Before you buy, or decide to keep that reptile you found...
A Pet For Observing, Not Cuddling
You should know that reptiles typically do not make good pets for most people, and they are unsuitable pets for children or people who are looking for something to handle or "cuddle". Reptiles do not like to be handled typically. They are very instinctual creatures, which are only seeing you as a potential threat, and plotting their defense and escape most times. If they do not bite, puff up, hiss, thrash, claw, or void the contents of their rectum on you, then they are probably merely tolerating you, or hoping that they are camouflaged and you don't really see them. Reptiles are very prone to stress under these situations, and such stress factors have direct effects on health. Stress can depress immune system response, and make the reptile vulnerable to illness. Stress can kill reptiles. See my other notes on stress response and captive display of lizards:
If you need a pet that you must handle and have contact with to show your love, then you should look for a different type of animal as a pet that is more domesticated and social. Reptiles are for observing more than handling. If you stick to that premise, you will have a much more adjusted and healthy reptile.
Possible Health Risks Or Injury To Inexperienced Keepers And Children
It is our view, that as children are concerned, they are not yet responsible enough to be left to their own life decisions and therefore should not be the caretakers of another life, especially that of a reptile, which many adults do not know how to properly care for. Children typically like cuddle their pets or play kissy face, and this is obviously not a good idea with a reptile. Many children will not understand this and will protest, or go behind your back to "play" with their friend. Because of the nature of reptile instincts, there is a greater risk for a child being bitten, clawed, or constricted by a reptile. There is also most likely the risk of the reptile itself being harmed through its resistance. If the child is clawed or bitten there is a chance for infection. Reptiles kept in unclean conditions may carry salmonella, E. coli, or a number of other pathogens on their claws from cage debris. Many reptiles may also carry salmonella and E. coli in their saliva, gut flora, and feces; as well as, staph strains in the saliva of some reptiles, or very strong pre-digestive enzymes. Allergic reactions to non-venomous reptile bites happen on occasion.
Many children and adults may find a reptile in the wild and think it is interesting and wish to keep it. For the reasons previously outlined, this is not a good idea. Additionally, wild captured reptiles are going to tend to be much more defensive and prone to stress than captive bred animals. Being wild, they will also likely be laden with parasites, which if not treated will lead to explosive growth in captivity as the reptile is stressed. This may lead to fatal anemia in the animal. Additionally, the transmission of some parasites and pathogenic microorganisms to humans and other animals must also be considered when dealing with wild reptiles.
Stress On Reptiles In Captivity
Many reptiles taken into captivity and moved from their natural habitat will stress to the degree that they will not eat. They can and do starve themselves to death in captivity. Because of the instinctual nature of the reptile, they become very disturbed when removed from their home range. Placing them in a new environment is very stressful, and an insecure reptile will not eat. They may spend most of their time hiding if somewhere to hide is available. If not, they may hurry about frantically, bumping their snouts into the glass. This may lead to an injury which can cause a mouth rot infection, which if not managed properly, may spread to other parts of the body and be fatal.
Microclimates and habitat preference are also hard to duplicate for many species kept indoors, and a reptile being kept off its optimal temperature and humidity levels will likely develop respiratory or other infection. Seldom do people provide these proper conditions or enough space. Most reptiles also tend to naturally eat insects, rodents, or other things that many people do not want to handle. There are many companies out there who attempt to sell alternate commercially produced processed foods, but these foods are no more healthy for a reptile than you would be eating McHamburgers and greasefries the rest of your life. Responsible reptile keepers know there usually is no substitute for natural food items, and many reptiles may also refuse anything other than their natural prey.
UVB Lighting Required For Most Reptiles
Most diurnal, or daytime active, reptiles also require UVB lighting or an outdoor enclosure. Most people don't want to take the time to build and outdoor enclosure, and I have seen many complaints upon new reptile owners seeing how much a UVB light can cost ( $40-$80 typically ). Many of these lights also require replacement every six months.
Most Reptiles Are A Long Term Commitment
Many Reptiles are very long lived. Particularly the larger ones. So, you had better ask yourself if you are prepared for a pet which will likely outlast your typical marriage by a few decades. If you have young children, then consider that your children's children should be taking care of this animal if you have kept it properly.
We speak to people all the time who tell us they had all kinds of reptiles before in their lives. Our question is usually "what happened to them"? Some people will tell us that they had kept an Iguana for about 5-7 years, for example, and that it died. Straight faced, they really think they had that pet a long time and it died of "old age". The truth of the matter is that many reptiles live for decades. 5-7 years is not an acceptable life span for an Iguana or a turtle for example. The average box turtle should live more than 20 years. 40-60 years or more in some cases. The average tortoise may live for 80+ years. Many Iguanas in the proper hands will live more than 15-20 years. Even the little Red Eared Slider turtles, that everyone is selling in these silly little blue plastic dishes at fairs and such, will grow to the size of a dinner plate and live more than 20 years under proper conditions.
Some Reptiles Get Big...Then What Will You Do?
Reptiles may take several years to grow to maturity, but when they do, many people have not planned at all ( or irresponsibly thought they would just deal with it when the time comes ) for what to do with them when they grow up. Contrary to what many people think, you can't just dump a reptile off on a zoo. Reptiles are refused by zoos all the time. They aren't going to take the chance on mixing their populations with what you captured or bought on the pet trade from god knows who or where, or what it might have been exposed to under the care of a hobbyist. Their collections are too important for that, and they won't risk it. They have their own sources for animals.
Reptiles, especially ones that grow big and are long lived, are sometimes difficult to re-home. Not many people keep reptiles, and most who are in the market to look for a reptile, aren't going to want your full grown reptile that may have already developed an attitude, health problems, or bad habits. Iguanas particularly will take to one person very often, and may be aggressive to others. When being re-homed, they often need work and rehabilitation. Many times people with minimal experience, taking second hand Iguanas, will give up quickly on the big animal that does not immediately take to them. Rescues and herp societies are full to the eyelids with Iguanas that need good homes.
Most pet seekers also want their own cute little "baby" animal to start with. We have a hard time finding homes for anything that is grown. Do not fool yourself into thinking you can unload your big reptile later on someone else so easy.
A captive bred, non-native, or long term captive, cannot be released into the wild later when you are tired of it. Immunities are often geographically range specific, and the reptile you release may either die of illness it has no natural immunity to, or transmit something to wild populations that they have no natural immunity to. Die offs of wild Gopher Tortoises in the south are occurring because of this very problem right now. Tortoises that were kept in captivity and then released are responsible for a virtual pandemic of respiratory illness.
Reptile camouflage is also often specific to where the animal is native, and releasing it somewhere else, it may not be able to fool a predator. The climate and terrain might also be completely wrong. Some reptiles are arboreal and need trees, some are tropical, semi-aquatic, or they may be desert dwellers. Just because you local area has turtles, snakes, or lizards; does not mean any turtle, snake, or lizard you have could survive on it's own if you let it go. Even if it was local once, release of an animal back into the wild takes preparation and acclimation of the animal by wildlife experts to make such a transition. Turtles and tortoises are intelligent, but they become conditioned through practice to rely upon their keepers for food many times. If dumped in the wild, many reptiles that have not ever been on their own in the wild, or have been captive for a significant time, may not recognize their natural food or recognize resources they need, or even conditions to avoid.
Is a reptile right for you?
If you have gotten past this all and still think a reptile is right for you, then you are encouraged to properly research the animal you want before purchase by doing web searches and talking to keepers of this species on a web forum. Do not rely solely upon advice and information given in pet stores about reptiles. Many times the people giving the information have had minimal training and are repeating corporate talking points, which are often inaccurate. These people may not even keep reptiles themselves at home. It is important that you get your information from an actual successful reptile keeper, so be sure to ask. The measure of successful reptile keeping experience is best measured in decades as well, rather than a few years. Lastly, the pet store or seller has a vested interest in the sale of the animal, and is unlikely to be completely objective when presenting the facts disussed above about reptile keeping. They will of course, most times, shed the animal they are selling ( and all its requirements ) in the most favorable light possible. This tends to be more common in large corporate pet stores where employees may actually be restricted from talking too openly with potential buyers about areas of concern with reptiles. Your most objective care related facts are going to be gotten from other keepers who aren't trying to sell you an animal, or from books on the species.
In summary, there are many things to know before taking a reptile on as a pet, and there are some reptiles that are more suitable to beginners than others. It is not as simple as just buying what they need and keeping them in an aquarium.
Wichita Falls Reptile Rescue
Read similar article here: http://www.hsus.org/pets/issues_affecting_our_pets/Reptiles_as_Pets.html