There are a huge variety of aquatic turtles kept as pets. Red-eared and Yellow-bellied Sliders are the most common. Depending on the species of turtle, their adult size can vary greatly. Most of these aquatic turtles can live for well over 50 years if given the proper care.
Aquatic turtles need a lot of space. Their enclosure needs a swimming area and a basking area. The general rule of thumb is 10 gallons or 1.5-2 inches of swimming space for each inch of your turtle’s shell length. A 5 inch turtle needs about 50 gallons of swimming space and adult turtles often require over 100 gallons of swimming space. Smaller/juvenile turtles can be housed in aquariums or large plastic bins, but due to the extreme space requirements, many people create indoor/outdoor pond set-ups for their adult turtles.
Substrate – No substrate is necessary. Sand, gravel, and small rocks are hard to clean and can cause an intestinal obstruction/impaction if your turtle ingests the substrate. Easy to clean large rocks and artificial plants may be used for decoration. Stay away from rough rocks as they can scratch your turtle’s shell and make them susceptible to bacterial and function infections
Temperature – Water temperature should be kept between 75-85°F. A pre-calibrated submersible heater may be used. An aquarium thermometer should be used to monitor the temperature regularly. If the temperature is too cold, your turtle may not eat.
Filtration – A filtration system is necessary to keep the water fresh between cleanings. The more powerful the filter, the less frequent you will have to clean the water. Turtles are much messier than fish and other aquatic pets, so you should purchase a filter that is intended for a system several times larger than the size of your turtle’s enclosure.
Your turtle must be able to get entirely out of the water and dry off in its basking area. There are commercial products such as basking docks and islands that can be used for smaller turtles. For larger turtles, you may have to design your own basking area with Plexiglas or floating/anchored rock rafts or logs. Many turtle owners have “above tank basking areas” to help maximize space. Examples can be seen online.
Temperature – The temperature of the basking area should be around 85-90°F. An incandescent bulb, ceramic bulb, or other heating elements can be used. A digital thermometer probe should be used to monitor the temperature of the basking area.
Lighting – It is imperative that a UVB light source be provided for proper Vitamin D production and calcium absorption. The bulb should be within 18 inches of your turtle with no glass/plastic in between as the glass/plastic can block emission. The light needs to be replaced every 6 months even if it still works as UVB production decreases over time. During the warmer months, you may take your turtle outdoors to bask in the sun. Do NOT leave your pet in a closed container/tank due to risk of overheating. Do not leave your turtle unsupervised due to the risk of escaping and predators.
Turtles are very messy and their excess food, waste, and shed quickly builds up in the environment. Keeping their enclosure clean is important in preventing diseases.
Water change – A 50% water change should be done 1-2 times a week and the entire tank changed every 1-2 months. A siphon system can be used for the water changes. Remove your turtle from the tank and place in a safe location (small tub or similar). The aquarium and all of the contents/substrate should be scrubbed with soapy water. Make sure to rinse everything off thoroughly several times with fresh water before replacing.
Turtles can be fed in a separate container of water to help keep their main enclosure cleaner.
Commercial Diet (<25% of diet) – Commercial turtle food comes in floating pellets, sticks, or tablets. They are formulated specifically for reptiles and have the advantage of not breaking up in water as fast as other foods. Rotating brands and types of commercial diets will help your turtle get a varied diet.
Vegetables (>50% of diet) – Offer leafy greens (collards, dandelion greens, mustard greens, kale, endive and escarole), shredded carrots, red bell pepper, cooked sweet potato, and squash several times a week. Make sure to remove uneaten greens in a timely fashion to prevent them from rotting. There are edible aquatic plants sold at aquarium stores as well.
Treats (<10% of diet) – Fruit such as shredded apples and melons or chopped up berries can be offered in small amounts. Live feeder fish, store-bought earthworms, and crickets can be offered occasionally.
Support your turtle with both hands when you pick it up. Your turtle will feel more secure with something supporting their feet rather than “swimming” in the air.
Salmonellosis – Reptiles are commonly carriers of Salmonella and are a potential source of infection to humans. We recommend washing your hands immediately after handling your turtle or after coming into contact with fecal material.
We recommend a complete physical exam and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet turtles. Thereafter, we recommend annual exams and yearly cultures and fecal exams.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Abscess – Abscesses appear as firm lumps on your turtle. They will need to be lanced and some need to be surgically removed. Ear abscesses are common in turtles and appear as a large swelling right behind the eye.
Vitamin A Deficiency – This commonly occurs due to an inappropriate diet. Symptoms include decreased appetite, swelling of the eyelids and ear, and respiratory infections.
Respiratory Infection – These are often secondary to Vitamin A deficiency. Symptoms include decreased appetite, lethargy, bubbles or mucous in the mouth, nasal discharge, wheezing, open mouth breathing, and gasping. If left untreated, a respiratory infection can lead to pneumonia.
Shell Rot – This is a shell infection that is often secondary to some sort of trauma, burn, or bite. The infection can penetrate deep into the shell and cause deformity of the shell.
Ball pythons are native to central and western Africa. They are very popular pets due to their small size and their shy, but friendly and docile nature. Ball pythons get their name from their tendency to curl themselves up into a tight ball when scared. They come in an array of colors and patterns. They reach about 4-5 feet in length and their average lifespan in captivity is 20-30 years.
Cage – Select an enclosure designed for snakes as snakes, especially ball pythons, are great escape artists. A glass tank with a mesh screen top is a common enclosure. A 10 gallon tank is appropriate for hatchlings. Adult ball pythons may require up to a 30 gallon tank.
Bedding – Newspapers, butcher paper, or paper towels are common tank liners as they are easy to replace. Vinyl tile, Repti-Carpet, or Astroturf can also be used. Paper products such as Carefresh can also be used if your snake likes to burrow. The bedding or substrate should be replaced or cleaned at least once a week. Wood shavings, sand, gravel, mulch, and other natural substrates should not be used due to difficulty of cleaning, risk of gastrointestinal problems if consumed, and irritation to the eyes, mouth, and respiratory system.
Hide/Humidity Box – A hide box and a separate humidity box should be provided on the warm side of the enclosure. Ball pythons like to sleep in a dark snug enclosure. Half-logs (found at pet stores), cardboard boxes, or upside-down opaque plastic containers can be used. Make sure the hide box is large enough to fit the entire snake. Humidity boxes are great for snakes that have a hard time shedding properly. Humidity boxes can be made from a plastic Tupperware type container with a hole cut in one side for your snake to enter. Make sure the cut edges are smooth. Damp sphagnum moss or a damp piece of foam/sponge can be placed in the container. The moss/foam/sponge can be rewet daily or as needed. The humidity box should be cleaned every two weeks and the moss replaced or the foam/sponge washed to prevent mold growth and waste build-up.
Care Furniture – Furniture such as large rocks, branches, and driftwood can used in the environment. Make sure all items are easy to clean. Do NOT use heated rocks due to risk of thermal burns. Changing the layout of the cage furniture intermittently can provide enrichment for your snake.
Temperature – The enclosure should be large enough to have a warm side and a cool side to allow your ball python to regulate its temperature by changing its location. The correct temperature is important for your ball python to be able to digest its food. Digital thermometers rather than dial thermometers should be used for accuracy. The probe of the digital thermometer should be placed at the level of the animal rather than at the top of the enclosure. At least two thermometers should be used, one to measure the cool side and one the warm side. The warm side should reach up to 90°F and the cooler side should be about 80-85°F. A red bulb, ceramic heating elements, or reptile under tank heating pads are often used as a heat source. Do NOT use heated rocks as ball pythons are very susceptible to thermal burns.
Humidity – Ball pythons are native to hot dry areas in Africa. The humidity only needs to be around 50% normally and increased to 60-65% during shedding. Enclosures that are too high in humidity/damp can lead to skin blisters.
Lighting – Ball pythons are nocturnal and do not require a UV light source.
Cagemates – Ball pythons should generally be housed alone.
Prey – Your ball python should be fed whole prey items (mice, rats, etc.). Frozen or pre-killed prey is highly recommended because live rodents can bite and seriously injure your ball python. Juveniles should be fed ONCE A WEEK until they mature. Then they should be fed ONCE EVERY OTHER WEEK. Offer prey no larger than the widest part of your snake. Multiple prey items can be offered at a single feeding. Your snake will not eat while in shed.
Handling – Excessive handling after feeding can cause your snake to regurgitate. Try not to disturb your snake for 4 days after feeding.
Water bowl – The water bowl should be large enough for your snake to curl up in. Provide clean, fresh water daily on the cool side of the enclosure.
Soaking – Soak your ball python 1-2 times a week in a warm bath for 15-20 minutes. This encourages drinking, helps improve hydration, and helps with shedding. When your snake is shedding, increase the soaking to once a day. Make sure the depth of the bath is no deeper than the widest part of your snake to decrease the risk of drowning.
Misting – Mist your ball python’s enclosure daily during shedding to help increase the humidity in the environment. Otherwise misting the enclosure 1-2 times a week is sufficient.
You should always use both hands to pick up your snake and make sure to support most of the body. Be gentle and avoid sudden movements. If your snake wraps around something, you can unwind it by gently gasping its tail and unwrapping it.
Salmonellosis – Reptiles are commonly carriers of Salmonella and are a potential source of infection to humans. We recommend washing your hands immediately after handling your snake or after coming into contact with fecal material.
We recommend a complete physical exam and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet ball pythons. Thereafter, we recommend exams every 6 months and fecal exams every 12 months.
Shedding – All snakes need to shed to grow. Juvenile snakes can shed monthly whereas mature pythons tend to shed about 2-4 times a year. Your snake is getting ready to shed when its eye take on a blue-gray color and their scales appear dull. Cage furniture such as branches should be provided to help the snake loosen its shed.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Retained Shed – Unlike lizards that shed in patches, snakes should shed in one entire piece. If your snake is having trouble shedding, a humidity box and daily soaking should be provided. DO NOT try to pull the retained shed off (especially the eye spectacles) and this can cause injury to the underlying tissue. If they continue to have trouble shedding, please contact your veterinarian.
Frequent Shedding – Mature snakes should only shed 2-4 times a year. If they are shedding frequently, there is an underlying problem and should be seen by a veterinarian.
Mites – Mites can be seen on snakes living in less than ideal conditions. These mites are tiny reddish brown dots that move around your snake’s body or cluster around the eyes.
Upper Respiratory Infection – Respiratory infections are often due to suboptimal husbandry. Signs include lethargy, nasal discharge/bubbling, congestion, open mouth breathing, bubbly/stringy oral mucous, and weight loss. Please contact your veterinarian if you notice these signs.
Inclusion Body Disease – This is an infectious disease seen in pythons and boas and is usually fatal, especially in pythons. Neurologic signs (paralysis, unable to right itself when turned over, star-gazing, and weakness) are most common, but chronic regurgitation, respiratory infections, extreme weight loss, and shedding problems can be seen as well. Diagnosis is very difficult. All new snakes should be quarantined as IBD may take several months to manifest. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling new snakes.
Bearded dragons are native to Australia. They are very popular pets because they are social and easy to handle. They also have a wide range of fascinating behaviors. The average lifespan of a bearded dragon is 12-14 years, but with proper care and diet some can live over 20 years.
Cage – Bearded dragons require a lot of room. The enclosure should be large enough for climbing, exploration, and basking. Glass aquarium tanks or lightweight plastic molded enclosures can be used. A single adult dragon needs at least 2x4 feet of floor space (the equivalent of a 75 gallon aquarium). Juvenile bearded dragons can be housed in a 10-20 gallon tank. Either very tall walls or a top to the enclosure is required to prevent the bearded dragon from escaping.
Substrate – The substrate should be safe and easy to clean. Commonly used examples are paper towels, butcher paper, newspaper, Repti-Carpet, Vinyl tile, fleece or tightly woven towels. Paper pulp products such as Carefresh can be used, but your bearded dragon should be fed in a separate container to avoid ingestion of the substrate. We do not recommend using sand, gravel, mulch, cat litter, or wood shavings due to risk of ingestion leading to impaction as well as irritation of the eyes and mouth.
Cage Furniture – Hide boxes should be provided in both the cool and warm sides of the enclosure. Other furniture such as large rocks, branches, and driftwood can be provided as climbing structures for your bearded dragon. Do NOT use heated rocks due to risk of thermal burns.
Temperature – The enclosure should be large enough to have a warm side and a cool side to allow your bearded dragon to regulate its temperature by changing its location. Digital thermometers rather than dial thermometers should be used for accuracy. The probe of the digital thermometer should be placed at the level of the animal rather than at the top of the enclosure. At least two thermometers should be used, one to measure the cool side and one the warm side. The basking side should reach up to 95-115°F and the cooler side should be about 75-80°F. A clear incandescent bulb, red bulbs, ceramic heating elements, or reptile under tank heating pads are often used as heat sources. Do NOT use heated rocks due to risk of burns. A nighttime temperature range should be between 65-75°F.
Lighting – It is imperative that a UVB light source be provided for 10-12 hours daily for proper Vitamin D production and calcium absorption. We recommend the long tube fluorescent lights (ZooMed Reptisun 10.0 Iguana). The light needs to be placed over a screen top (as plastic/glass blocks the emission) within 18 inches of your lizard. The light needs to be replaced every 6 months even if it still works as UVB production decreases over time.
Cage mates – Bearded dragons should be housed individually as they are very territorial and will often fight. Adult bearded dragons will also eat juveniles. If the tank is large enough, juveniles may be housed together temporarily. Make sure to provide several basking sites and hiding areas if you house more than one dragon together.
Vegetables – Feed a variety of dark leafy vegetables, such as collard greens, endive, dandelion greens, mustard greens, escarole, watercress, and turnip greens. Butternut squash, acorn squash, green beans (no other types of beans), sugar snap peas, and okra can also be fed as regular treat foods. Kale, spinach, broccoli, cilantro, bok choy, swiss chard, parsley, and carrots can be fed occasionally. Lettuces are not recommended as they have very poor nutritional values. A salad can be made by chopping or shredding the greens. Spray the salad with water to increase water intake.
Fruit – Fruits (berries, melons, kiwi, papaya, mango) can be used to top the salad to increase interest, but should be used sparingly.
Insects – Insects should only be fed as treats. Insects should always be gut loaded. To do this, provide insects with a diet such as cricket food, rodent chow, or dry dog food. The primary insect used should be crickets or Dubia roaches as other insects (mealworms, giant mealworms, wax worms) are high in fat and should only be used occasionally. Please remove uneaten insects to prevent injury to your bearded dragon.
Commercial diets – Commercial/pelleted diets are not recommended for your bearded dragon
Supplements – Dust insects with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (with no added phosphorus) and multivitamin. We recommend the Repashy Calcium Plus powder.
Water Bowl – Fresh water should be provided in a dish that is shallow enough for your dragon to climb into and large enough for them to fit in. Change the water daily as your dragon will likely defecate in the water.
Misting – Mist the enclosure and your dragon once a day with a spray bottle.
Soaking – Soak your dragon 2-3 times a week in a shallow warm water bath for 15-20 minutes to encourage drinking, improve hydration, and to help with shedding.
Gently scoop up your dragon with your hand under its belly. They do not like to be held firmly, so let them rest in the palm of your hand with your fingers curled around them. If children are handling the bearded dragon, have them sit on the floor and hold it in their laps. Only allow them to handle the pet with adult supervision.
Salmonellosis – Reptiles are commonly carriers of Salmonella and are a potential source of infection to humans. We recommend washing your hands immediately after handling your dragon, cleaning the enclosure, or after coming into contact with fecal material.
We recommend a complete physical exam, atadenovirus testing, choanal culture, and fecal examination by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet bearded dragons. Thereafter, we recommend exams every 6 months and yearly choanal cultures and fecal exams.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Metabolic Bone Disease – Inappropriate lighting and inappropriate calcium supplementation can lead to brittle or soft bones that can easily break. Signs include weakness, decreased appetite, swelling of the joints/legs, and twitching or tremors. If you notice any of these signs, please contact your veterinarian.
Retained Shed – Bearded dragons shed in pieces and sometimes the shed can be retained. Common places for retained shed are in the eyes and around legs, toes, and the tail. Signs include squinting or swelling of the leg, tail, or toes. If you notice any of these signs, please contact your veterinarian.
Impaction – Bearded dragons defecate fairly regularly. If they go for several days without defecating, they could potentially have a blockage in their intestinal tract. Please contact your veterinarian if your bearded dragon has not defecated for several days.
Abscess – Abscesses appear as firm lumps on your bearded dragon. They will need to be lanced and some need to be surgically removed.
There are numerous species of box turtles being kept as pets in the United States, the most common being the Eastern and the Three-toed. Two box turtles which are being imported into the U.S. and have slightly different requirements than do the native species are the Chinese and the Malayan Box turtles. Ornate box turtles are among the most sensitive and difficult species to maintain in captivity and are not recommended for beginners. Box turtles are only partially aquatic, spending the majority of their time burrowing in the mud or hiding beneath a rock. It is illegal for pet stores to sell turtles smaller than 4″ meaning at the time of purchase most turtles will already be 2-4 years of age. Adults range in size from 4½-8” in length, depending on species (the Chinese and the Malayan species tend to be slightly bigger). Males tend to be larger, more colorful, and have longer tails. Box turtles are known for their longevity, with proper care they have been known to live into their 50s and 60s.
Diet: These reptiles are omnivores requiring a varied diet based on their age. As juveniles they derive a higher portion of their diet from animal protein, while adults consume a proportionately larger portion of their diet from plant matter. Adults need to be fed every two to three days, while juveniles require daily feeding. The best time to feed turtles is late morning after they have had a chance to warm up and are active. A turtle not given the proper circumstances to feed will go on a hunger strike. Unlike warm-blooded animals, they aren’t forced by their metabolism to eat. They can just slow down their activity level, retreat in their shells and wait for better conditions. Unfortunately, if the turtles are kept in a tank or penned in an outdoor area, those better conditions will not come unless the owner makes an effort to supply them.
A majority (60-70%) of the adult’s diet should consist of a variety of fresh dark leafy greens such as collard, mustard, and dandelion greens. These should be mixed with other coarsely chopped vegetables (carrots, squash, green beans, broccoli, etc.) Avoid regularly feeding frozen vegetables as the freezing process breaks down vital nutrients. Since turtles are motivated by sight and smell, offer a varied, colorful diet.
Animal protein should make up the rest of the diet. This can be derived from such sources as mealworms, kingworms, earthworms, slugs/snails, small pinky mice, or crickets. Worms need to be purchased through a reputable supplier; the ones from your yard can contain bacteria, parasites, and toxins which can be detrimental to your pet. Fruits such as apples, cantaloupe, melon, and berries can be offered as an occasional treat, but should always be fed in moderation.
Calcium supplementation – Sprinkle or dust food with a calcium supplement just before feeding your turtle once weekly. Calcium supplements should have a minimum calcium: phosphorous ratio of 2:1. Try for calcium products using calcium oxalate or calcium succinate, avoid products containing Vitamin D as this can lead to toxicity. A separate vitamin supplement can also be used once to twice a week, avoid using vitamins with calcium as your calcium supplement source ? the calcium is not as bioavailable.
Unlike the other box turtles, Ornates are primarily insectivorous/carnivorous and should derive a higher percentage of their diet from these sources. Chinese box turtles can also be offered small fish (feeder goldfish) as a portion of their diet.
Handling and Restraint: Allow your turtle several days to get used to its new surroundings before handling it regularly. It may spend the first couple of days closed tight in its shell, or may quickly withdraw when it sees you looming overhead or approaching the enclosure. When picking up your turtle make sure to support its body with both hands. Turtles feel more secure when they can feel something beneath their feet; “swimming” in air is stressful to them. Never attempt to force your turtle out of its shell or pull out its head. Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling your turtle so as not to introduce anything into their water.
Housing: Setting up the proper habitat is one of the most important considerations in keeping your turtle healthy and happy. They are for the most part terrestrial animals, requiring both a large warm area of dry land for basking and burrowing, as well as a pool of water for soaking and swimming. Remember that as your turtle continues to grow its habitat size requirements will become larger as well. The several species of box turtles commonly kept as pets live in very different types of natural habitats. The more you know about the natural environment of the kind of box turtle you have, the better home you will be able to provide it. Box turtles do best in outdoor enclosures when possible.
Indoor enclosures must be at least 3 ft. x 3 ft. x 2 ft. or about the size of a shallow 40 gallon tank, though larger is better. Aquariums kept away from windows, plexiglass, or plastic enclosures work well. If building your own wooden habitat make sure to waterproof it and allow several weeks for it to cure before setting it up and introducing your turtle. A hiding/shelter area is also required. This can be provided by a wooden box, cork bark, or a cardboard box with a doorway cutout. Extra substrate should be placed inside.
Substrate ? You want to use a substrate (or bedding) that holds a small amount of moisture without molding as these turtles have a higher requirement for humidity. Daily misting is often required. A good quality plain sterile potting soil slightly moistened works well. Don’t use backyard or garden soil as they contain compounds and fertilizers that can be toxic to your turtle. Alternatively, plain fir or orchid bark, deep drifts of alfalfa, or a combination of soil and bark can be used. The substrate should be 2-3 inches deep allowing plenty of room for your turtle to burrow. Newspaper, butcher block paper, or reptile carpeting can be used if a box containing a digging and burrowing substrate is also provided (this will require a larger enclosure as a water area must also be provided). Avoid coarse substrates such as sand, gravel or rock as these can damage your turtle’s shell leaving them open to infection.
A water area can be provided using a flat dish or pan that is large enough for your turtle to lie in. American box turtle are not good swimmers so the enclosure must be easy to both climb in and out of. If a kitty litter pan is used, it must be recessed into the substrate, and the turtle provided with a ramp to get in and out. The water must be changed frequently to keep it scrupulously clean as your turtle soaks and eliminates in the same water it drinks.
Cleaning ? Your turtle’s habitat should be cleaned regularly to ensure its health and well-being. Soil and bark substrates should be replaced every two to three weeks to prevent bacterial and fungal build-up. Paper substrate needs to be changed every couple of days to weekly depending on how quickly it becomes soiled. If reptile carpeting is used, it is best to have 2-3 pieces cut to the correct dimensions. This way, replacements can be used while the soiled piece is cleaned and disinfected. The tank should be spot cleaned for feces daily. Water dishes should be cleaned daily (twice daily if quickly soiled). The entire habitat should undergo a thorough cleaning every 2-3 months (this includes all hide boxes, landscaping, and substrate tubs). Set aside a food storage bowl, feeding and water bowls, soaking bowl/tub, even sponges, to be used exclusively for your turtle.
The Malayan box turtle is more aquatic than the American box turtles. They require a large area of water (at least 50% of total enclosure). The water area in length needs to be 4-5 times your turtle’s length from neck end of the carapace (top shell) to the tail end with a width of 2-3 times your turtle’s carapace length. The depth of the water needs to be 1.5-2 times your turtle’s CL. Make sure there is a gap of a couple of inches between the top of the water and the top of the tank to prevent escapes. Regular water changes (every 1-2 weeks) are necessary to maintain the health and well being of your turtle as they are messy eaters and often defecate in their water. Daily skimming of the surface water with a fish net is often required, with full water changes every 1-2 weeks. If using a good filter and feeding in a separate habitat you may be able to do partial water changes every two weeks with monthly full water changes. Multiple types of filters exist for maintaining water quality between changes. Which you choose depends on the size and set-up of your habitat, choices include canister, undergravel, sponge, and power filters. Water temperature should be kept between 75-85 F. A submersible aquarium heater works well to maintain this. An aquarium thermometer should also be used to regularly monitor for temperature fluctuations. Chinese box turtles are also more aquatic, falling somewhere in between the needs of the Malayan and American turtles. A large kitty litter pan sunk into the ground is generally of an adequate size though the above mentioned set-up for Malayans can be used as well. With both Chinese and Malayan turtles make sure there is a ramp provided to allow them easy in/out water access.
Heat: Two heating sources should be used to provide the correct temperature gradient for your turtle ? an under the tank heating pad and an incandescent or spot light. Habitat gradients are different depending on species – U.S. box turtles: 85-88 F/day, 70-75 F/night;
Chinese boxes: 75-85 F; Malayans: water temperature 78-85 F and air temperature 85 F. Turtles also require a basking area with a temperature maintained between 90-94 F. Be very careful that there is no way for the light to fall into the water or habitat, or for the turtle to come into direct contact with the bulb. Buy at least two thermometers – one to use in the overall enclosure area, and the other in the basking area.
Lighting: Exposure to UVB light has been shown to be beneficial in different turtle species, helping with both healthy eating habits and attitude. Full-spectrum light is an essential part of the calcium metabolization process, and calcium deficiencies are very common in captive turtles. Using a timer is a good way to maintain the proper light exposure ratio as they need to be on 12-14 hours each day. Note that the UV waves cannot pass through glass, and 40% of the available waves are lost when the light passes through an aluminum screen; try to have the light shining directly on the animal. UVB light begins dropping off exponentially at about 6-8 months even when the bulb itself still works so regular bulb replacement is necessary. It is also advantageous to set up a secure outdoor enclosure for your turtle to sun and soak in, but be careful to also provide a shaded area for them to retreat to. Never place your turtle in a glass enclosure in the hot sun (even if only through a window) as these can heat rapidly and lead to fatal hyperthermia. Some companies are now producing bulbs that provide UVB and heat together. These Active UV Heat bulbs are a good way to meet some of your turtle’s needs without the clutter of numerous lights and cords.
Chameleons are becoming more and more popular as pets in the US. However, they are notoriously hard to keep in captivity. Their care is highly specialized and they are considered to be very fragile. The appropriate husbandry and diet is key to success. Their average lifespan in captivity ranges from 3-5 years with some chameleons living up to 10 years. Their size varies with their species.
Cage - Chameleons need a large, well-ventilated enclosure. Screens are often used to provide ventilation. Mesh screens are often preferred to maximize ventilation. Sharp edges should be avoided and plastic coated screen or PVC mesh is preferred over metal screens. Screened Exo-terra tanks can be set up for chameleons. Large, vertically-oriented aquariums may work for smaller species and juveniles as well.
Substrate - The substrate should be safe and easy to clean. Commonly used examples are paper towels, butcher paper, newspaper, Repti-Carpet, Vinyl tile, or terry towels. Untreated topsoil with no fertilizer can be used, but may be very difficult to keep clean. We do not recommend using sand, gravel, mulch, cat litter, or wood shavings due to risk of ingestion leading to impaction as well as irritation of the eyes and mouth. The bottom of the enclosure should be cleaned every few days to prevent exposing chameleons to their waste.
Cage Furniture - Numerous branches in various sizes should be provided for climbing and hiding. Artificial plants and branches are easier to keep clean than live plants, but plants such as ficus and pothos can be used.
Temperature - Temperature requirements vary among the different species of chameleons and can be divided into two main groups (highland and lowland). The enclosure should be large enough to have a focal basking area (top) and a cool side (bottom) to allow your chameleon to regulate its temperature by changing its location. Digital thermometers rather than dial thermometers should be used for accuracy. At least two thermometers should be used, one to measure the cool side and one the warm side. A clear incandescent bulb, red bulb, or ceramic heating element can be used to provide heat at the focal basking area. It is very important to allow the tank to drop to a much cooler temperature at night.
- Highland group: Species of chameleon, including Jackson’s chameleon (C. jacksonii), Fischer’s chameleon (C. fischeri), mountain chameleon (C.montium), Parson’s chameleon (C. parsonii)
- Daytime temperature between 70-80°F, with focal basking site reaching 82-85°F
- Nighttime temperature as low as 55-60°F
- Lowland group: Species of chameleon, including flap-necked chameleon(C. dilepis), graceful chameleon(C gracilis), Senegal chameleon(C. senegalensis), Meller’s chameleon (C. melleri), Oustelet’s chameleon (C. oustaleti), Yemen/veiled chameleon (C. capyptratus), and panther chameleon (C. pardalis)
- Daytime temperature between 79–88°F, with focal basking site reaching 94-100°
- Nighttime temperature as low as 64-66°F
Humidity - Both types of chameleons require a relatively high humidity (50-75%). Highland species will need to be on the higher side and the lowland species on the lower side of the range. You can spray the enclosure multiple times a day with fresh water or set up a drip system. Ventilation should not be sacrificed to increase humidity as this can lead to medical problems and bacterial/fungal growth. If commercial humidifiers are used, they must be cleaned every week as they can result in microbial growth.
Lighting - It is imperative that a UVB light source be provided for proper Vitamin D production and calcium absorption. A 5.0 ultraviolet B (UVB) light should be placed over the basking area (within 18 inches) for 12-14 hours in summer and 10-12 hours in winter. The light needs to be placed over a screen top (as plastic/glass blocks the emission). The light needs to be replaced every 6 months even if it still works as UVB production decreases over time. You can expose your chameleon to natural sunlight during the warmer months. Always supervise your chameleon if loose outside. Your chameleon can be placed in a screened enclosure outside, but aquariums should not be used due to risk of overheating.
Cage Mates - Chameleons should be housed individually as they are very territorial and will often fight. Adult chameleons will also eat juveniles. Juveniles should ideally not be housed together, but if they are, adequate foliage is required to minimize interactions between individuals.
Insects - Insects fed should be no longer than the width of your chameleon’s head. Insects should always be gut loaded. To do this, provide insects with a diet such as cricket food, rodent chow, or dry dog food. The primary insect used should be crickets, Dubia roaches, silkworms, and hornworms as other insects (mealworms, giant mealworms, superworms, wax worms) are high in fat and should only be used as treats. Please remove uneaten insects to prevent injury to your chameleon.
- Juveniles should be fed as much as they will eat daily
- Adult should be fed 5-15 insects every 2-3 days
Supplements – Insects should be dusted with a high quality calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (with no added phosphorus) and multivitamins. We recommend the Repashy Calcium Plus powder.
- Juveniles should receive supplements 3-4 times a week
- Adults should receive supplements twice weekly
Water bowl - Chameleons generally will not drink from standing water, so while a bowl can be provided, alternate sources of water MUST be provided as well.
Misting and dripping - Most chameleons like to drink water from droplets that accumulate on plants. Misting the cage 4-5 times a day will provide a water source for your chameleon. You can also try to offer water from a dropper or a water bottle. Be sure that the enclosure is well ventilated as frequent misting can contribute to bacterial growth if there is inadequate ventilation.
Commercial misters, drip systems, and bubblers - There are commercial systems available that provide water on a scheduled basis. These systems have a tendency to harbor bacteria and must be meticulously cleaned often. The systems should be thoroughly disinfected one to two times a month with dilute bleach (1:30 bleach:water). Allow for a contact time of 15-20 minutes before rinsing extremely thoroughly.
We recommend a complete physical exam, choanal culture, and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet chameleons. Thereafter, we recommend exams every 6 months and yearly choanal cultures and fecal exams.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Metabolic Bone Disease – Inappropriate lighting and inappropriate calcium supplementation can lead to brittle or soft bones that can easily break. Signs include weakness, decreased appetite, swelling of the joints/legs, and twitching or tremors. If you notice any of these signs, please contact your veterinarian.
Retained Shed – Chameleons shed in pieces and sometimes the shed can be retained. Common places for retained shed are in the eyes and around legs, toes, and the tail. Signs include squinting or swelling of the leg, tail, or toes. If you notice any of these signs, please contact your veterinarian.
Abscess – Abscesses appear as firm lumps on your chameleon. They will need to be lanced and some need to be surgically removed.
Notice: Ferrets are illegal in California
Recommended Ferrets: Ferrets should be purchased from a reputable source that gives a guarantee. Ideally, the ferret will already be spayed or neutered, and descented. Sexually intact males and females can have many serious medical problems.
Cage: Ferrets are very curious creatures, and need to be kept in a cage when they are not supervised. A wire cage without a tray is the best. Ideally the cage should be as big as space allows, but at least 2 feet wide by 4 feet long by 2 feet high. This will allow for a litter box, play area, feeding area, and a sleeping area.
Diet: Ferrets need a high protein quality food. Commercially available ferret foods are recommended, but a high quality cat food will work. Dry food is preferred since it is better for the teeth. Vitamin supplements are not necessary if you are feeding a commercial diet. Ceramic bowls should be used since they are heavy enough to prevent tipping over and easy to clean. Clean water should always be available.
Litter Training: Ferrets naturally defecate in corners and usually in one area. This makes litter box training easy. The litter box should be easily accessible and have sides at least 3 inches high. Newspaper or a commercial cat litter works fine for the substrate.
Sleeping Area: Ferrets like tight places to sleep. This is easily accomplished with a small box and a towel. The towel should be washed frequently.
Play Area: Ferrets love to play and are extremely curious. Many toys are safe for them, but make sure they are not able to swallow any portion of them. Blockage of the gastrointestinal system is very common and care should be taken to prevent it. Do not leave your ferret outside the cage unsupervised for any period of time.
Health Care: Healthy ferrets need yearly exams and vaccinations. Ferrets require a yearly rabies vaccine and a yearly distemper vaccine. Ferrets can also contract heartworm disease, but this can be prevented with the proper medication. Owners should avoid handling their pet ferrets if they are sick since ferrets can catch the human cold virus.
Finding The Right Iguana: Green iguanas are tree-dwelling animals from Central and South America. If properly cared for, an iguana can live for 12-15 years, grow six feet long, and weigh up to 15 pounds. Iguanas are very common and are available from many sources. The new pet should come with a guarantee that gives you enough time to have its health checked by your local reptile veterinarian. The animal should be alert, active, and readily eating. Also, no external parasites (mites) or lumps or bumps (growths or abscesses) should be present. Your cage set-up should be ready before you acquire your new pet. Frequently they are available at your local shelter or local rescue organization.
Diet: Iguanas do best on a herbivorous diet (plants). These animals need foods that are low in protein and phosphorous and high in calcium. Ideally, they should eat predominantly dark leafy greens (dandelion greens, chard, kale, mustard greens, arugula, endive, etc.). Fruit is not recommended because it is high in phosphorous and is very low in calcium. Also, insects are not recommended because they high in protein and fat, and are generally low in calcium. Vitamin supplements are not needed if the reptile is on a good diet. The lizards will grow slower on this diet, but they will be healthier and will live longer. We strongly recommend doing blood tests to make sure the animal is healthy and that their pets blood calcium and phosphorous levels are normal.
Light: The right kind of light is very important to your lizard; its life depends on it. Lizards have high requirements for UV-B light. Ultra Violet B light is a component of sunlight. This type of light is absorbed by the skin and helps the body make vitamin D. This is important because the vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium from the diet. The UVB light from the sun will not travel through glass or plastic. We recommend taking your animal outside as often as possible, but always supervise and contain them. Also a UVB cage light is recommended since the pet spends most of its time inside. Many brands are available, but we have the most success with Vitalites and ZooMed Iguana Lights. These fluorescent lights need to be replaced every 6-12 months because the amount of UVB produced declines over time. The florescent tube will continue to produce visible light, but no more UVB light. The light should be on for about 12 hour per day.
Temperature: All reptiles are ectothermic, which means they obtain their body temperature from their environment. All reptiles require a temperature gradient (a hot side and a cooler side). This allows the reptile to meet its optimal body temperature for normal food digestion and a healthy immune system. This is most easily accomplished with a heating pad and an overhead heat source like an infrared ceramic heat element. You should always have a movable thermometer to check the temperature in all areas of the cage. Also, check the temperature of the cage at night. Reptiles like the heat so make sure they will not be able to burn themselves. Heat rocks are not recommended. Also, reptiles should have hide areas at both temperature ranges. The low end of the gradient should be in the mid 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high end should be in the high 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Water: Water is required for all living animals. A clean source of water should always be available. Check and clean frequently since most reptiles like to defecate and urinate in the water.
Hibernation: Iguanas do not need to be hibernate.
Substrate: Use a substrate that is inexpensive and easy to clean. This is easy to accomplish with newspaper or bath towels. Clean the entire cage when the reptile defecates. Clean any urine or feces as soon as possible. Avoid using wood chips and sand. They are difficult to clean and contain bacteria and fungus. Also, sand and wood chips can cause intestinal impactions if ingested.
Cage Size: Ideally the cage will be as large as you have space. At a minimum it needs to give the animal several hide areas and room to explore and stretch out. Iguanas are arboreal (tree dwelling), and need vertical climbing areas. Iguanas grow quickly and will require are very large cage. Remember that it is more difficult to maintain the proper temperature gradient in a larger cage. The iguana should never be kept loose in the house, because it will be impossible to maintain the temperature, have the proper light, and to keep the area clean.
Cage: The cage needs to be easy to clean, and have good ventilation. Glass aquariums or plastic reptile cages work the best. Wood cages are very difficult to clean.
Cage Furniture: The reptile should have multiple hiding areas, can be accomplished with many materials. Also, vertical climbing and basking branches are needed. The furniture needs to be easy to remove and clean.
Cage Mates: Iguanas are not social animals and can be very territorial. Iguanas will fight to establish dominance. They can cause severe injury to each other. Also, the dominant iguana will constantly stress the cage mate making it more susceptible to infection.
Humidity: Iguanas come from tropical regions, which means they are used to extremely high humidity. However, make certain your cage has good ventilation so molds and mildew can not grow in the cage. Iguanas can have shedding problems if it is too dry. You can keep your iguana healthy with frequent misting or warm water bathes. Always use clean, fresh water in the spray bottle. You should not bath your iguana in the sink or bathtub because our human bacteria can be harmful to them and because they can have bacteria that are harmful to us.
Common Medical Problems: Iguanas have numerous medical problems in captivity. Bacterial infections are very common and can be due to many reasons. Usually the owner notices a decrease in activity, and decrease in appetite, or a growth (abscess) on the body.
Nutritional disorders are also very common. Diets high in protein can cause kidney failure. Diets low in calcium can cause soft bones which easily break. The lack of a UV-B light can also cause a low calcium level in the blood. In addition to soft bones, low calcium levels can lead to twitching and seizures.
Intestinal parasites are very common and can lead to many problems. Parasitic infections can be diagnosed with a microscopic fecal exam.
Female iguanas can produce eggs or follicles without mating. Frequently, they are unable to lay them and require veterinary help. Usually the owner notices the animal is digging a lot, has a decrease in appetite, and has a very large abdomen.
Always seek help from your local reptile veterinarian when there is any change in your pet’s behavior. It is easier to treat and less expensive if the problem is caught early.
Diet: Guinea pigs, like humans, require vitamin C from their food. They are unable to manufacture it on their own. They should be fed a combination of commercially available guinea pig pellets and high quality oat or timothy hay. Rabbit pellets are not fortified with vitamin C and should not be fed to guinea pigs. The pellets should be used within two months of the mill date and stored in the refrigerator to preserve the vitamin C as much as possible. Do not rely entirely on the pellets to provide your guinea pig with vitamin C. They should also be offered small amounts of dark leafy greens, carrots, carrot tops, and other vegetables and fruits. Introduce the fresh food slowly to help prevent your guinea pig from developing diarrhea. Guinea pigs need to have food moving through their intestines at all times. Therefore, pellets and hay should always be available to them.
Water: Water is required for all living animals. A clean source of water should always be available. Water bottles should be cleaned daily with soap and warm water.
Temperature: Guinea pigs are extremely sensitive to heat. They should be kept at mild temperatures (mid 60’s to 80’s) away from drafts and heat ducts. During the hot summer months, they should be provided with shade if outside. Ice bottles may be necessary to keep them cool enough.
Cage: Guinea pigs are very curious creatures, and need to be kept in a cage when they are not supervised. A wire cage with a tray is the best. Ideally the cage should be as big as space allows, but at least 2 feet wide by 4 feet long by 2 feet high. This will allow for a play area, feeding area, and a sleeping area.
Litter box training: Some guinea pigs can be trained to use a litter box. This will require patience.
Sleeping Area: Guinea pigs like tight places to sleep. This is easily accomplished with a small box and a towel. The towel should be washed frequently.
Play Area: Guinea pigs love to play and are extremely curious. They should be allowed to have free time outside of their cage daily in a protected area. Do not leave your guinea pig outside the cage unsupervised for any period of time.
Grooming: Guinea pigs should be groomed regularly. Hair balls can form in their stomachs or intestines. They occasionally cause life-threatening obstructions. Long fibers from hay help to prevent serious problems.
Health Care: Healthy guinea pigs need yearly exams. They should be examined regularly for mites and other external parasites. Also, they should have their teeth examined regularly. Overgrown teeth are very common and can cause serious health problems. Guinea pigs that do not eat for 6 hours or longer should see their veterinarian IMMEDIATELY. Anorexia can be caused by many health problems and can become fatal if not treated quickly.
Spaying and Neutering: Guinea pigs are social animals. Females can be bred as early as eight weeks and should not be bred any later than six months. The pelvic girdle fuses in older animals if not bred early, making it impossible for the female to deliver the pup without a C-section. Females housed alone or with other females do not need to be spayed. Males should be neutered if housed together or they will fight once they reach sexual maturity. Males should not be housed with females without first being neutered unless breeding is intended.
Geckos are very docile creatures that require straightforward care making them very popular pets. They grow up approximately 6 inches in length and live about 7-10 years in captivity.
Cage – Aquariums, Exo Terra enclosures, or plastic containers with a mesh top are commonly used for enclosures. Since geckos are terrestrial, a longer enclosure is preferable to a high one. Juvenile geckos can be housed in a 10 gallon enclosure. Adult geckos will require at least a 20 gallon enclosure.
Substrate – The substrate should be safe and easy to clean. Commonly used examples are paper towels, butcher paper, newspaper, Repti-Carpet, or Vinyl tile. Paper pulp products such as Carefresh can be used, but your gecko should be fed in a separate container to avoid ingestion of the substrate. We do not recommend using sand, gravel, mulch, or wood shavings due to risk of ingestion leading to intestinal blockage as well as irritation of the eyes and mouth.
Hide/Humidity Box – A hide box and a separate humidity box should be provided on the warm side of the enclosure. Geckos like to sleep in a dark snug enclosure. Half-logs (found at pet stores), cardboard boxes, or upside-down opaque plastic containers can be used. Make sure the hide box is large enough to fit the entire gecko. Humidity boxes can be made from a plastic Tupperware type container with a hole cut in one side for your gecko to enter. Make sure the cut edges are smooth. Damp sphagnum moss or a damp piece of foam/sponge can be placed in the container. The moss/foam/sponge can be rewet daily or as needed. The humidity box should be cleaned every two weeks and the moss replaced or the foam/sponge washed to prevent mold growth and waste build-up.
Cage Furniture – Furniture such as large rocks, branches, and driftwood can be provided as climbing structures for your gecko. Do NOT use heated rocks due to risk of thermal burns.
Temperature – The enclosure should be large enough that a temperature gradient, with a warm side and a cool side, can be created. This is important for allowing your gecko to control its own temperature by changing its location. Digital thermometers rather than dial thermometers should be used for accuracy. The probe of the digital thermometer should be placed at the level of the animal rather than at the top of the enclosure. At least two thermometers should be used, one to measure the cool side and one the warm side. The basking side should reach up to 92-95°F and the cooler side should be about 70-75°F. Reptile under tank heating pads are also often used as a heat source.
Lighting – While leopard and fat-tailed geckos are nocturnal and some literature states that they do not require special UV lighting, we still highly recommend providing UVB lighting as studies have shown that geckos exposed to UV lighting are generally healthier. We recommend the long tube fluorescent lights (ZooMed Reptisun). The light needs to be placed over a screen top (as plastic/glass blocks the emission) within 18 inches of your gecko. The light needs to be replaced every 6 months even if it still works as UVB production decreases over time.
Cagemates – Geckos should be housed individually to avoid fighting. If geckos are housed together, there should never be more than one male as they are very territorial and prone to fighting. Multiple hide boxes need to be provided if there are multiple geckos housed together and a large heating pad must be used to ensure all hide boxes are heated.
Insects – Insects should always be gut loaded. To do this, provide insects with a diet such as cricket food, rodent chow, or dry dog food. The primary insect used should be crickets or Dubia roaches as other insects (mealworms, giant mealworms, wax moth larvae) are high in fat and should only be used as treats. Please remove uneaten insects to prevent injury to your gecko.
Vegetables – Feed a variety of dark leafy vegetables, such as collard greens, endive, dandelion greens, mustard greens, escarole, watercress, and turnip greens. Dark leafy vegetables have high levels of calcium and may be used instead of oral calcium supplements.
Insects – Appropriately sized insects should be offered daily. The length of the insect should not be wider than the gecko’s head.
Vegetables – Dark green leafy vegetables should be offered daily.
Supplements – Supplements should not be used if your gecko is eating dark green leafy vegetables. Dust insects with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (with no added phosphorus) and multivitamin 4-5 times a week. We recommend the Repashy Calcium Plus HyD powder.
Insects – Gut-loaded insects should be offered 2-3 times a week.
Vegetables – Dark green leafy vegetables should be offered 2-3 times a week.
Supplements – Supplements should not be used if your gecko is eating dark green leafy vegetables. Dust insects with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (with no added phosphorus) and multivitamin 2-3 times a week. We recommend the Repashy Calcium Plus HyD powder.
Water bowl – Provide a shallow water dish that your gecko can easily climb into. It should be large enough to fit the entire animal. Water should be changed daily.
Soaking – Soak your gecko in a shallow warm water bath for 15-20 minutes about 2-3 times a week. This will encourage your gecko to drink and improve shedding.
Misting – Mist your gecko and the enclosure once a day with a spray bottle.
We recommend a complete physical exam, choanal culture, and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet geckos. Thereafter, we recommend exams every 6 months and choanal cultures and fecal exams every 12 months.
COMMON HEALTH PROBLEMS
Tail Dropping – If they feel threatened, geckos can drop their tail. A new tail will grow back within 1-2 months, but will look different than the original tail.
Abscess – Abscesses appear as firm lumps on your gecko. They will need to be lanced and some need to be surgically removed.
Retained Shed – Geckos shed in pieces and sometimes the shed can be retained. Common places for retained shed are in the eyes and around the legs, and toes. Signs include squinting or swelling of the leg or toes. If you notice any of these signs, please contact your veterinarian.
Diet: Pellets, (not seed), fresh greens and veggies.
Water: Fresh Water Daily.
Wash dishes with soap and water daily.
Sunlight: Unfiltered (not through glass) or provide with a full-spectrum light bulb.
Baths: Needed daily for good skin and feather quality. To bathe, mist bird with clean water bottle until the feathers are completely soaked.
Cage: As large as possible. Cages must be cleaned at least once a day.
Toys: Keep your bird happy with a variety of toys. Make sure you provide your bird with toys that do not have zinc. To do this make sure the toys are made of stainless steel.
Behavior: The Bird Report
Rabbits make friendly, quiet, and gentle house pets. They come in a variety of breeds and colors with an average life span of 7-10 years.
Cage – A minimum of 2x3 feet of floor space if recommended for small breed rabbits and 3x4 feet for large breed rabbits. A solid cage bottom is recommended. If the cage has a wire bottom, at least half of it should be covered with a solid surface to help prevent pressure sores from forming on the feet. Keep the cage in a cool, well ventilated area.
Litter box – Rabbits can be litter trained. Pick a litter box with sides low enough so that your rabbit can get in and out easily. Pelleted litter, pulp paper products (Yesterday’s news or Carefresh), or shredded paper can be used in these boxes. Do not use cat litter or wood shavings such as pine or cedar as these can cause eye, skin, and respiratory disease. When training, confine your rabbit to a small area, either in a cage or a blocked-off section of a room. Put some dropping into the litter box to help encourage defecation in that area.
Hide areas – Rabbits need an area to feel safe and secure. Some rabbits are happy with a box full of hay while others need an enclosed space to hide in.
Temperature – Rabbits prefer cooler temperatures and their optimal temperature range is between 60-70°F. If air conditioning is not available, freeze a plastic bottle filled with water and leave it in the cage to help them cool off.
Cagemates – Rabbits are often housed separately. If you wish to pair them with another rabbit, they must be carefully paired off. Un-bonded rabbits may fight and injure each other.
Cleaning – Waste and dirty/wet bedding should be removed daily and the enclosure should be cleaned weekly. Hot soapy water or dilute bleach (1:30 mixture of bleach:water solution) can be used. Make sure everything is thoroughly rinsed before putting your rabbit back in its environment.
Hay – Grass hay is important and should always be available to your rabbits. Timothy hay is most commonly used, but if your rabbit is picky, you can offer orchard grass, oat hay, or meadow grass. Alfalfa hay should NOT be offered to rabbits over 6 months of age.
Pellets – Young rabbits can have free choice alfalfa pellets until 8 months of age. After 8 months, switch to a timothy hay based pellet and offer daily in small amounts. Overfeeding can lead to obesity, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and diarrhea.
Daily Pellet Feeding Guideline 2-4 lbs – 1/8-1/4 cup 5-7lbs – 1/4-1/2 cup 8-10lb – 1/2-3/4 cup 10-15lb – 3/4-1 cup
Fresh Greens – Offer 1-3 cups of greens daily. Examples include: arugula, escarole, watercress, clover, radicchio, endive, and herbs (dill, mint, cilantro, etc). Dark green vegetables (dandelion greens, mustard greens, kale,
broccoli, collard greens, and parsley) should be given in moderation as they can predispose to the development of bladder stones. Lettuces are not recommended as they have very poor nutritional value. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts) should be fed in very small amounts or even avoided as they can cause gas.
Fruit – Fruit should be given occasionally at 1 tablespoon per 5lb body weight. Examples include apples, blackberries, blueberries, carrots, cherries, bell peppers, kiwi, mango, melon, papaya, peach, pear, and raspberries. Dried fruit should be used in very small amounts.
Water – Rabbits should have access to fresh water at all times. They can be trained to drink from a bottle or provide water in a spill-proof bowl. Check water bottles often as they can malfunction and stop working. Cleaning – Water bottles and dishes should be cleaned daily or every other day with hot soapy water, a dilute bleach solution (1:30 bleach to water ratio), or in a dishwasher.
Never pick your rabbit up by their ears. The most common way is to scoop under their chest and place your other hand under the back legs. Remember to always support the hindquarters when you pick up your rabbit to prevent serious spinal injuries. If children are handling the rabbit, have them sit on the floor and hold it in their laps. Only allow them to handle the pet with adult supervision.
SOCIALIZATION AND PLAY
Play – Rabbits should be allowed play time outside of their cages daily. This will give them a chance to interact with family members. Exercise is also important for rabbits to help avoid a variety of problems from obesity, poor bone density and muscle tone to behavioral issues. A dog pen can be used to allow your rabbit room to play. The pen can even be moved outside to allow your rabbit access to grassy areas.
Chew – Items such as cardboard, unvarnished baskets, wooden bird toys, paper towel rolls, and safe wood can be given to rabbits to encourage chewing.
Toys – Rabbits like things that make noise such as keys on a plastic unbreakable key holder, empty plastic or metal cans, hard plastic baby toys and jar lids. You can hide treats in toys to make a toy more fun and to encourage foraging behavior. They also like air-filled balls that they can push around.
Safety – Do not leave your rabbit outside unsupervised as there are predators in the outdoors. If you are planning to allow your rabbit to roam the house, you must bunny proof it by blocking escape routes, covering furniture, keeping them away from electrical cords, and removing access to toxic material.
We recommend a complete physical exam and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet rabbits. Thereafter, we recommend exams every 6 months and yearly fecal exams.
Spaying – We recommend spaying all female rabbits as 80% of unspayed rabbits will develop some form of cancer related to their reproductive tracts. The risk is reduced considerably with spaying, especially when done early (between 4-6 months of age)
Neutering – We recommend neutering of male rabbits to decrease aggression and territorial behaviors such as urine spraying.
Hairball Prevention – Rabbits should be brushed often, especially during times of heavy shedding, to help reduce fur ingestion. A hairball preventative supplement (ie Laxatone) may be used if this is a recurring problem.
Nail trim – Long nails are prone to getting caught and breaking. Rabbits should have their nails trimmed routinely.
Cecotropes – These soft mucus-covered nighttime feces are consumed by your rabbit and are an important source of vitamins and nutrition. Rabbits that are arthritic or overweight often cannot reach their rear ends to eat cecotropes and can result in matting/fecal pasting on their fur.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
GI Stasis – A decreased appetite or anorexia in combination with reduced or no feces is an emergency for your rabbit. There are many causes of GI stasis and if it is not corrected in a timely fashion, it can lead to death. Please contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice signs.
Dental Disease – Rabbits have constantly growing teeth. In some rabbits, their cheek teeth do not meet up properly and can result in abnormal growth of the teeth that can lead to ulcers, infection, abscess, and GI stasis. Signs include drooling, dropping food, being picky, and weight loss. Dental disease is very common and often requires lifelong teeth trims.
Heat Stress – Rabbits are very sensitive to temperatures over 85°F and may overheat. Signs include increased respiratory rate or effort, lethargy, drooling, and nasal discharge. If you suspect heat stress, please contact your veterinarian immediately.
Rats are highly social animals that make excellent pets for children if properly cared for. If they are raised as pets and gently handled, rats will rarely bite. They are intelligent and can be taught tricks as well as to respond to their names. The average lifespan for a pet rat is 2-3 years.
Cage – Each rat requires a minimum of 40 square inches of floor space and at least a height of 7 inches. Cage material can include wire, stainless steel, or durable plastic/glass. At least 1 side of the enclosure must be open for air circulation. Cage bottoms should be solid as wire or mesh bottoms can irritate feet.
Substrate – Deep bedding (at least 1 inch) with ample nesting material is recommended. Bedding must be clean, non-toxic, and absorbent. Paper pulp products (Carefresh or Yesterday’s News), shredded newspaper or shredded computer paper are recommended. Wood chips and shavings (especially cedar and pine) are NOT recommended as they can cause respiratory disease.
Furniture – Cage furniture (large exercise wheels, tunnels, hide boxes, etc) is highly recommended for enrichment and play. Small cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls, tissue boxes, etc. can be used as hide boxes. Temperature – The optimal temperature for rats is between 65-80°F.
Cage mates – Rats can be housed as individuals, in same sex pairs, or in small groups. Fighting can occur and close monitoring is necessary. Spaying and neutering is recommended in mixed gender groups. There should be multiple food and water sources in group cages. If rats are kept individually, they should be handled every day. Cleaning – The cage and all accessories should be cleaned at least once a week with hot water and a non-toxic disinfectant or detergent, then rinsed thoroughly. We recommended cleaning the cage every day. Food and water dishes should be cleaned thoroughly every day.
Rat food/rodent blocks – A complete and fortified food should be offered “free-choice.” We recommend the Oxbow Essentials Adult Rat diet. Do not feed mixes containing seeds, dried fruits, or nuts as rats will preferentially consume the seeds/fruits/nuts that are high in fat and low in other nutrients and can lead to obesity and malnutrition.
Treats – Small pieces of fruits, vegetables (bib and red leaf lettuce, parsley, and cilantro), table food, or seeds may be offered. Grass hay can be used to stimulate foraging activity. Oxbow also makes a variety of healthy treats for rats.
Water – Clean water should be provided in sipper bottles or a spill proof bowl. Water should be changed daily. Cleaning – Bowls and water bottles should be cleaned every day in the dishwasher or with a dilute bleach solution (1:30 bleach to water ratio) soak.
Pet rats become accustomed to handling and will seldom bite if properly restrained. Rats can be picked up by scooping them up. Always use two hands and be gentle. Avoid sudden movements, loud noise, and excitement. Do not pull on the tip of the tail. If children are handling the rat, have them sit on the floor and hold it in their laps. Only allow them to handle the pet with adult supervision.
We recommend a complete physical exam and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet rats. Thereafter, we recommend exams every 6 months and fecal exams once a year.
Spaying and Neutering – This procedure is recommended at 6 months of age to help decrease incidence of mammary tumors as well as aggression among cage mates.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Respiratory disease – Respiratory infections are very common in rats and should be treated right away as the infection could develop into pneumonia. Symptoms include sneezing and nasal discharge.
Lice and Mites – Skin parasites are common in new pets. Symptoms include itching, red skin, hair loss, and irritability.
Skin Masses – Mammary tumors are extremely common in both male and female rats. Spaying and neutering them at around 6 months of age can help decrease the chances of developing these tumors. Abscesses can be seen in rats that are bit by a cage mate.
Wounds – Rats housed in pairs or groups can fight and often will result in deep wounds.
Tegus are native to Central and South America. Lifespan and adult sizes vary with species, and many can get quite large.
Tegus should generally be housed singly throughout their lives.
Cage – A 30-40 gallon aquarium is adequate for a single juvenile animal. An adult tegu requires a minimum enclosure size of at least twice the length of the animal. Use a secure mesh top to prevent escape and allow proper ventilation. Due to the large size of adult tegus, you may have to build an appropriate enclosure or invest in a large commercial enclosure.
Bedding/Substrate – Newspapers or paper towels are safest and easiest to replace/clean. Vinyl tile (from hardware store) or Repti-Carpet can also be used. If a paper pulp material (Carefresh) is used, you should feed your pet in a separate enclosure to prevent ingestion. Replace the bedding/substrate or clean the hard surface every 1-2 days to prevent exposure to waste. **Sand, gravel, mulch/back, or other natural substrates are not recommended due to difficulties in cleaning, risk of gastrointestinal issues if eaten, and problems with irritation or eyes and the delicate tissue of the mouth.
Cage furniture – Branches, driftwood, cork bark and/or large rocks can be provided for climbing. Hiding areas should also be provided. **Heated rocks should NEVER be used due to risk of thermal burns. Temperature/heating – A temperature gradient should be created within the enclosure, with a warm side and a cool side. This allows the tegu to regulate its temperature by changing location. Provide a daytime focal basking area of 95-100°F (use incandescent bulb, ceramic heating element, or red/other bulb; under tank heating pad can also be used if needed) on the warm side of the enclosure. Daytime temperatures on the cooler side of the enclosure should be 75-85°F. Use multiple digital thermometers with probes to ensure appropriate temperatures are maintained. Dial thermometers are often inaccurate. Provide a nighttime temperature range of 75-85°F throughout the enclosure. If needed, a safe under tank heating pad, ceramic heating element, or red bulb can help in maintaining recommended temperatures. Due to risk of burn injuries, always use appropriate rheostats/thermostats if using the commonly available ZooMed heating pads. Heating pads with which we have had good experiences include Ultratherm Heat Pads (beanfarm.com) and Cobra T-Rex Heat Pads (available from many pet stores)
Lighting – Provide an ultraviolet B (5.0 UVB) light over the basking area (within 18 inches; no glass/acrylic in between) for approximately 12 hours a day. UVB is necessary for vitamin D production and appropriate absorption of calcium from the gastrointestinal system. Replace this bulb approximately every 6 months, as UVB production decreases with time.
In the wild, adult tegus are omnivores consuming animal protein, insects, and fruits. Vegetables can always be offered but tegus typically prefer to avoid greens and some even have trouble digesting them. Variety and
balance are key to keeping a healthy tegu. Hatchlings and juveniles are primarily insectivores in the wild but in captivity can be taught to eat other foods as well.
Hatchlings should be fed every day with a strong focus on gut loaded insects. Crickets, dubia roaches, and earthworms should make up the bulk of the diet. Pinkie mice can be offered once a week but it is recommended to wait until the hatchling tegus are a bit larger and older. Small amounts of boiled or cooked eggs and small amounts of fish can be offered as well to round out the meal and offer variety. Fruits can be offered along with the insects or pinkies and are encouraged for enrichment.
Tegus under 3 years old should still be fed every other day until they reach sexual maturity and roughly adult size. Whole prey such as mice “hoppers” and “fuzzies” make excellent feeders for smaller tegus whereas the larger ones can be fed various adult mice sizes. Cooked or boiled eggs, fish pieces, earthworms, roaches, or crickets, and other insects should be added to the diet. Again, fresh fruits should be offered.
Adults should be fed every 2-3 days depending on their body condition (obese tegus will eat less often than under weight tegus). The bulk of an adult tegu’s diet should consist of rodents, small rats, and the occasional baby chick. Insects, eggs, and fish should all be offered as well. Pieces of cooked chicken can be offered as a treat for enrichment as well as training in some individuals. Fresh fruits should be offered in moderation to prevent excessive weight gain from high sugar concentrations.
To prevent injury to your pet, never feed live rodents and remove uneaten crickets immediately.
Water bowl – Provide clean, fresh water in a dish/bowl into which your dragon can easily climb (small/low for juveniles). It should be large enough to fit your pet’s entire body (a baking pan or low sided cat litter box work well). Change water daily
Humidity – Fill a dish or container large enough to fit your pet’s entire body (a baking pan or low sided cat litter box work well) with sphagnum moss, and mist this area once or twice daily with water from a spray bottle to keep it moist, creating a higher humidity micro-environment for your pet. Watch the moss closely for mold growth and waste, and replace it completely approximately every 2 weeks, or more often if needed
Soaking – Soak your pet 2-3 times a week in warm, shallow water for 15-20 minutes to encourage drinking, improve hydration, and help with shedding
We recommend a complete physical exam, choanal culture, and fecal examination by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet Tegus. Thereafter, we recommend exams every 6 months and yearly choanal cultures and fecal exams.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Obesity – Tegus that continue to be fed too frequently into adulthood can easily become overweight. It is important to have your Tegu brought into the veterinarian yearly for an annual exam, where your veterinarian can assess your tegu’s body condition. Overweight tegus are often put on more appropriate feeding schedules and the sugary fruits and fattier food items are lessened in the diet to assist with weight loss.
Metabolic Bone Disease – Inappropriate lighting and inappropriate calcium supplementation can lead to brittle or soft bones that can easily break. Signs include weakness, decreased appetite, swelling of the joints/legs, and twitching or tremors. If you notice any of these signs, please contact your veterinarian.
Impaction – Tegus defecate fairly regularly. If they go for several days without defecating, they could potentially have a blockage in their intestinal tract. Please contact your veterinarian if your Tegu has not defecated for several days.
Abscess – Abscesses appear as firm lumps on your Tegu. They will need to be lanced and some need to be surgically removed.
There are many different tortoise species being kept as pets with Russian Tortoises, Leopard Tortoises, and Sulcata Tortoises being some of the most popular. Potential owners should research the species they are interested in as many tortoises can live 50+ years and some can grow to be over two feet in diameter and will require special enclosures.
Cage - Rubber Maid and other plastic containers or wood enclosures are recommended over glass aquariums for tortoises as invisible barriers stress tortoises out. The enclosure should be about 10 times your tortoise’s length and 5 times its width. The height of the enclosure should be about 3 times your tortoise’s length as they are very good climbers. Giant species will eventually need a custom enclosure.
Substrate - Paper towels, towels, reptile carpet or newspaper are the safest to use and highly recommended especially for hatchlings. As your tortoise gets older, a particulate substrate such as recycled newspaper product (ie Carefresh) can also be used. For species requiring higher humidity, damp cypress mulch can be used if needed. We do not recommend using sand, gravel, mulch, cat litter, or wood shavings due to risk of ingestion leading to impaction as well as irritation of the eyes and mouth. If you are using substrate other than paper towels and newspapers, it is recommended to feed your tortoise on a paper plate, bowl, etc to prevent the changes of your tortoise from ingesting the substrate.
Temperature - The enclosure should be large enough to have a warm side and a cool side to allow your tortoise to regulate its temperature by changing its location. Digital thermometers rather than dial thermometers should be used for accuracy. The probe of the digital thermometer should be placed at the level of the animal rather than at the top of the enclosure. At least two thermometers should be used, one to measure the cool side and one the warm side. The basking side should reach up to 90-95°F and the cooler side should be about 75-80°F. A clear incandescent bulb, red bulb, or ceramic heating element can be used to provide heat at the focal basking area.
Lighting - It is imperative that a UVB light source be provided for proper Vitamin D production and calcium absorption. A 10.0 ultraviolet B (UVB) light should be placed over the basking area (within 18 inches) for 10-12 hours daily. The light should not be placed over glass or plastic as these material block UV rays. The light needs to be replaced every 6 months even if it still works as UVB production decreases over time. You can expose your tortoise to natural sunlight during the warmer months. Do not leave your tortoise in an enclosed tank or container as this can cause overheating. Secure outdoor enclosures can be built (turtles can dig, so be sure to bury the sides). Always supervise your tortoise when outside unless the enclosure is completely secure to avoid the danger of predators (raccoons, dogs, cats).
Cleaning - Tortoises are very messy and food, waste,and shed accumulates in the environment quickly. Keeping your tortoise’s enclosure clean is very important to keeping your tortoise healthy and prevent disease.
Tortoises are herbivores requiring a varied diet based on their age. The best time to feed turtles is late morning after they have had a chance to warm up and are active. A turtle not given the proper circumstances to feed will go on a hunger strike. Unlike warm-blooded animals, they aren’t forced by their metabolism to eat. They can just slow down their activity level, retreat into their shells and wait for better conditions.
Greens - The majority of the diet for most tortoises should consist of a variety of grasses or hay supplemented with dark leafy greens such as collard greens, endive, mustard greens, escarole, dandelion greens, watercress, and turnip greens. Lettuces are not recommended as they have very poor nutritional value.
Fruit - South American species such as the Red or Yellow-footed Tortoises need fruits in their diets. Melons, kiwi, papaya, mango, berries, and bananas can be used. For other tortoises, these fruits can be fed as occasional treats.
Hay - Timothy hay, mountain grass, and meadow hay are good sources of fiber for your tortoise. Wait until your tortoise is about a year old before offering hay. Good quality hay can be ordered from OxbowAnimalHealth.com. Hay should be the majority of the diet for grazing species such as Sulcatas.
Grasses and Weeds - Grazing species can be fed a variety of grasses and weeds. These can be planted in your turtle’s enclosure if kept outdoors. Links to purchase seeds for safe grasses and weeds are provided.
- Grazing Tortoise Seed Mix
- Links for Desert Tortoise Native Seed mix:
Water bowl - Hydration is very important for tortoises, even desert species. Fresh water should be provided in a shallow, non-spill bowl. The bowl should be small enough that the turtle cannot climb into it, flip over, and drown.
Soaking - Tortoises should be soaked in shallow warm water for 15-20 minutes at a time. Hatchlings and young turtles should be soaked daily and misted 1-2 times a day. Adult desert species should be soaked once weekly and adult tropical species should be soaked 2-3 times a week.
We recommend a complete physical exam, choanal culture, and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet tortoises. Thereafter, we recommend exams every 6 months with yearly choanal cultures and fecals.