I’ve covered a lot of mammals and some birds, but what about other animals?
All animals, regardless of species, need certain care in captivity. Unfortunately there is a huge market that profits off of misinformation.
Reptile are quite possibly the most widely neglected animals out there proportional to the amount of people that own them. What I mean is: there are a huge amount of reptile owners who are killing their animals out of ignorance. Owning reptiles until recently has been something strictly for hobbyists. People who go above and beyond to educate themselves and devote their time and money to caring for reptiles in captivity.
These days, though, anyone can go out and buy an iguana. One of the largest lizards you can keep in captivity is sold at stores worldwide to anyone with the cash.
As a result reptile rescues are overflowing with them. Iguana rescues are all over, but struggle to find suitable adopters.
Housing a reptile isn’t the same as housing a mammal. They need a micro-climate. If you fail to provide this for them their health fails, sometimes taking years to do so. Eventually they die and the process repeats with the owner wondering what happened but never actually learning why.
UVB is often lost on casual reptile owners. Honestly, an understanding of what a reptile is is lost on casual reptile owners. Diet is another area that keepers tend to fail their animals. There are no real commercial diets for reptiles that will NOT kill them.*
Very few reptiles live on sand dunes. Loose sand is neither natural nor safe. It is NOT digestible and only can be passed by adult reptiles, and even then, only sometimes. If it is too large (calci-sand, walnut shells, etc) it stays in their gut (a condition called impaction) which is fatal. Virtually no reptile should be kept on any type of sand.
UVB is a necessity for almost all reptiles. It should almost always be unfiltered as well (mounted in the cage or unobstructed by glass or mesh lid). Without this reptiles are extremely likely to develop metabolic bone disease. (MBD) This causes weakening of the bones, tremors, deformation of the bones and eventually organ failure.
Improper diet, such as feeding high protein foods (dog food, crickets, etc) to iguanas, is another big killer. Reptiles need specialized diets and to properly feed them you need a moderate knowledge of the foods and their nutritional qualities as well as the vitamins and minerals your animal needs AND what ratios they need them in.
Hermit crabs are probably one of the worst-off pets out there up there with bettas and goldfish with the way misinformation is spread. Companies prey on uneducated potential owners and coat their products with lies and half-truths.
The most common species of hermit crabs are land dwellers who need access to fresh and salt water. I get people all the time who are shocked to hear that. Are you sure, they ask? Where do you think they live in the wild? They’re collected from beaches. Without water deep enough for them to submerge themselves into they dehydrate and die. Without a humidity of 70%+ they suffocate. Without sand to burrow in they can’t always molt properly. In painted shells the pain leaches into their soft bodies, poisoning them.
Hermit crabs kept in captivity die in around 2 months, the approximate amount of time it takes them to dehydrate to death. When properly cared for and in the wild they live into their 20s. This means they should live into their 20s.
Because of a reptiles (and hermit crabs) lack of mammalian behavior and tendency to hide illness signs of improper care generally manifested as physical illness, sometimes after it is already too late to prevent disease. However, some signs are behavioral. These unnatural behaviors are indicative of (though not soley caused by) an unsatisfactory environment. Because this article covers reptiles that are not only in cages that are too small but also improperly cared for (lack of UVB, heating, etc.) these signs are of improperly cared for reptiles, not just ones who are in too-small enclosures.
Signs and symptoms of improperly cared for bearded dragons:
- Lethargy, lack of appetite
- Impaction (when kept on loose substrate)
- When housed together aggression and attacks are expected
- Constant and intense escape attempts
- Internal parasites (when housed in an unclean cage and exposed to their own feces, internal parasites may be re-introduced to the reptile, causing a massive infestation)
- Nose rubbing
Signs and symptoms of improperly cared for hermit crabs:
- Coming out of their shell and not going into another
- Attacking each other (pulling other crabs out of their shells)
- Premature death (Once again these crabs live into their 20s)
Signs and symptoms of improperly cared for turtles:
- Excessive skin shedding
- Respiratory infections
- Eye swelling
- Shell pyramiding
- Internal parasites
- Kidney failure (such as in red eared sliders fed diets of goldfish)
- B12 deficiency (also from goldfish)
- Premature death (turtles live into their 30’s)
Signs and symptoms of improperly cared for iguanas:
- Loss of color
- Loss of appetite
- Skin infections
- Mouth rot
- Internal parasites
- Kidney failure
- Premature death (Iguanas live 15-20 years)
Signs and symptoms of improperly cared for leopard geckos:
- Weight loss
- Internal parasites
- Shedding problems causing loss of toes/tail tip
- Lack of appetite
- When adult males housed together, aggression and attacks
- Premature death (leos live 20+ years)
To all those who say things like “But MY bearded dragon lives on sand and he’s FINE!”
Your dragon is fine because of chance alone. It is only by pure luck that he’s not eating too much sand and that the sand he does ingest is passed. Not all dragons are that lucky. (WARNING: necropsy photos of a bearded dragon in that link) Same goes for leopard geckos.
When we keep our animals in captivity we have to give them the best care possible. That means taking away any unnecessary risks to their health. And when something like sand is so unnecessary and so dangerous it stands against all reason to use it.
As discussed previously, UVB light is also of UTMOST important to reptiles and should also be taken very seriously.
Humidity, temperature, bedding, etc. are all part of creating a micro-climate. All things we don’t have to worry about with small mammals or birds. Reptiles are a completely different experience and require knowledge to keep properly.
Do not trust a single source for information. Don’t listen to just one book or person. Ask questions to multiple people, joins forums and search them, read several books by different authors, be your own fact checker.
Never taken reptile ownership lightly.
*Repashys crested gecko diet and a few others being a notable exception.
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