Should I get a reptile as a pet?

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Tortoises have a long lifespan, so you will need to consider who will look after it when you are no longer able to. PHOTO: Pixabay/ u_ohk82lu4
Tortoises have a long lifespan, so you will need to consider who will look after it when you are no longer able to. PHOTO: Pixabay/ u_ohk82lu4

Reptiles are beautiful and varied animals and fascinating to observe and learn about. As pets in the UK they are entirely dependent on us for their health because our climate rarely matches that of their native countries.
If you get a reptile as a pet then it is essential to replicate their natural environment as closely as possible to prevent them getting ill. Reptiles depend on their environment to maintain their body temperature. If this temperature is not at the ideal range their bodies will not function normally, they may stop eating and they can become lethargic.
Reptiles do everything relatively slowly compared to mammals. Most mammals get ill due to infections or internal changes to their bodies. If a dog gets an infection, he will get a high temperature and look really unwell very quickly. A tortoise, however, can take years to show external signs of illness due to the gradual effect of a sub-optimal environment and diet on his body combined with his relatively slow metabolism. For instance, a progressively slower recovery from hibernation each year for a number of years can be a sign of underlying illness.
Cutting a few corners such as the temperature falling below the ideal range at night or not replacing a UV bulb regularly enough may seem insignificant but, cumulatively, over time, they can make your reptile ill. Attention to detail is essential to prevent this. Noticing subtle changes in their behaviour and general well-being will allow you to notice problems early so any changes required can be made straight away.
A common problem in reptiles is metabolic bone disease. This develops when poor nutrition combined with inadequate UV light – although not all reptiles require UV light – incorrect humidity and a poorly controlled temperature range leads to, among other things, poor bone density, reduced muscle mass and weight loss. Poor bone density can lead to pathological fractures – bone breaks which occur through normal activity and can cause significant suffering.
It is also important to be aware of the source of your reptile. Ideally source animals bred in captivity in the UK. Ensure the correct documentation accompanies CITES-restricted species to prevent illegal importation of protected species.
If you want your reptile to live a long, healthy life it is essential to research their requirements thoroughly before you get your pet to ensure you can provide the ideal care they require. In the case of a tortoise you may need to consider who will look after it when you are no longer able to due to their significant lifespan. Some snakes and lizards will grow very large and it is important to plan ahead so they have the space they need to live comfortably.
Reptiles make rewarding and interesting pets but many suffer and become ill due to less than optimal care, so it is important to be fully prepared for their extensive and specific requirements.

by Lynn Broom
Longmead Veterinary Practice

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