Getting a Pet Reptile

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on July 16, 2023
3 min read

While most reptiles are wild, many are kept as pets because of their reputation for being mysterious and exotic. Having an unconventional pet comes with its own concerns, though, that you'll need to be aware of if you want to care for a pet reptile. 

Are reptiles legal to keep as a pet? In most places, reptiles are legal. However, some states and localities may have restrictions or bans on certain reptile breeds, including where and how you can adopt. For example, you may need to obtain a permit if you want to capture a wild reptile to keep as a pet versus adopting one from captivity.

Keep in mind that it is never legal to release a reptile into the wild that is not native to your area. If you find that you are unable to provide proper care for your pet, contact a wildlife preserve to take over care of your reptile.

Prepare for the care of a reptile. First, you’ll want to decide what kind of reptile you wish to adopt. Once you’ve decided on a type of reptile, you’ll also think about the individual breed you want. Each one has unique qualities and needs. The reptile family includes:

It’s important to remember that different substances and toxins are considered dangerous for reptiles. Even if you’ve had pet dogs or cats, you’ll need to rethink what is safe for your reptile friends.

For example, household plants should be removed from your reptile’s reach. Airborne toxins from chemical cleaners can cause damage to your pet’s lungs and should only be used when your reptile is safely put away. 

Preparing your home for a reptile. Reptiles aren’t always compatible with other animals. Even well-intentioned owners make the mistake of leaving reptiles at home with other pets, leading to unfortunate events where one pet is harmed.

Since reptiles carry diseases that can infect humans, your pet should be kept confined in an appropriate cage or room. Reptiles are not intended to be cuddled or held. If your reptile spends time roaming around, plan to disinfect your home afterward to avoid cross-contamination. 

Reptile accommodations. Reptiles are cold-blooded, and so they require a heat source, like a UV light, to regulate body temperature. Many reptiles, like turtles, enjoy a habitat with water. You may consider having a tank that allows for part to be an aquarium with a place to rest out of the water, too.

Appropriate housing ensures that your pet feels safe and stress-free, leading to better health outcomes. If you’re unsure of the specific needs for your particular breed of reptile, contact a local veterinarian specializing in exotic animals/reptiles to learn more.

Feeding your reptile. Each reptile has varying needs. Snakes are primarily carnivores, no matter what the breed, and are primarily fed thawed, pre-killed rodents.

Lizards have much more specific needs. Some eat insects, while others are herbivores or carnivores. They require a broader range of options than snakes.

Turtles and tortoises require a variety of fresh vegetation. You may be tempted to just give your turtle or tortoise lettuce, but this lack of variety will not give your pet enough nutrients to thrive.

Veterinary care. Seek out a veterinarian who specializes in the care of reptiles. In fact, acquiring the help of a veterinarian before adopting is highly advisable. They can help you navigate local laws and find a reputable breeder for adoption. 

Maintaining contact with your vet from the beginning also ensures that your pet reptile has optimal housing conditions from day one.

Reptiles are very intelligent, but they’re wild animals and aren’t easy to train. Because they aren’t the type of pets that you allow to roam loose around your house, training shouldn’t be a major concern. Adopting a reptile means creating an environment conducive to what their surroundings are in the wild.

Toilet training. Your pet reptile doesn’t want to live in a dirty environment. Because of this, he may choose one place in his cage to urinate and poop. With this in mind, choose a housing design that lends itself to having a designated place for your pet to relieve itself. This will make cleanup easy.