide. Always use bedding that is easily cleanable that they are unable to ingest. Reptiles within same species can have different requirements. An example is the leopard gecko (30 to 40 percent humidity) versus the crested gecko (50 to 70 percent humidity). So knowing the species and its original habitat is important information for setting up a proper enclosure and feeding regiment. Reptiles cannot regulate their own body temperature and thus depend on their environment for that function.


Two common reptiles seen as pets are iguanas and bearded dragons. Iguanas are strict vegetarians. They like dark, leafy greens such as dandelion greens, endive, fresh parsley, mustard greens and other calcium-rich leafy vegetables. To best absorb nutrients and for organs to function properly, they require appropriate sources of UVB and UVA lighting for 10 to 12 hours daily to produce the vitamin D that promotes calcium absorption. Metabolic bone disease is a fatal condition as a result of a deficiency. These tropical reptiles require 70 to 90 percent humidity and temperature range of 80 to 100 degrees. A fully grown iguana can grow as large as seven feet. Knowing whether we have a male or female is important as well; due to gender-related environmental problems such as becoming egg-bound (cannot lay their eggs). Personality traits such as aggressiveness can also be a factor of success.


Bearded dragons are desert dwellers and do poorly when the humidity is above 30 percent. They require UVB and UVA lighting and a temperature range of 85 to 110 degrees. They are omnivores, eating vegetables and very small amounts of fruit and insects. The insects need to be gut-loaded (fed prior to feeding them to the bearded dragon). Knowing their gender is also important regarding health problems.


No matter what type of reptile is obtained, getting them examined by a veterinarian for health prevention concerns is important. Fecal evaluations for intestinal parasites should be done regularly and keeping on track with proper husbandry will keep the reptile healthy for its normal life span.


Linda T. Stern, DVM, MS, CVA, is the owner of Healing Creatures Animal Hospital, located at 3300 Hartzdale Dr., Ste. 108, in Camp Hill. For more information, call 717-730-3755 or visit