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What it takes to own an exotic pet

World Snake Day is observed on July 16th each year and helps people understand more about the 3,500 different species of snakes that share our world. In addition, it’s a great reminder that for many pet owners, snakes, as well as other reptiles, can be a unique addition to their pet family. Tom Dock of Noah’s Animal Hospital joined us today to share some of the things you need to know if you decide to bring an exotic pet into your home.

  • Whether you are choosing a reptilian pet because of a perception that they are “low maintenance” pets or simply because you want something “different”, there are some important tips to make sure that your scaly friend thrives in your home. 
  • First, do your research and find out everything you can about the pet you are considering.  For example, Burmese Pythons can typically reach about 16 feet in length (some have been recorded at more than 23 ft!).  Will you be prepared for housing a pet that large?   The current situation in Florida with invasive Burmese Pythons in the Everglades is a result of owners not doing their research! 
  • Another important research topic is understanding the diet needed for your particular pet.  Many species of constrictor snakes prefer live food (mice, rats, etc) and some reptiles must have calcium supplements included in their diet for proper care. 
  • Housing, as mentioned above, is important and all reptiles will need some sort of heat source to help with their metabolism and digestion.  Depending on the species, different substrates (sand vs ground litter, etc) are preferred and some species might prefer a more vertical enclosure instead of a horizontal one (like a fish tank).  Proper exposure to ultraviolet (UVB) light is essential as well. 
  • While it is true that snakes and lizards may not require the daily care and interaction of our dog and cat friends, they really aren’t “Low maintenance”.  As outlined above, proper husbandry for reptiles is vital for their survival and failure to provide the right environment could lead to serious illness or issues. 
  • Before you go out and spend money on your friend with scales, consider your access to veterinary care.  Not all veterinarians are comfortable providing care for reptiles and you may have to search for one away from your regular veterinary office. 
  • Acquiring your new pet will take some research as well.  Unscrupulous individuals may try to pass off reptiles that have been illegally smuggled into the country from their native lands.  Look for reptile breeders in your area who specialize in captive breeding programs. 
  • It is important to remember that animals native to Indiana, such as red-eared slider turtles, box turtles, etc, are not supposed to be legally kept as pets.  And, although this should not need to be said, keeping venomous reptiles (rattlesnakes, cobras, etc) is dangerous and should not be done by anyone other than professional zoological organizations. 

Here are some specific details about the pets seen on Indy Style today: 

1. Ball Python:  Native to West and Central Africa, maximum length about 6 feet.  Diet consists of small mammals and/or birds.  Some can live up to 60 years in captivity.  Due to captive breeding programs, many color variations are available, and these snakes are generally healthier than wild-caught specimens. 

2. Hognose Snake:  three different genera including 14 species.  Can be found in US/Mexico, Madagascar, and South America.  Will often feign strikes by raising up, flattening their necks, and hissing; they can also “play dead”.  Diet usually consists of rodents and lizards, but these are not constricting snakes.  Considered easy to care for in captivity. 

3. Russian Tortoise:  Native to Central Asia.  Fairly small tortoise, 5-10 inches in length. Diet is vegetarian and they enjoy many of the broad, green, leafy plants.  Like many other reptiles, these animals can live for decades!