Monday, January 24, 2011

Another Great Post By John F Taylor - Picking A Reptile Pet

Picking a new Reptile Pet

John F Taylor

Go into most pet stores or pet superstores today & you’ll find a selection of reptiles for sale. As you browse the enclosures there will be numerous reptiles of one species or another clambering over one another watching you or even running for their hide as you stroll by. There are too many species offered for sale in the herpetoculture industry for me to try to name them all; much less give specific guidelines for choosing a healthy one. Instead I will give you a general overview of what to look for when it comes to picking a healthy reptile pet that you would want to take home.

Reptiles as Inventory

Regardless of how well pet superstores try to keep their reptiles healthy and immaculate at all times the fact is; when you’re dealing with numerous species and multiple animals at one time in a given day there will be those that occasionally get by even the most diligent store employee. This is not as prevalent in most of the independent stores as they are focused more on the animal care rather than the amount of sales that concern a corporate office. For this reason I highly recommend avoiding these types of pet superstores. Search out an independent store instead. I have personal experience working in both and I can assure you the independent store is more concerned with keeping the animals healthy than making the sale. No matter your intentions it is not in your best interest to try and ‘rescue’ a potentially sick reptile. This is only going to lead to more money being spent in order to rehabilitate the reptile to a healthy state once again. That said, if in the selection process you find that there is an ill reptile in the enclosure that you’re selecting from then notify the store manager and do not purchase a reptile from that enclosure.

Testing for a Healthy Herp

What are we looking for in a healthy reptile? A healthy reptile or any animal for that matter will be alert and aware of its surroundings. This means that when the enclosure is opened they aren’t going to ignore the movement. They will either run for the hide box or move to a better vantage point to see what’s going on. These reactions will only take place if the reptile in question is being properly kept; meaning that the heat, UV exposure, regular maintenance and other factors are being observed.

What we are looking for is regular movement, if the reptile is not moving around then this raises my suspicions. Now this is not a catch all category as there those reptile pets which could be considered as somewhat sedentary animals. Some frogs, tortoises, tarantulas, and others immediately come to mind.


When you find a reptile that you want to keep ask the store keeper or employee to feed it in front of you. I have yet to encounter a store that will not oblige to do this. If you see the animal feed this is a good indication of a healthy animal; as with humans, appetite is not good when the reptile is sick. If the animal has already fed for the day ask when the normal scheduled feeding is and make arrangements to come back and witness the feeding. If the employee or manager refuses I would simply buy my reptile somewhere else.

Checking under the Hood

The first thing I do when I select a reptile that I want to keep is flip the animal over and look at the vent or cloaca as its properly known. The reptile should struggle against this as this is not only a personal invasion of its privacy, but is also a vulnerable position for them to be in. Look at the vent to make sure there are no protrusions or fecal material smeared about. If there are, then I wouldn’t buy the reptile as this is a strong indicator of something being internally wrong.

After examining the cloaca look into the eyes and nostrils to make sure that there is no mucous or crust around these as this is another indicator of potential illness. Understand of course that Uromastyx, Chuckwalla, and Iguana species have salt glands which they expel through their nose. Also look at the breathing of the reptile if it’s gaping or you hear a popping sound then it’s a safe bet to say they have a respiratory infection and should not be purchased.

Sickness = $$$

I am not one to mince small talk. Putting it bluntly, if a reptile is sick when you first buy it, it’s going to cost you in the long run; a lot more than the purchase price. We’re talking examination fees, bacterial cultures, possibly X-Rays, and this is just the beginning. Seeing this I cannot recommend highly enough that you pass on any reptile exhibiting any sickness whatsoever.

For more information on healthy herps and bugs feel free to drop by our site at and definitely take a listen to our internet radio broadcast

*Photos by Austin P Taylor