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Reptile Care



We cannot stress this enough. Most of the illnesses we see in captive reptiles can be traced to environmental problems: the wrong foods, not enough light, temperature problems, etc. Learn all you can about your pet and try to recreate its natural environment and diet as closely as possible. What follows are a few BASIC requirements for some of our most common captive reptiles.


This bacteria does not make the animal ill, but can be very dangerous if passed to people, especially small children, older people, and pregnant women. Be sure to wash your hands well after touching your reptile or cleaning it’s cage. To be safe, treat all reptiles as salmonella carriers.


Use the largest aquarium or other container you can. Be sure the surface is smooth so it will be easy to clean. For bedding, it’s best to use something that can be easily cleaned and disinfected, such as artificial grass, plastic plants, and/or large river stones (be sure they aren’t small enough to be swallowed). Live plants may be used with care. Be sure they aren’t toxic and remember that they will not be able to be cleaned. Construct some sort of hiding place as well. Lack of hiding places results in severe stress.


Because reptiles are cold blooded, their environmental temperature is vitally important. Most do best with temperatures in their enclosure that range from 70° F on one side to 90° F on the other. (Check on your particular species. Some optimum temperatures will be different than this.) Some ways to achieve this temperature gradient are: heating pad placed under the cage or heat lamps placed a safe distance form the cage. “Hot rocks” can cause burns and are should not be used. Be sure to mount a thermometer in the cage and out of the pet’s reach so you can monitor temperatures.


Reptiles absolutely require a source of UVb light. This means either direct sunlight (not filtered through glass, which blocks the UVb) or a special UVb light source (Vitalite or other brand). If you are using a Vitalite in an aquarium hood, replace the glass shield with a screen (an unshielded light can cause burns if the animal can touch it). Replace Vitalite bulbs every six months.

Reptiles from the tropics should receive about 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. Animals from temperate zones need about 16 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness. Try to mimic the light periods in your animal’s native environment as closely as possible.


Hibernation is a natural mechanism for surviving the severe weather. Many wild reptiles do not survive hibernation and even fewer captive reptiles will survive and do well if allowed to hibernate. Avoid hibernation by keeping the temperature up and the light cycle on summer hours. If possible, place the cage away from windows, so the pet cannot see changes in day length.



They need a water source and a bank or island to climb out on. An undergravel filter (as for aquariums) will help keep the water clean. Feed commercial turtle chow, trout chow, earthworms, small fish, and occasionally leafy greens such as chard, spinach or watercress.


They benefit from having room to roam. They also enjoy and benefit from supervised excursions outside to graze on grass. They are primarily vegetarians and will eat a variety of the following: non-toxic flowers (roses, carnations, nasturtiums), fruit, alfalfa pellets/sprouts, broccoli, squash, thawed frozen vegetable mixture, beans, cauliflower, dark green leafy vegetables. Do not feed iceberg lettuce, as it has almost no nutritional value.


They need a lot of branches in their cage to climb on and hide in. They generally eat crickets in captivity, but most insects will be acceptable. The crickets can be fed a vitamin-enriched mixture, which transfers to the reptile when the cricket is consumed. Spray the branches with a plant mister twice a day. Some chameleons will not drink out of a water bowl, but will lap the “dew” off the branches to get their water.


They are vegetarians in the wild, so they do best getting their protein from vegetable sources. Coarsely chop the food and include a variety of the following: 1. Base diet of Calcium-rich vegetables: dandelions, parsley, spinach, romaine, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, and beet greens. This should make up 30-40% of the diet. 2. A variety of other green and orange vegetables and fruits should make up the rest of the diet. Whole grain breads and crackers are optional. 3. Supplements: Some calcium and vitamin supplements are useful, but avoid over-supplementation.

Strive for a varied vegetarian diet.


Unlike iguanas, bearded dragons are primarily carnivorous. While growing, they should be fed crickets 2-3 times a day. Crickets should be fed or dusted with a mineral mix and should be no more than 1/3 as wide as the dragons head. Adult dragons only need to eat every day or two. A mix of dark leafy greens and chopped vegetables should be offered 2-3 times a week to dragons that are over one month old. Pinky mice or meal worms can be given to adults weekly. Although they are capable of surviving for long periods without water, fresh water should be provided daily.

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