Bringing Your Reptile Home
Everyone needs a comfortable place to live, and your reptile is no exception
Read more about bringing your reptile home
Reptiles have an array of needs, especially where their habitat and diet are concerned. This means it’s important to plan ahead, to make sure you have everything your reptile will need from day one.
The shopping list for reptiles can be long, and of course, varies hugely depending on the species you are interested in.
Having a plan put together before you start can help narrow down what you need, and here’s one to start you off!
- Vivarium (also called a terrarium) – Have a look at our housing recommendations for reptiles to see what you need for yours! Whatever reptile you are getting, they will need space to move around and show natural behaviours. While there are minimums for housing, it’s important to know what your species needs – some reptile species actually thrive better in a smaller space rather than a larger vivarium, and others need lots of space! When you get your vivarium, make sure to think about your reptile at their adult size, unless you are happy upgrading as they grow.
- Enrichment – Enrichment means being in a stimulating environment – the best enrichment will depend on your reptile and their personality and species, but keeping things interesting is important for any pet! Things to climb, a hiding place, a pool, and interactive feeding are all examples of enrichment, but it’s important that any enrichment you have is suitable for your species.
- Lighting – This is also covered under housing recommendations, but it’s important to consider that your reptile will need lighting that suits their day/night cycle, and their need for heat and UVA/UVB rays
- Heat – Heat may be produced solely by your heat lamps, or by combination lights, but some species require heat pads. Heat might also need to be on the floor, or off ground level, so make sure you have the right heat sources available. It’s also important to have the heat in their environment on a gradient, with a warm end and a cooler end, to help them regulate their own body temperature. Finally, heat sources need to be protected, to prevent burns and scalds.
- Thermometers – Having thermometers at the coolest and warmest areas of the vivarium can allow you to assess both the gradient of the temperature, and make sure that the top and lowest temperatures are appropriate. While heat is important for cold-blooded animals, reptiles can overheat if they are placed somewhere too warm and don’t have the ability to cool off.
- Hygrometer – This measures humidity, and is important for species which need a humid or arid environment. A spray water bottle can help with humidity.
- Bedding/substrate – There are different types of substrate; ideally you want to mimic the natural environment of your species. This will be different for a tropical vivarium vs a desert vivarium.
- Retreats. Hiding places help reptiles feel secure. Make sure to have several along any temperature gradient so your reptile can rest and relax, no matter what temperature they need.
- Food – It’s important to get your reptile’s diet right, check out our reptile diet tips here. This might include mineral supplements, so make sure you have all the components of your reptile’s diet sorted.
- Food and water dishes – These should be sturdy so they don’t tip over and cleaned regularly. Some reptiles might eat and drink differently, so make sure if your pet prefers water from a dropper or sprayer for example, or needs live prey, that you are providing these appropriately.
- Other containers – Safe containers for your reptiles to be in while you clean the vivarium, or for use during feeding, can be very useful.
When putting together your shopping list for your new pet, have a look at what's on offer from our friends in store.
Bringing your reptile home for the first time is a really exciting time for the whole family, but it’s important to make the day about them. Keeping their environment calm and relaxed will help them settle in; you’ve got the rest of their lives to build your relationship.
- Have the vivarium set up at home, and at the correct temperature, all ready to go.
- Bring your reptile home in the safe container they were sold in – most sellers pack very safely. Don’t be tempted to get your reptile out before you get home as they can be very stressful for your reptile.
- When you get home, you can turn off the lights in the vivarium temporarily. This can include heat lamps if they are a combination source. The darkness can help reptiles feel more secure, and if you have pre-heated your tank the short period without the heat lamp will not cause distress.
- Place your reptile’s transport container in the tank at the cooler end of the tank and open it. Don’t take out your reptile; they will come out of their own accord, and you don’t risk overheating. Especially if you have travelled a long way, or have a shy reptile, placing the transport container near a water source can encourage drinking.
- After an hour, turn the lights back on (at minimum, turn on the heat source if you have turned this lamp off). This is to make sure that the temperature in the tank is maintained.
- Having some normal noise around the vivarium while your reptile is settling in is fine – it’s important that they get used to what will be happening around them on a daily basis – but try and keep the environment calm. Keep an eye to see if you can spot them checking out the area!
- Don’t feed for the first 24 hours. This gives your reptile time to explore, hydrate and work up an appetite and makes it more likely that they will accept your offering.
- Ideally, give your reptile time settle in before you start playing with them. Leaving them until they are feeding regularly (which can be quite a long time for some species, such as snakes) is a good way to gauge, as eating well is an indicator of health and happiness. Of course, this will depend somewhat on your reptile but many reptiles will appreciate time to settle in and feel at home before much handing starts.
If you already have a reptile, managing their relationship is key to a happy home. Have a look at our dedicated page for how to introduce reptiles to each other, to help you keep the peace!
If you have any questions or worries about your pet, always ring to come and see us. You get to meet your vet, and they get to meet both you and your reptiles and give them a thorough medical examination. You can also ask any questions – while Vets4Pets vets are trained to treat sick animals, they also have heaps of knowledge about keeping animals healthy, and can also direct you to the local specialist veterinarian if you would like.
If you have a new reptile, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with your local Vets4Pets practice.
Vet top tip: Reptile space requirements
Iain Cope, Practice Owner & Veterinary Surgeon at Vets4Pets Newmarket
BSc(VetSci)Hons BVM&S CertAVP(ZM) MRCVS RCVS recognised Advanced Practitioner in Zoological Medicine
"It's important to understand the species and know their space requirements. For agoraphobic species, they should start with small enclosures then you should gradually increase the size.
Avoid using tubs for snakes, as they need space."