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The Pet Directory Reptilel Article - Purchasing Reptiles

Article supplied by Dr. Brendan Carmel
Warranwood Veterinary Centre

As published in The Pet Directory NSW & ACT Edition

You wander into your favourite reptile shop and browse; an hour later you are on the way home with a 2 metre pink coloured Yarra Python, that just ‘had to’ be bought before anyone else noticed the bargain price of this rare subspecies - an impulse buy. Once you are home the snake is placed in an enclosure with another, unrelated, python until you can build a new enclosure.

Three months later both snakes are dead from an infectious disease. Maybe that ‘bargain buy’ wasn’t so good after all. An unlikely scenario? Unfortunately, stories similar to this are depressingly common in veterinary practices dealing with reptiles. Time and again, basic husbandry is forgotten in the excitement of a new purchase - with disastrous results. This article will summarise the important steps when purchasing and housing a newly acquired reptile for your collection. Note that an entire book could be written to cover the purchase of reptiles and associated topics, but I will concentrate on common mistakes and how to remedy them.

Decide which species to purchase
Think carefully before you buy that fictitious Yarra Python. Think very carefully as to how the new snake will fit in with your existing collection. Do you have enough room? Can you supply any specialised food requirements? Is it a species difficult to keep in captivity? Newcomers to herpetology should talk to experienced herpetologists, join their local Herp club and read as many reptile books as possible. Novices need to understand that they may be purchasing a reptile that may live for tens of years. You must be entirely comfortable with the thought of a new reptile, and the responsibilities it entails, before continuing to the next step.

Build/ Buy the enclosure
Do this before you purchase the reptile! You should have a very good idea of the enclosure requirements based on the species you wish to purchase. If you don’t, then you have not done your homework and are not ready for a reptile! Commonly kept species such as many pythons are easily kept in a commercially built enclosure; these are often sold from the shop or breeder who supplies you the reptile. Some reptiles that are difficult to keep require custom built enclosures. If you plan to eventually house the reptile with others already in your collection, remember to house it in a quarantine enclosure before introducing it to the other reptiles (see Quarantine Requirements below).

Pay particular attention to the following:
• Enclosure size & shape.
For example, some reptiles require a climbing area (ie more height), others are mainly ground dwellers (ie more width or depth). There is a continual search for the perfect enclosure; such an enclosure is unlikely to exist since there is a vast variation between species and individual requirements. Many factors contribute to whether or not a reptile ‘enjoys’ an enclosure, such as environmental factors (see below). Try to tailor each enclosure to the requirements of the proposed inhabitant(s). Inspect enclosures that have successfully housed similar reptiles, for ideas.
• Environmental variables.
Determine the humidity, lighting and temperature variables needed for your reptile. This is best determined by talking to experienced herpetologists, your local reptile park, a reptile veterinarian, and consulting herpetological and ecological publications. A temperature gradient throughout the enclosure is often suggested to provide the reptile the option to thermoregulate as required, in order to maintain its preferred body temperature. Many reptiles appear to thrive under ‘full spectrum’ lighting and periodic exposure to unfiltered sunlight is considered beneficial.
• Substrate & enclosure furniture.
Determine the best substrate to place on the enclosure floor. For snake enclosures, newspaper - although not very pleasing to the eye - is easy to clean and rarely causes problems. Gravel is frequently used, but may be ingested and therefore could cause intestinal blockages (see photo). Artificial turf is often successful, but I have found the occasional reptile that does not tolerate artificial turf and develops a resultant dermatitis. Hide boxes, logs and other enclosure ‘furniture’, should be provided to imitate the natural environment. For commonly kept turtles, it is recommended to have a basking area on dry land, together with an aquatic section large enough to allow the turtle to swim freely. Many lizards enjoy logs and rocks for basking, providing shelter and hiding places.

Licensing
Be aware of the licensing laws of your state. Talk to your state governing body and find out all the rules and regulations pertaining to keeping reptiles before you buy.

Purchase your Reptile
Buy from a reputable breeder or pet shop. If you do not know any, talk to your local herpetological society for advice on appropriate contacts near your location. Ask lots of questions about the reptile... How old is it? Where did it come from? Is it a difficult feeder? Why are you selling it? Make sure you watch it feed before you purchase it. Inspect it carefully for signs of ill health.

Pre-purchase Vet Check
I strongly recommend you have the reptile assessed - a ‘vet check or health examination’ - as soon as possible after purchase. Apart from a clinical examination, your veterinarian can perform selected tests (see below) to look for any underlying diseases. You could even consider getting a vet check as part of a pre-purchase agreement; reputable pet shops or sellers will be happy to allow this.

Quarantine Requirements
Quarantine is essential in order to minimise the risk of introducing disease into your collection. Quarantine for a minimum of 4 weeks, longer if any problems develop, before contemplating the introduction of the reptile into your main collection. There is no ‘ideal’ quarantine period, as some diseases may remain dormant for months to years before becoming apparent, however, a month will give you time to perform some basic tests for pathogens and monitor your reptile for signs of disease. Accurately record details such as the feeding and behaviour of your new reptile during the quarantine period.

Make sure the quarantine enclosure is located away from any others (preferably in a separate room), and cleaning utensils are separate from those used for the rest of the collection. Thoroughly disinfect the enclosure (see article in Issue 1), utensils and yourself after handling the new arrival. Have one or more faecal examinations for parasites performed by a vet (as a minimum), also consider a ‘wet prep’, culture and sensitivity and a blood screen - discuss these requirements with your vet. Newspaper is an ideal substrate for a quarantine enclosure; it is easy to clean (do it daily), hygienic and economical.

Ongoing Care
Develop consistent record keeping practices, a simple exercise book can be used to record details like: feeding frequency, weight, and defecation and food type. Seemingly insignificant details may become vital in tracking down an unusual disease once illness develops. Feed good quality food, which provides a balanced diet for the species; a smorgasbord approach by providing a variety of food items may help to reduce the chances of dietary deficiencies. Be careful of overfeeding, most reptiles in captivity do not exercise much and are often overfed and become obese.

Finally, enjoy your new addition and never stop learning!

Masterpet
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